“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. 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. 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. MAPS welcomes submissions of original essays and teaching materials related to MAPS poets and the Anthology of Modern American Poetry. The ideal implied in the portrait of Colonel Shaw is explicitly stated in the concluding passage of moral advice in Lowell's translation of juvenal's "The Vanity of Human Wishes," a passage which Lowell (unlike his source, according to an essay by Patricia Meyer Spacks) calls the portrait of a "hero": that thinks long life the least of nature's gifts, courage that takes whatever comes - this hero, like Hercules, all pain and labor, loathes, This hero, though something of a tyrannicide in his "loathing," has managed to conquer the tyrannous "gut" motives of oral absorption. In "For the Union Dead," the denial of "animal instincts" and "animal mortality" as part of the human condition is not expressed in the desire to attain immortality through monumental architecture; rather, this denial is akin to the denial of history expressed in the destruction of the aquarium and the near-destruction of the war memorial. The statement "My hand draws back" signals also a drawing back from recollection into the present. Past deeds of war have vanished into these aesthetic and virtual forms . 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 . "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." We are also happy to take questions and suggestions for future materials. . For once, Lowell treats his public theme as precisely that and not another thing. These begin, of course, with reflections on the death of Colonel Shaw and his black regiment during the Civil War, losses that, despite their tragic nature, had a lofty social purpose. 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. The closing of the aquarium becomes emblematic of our repression of the fish and reptile within, and the persistence of the fish and reptile in descriptions of steamshovels, cars, and the monument itself (which "sticks like a fishbone / in the city's throat") hints at a Brownian return of the repressed, "more pervasive and uncontrollable in direct proportion to the intensity of the repression. Later the fish reappear, in the angry final lines of the poem, having suffered metamorphosis into dynamic, mechanical monsters: Everywhere, . . . Helen Vendler. Images from the Aquarium in the first stanza resurface throughout the poem, but their echoes are sometimes contradictory. This symbolism means new spiritual growth is […] The speaker understands that racial prejudice still exists. The continuing reality of racism reappears in "the drained faces of Negro school-children" whom the narrator observes on television attempting to integrate southern schools (FUD 70-72). 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. And there is evidence in the polemical essays of Jarrell's prose collection A Sad Heart at the Supermarket and in poems like "Next Day," as well as throughout Berryman's Dream Songs, of the degree to which the burgeoning of a callous and triumphant commercialism in the fifties and sixties disturbed them. Its "cowed, compliant fish" may be no more, but a "bronze weathervane cod" still sits atop the roof, even though it "has lost half its scales" (FUD 70). But, Brown says, in culture as in individual neurosis, what is repressed reappears, and is more pervasive and uncontrollable in direct proportion to the intensity of the repression. The poem opens with the poet watching the deserted South Boston Aquarium, which he had visited as a child. Like Governor Endecott, Shaw is a gloomy, soul-searching man who ends by being wholly committed to a morally dubious, though seemingly idealistic, enterprise. Through this study, poems selected from Lord Weary’s Castle, The Mills of the Kavanaughs, Life Studies and For the Union Dead are reinterpreted in order to explore the consequences of what Lowell could have intended with this stylistic modification, and discover the religiosity that he claimed was hidden. 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. . The "power to choose life and die" must have seemed especially "peculiar" to a poet of futility and divided will, for whom "the simple word," as he later put it, was always becoming "buried in a random, haggard sentence, / cutting ten ways to nothing clearly carried" (H, 132). Instead of Colonel Shaw, leading the first black regiment into battle, we have the nonheroic speaker reduced to spectatorship, watching the civil rights struggles of his own day on television, where "the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons" (FTUD, 72). But the speaker of the poem is not exempt. The ad for Mosler Safes is presented as a shoddy modern parallel to these monuments, memorializing war crassly for monetary gain. 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.' . The poem's logic resembles the subtle, associational logic of dreams, with its many surrealistic images, its curious doublings and transformations. The Dead Symbols | LitCharts. Tag: union. Given the title, the opening of the poem surprises by its obliquity. And yet the surface and the depths are linked, since Lowell renders his images of mechanism in fishy and reptilean language—" dinosaur steamshovels," or the "giant-finned cars" of the last stanza. Answers: 1. With the words "cowed" and "compliant" attached to the fish, this seems like a questionable choice. 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