25 March 2010
“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. Such imagery is central to the poem and is also central to interpreting the poem in the manner in which Robert Lowell intended. Lowell was an American poet who expressed his concern for the direction of American society though his poetry: “For the Union Dead” is a prime example of that concern. In “For the Union Dead”, Robert Lowell condemns American society for the direction in which it is heading, away from the “old South Boston Aquarium” (Line 2) of old and towards a society predicated on glamorizing “commercial photograph[s] / [showing] …show more content…
The poem progresses to more intimate description of the monument, where Lowell opts to bring a literary figure in William James in to emphasize the significance of the commemoration. James writes, “[he] could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe” (28) in the poem, to show how real and fundamental the memorial was to society. In today’s world, “Their monument sticks like a fishbone / in the city’s throat. Its Colonel is as lean / as a compass-needle” (29-32), it is nothing more than an overlooked article of metallurgy. It is a symbol of racial tension – a topic still hotly debated – and a symbol that is seemingly no longer culturally relevant, engendering Lowell’s perception of Shaw “[seeming] to wince at pleasure, / and [suffocating] for privacy” (35-36). Shaw is also described as being “out of bounds now” (37) and having the “peculiar power to choose life and die” (38). Shaw’s actions will never be reproduced due to his uncanny mindset for acting in a humane manner. Lowell blames the average American’s inability to identify with a figure such as Shaw on the deviance of modern day American society.
Following the stanzas describing the monument is another subject change, this time aiming the discourse