Poetry Friday: “Would the talkers be talking?”

h1 July 24th, 2009 by eisha

YAWP!!!Are ya’ll sick of hearing about how awesome my job is yet? Well, tough, because I have to share this with people who will appreciate it: I got to handle a postcard written by Walt Whitman today. Just a quick little note he jotted off to a Cornell librarian, no big thing. But his signature, right there, large as life – I kinda teared up a little.

It got me thinking, and talking to a colleague about, Whitman and his place in the American poetic canon. I’ll admit, I don’t love every single poem the man wrote. He’s got an odd voice: part journalist, part transcendentalist, with a liberal dose of frank sexuality. But there’s no denying his groundbreaking contributions to the free verse form, and the use of poetry as sociopolitical commentary. And at his best, he can seriously stir up the blood.

Like in this one, “Beat! Beat! Drums!” Take it, Walt:

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.

Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. When Whitman is at the top of his game like this… Is it just because he’s known as THE American Poet that my reaction is something close to patriotism? I don’t think so. I mean, yes, he truly loved this country – that is, the people of this country – in a way that comes through as loud as those drum beats. But with every poem, every word, even his very life, he refuted convention, flouted authority, flipping a big fat bird at anyone and everything that says “this is how it has been, and therefore this is how it must always be.” And if we’re completely honest, isn’t that one of the true principles our country was founded upon?

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In the mood for more poetry? Me too! Check out this week’s Poetry Friday round-up, hosted by the effervescent Mary Lee at A Year of Reading.





13 comments to “Poetry Friday: “Would the talkers be talking?””

  1. Effervescent? Thanks for the vote of confidence!

    Love your loud LOUD LOUD poem choice today!


  2. Oh what a day to be a librarian, holding that postcard. Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!


  3. Bird-flipping as an American signature: ha!

    A few days ago I posted about WW myself, specifically the letter-out-of-the-blue which Emerson wrote him, praising (to put it mildly) Leaves of Grass. One of my favorite things about that story is the way Whitman turned right around and, without asking, used the private letter to further his career. And then later tussled w/Emerson about the propriety of frankly addressing sexual matters in poetry.

    Absolutely a first-class bird-flipper!

    (Btw, I think as many times as you’ve said or implied, “I love my job,” there are least as many readers nodding their heads and saying, “Yeah, I love your job, too!”)


  4. I love your job, too!


  5. p.s. How ’bout we put that poem to uke and cowbell and tour the country?

    (Oh. Yeah. And drums. And bugles.)


  6. Freedom to write free verse!

    First E.B. White and now Whitman? Love your job! Share more, please!


  7. Hallelujah, Eisha. Hallelujah, Walt. And please, please, please don’t stop talking about your awesome job.


  8. I will not ever tire of hearing about your job! Fabulous post today!


  9. Thanks, Mary Lee!

    Jeannine, ain’t it the truth?

    JES, I think you’ve just illustrated how Whitman personified another Great American Principle: bald, no-holds-barred capitalism.

    jules, yes! YES! Why have we never done that before? I can just strap my cowbell onto a drum kit, and you can surely blow a bugle and play the uke at the same time.

    jama, Liz, and jone – someday you’ll rue those words. But I’m glad I haven’t bored you to tears quite yet.


  10. Now I’m singing The Trolley Song: Clang, clang, clang went the trolley…

    Happy Friday!


  11. Little Willow, that is so wrong… and yet so right.


  12. You touched a postcard signed by Whitman. That is terribly close to touching the man – there’s something so very personal in handwriting and original documents – well, *swoon*.


  13. Agreed, Kelly. It’s an oddly intimate experience.


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