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For the Union Dead is a poem by Robert Lowell whose theme is based on the narration of the happenings in the life of Colonel Shaw a white officer commanding an all black brigade in the American Civil War. Lowell contrasts Shaw’s statue with the increasing commercialization and consumerism of American society. The main thematic thrust of the poem is the unsettled Boston terrain as contrasted with the America of the 1960s.
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In the place of meter and rhyme the poem instead has uneven quatrains which are connected by assonance and alliteration. The poet works his way through the decay and dissolution of Boston’s monuments; Shaw and his black troops, to the diminishing number of soldiers who fought on the union side in the civil war. The modern society of the United States has adopted a k8ind of consumerism and commercialization which is posing a threat to its history by its tendency of industrial waste. Lowell in the poem makes no effort to save the monuments through poetic warnings against commercialization but rather he asserts the will of Colonel Shaw’s father which was to see the ditch where his son’s body was thrown rather than have a monument built for him. Lowell describes Shaw’s statue as powerless in that it is stiff and cannot bend its back. Lowell describes Shaw as a greyhound therefore giving him qualities which make him alive even in death. Shaw’s statue guides Boston like a compass needle by acting like a warning. The statue of Shaw while acting like a warning in a frozen state is presently threatened by new priorities which make people to give up their history in order to attain a few parking lots and in so doing give up their humanity.
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