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Reflection on Lowell’s “For the union Dead”

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  1. Introduction
  2. For the Union Dead: Written in 1960
  3. The war imagery
  4. Words that are violent and invoke images of war
  5. The use of violent words
  6. Conclusion
  7. Bibliography

Robert Lowell opens his poem, For the Union Dead, with an image of destruction, despair, and the loss of something that represents his youth. This opening stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem. For the Union Dead is ultimately more discouraging than inspiring. Its disheartening tone can be understood through the poem's contradictory imagery, its violent imagery, and through the Lowell's reading of the poem. Lowell became motivated to write For the Union Dead after witnessing the digging of the new parking garage under the historic Boston Common. Through the poem, Lowell addresses the issue of progress and the ramifications of progress. It is apparent that Lowell regards progress with a certain amount of contempt. He feels there is no way to halt the damage progress can do to the past.

[...] during construction was replaced on top of the garage after its completion in 1964. Built in 1634, the Boston Common is the oldest public park in America. Today however, thanks to the construction of the parking garage, the historic soil that used to be the Boston Common is gone. Today, one cannot walk through the Common and possibly be stepping on soil that Samuel Adams had trod on centuries earlier. The land has been moved, shifted, and changed. The history of the Common has in a sense been raped by progress. [...]


[...] That is the tone one finds in For the Union Dead. There is no representation of anything inspiring. A counter point could argue that the presence of the 54th regiment is meant to symbolize strength and hope. Since Lowell draws a parallel between them and the Civil Rights activists of the 1960s, one could argue that the soldiers are meant to represent strength and perseverance in the face of adversity. However, the words that Lowell chooses to surround Shaw and the 54th regiment does not inspire hope. [...]

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