Drumbeats and bugles resound through the buildings. The sounds "scatter the congregation" and disturb the bridegroom, the farmer, the city traffic, the sleepers, the talkers, the singers, and the lawyers. All these people hear the war cry, but the timid, the old, the children, and the mothers do not react positively to the call. The poet exhorts the drums and bugles to drown their dissenting voices. The drumbeat is a symbol of war and it creates highly passionate, even extremist responses; Whitman's poems reflect these emotions. The verse is characterized by a rapidity of movement which reflects the poet's enthusiasm, ardor, and passion. The poem also suggests Whitman's faith not only in the continuous cycle of history but also in the process of mystic evolution in the universe — that is, that the world will continue to progress in all spheres of life.
The poet expresses the spontaneous reaction of the North in the early years of the Civil War, following the South's attack on Fort Sumter in 1861. The three stanzas show the steady development of the theme. The poet feels the cause of war was justified by the events of that period. The drums, he says, should be able even "to shake the dead."