Home / Poetry / For the Union Dead / Analysis / Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay / ... Symbol Analysis. Swan Meaning, and Messages In this case, Swan symbolism heralds the development of our intuitive abilities and altered states of awareness. 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). Brown's: what we build reveals what we desire, and only when we desire worthy ends do we build well. Gad, whose name means good luck, is the seventh son of Jacob. For example, the arbitrary relation may be defined by the notion that nothing in the word milk suggests a source of protein from a … a savage servility  Helen Vendler. he seems to wince at pleasure,  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. It is paradoxical but moving that this act is said to make Shaw rejoice, surely a rare word in Lowell. For once, Lowell treats his public theme as precisely that and not another thing. . It is worth remembering that Crick, Cooper, Williamson, and Axelrod were writing during or soon after the war in Vietnam, a historical circumstance that would dispose them toward a cynical view of military heroism like Shaw's. 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. It might be said that Colonel Shaw is a bit of a monument in his action, stonelike, unbending. Answers: 1. 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. Tag: union. "For the Union Dead" stands out in Lowell's work for its unusually firm resistance to solipsism and to conflations of public and private. Lastly, Colonel Shaw "is riding on his bubble" and waiting "for the blessèd break." It was Lowell's sixth book. Images from the Aquarium in the first stanza resurface throughout the poem, but their echoes are sometimes... Bubbles/balloons (motif). It might also imply a yearning for the freedom to act on baser instinct, a freedom shared by the lower vertebrates but rejected by Colonel Shaw. 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). "For the Union Dead" probably contains a greater profusion of animal imagery, for its length, than any other poem by Lowell. The old South Boston Aquarium stands. Some of the poem's many figures have lost all but a vicarious existence, and live on in the form of monuments, statues, pictures, and other visual objects. The Dead Introduction + Context. . While some cultures see the Pigeon as a dirty bird, many notable people used the Pigeon’s homing ability for carrying messages. For the Union Dead Symbols, Allegory and Motifs Fish (motif). The aquarium has been closed down, presumably to make way for new construction. Lowell's judgment on monuments, mechanisms, and cities in this poem is finally closer to Allen Tate's than to Norman O. 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. A diminished survivor, the aquarium is just the first of many attenuated monuments that populate the poem. eNotes critical analyses help you gain a deeper understanding of For the Union Dead so you can excel on your essay or test. But what is at issue is more than a restatement of the perverse argument that the tyrant is more pitiable than the tyrannicide, the monster than the abstractionist; for Colonel Shaw provides a pattern of the action that is quintessentially human: "he rejoices in man's lovely, / peculiar power to choose life and die." 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). Imagistically, the passage functions as an overture on many levels, but its overriding emotional tone is nostalgia: Lowell mourns the loss of a curiosity about other living beings that made people want aquariums. Answers: 1. . slides by on grease. 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. / The airy tanks are dry" (FUD 70). 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. . . We are also happy to take questions and suggestions for future materials. He yearns to escape from history's spotlight. The Civil War Issue. The central monument is the bronze relief of Colonel Shaw and his soldiers, but Lowell thinks of all the memorial statues in New England. If Lowell's dark vision of advanced civilization parallels Norman 0. Lowell has now realized that the inner life, even that of a prophet, cannot remain immune from the corruption it describes. Modern men no longer wish to acknowledge their kinship with the animal world, but prefer the comforts and thrills given them by machines, televisions, urban centers oriented around the "civic sandpiles" of underground garages. 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. For the Union Dead. 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. For example, the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 dismayed Randall Jarrell as profoundly as the firebombing and massive destruction of Hamburg did Lowell (see also Jarrell's own quietly heartbreaking "The Angels at Hamburg" for his response to the destruction by firestorm of this German city, where the death toll, by some estimates, exceeded that of Nagasaki.) You know the right answer? If so, does that indicate that they have a natural breaking point? In the second stanza, Lowell as a child longs to pop the bubbles in the Aquarium, but he is prevented from doing so by the glass. In other words, this spirit animal insists that we learn new ways of thinking, breathing, and going with the flow of life. 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. Like many 20th-century poems, "For the Union Dead" displays the flexible nature of words. . Seven Pillars of the House of Wisdom (Proverbs 9:1). . 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. 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. Discussion of themes and motifs in Robert Lowell's For the Union Dead. Its broken windows are boarded. These cars, too, are monuments in a debased sense, expressing their owners' preoccupation with acquisition and mobility. 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. giant finned cars nose forward like fish;  And yet, the presence of those "Negro school-children" on television proves that it still does. Plot Summary. 