This symbolism means new spiritual growth is […] "For the Union Dead" honors not only the person of Robert Gould Shaw, but also the stern and beautiful memorial bronze bas-relief b Augustus Saint Gaudens which stands opposite the Boston State House. . The topmost strata appear mainly in images of mechanism, frantic activity, and ever more rapid change: the steamshovels threaten the Shaw monument, "propped by a plank splint against the garage's earthquake," and even the Statehouse requires bracing. The child whose "nose crawled like a snail on the glass" of the aquarium parallels the adult who "pressed against the new barbed and galvanized / fence on the Boston Common." Robert Lowell. . With the question of Lowell's attitude toward monuments goes that of Lowell's attitude toward heroism. With the words "cowed" and "compliant" attached to the fish, this seems like a questionable choice. This poem is a tribute to those who died... Capitalism/consumerism. In "For the Union Dead" Lowell uses the temporary displacement of Saint Gaudens's bronze relief of Colonel Shaw and his black regiment in a context awash in parking lots, finned cars, and crass commercialization, to create "a plain and physically correct symbol" for the violent yet barely conscious displacement of mourning in the postmodern world. If, as Lowell remarked in introducing the poem at a reading in 1960, "we've emerged from the monumental age," so much the worse for us. William James himself was prevented by poor eyesight from fighting in the Civil War. But the speaker of the poem is not exempt. One can't die in battle against the forces of forgetfulness and commercial greed. Axelrod argues that Lowell "praises the military valor of Shaw, but also suggests dark, mixed motives beneath that valor"; Philip Cooper finds a "death-wish" in Shaw's acceptance of his commission; Jonathan Crick finds in Shaw the embodiment of "the Puritan virtues" that "also produced the commercial greed that has devastated Boston, and the destruction of war." His heroism is of a past order that seems uncomfortable even for an observer who mourns its passing. For the Union Dead study guide contains a biography of Robert Lowell, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis. MAPS welcomes submissions of original essays and teaching materials related to MAPS poets and the Anthology of Modern American Poetry. This landscape, because it is urban and man-made, contains objects that testify, by their very existence, to what the people who made them value—and fail to value. Have you ever been alone, just letting your mind wander, and suddenly realized that your train of thought took you so far from where you began that it's hard to trace the flow of ideas that got you there? The form of that ditch is further replicated in the very "underworld garage" being gouged beneath the Statehouse. . Colonel Shaw is seen in terms of a culture that is on the verge of utter disappearance. The surface of nature will then be literally as well as morally concealed from the eyes of men. The bas-relief shakes, and the statues "grow slimmer and younger each year" so that they will, if the process continues, disappear altogether . Protected from the knowledge of his animality and mortality by the spurious permanence and orderliness of the machine-world, man becomes not only more powerful, but also more dangerous, because he is spared direct responsibility: he is so shielded from the horror of reality that he can not only commit the Hiroshima bombing, but then use it to advertise a safe. In his review of Lord Weary’s Castle, Jarrell noted that Lowell's "poems often use cold as a plain and physically correct symbol for what is constricted and static" in contemporary culture (P&A 210). "The cowed, compliant fish" suggest an analogous quality of blind endurance in the Negroes; but Colonel Shaw's own angry "vigilance is "wrenlike," his ability to combine gentleness with discipline, principle, and readiness for action is "a greyhound's." Indeed, that indifference is itself encouraged by a distancing medium: the television screen where frightened black faces, become, like the cast bronze of the statue, mere "balloons.". But here, the representation is unconscious; the society that builds and buys the cars reveals its values without having intended to do so. Monuments, on the other hand, are inviolable, but lose significance as people stop paying attention to them. But there is a different order of survivor, like the extinct dinosaurs, who reappear as devouring steam shovels, or the Mosler safe, whose commercial viability overshadows in the minds of its promoters the human losses at Hiroshima, or the new mechanical fish that end the poem. The poem is thus, though undeclaredly, a family poem; and in it, Lowell quotes from a letter that Charles Russell Lowell wrote home to his wife, Josephine, about her brother's burial: "I am thankful that they buried him with his