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Themes

There is so much change in "For the Union Dead," and a good deal of frustration with a lack of change, too. In both cases, it seems that the transformation (or the lack thereof) is a negative thing. Change for the better? Not in this case. Lowell takes us through the current construction (read: destruction) of South Boston, and the decay of all of the old, worthy stuff (the aquarium, for example). This kind of change seems to be bullying the old important stuff to make way for something shiny and new (and meaningless). On the flipside, the underlying feeling of racial oppression doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Bad times all around.

Questions About Transformation

  1. We see many examples of physical transformation in this poem. Can you identify them? 
  2. In a poem about the Union dead—soldiers that died so many years ago—what's the point of showing all of these seemingly unrelated changes? 
  3. What hasn't changed according to this poem? Feel free to read between the lines! 
  4. Are the changes in this poem positive or negative? Which ones, and how can you tell?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Change is all good. Lowell gives us all of these examples of Boston's transformation to illustrate our progress as a country. Yay, us.

There is huge contrast between the physical transformations in this poem and actual societal change. Lowell thinks the physical change is useless, even destructive, and that the real change needs to come to the people, and not necessarily the place. So, get it together, people.

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