Study Guide

For the Union Dead Fragility

By Robert Lowell


So much of the poem is made up of imagery of things either falling apart or things that have already fallen apart. Nothing seems quite strong enough to stand the test of time. It looks like just about everything—from the old aquarium to the shaking city—could use a little super glue.

  • Lines 1–4: The aquarium of the speaker's childhood is done for. Finito. Over. Whatever remains of it—the cracked windows, the empty tanks, the cod—is broken, too. Lowell opens the poem with this bummer of an image and scatters more examples throughout its entirety. 
  • Lines 19–21: Lowell takes what could be a normal city construction scene and makes it seem completely fragile. The fact that the state house is shaking from the construction and its supports (girders) are being compared to a woman's undergarment (girdle) doesn't exactly make us feel safe. 
  • Lines 23–24: The whole scene's a-quiver! The memorial, poorly protected by a dinky plank, is shaking from the construction going on in the garage, which Lowell likens to an earthquake (the mother of all shaky things). 
  • Lines 45–47: Lowell even makes the stone statues of hardened Civil War soldiers appear fragile. They're looking scrawnier and sleepier each year (not exactly a picture of strength). 
  • Lines 61–64: Last time we checked, bubbles are pretty fragile. They are not recommended as sturdy modes of transportation. This is the second-to-last image Lowell creates in the poem, and it's certainly a fragile one.

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