niggers.' (It may be relevant here that James's one unbookish brother, Garth Wilkinson James, was Colonel Shaw's adjutant, and suffered a wound that left him a semi-invalid for life, in the battle in which Shaw was killed. When he crouches before his television set to watch the "Negro school-children," he is mimicking his own action as a child peering through the glass of the fish tank; the school children whose faces "rise like balloons" echo the bubbles the child saw in the fish tank and seem just as trapped as the fish (FUD 70-72). "For the Union Dead" probably contains a greater profusion of animal imagery, for its length, than any other poem by Lowell. Their monument sticks like a fishbone in the city’s throat. Answers: 1. Birds. GradeSaver, 9 September 2018 Web. The child's awareness is introduced in the second stanza, which generates much of the poem's continuing imagery, imagery persistently identified both with the poem's central observer and with the city's modern urban planners. Explanation: This was only brief disruption throughout the Boston Common, however the similar scenes in the second half of the 20th century are just a normal feature of American city life. When last seen: Colonel Shaw This study guide for Robert Lowell's For the Union Dead offers summary and analysis on themes, symbols, and other literary devices found in the text. The very next stanza menaces mankind with a death of a different order: "The ditch is nearer." Helen Vendler. Such local cultural attrition provides the context for losses of a different order. Some of the most dominating symbols of the Day of the Dead are the calacas (skelelons) and calaveras (skulls). With the disappearance of history as firm past reality, the poem tails off into the abjectness of a Boston now ruled by the immigrant Irish, who, like the skunks of Castine, have taken over territory formerly belonging to the Lowells and their kind. so multiplies the means, in the lack of anything better to do, that it may have to scrap the machines as it makes them; until our descendants will have to dig themselves out of one rubbish heap after another and stand upon it, in order to make more rubbish to make more standing room. "When he leads his black soldiers to death, / he cannot bend his back": meaning, perhaps, that he cannot recant his decision - the absolutism of the idealist - but also that he accepts its consequences personally, and will not provide himself with a security that his men do not have. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of For the Union Dead by Robert Lowell. Its broken windows are boarded. For the Union Dead Symbols, Allegory and Motifs Fish (motif). The exemplary contrast to Shaw is William James, who, "at the dedication [of the monument] . . Lowell's nearest approach, in For the Union Dead, to an image of moral political action is to be found in the title poem. Answer. The landscape of the Boston Common, far more densely inscribed with cultural signs than that of Castine, Maine, offers readily what Lowell had to force on his surroundings in "Skunk Hour": a storehouse of symbols that reveal the consciousness of the inhabitants, past and present. Do the bubbles indicate distance between the narrator and these subjects because he cannot reach them? This is true in part because racism and racial tension also survive, as does a replica of the ditch in which Colonel Shaw and his black Massachusetts volunteers were buried without the customary military honors by the Confederate soldiers who mowed them down at Fort Wagner. . This idea of an only barely activist heroism of insight dominates the political poetry, and to some extent the personal poetry in "For the Union Dead.". Shaw's final heroism may be the fact that he lingers still, in spite of his yearning to depart. Later the fish reappear, in the angry final lines of the poem, having suffered metamorphosis into dynamic, mechanical monsters: Everywhere, Denied a fixed locality in the scheme of man's city or man's mind, the fish suddenly appears everywhere.". Survivors appear either as static and attenuated simulacrums of their former selves, or brutal mechanical transformations. The old South Boston Aquarium stands. Brown's, his image of a hero closely resembles Brown's psychological ideal, not in that ideal's more notorious sexual aspects, but in the conception of a willing self-surrender to time and death. Imagistically, as I have shown, Shaw is in touch with his animal nature, and able to draw from it his most heroic qualities; further, his acts are finally justified by his willingness to accept physical suffering and death in a brutal, unvarnished form, to accept "the ditch" of mass burial. Lowell has now realized that the inner life, even that of a prophet, cannot remain immune from the corruption it describes. “For the Union Dead”: A Social Criticism “For the Union Dead” is a socially critical poem that fills the page with destructive