(Poem #887) Beat! Beat! Drums!
Beat! beat! drums! -- blow! bugles! blow! Through the windows -- through doors -- burst like a ruthless force, 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, ploughing his field or gathering his grain, So fierce you whirr and pound you drums -- so shrill you bugles blow. 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 speculators -- 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. 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 entreaties, 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.
Today's poem is not so much about war, as about the *idea* of war, and the terrible urgency with which it can sweep through a nation's consciousness, consuming or overpowering everything in its path. The structure and rhythms of the poem reflect that urgency - not the measured cadence of a marching drum, but the rising, almost hysterical rush of sound as action seeks to displace thought, as the drums 'rattle quicker, heavier' and the bugles 'wilder blow'. It is tempting to view this as purely an antiwar poem - tempting, but overly simplistic. More accurately, the poem is more descriptive than judgemental, capturing rather precisely the raised emotions and demanded sacrifices of a brewing war, and the frightening, jealous power with which an idea, a Cause can grip a people. Afterthought: Yes, today's poem was prompted by the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, and its nascent aftermath. A poem that better resonates with my feelings, though, is MacNeice's "The Sunlight on the Garden", already run on Minstrels: poem #757 -martin