The poem opens with apostrophe, as the speaker directly addresses the instruments of a military band. The speaker enthusiastically tells drums and bugle horns to "beat" and "blow"—that is, to boldly announce their presence by making make lots of noise!
The poem was composed shortly after the first battle of the Civil War, and the opening line thus looks like a rallying cry of sorts. It seems as though if the point of the poem is to urge these instruments to alert the country to the beginning of the war.
The poem's opening line is energetic and attention-grabbing, thanks to alliteration of the /b/ sound, repetition (specifically epizeuxis and diacope), and caesuras. All these devices add a strong rhythmic pulse to poem's the language that appropriately mimics the sound of forceful drumbeats:
Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
But the poem isn't just a rallying cry, and all this intense sound also helps the speaker convey the alarming disruption that comes along with war—the way that it interrupts every corner of daily life.
- For example, the speaker says that the noises of the military band "burst" through "windows" and "doors," as if nothing can keep the war at bay.
- The speaker uses a simile to build upon this idea, comparing the war to a "ruthless," or unstoppable and merciless, "force" that interrupts and overshadows everything it comes in contact with.
In keeping with this, the speaker describes the sounds of war tearing through "the solemn church," where it "scatter[s] the congregation."
- This is a perfect example of just how disruptive war really is, as it has the power to break into even the most sacred places (like church) and send the most calm, devoted people (a religious congregation) running in different directions.
- In other words, war turns peace and serenity to utter chaos.
One strange thing about the poem, however, is that the speaker seems to encourage the drums and bugles to interrupt everyday life. In this way, the poem implies that people shouldn't just go about their normal lives while a ruthless war takes shape. The poem at once urges people to pay attention to the Civil War while acknowledging the many downsides of this kind of interruption, showing the ways in which war grinds society to a halt.