and stark imagery throughout. Cesar was one notable example. . Analyze lowell’s use of symbolism in the poem “for the union dead.” explain how lowell’s use of symbolism to develop one or more themes in the text. for the blessèd break. He rejoices in man's lovely, Indeed, one might argue that the aquarium is itself a monument, parallel in symbolic function to these other buildings. It represents Colonel Shaw on horseback among the men of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, a regiment entirely composed of Negro soldiers. Such imagery is central to the poem and is also central to interpreting the poem in the manner in which Robert Lowell intended. The central monument is the bronze relief of Colonel Shaw and his soldiers, but Lowell thinks of all the memorial statues in New England. It is hard, from the vantage point of the mid 1980s, to discover irony in Lowell's praise for Shaw: He is out of bounds now. To advertise a safe as impervious to a nuclear explosion is to forget a very recent past, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki only fifteen years before the poem was written. His wincing at pleasure, his erect, and perhaps narrow moral rigidity ("lean / as a compass-needle") is derived from a culture growing from deeply rooted Puritan beliefs in public probity and Election, out of keeping with a pleasure-seeking and profoundly commercialized contemporary culture. Such imagery is central to the poem and is also central to interpreting the poem in the manner in which Robert Lowell intended. The statement "My hand draws back" signals also a drawing back from recollection into the present. The city has been built above it, yet never altogether covers or effaces it. Form and Meter. Copyright © 1999 - 2021 GradeSaver LLC. And yet, the presence of those "Negro school-children" on television proves that it still does. Nothing seems quite strong enough to stand the test of time. It might be said that Colonel Shaw is a bit of a monument in his action, stonelike, unbending. Its broken windows are boarded. eNotes critical analyses help you gain a deeper understanding of For the Union Dead so you can excel on your essay or test. Nowhere are the organs, acts, and motives of man, the shapes and forms of his self-expression, more insistently animal than here. A diminished survivor, the aquarium is just the first of many attenuated monuments that populate the poem. Answers: 1. The "Parking spaces" that "luxuriate like civic / sandpiles in the heart of Boston" suggest this lingering childishness in the minds of the city's urban planners. Williamson's remarks need to be qualified by the recognition that the aquarium, though it once gave the fish and reptile the "fixed locality" they are now denied, is nonetheless a public building, no less an example of civic architecture than the Statehouse or the Shaw Memorial. For once, Lowell treats his public theme as precisely that and not another thing. It was Lowell's sixth book. The cars are a means, not an end: they will take their passengers to any destination. This poem mentions the Civil War and World War II. Man, who alone has rational knowledge of death, alone can voluntarily accept it, philosophically as well as in particular circumstances, for the sake of a complete and life-giving response to existence. when he leads his black soldiers to death. In spite of his invalidism, the younger James went South during Reconstruction and attempted to run a communal, integrated plantation. . This visual object points with casual indifference toward two dominant postmodern fears that disturbed all four of these poets: the threat of nuclear holocaust and the onset of a devouring commercialism. Colonel Shaw yearns to escape the vicarious simulation of life in which he is trapped, to depart a world that has a stable place for him neither in its public environs nor in its collective awareness, and to achieve the "privacy" for which he continually "suffocates." . Racial prejudice. The "stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier" may be lost in a dream, as "they doze over muskets / and muse through their sideburns," but the central dream-figure is Colonel Shaw himself. he waits He finds his basic integrity not in his acts but in the amount of "pain and labor" in his life, the burden of responsibility and moral insight that he is able to bear. Brown's in Life Against Death. In contrast to "Skunk Hour," the focus shifts away from self and toward environment. By contrast, the displaced Saint-Gaudens statue is the central image linking the first group of survivors. Shaw's attitude is the diametrical opposite of the effort of the threatened identity to include the entire world in its own being, the effort that unites tyrant and tyrannicide, Satan and mechanized man: that might be called man's less lovely, equally peculiar, power to choose death and live. The fascination with the fish is linked both with a desire