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. Lowell's anti-Irish statement, though covert here . For once, Lowell treats his public theme as precisely that and not another thing. As the very name of the Boston Common implies, the poem is set in a public space. Although Lowell does recollect his childhood visits to the aquarium, he mutes the theme of his own unique relationship to the setting and concentrates on its shared meanings. The child is thus complexly imaged as both aggressor and victim, in a separate world from the adult, yet inexorably linked to adult consciousness. Lowell's "civic sandpiles" are a version of Tate's "rubbish heap." 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 poem proper begins by examining visual evidence of other forms of relinquishment. Solin, Alana. Lowell's nearest approach, in For the Union Dead, to an image of moral political action is to be found in the title poem. when he leads his black soldiers to death. As remnants of the body person who leaves the material world they represent the spirit that is anticipated to return during the celebration. To endanger the Shaw Memorial for the sake of a garage is to forget the meaning of Shaw's death or to deny that this meaning still matters. The surface of nature will then be literally as well as morally concealed from the eyes of men. Yet the simple equation of animal images with brutality, instinct, and raw power that works in the tyrant passages is no longer viable here, although the yearning for a "dark downward and vegetating kingdom" suggesting a subrational unity of consciousness, even a return to the womb, is certainly akin to Caligula's desires. One virtue of "For the Union Dead" is its restraint of analogies between public and private experience. . The texture of the poem fluctuates between graphic, hypercharged super-realism and a curiously distanced, dreamlike reverie. Brown's in Life Against Death. Though he is engaged in a theatrical venture, he - and his father - desire nothing for themselves but "privacy." 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.". Indeed, one might argue that the aquarium is itself a monument, parallel in symbolic function to these other buildings. His heroism is of a past order that seems uncomfortable even for an observer who mourns its passing. The connections between the aquarium and the monument only emerge later, but the transition between the two begins in the third stanza. Pigeon is a fighter when it comes to staying alive. 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." Birds. 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." Clicking a result will bring you directly to the content. . But here, the representation is unconscious; the society that builds and buys the cars reveals its values without having intended to do so. In contrast to "Skunk Hour," the focus shifts away from self and toward environment. Such imagery is central to the poem and is also central to interpreting the poem in the manner in which Robert Lowell intended. The Question and Answer section for For the Union Dead is a great Racial prejudice. Answer. For the Union Dead is a book of poems by Robert Lowell that was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1964. he waits  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. He rejoices in man's lovely,  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. 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. Here, Lowell's thought begins to parallel - and may, indeed, be influenced by - Norman 0. "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. 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. Lowell opens not with the Civil War monument but with his recollection of childhood visits to the aquarium, and it takes him five stanzas to come round to Colonel Shaw. The form of that ditch is further replicated in the very "underworld garage" being gouged beneath the Statehouse. 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. It was Lowell's sixth book. 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. 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. Of course, fish don't have noses or make bubbles, as the poet surely knew, so this must be a memory, that, like so many of the objects in the poem, has suffered metamorphosis. The bubble he rides survives, with typical dream logic, from the fish tank, and from the faces of the school children who "rise like balloons." . 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 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. 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. This essentially biographical approach attributes to that per sona the political convictions of the poet. For the portrait of Colonel Shaw provides a moral resolution to the question of animality and death, as to that of political abstraction. Explore Course Hero's library of literature materials, including documents and Q&A pairs. During these same years, Bishop moved to Brazil in part to evade the mass-production culture that was increasingly dominating her native land. The airy tanks are dry. For the Union Dead is a book of poems by Robert Lowell that was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1964. Images from the Aquarium in the first stanza resurface throughout the poem, but their echoes are sometimes contradictory. "For the Union Dead" Summary and Analysis. 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. He reads "For the Union Dead" as an indictment of civilization much like Norman O. The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales. 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. Lowell's "For the Union Dead" vastly expands the context of individual experiences of loss presented in more concentrated form in the previous poems. . The poem opens with the poet watching the deserted South Boston Aquarium, which he had visited as a child. 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. 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. 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"). A similar process occurs in Lowell's poem. But the speaker of the poem is not exempt. At the beginning of the play, Scrooge is in his counting house and is 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. 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. Or perhaps the meaning is almost the reverse: modern man is so terrified of technological war that he can endure its image only when aided by a further identification with the inanimate permanence of - money! 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? 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