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The American Civil War is a topic which many poets have addressed in verse. What separates Lowells For The Union Dead from the scores of other Civil War poems is not only the complex interweaving of period and contemporary events in order to make

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Introduction

BASED ON YOUR READING OF THE CRITICAL ANTHOLOGY, ARGUE THE CASE FOR YOUR SELECTION OF POEMS WHICH YOU VIEW AS HAVING VALUE The American Civil War is a topic which many poets have addressed in verse. What separates Lowell's 'For The Union Dead' from the scores of other Civil War poems is not only the complex interweaving of period and contemporary events in order to make a social commentary on change, which give the poem a strong modern-day resonance, but also the precise and polysemic lexis Lowell employs in order to link different timeframes. In 1964, four years after he first read 'For The Union Dead' in public, Lowell stated in a letter: "In my poem For The Union Dead, I lament the loss of the old Abolitionist spirit; the terrible injustice, in the past and present, of the American treatment of the Negro is the greatest urgency to me as a man and a writer.". By describing the "loss" of such a spirit, Lowell also reveals what has replaced it in modern Boston; a vulgar fixation with consumerism. His juxtaposition of the unselfish and heroic sacrifice of Colonel Shaw and his all-black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry against the moral decline of modern Boston, of a rose-tinted past against a dystopian present, is a continual theme in the poem. ...read more.

Middle

Lowell also presents continuity regarding the fact that despite the American Civil War was won by the Abolitionists, segregation was still existent at the time of writing; he conveys disgust at the fact that while America's fragile sense of heritage and culture is bulldozed in the name of technological 'advancement' (the steamshovels and cars), racism remains. The fact that the Boston Common garage is geographically close to the bronze memorial for the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers Infantry means that the link between the two is justified and founded in reality, the link being that although the garage would suggests advancement, it actually represents a backward step for Boston, and the memorial's place in an America which still instigates segregation shows that America is still stuck in its prejudiced past. Lowell's layering of images, juxtapositions and parallels across various timeframes, and the split between historical and personal, allows the poem to be a complex collection of ideas contributing to the same central twin destinations concerning inequality and transience. A "complex interweaving... of ideas" which denotes value, then, can be clearly identified in Lowell's poem. Another feature of 'valued' literature, alongside complex ideas, is complexity in language and word choice. There can be little doubt that Lowell has chosen to place certain words in certain places in the poem, that he is a "craftsperson... ...read more.

Conclusion

who repeat over and over the message which the text itself failed to tell", that these critics make up for a poet's lack of precision in craft. However, the ignorance of the reader cannot diminish the value of a poem; it is the reader's responsibility to fill in gaps in their knowledge and thereby fully comprehend the value and complexity of the poem. Foucault also doubts that the writer is in complete control of the writing, arguing instead that certain "literary traditions... economic and literary pressures" influence the text. Again, if Foucault's position is to be believed, this would show that Lowell is not a "craftsman... in command of (his) writing", and therefore that his poetry is not 'valuable'. However, while these pressures undoubtedly shape certain decisions concerning issues like structure and subject matter (for instance, the construction of the underground garage in the vicinity of the memorial and the on-going civil rights movement led Lowell to consider Colonel Shaw and his Infantry's bravery and the futility of their sacrifice), the artistry and poetic technique exhibited by the poet requires a great deal of control. These pressures, if anything, form a vague outline of a work which must be defined and filled by the poet's imagination; Lowell does this magnificently, using the intricate entwining of themes and ideas and precise word choice to create a work of true value. ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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