to escape from human consciousness into the lower phyla (cf. Swan. Commencing as a private meditation of his childhood the poet flashbacks on the commitment of Colonel Robert Shaw a union officer who was assassinated during the battalion of the black soldiers during the time of the civil war. The speaker understands that racial prejudice still exists. Link Copied. Some of Lowell's poems avoid the rigged rhetoric of "Skunk Hour" by relatively modest ambition, as in "Father's Bedroom"; others make the frustration of the quest for correspondence between self and other part of their theme. Lowell now conceives of the events of public history as existing solely in commemorative art, on the one hand, and metaphysical "immortality," like that of Shaw, on the other. These icons are static except in the sense that they suffer physical erosion and a parallel erosion of their dignity, through desecration, displacement, or neglect. Dead Pigeon Symbolism, Meaning, & Omen. Taken together, the two ditches pose an inexorable alternative: Yeats's "blind man's ditch" of natural birth and death, with its ugliness and uncertainties, as against an abstracted, centerless existence, whose quest for perfection of power easily metamorphoses into pointless and suicidal violence. Eliot's Prufrock: "I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the Boors of silent seas") and with regressive nostalgia for childhood or, in later stanzas, the historical past. Lowell's anti-Irish statement, though covert here . In turning to the seemingly impersonal power of machines, man is condemned to endless repetition not only of animal motives but of animal forms, his final point of reference for both form and purpose being his own biologically evolved nature. But where Tate suffers so intensely at the lack of a personal release into action that the hero is almost totally idealized, Lowell questions - with similar anguish - whether the active man can ever measure up to the moral completeness of the outsider's vision. in a Sahara of snow now. Seven Pillars of the House of Wisdom (Proverbs 9:1). he seems to wince at pleasure, For once, Lowell treats his public theme as precisely that and not another thing. Dream textures weave in and out of the poem, despite its prevailingly gritty, realistic tone, and dream-logic knits the various strands. The age of nuclear anxiety that followed Hiroshima and Nagasaki (so vividly crystallized in Lowell's "Fall 1961") provides a backdrop for Lowell's mature poetry as well as for the poetry of Berryman and Jarrell. One virtue of "For the Union Dead" is its restraint of analogies between public and private experience. Lowell's "civic sandpiles" are a version of Tate's "rubbish heap." and suffocate for privacy. But the Saint-Gaudens statue differs from all the other static monuments in one sense: it "sticks like a fishbone / in the city's throat" because it is an uncomfortable survivor, reminiscent of such values as heroism, sacrifice, and racial equality, that no longer seem relevant in downtown Boston. Here, Lowell's thought begins to parallel - and may, indeed, be influenced by - Norman 0. The imagery thus serves to remind us how far man is a part of evolution, his fate the common destiny of living creatures, his most distinctly human qualities, more refined analogues of traits that animals, too, have had to develop for biological survival. peculiar power to choose life and die— Explore Course Hero's library of literature materials, including documents and Q&A pairs. The texture of the poem fluctuates between graphic, hypercharged super-realism and a curiously distanced, dreamlike reverie. In other words, this spirit animal insists that we learn new ways of thinking, breathing, and going with the flow of life. During these same years, Bishop moved to Brazil in part to evade the mass-production culture that was increasingly dominating her native land. Understanding the value of sacrifice for a higher good, he remains inflexible in its pursuit, and this places him on the margins of contemporary culture. These cars, too, are monuments in a debased sense, expressing their owners' preoccupation with acquisition and mobility. "Man creates cities and technologies partly in order to . Brown's in Life Against Death. He is unable to pop them through the screen. The connections between the aquarium and the monument only emerge later, but the transition between the two begins in the third stanza. The body of the poem frequently echoes this yearning to escape from cognition and the pain of historical awareness and self-consciousness and responsibility, an escape that the leaders of Boston seem already to have achieved. The forgetfulness of the present is symbolized by the hectic urban renewal everywhere visible in the landscape; the lack of purpose to this activity is symbolized in the fact that the destruction of the landscape will bring forth only a parking lot for the "giant finned