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For the Union Dead

For the Union Dead


by Robert Lowell

Stanza 3 Summary

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

Lines 9–11

My hand draws back. I often sigh still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile.

  • The beginning of line 9 draws us out of the reverie into the present day. The speaker admits that even now he daydreams of the past when he would visit the aquarium. 
  • The description of the marine life as a "dark downward and vegetating kingdom" makes it seem mysterious, and even a little spooky (a good place for a Scooby-Doo episode, anyway).
  • The end of line 11 signals another jump in time. Now we're looking at a more recent past. Specifically, last March. 
  • Lowell keeps it up with the alliteration. Notice "sigh still" in line 9. When you read this aloud it actually sounds a lot like a sigh. In line 10 he uses "dark" and "downward" together. The repetition of D sounds might conjure the dum dum dum DUM you hear when something bad or dramatic is about to happen in a movie (beeteedubs: those notes actually originally belong to Beethoven).

Line 12

I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

  • Check out how Lowell uses "press" as he did in the memory about the speaker as a young boy pressing his nose against the tank's glass in wonderment. He creates a tie between the past and present by using that same verb. 
  • This last line leaves us hanging, though. What is pressing against? Thanks to this use of enjambment, we're left hanging until the next stanza. Let's hurry down there…

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