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April 9, 2017

North South flags

Walt Whitman’s Drum-Taps

On this date in 1865 General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate States of America surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant of the United States of America.

For those of us for whom literature matters greatly, probably no literature of the American Civil War matters as much as Walt Whitman’s collection of poetry, Drum Taps. Here are two poems “Beat! Beat! Drums” and “Cavalry Crossing a Ford.”

 

Walt Whitman

BEAT! BEAT! DRUMS!

1

BEAT! beat! drums!—Blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows—through doors—burst like a
force of ruthless men,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation;
Into the school where the scholar is studying:
Leave not the bridegroom quiet—no happiness must
he have now with his bride;
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, plowing his field or
gathering his grain;
So fierce you whirr and pound, you drums—so shrill
you bugles blow.

2

Beat! beat! drums!—Blow! bugles! blow!
Over the traffic of cities—over the rumble of wheels in
the streets:
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses?
No sleepers must sleep in those beds;
No bargainers’ bargains by day—no brokers or specu-
lators —Would they continue?
Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt
to sing?
Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case
before the judge?
Then rattle quicker, heavier drums—you bugles wilder
blow.

3

Beat! beat! drums!—Blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley—stop for no expostulation;
Mind not the timid—mind not the weeper or prayer;
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man;
Let not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s en-
treaties;
Make even the trestles to shake the dead, where they lie
awaiting the hearses,
So strong you thump, O terrible drums—so loud
you bugles blow.

CAVALRY CROSSING A FORD.

vaWhitesFord
A LINE in long array, where they wind betwixt green
islands;
They take a serpentine course—their arms flash in the
sun—Hark to the musical clank;
Behold the silvery river—in it the splashing horses,
loitering, stop to drink;
Behold the brown-faced men—each group, each person,
a picture—the negligent rest on the saddles;
Some emerge on the opposite bank—others are just
entering the ford;
The guidon flags flutter gaily in the wind.

Many of Walt Whitman’s war poems embody the very spirit of civil conflict, picturing war with a poignant realism and a terrible, tender beauty. Unlike poems from other wars, such as those from World War I or those from Vietnam, these and other poems in Drum Taps make no attempt to resolve the tension between a romantic glorification of the Civil War and a rigorous anti-war stance.

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