cars" of the last stanzas. Yet because he knows concretely, and undergoes in his own person, the full consequences of his choice, he remains a meaningful contrast to all the abstractionists in the poem, from William James to the television set; he represents a compromised, but still living, still responsible connection between ideology, or image, and reality. The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales. The woman with seven sons in 2 Maccabees. Given the title, the opening of the poem surprises by its obliquity. The classic 1960 poem pays tribute to the glory of the Civil War era. These two versions of the fish-as-survivor characterize the two opposing types of survivor in the poem. Suspect though the monuments are, their disappearance from the modern city is the sign of something far worse: an almost schizophrenic dissociation of the fact that war happens to living human beings, which, again, liberates man's cruelty. "For the Union Dead" stands out in Lowell's work for its unusually firm resistance to solipsism and to conflations of public and private. As the very name of the Boston Common implies, the poem is set in a public space. English, 22.06.2019 02:40. Though he is engaged in a theatrical venture, he - and his father - desire nothing for themselves but "privacy." The child sneezed seven times after Elisha raised him from the dead (2 Kings 4:35). For one thing, as the Mosler advertisement reminds us, the individual act of courage has little consequence in a war fought With modern techniques of mass destruction; for another, the problem that Lowell discovers in contemporary Boston is not one that can be solved by a dramatic and clear-cut action like Shaw's. After an Latin epigraph that slightly but significantly alters the motto to the Saint-Gaudens statue dedicated to Colonel Shaw's regiment (the altered version translates as "They relinquished everything to serve the Republic" instead of "He relinquished . Williamson observes that the Massachusetts 54th was exploited for propaganda purposes and "trained with a hastiness that suggests no high regard for the value of black lives"; Shaw was thus "wholly committed to a morally dubious, though seemingly idealistic, enterprise." . He doesn't use any formal constraints in this poem, which is fitting for a poem like this. For the Union Dead By Robert Lowell. He yearns to escape from history's spotlight. The determinate historical origin of the surrounding objects provides a firm check on the tendency to treat self and environment as mutual reflections. Asked to participate in the Boston Arts Festival in 1960, Lowell delivered "For the Union Dead," a poem about a Civil War hero, Robert Gould Shaw, whose sister Josephine had married one of Lowell's ancestors, Charles Russell Lowell (who, like Robert Gould Shaw, was killed in the war). But this is balanced by modern destruction of a still more devastating order, represented by a advertising poster of "Hiroshima boiling." Notable poems from the collection include "Beyond the Alps'" (a revised version of the poem that originally appeared in Lowell's book Life Studies), "Water," "The Old Flame," "The Public Garden" and the title poem, which is one of Lowell's best-known poems. The poem's logic resembles the subtle, associational logic of dreams, with its many surrealistic images, its curious doublings and transformations. What troubles Lowell's meditation on Colonel Shaw is not the possibility that Shaw's heroism is an illusion but rather the possibility that such heroism can no longer exist. His yearning for "the dark downward and vegetating kingdom / of the fish and reptile" reflects a yearning to reach back through the premoral awareness of early childhood to the amoral aware- ness of the lower vertebrates (FUD 70). is riding on his bubble, Christian language, the "Rock of Ages," is debased to gross advertisement, heartless in its appropriation of Hiroshima for commercial purposes. voice?in "For the Union Dead" is one with the author of the poem, Ro bert Lowell. He has an angry wrenlike vigilance, For the Union Dead essays are academic essays for citation. This essentially biographical approach attributes to that per sona the political convictions of the poet. It is paradoxical but moving that this act is said to make Shaw rejoice, surely a rare word in Lowell. For the Union Dead by Robert Lowell. The aquarium stands in ruins, but it stands. So much of the poem is made up of imagery of things either falling apart or things that have already fallen apart. Often these visual objects are monuments of some public note. The Dead Introduction + Context. Lowell calls the fish "cowed, compliant" and compares them to the huge cars in the modern-day street; these cars are menacing in a way the fish are not. The epigraph of the poem is the inscription (letters carved under the statue, written in Latin) on the memorial to Colonel Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment