“For the Union Dead” is the titular poem of Robert Lowell’s sixth book of poetry. This poem was commissioned by the Boston Arts Festival in 1960 and ended up in some paperback editions of Life Studies. It builds a shaky bridge between the present and the past, and indicates Lowell’s dread for the future. The speaker imagines that violence will be increasingly normalized and exploited. He understands that the present has not resolved the issues of the past, but he believes that some decayed bit in the fabric of American society is beginning to rot faster. Monuments to Union heroes are no longer valued. Nor are the enterprises whose core values are not simply the increase of capital: for instance, the South Boston Aquarium.
This poem is written almost conversationally, without so much as a rhyme scheme, and is demonstrative of Lowell’s break from meter and rhyme.