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For the Union Dead

For the Union Dead


by Robert Lowell

Stanza 16 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 61–62

Colonel Shaw
is riding on his bubble,

  • Recall the bubble from the beginning of the poem when the speaker wants to pop the bubbles blowing from the fish mouths in the aquarium. 
  • This bubble also reminds us of the previous line with the balloons. 
  • This is a fantasy-like image, because—obviously—Colonel Shaw is now dead, and even alive it would be pretty tough to ride a bubble. We'll have to read on to see if the meaning of this image will unveil itself.

Lines 63–64

he waits
for the blessed break.

  • Hmm, not quite the decoding we were hoping for, but let's take a stab. Colonel Shaw's riding on an imaginary (or figurative) bubble, waiting for it to break.
  • The bubble could stand for the cause or the struggle (a united country with united countrymen, regardless of race) that he and his regiment fought for. 
  • The break could also mean the relief (as in, "give me a break!"). Because the Civil Rights struggle is still going on during the time of this poem, maybe the speaker imagines Shaw waiting for it all to be finally resolved.

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