Sadness and War in “They Beat Their Drums “ Student ID: Professor: Date: “They Beat Their Drums” is an ancient Chinese poem that speaks both of historical events and of happenings that are of a personal nature to the narrator. The literal meaning of the poem follows a man who was part of a war and who returns home…
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The poem makes use of inconsistent approaches to structure and tense to draw attention to specific aspects of the narrative, yet at the same time, the poem has a strong level of consistency throughout that makes it coherent as a single image. The first stanza of the poem serves to set the scene, focusing on images that are commonly associated with battle, particularly the use of drums, marching and weapons. It is distinct from the rest of the poem in several ways. The first is in terms of content. It is the only stanza that talks about “them.” No indication is given as to who “they” are. The term could refer to the enemy that is being fought, but it could equally refer to other people on the same side of the war as the narrator. The stanza also differs from the rest of the poem in terms of form, with the early lines of the stanza being longer than they are in other parts of the poem. This serves to separate this stanza away from the rest of the poem. These differences make this initial stanza appear to be an introduction or a prelude to the narration that is to come. In the first stanza, the poet refers to events that occur in the present tense. Terms are used such as “march” rather than “marched, and” “leaping” rather than “leaped.” These terms suggest that the events are being narrated as they are occurring, yet the structure of the poem indicates that this is not the case at all. Subsequent paragraphs play with this perception of time. At the beginning of the second stanza, the expression “we were led” is used, yet the final line of this stanza states that “my heart is sad within.” There are multiple reasons why the poem may switch tense like this. The first is that the narrator is currently in the war and is reminiscing on a painful memory. Another reason is for effect. The author could be using the changes in tense to make certain aspects of the poem appear to be more important, such as the sadness of the narrator and the southbound march of the army. Through this technique, the reader’s focus is drawn to some passages over the others and makes them more noticeable and more memorable. Despite the changes in tense and in structure across the poem, the direction of the writing and the emotional impact are strongly consistent throughout the poem. The melancholy overtone that is evident at the end of the poem is also foreshadowed in each stanza, making the poem as a whole appear sad and lonely, even before the narration suggests that it should be. The first stanza focuses on the noise and violence of the war, with images that suggest movement such as the beating of the drums, the loud noise, and the leaning and prancing. Yet, the last line of this stanza suggests a different image. Here, the narrator comments that “we alone march to the south.” This line juxtaposes the earlier phrases, even though it also suggests movement because of the implied sadness. This comes from the word “alone” in this sentence. It is not the fact that the group is marching south that is the important point; it is the fact that they are doing so alone. The use of the term strongly mirrors the emotions of the narrator. He would not have been literally alone during the march as he refers to a group marching; yet, the use of the term “alone”
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