Walt Whitman: Poems

Drum Taps: Manhattan Arming


First, O songs, for a prelude,

Lightly strike on the stretched tympanum, pride and joy in my city,

How she led the rest to arms--how she gave the cue,

How at once with lithe limbs, unwaiting a moment, she sprang;

O superb! O Manhattan, my own, my peerless!

O strongest you in the hour of danger, in crisis! O truer than steel!

How you sprang! how you threw off the costumes of peace with indifferent


How your soft opera-music changed, and the drum and fife were heard in

their stead;

How you led to the war, (that shall serve for our prelude, songs of


How Manhattan drum-taps led.


Forty years had I in my city seen soldiers parading;

Forty years as a pageant--till unawares, the Lady of this teeming and

turbulent city,

Sleepless, amid her ships, her houses, her incalculable wealth,

With her million children around her--suddenly,

At dead of night, at news from the South,

Incensed, struck with clenched hand the pavement.

A shock electric--the night sustained it;

Till, with ominous hum, our hive at daybreak poured out its myriads.

From the houses then, and the workshops, and through all the doorways,

Leaped they tumultuous--and lo! Manhattan arming.


To the drum-taps prompt,

The young men falling in and arming;

The mechanics arming, the trowel, the jack-plane, the black-smith's hammer,

tossed aside with precipitation;

The lawyer leaving his office, and arming--the judge leaving the court;

The driver deserting his waggon in the street, jumping down, throwing the

reins abruptly down on the horses' backs;

The salesman leaving the store--the boss, book-keeper, porter, all leaving;

Squads gathering everywhere by common consent, and arming;

The new recruits, even boys--the old men show them how to wear their

accoutrements--they buckle the straps carefully;

Outdoors arming--indoors arming--the flash of the musket-barrels;

The white tents cluster in camps--the armed sentries around--the sunrise

cannon, and again at sunset;

Armed regiments arrive every day, pass through the city, and embark from

the wharves;

How good they look, as they tramp down to the river, sweaty, with their

guns on their shoulders!

How I love them! how I could hug them, with their brown faces, and their

clothes and knapsacks covered with dust!

The blood of the city up--armed! armed! the cry everywhere;

The flags flung out from the steeples of churches, and from all the public

buildings and stores;

The tearful parting--the mother kisses her son--the son kisses his mother;

Loth is the mother to part--yet not a word does she speak to detain him;

The tumultuous escort--the ranks of policemen preceding, clearing the way;

The unpent enthusiasm--the wild cheers of the crowd for their favourites;

The artillery--the silent cannons, bright as gold, drawn along, rumble

lightly over the stones;

Silent cannons--soon to cease your silence,

Soon, unlimbered, to begin the red business!

All the mutter of preparation--all the determined arming;

The hospital service--the lint, bandages, and medicines;

The women volunteering for nurses--the work begun for, in earnest--no mere

parade now;

War! an armed race is advancing!--the welcome for battle--no turning away;

War! be it weeks, months, or years--an armed race is advancing to welcome



Mannahatta a-march!--and it's O to sing it well!

It's O for a manly life in the camp!


And the sturdy artillery!

The guns, bright as gold--the work for giants--to serve well the guns:

Unlimber them! no more, as the past forty years, for salutes for courtesies


Put in something else now besides powder and wadding.


And you, Lady of Ships! you, Mannahatta!

Old matron of the city! this proud, friendly, turbulent city!

Often in peace and wealth you were pensive, or covertly frowned amid all

your children;

But now you smile with joy, exulting old Mannahatta!