that he commanded. Although, as Rudman points out, its landscape, the Boston Common, "is a ten minute walk from 91 Revere Street," many thousands of Bostonians have "passed it every day" besides Lowell. This is also Lowell's vision, as revealed in the last stanza of the poem: giant finned cars nose forward like fish; Denied a fixed locality in the scheme of man's city or his mind, the fish suddenly appears everywhere. The Question and Answer section for For the Union Dead is a great He does not want to erase history and thinks that it would be detrimental to society to do so, but these statues, like the Aquarium, could one day disappear. When Shaw's body is thrown (vindictively, by the Confederates) into a mass grave with his troops, Shaw's father recognizes the appropriateness of this end in the light of his son's principles, and the implicit racism of those Northerners who see in the act only an outrage. In For the Union Dead, Lowell balances the historical allusions and symbolism of modernism with the conversational intimacy and confessional style popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s. / The airy tanks are dry" (FUD 70). The aquarium has been closed down, presumably to make way for new construction. Later in the poem, the increasing modern romanticization of the Civil War, the "statues of the abstract Union Soldier" that "grow slimmer and younger each year," form a bitter contrast to the country's continuing indifference to racial injustice. Highlights include the title poem, "Beyond the Alps," "The Old Flame," and "Caligula." And, as with Shaw, his greatest moral success is seen in his triumph, not over worldly temptation, but over the fear of loss of identity in death. He crafts a surprising, and sometimes disturbing, train of poetic thought using juxtaposition and repetitionto bring past, present, and future into collision. . "), the poem proper begins by examining visual evidence of other forms of relinquishment. Both of them he sees behind a screen or glass, and he sees bubbles rising from both of them. The stanza seems all the more unequivocal in the context of Lowell's other work. Although, as Rudman points out, its landscape, the Boston Common, "is a ten minute walk from 91 Revere Street," many thousands of Bostonians have "passed it every day" besides Lowell. Like Governor Endecott, Shaw is a gloomy, soul-searching man who ends by being wholly committed to a morally dubious, though seemingly idealistic, enterprise. The Irish have defaced the historical Common on which Emerson had his transcendental vision; they have undermined the State House and the Saint Gaudens relief in order to build a parking garage; they have abandoned civic responsibility in letting the Aquarium decline; everywhere, reduced to the synecdoche of their vulgar automobiles, their "savage servility / slides by on grease." The narrator considers what it would mean for all the monuments in New England to disappear, and how the world where that could happen would look. Yet Shaw has redeeming qualities. about Paul Breslin: On "For the Union Dead", about Alan Williamson: On "For the Union Dead", about Helen Vendler: On "For the Union Dead", about Thomas Travisano: On "For the Union Dead", Thomas Travisano: On "For the Union Dead". The two main symbolic artifacts in the poem are the aquarium and the Shaw Memorial, and the relationship between them is crucial to its interpretation. Though the impulse to violence is later transferred to other figures, we see it first in the speaker. But Lowell, more pessimistic even than Tate, fears that we will not be able to keep digging ourselves out but will slide into the ever-nearer "ditch" of extinction. The savage servility he observes, if it is that of the Irish politicians turning Boston into one long financial and ethical scandal, is also that of the poet, representing old Boston, servilely crouching to his television set as the savagery of long-standing segregation victimizes Negro children in the white Protestant South -- as though Shaw and the men of the Massachusetts 54th had died for nothing. Not only does the landscape provide artifacts that were deliberately invested by their makers with public symbolism, it offers a full historical range from colonial times (the State House, the "old white churches") through the nineteenth century (the Shaw memorial itself) to the contemporary Mosler ad, which evokes both the historical present and the immediate historical past ("Hiroshima boiling"). giant finned cars nose forward like fish; For the Union Dead is a book of poems by Robert Lowell that was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1964. Swan Meaning, and Messages In this case, Swan symbolism heralds the development of our intuitive abilities and altered states of awareness. he cannot bend his back. . Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass; my hand tingled. He rejoices in man's lovely.