Study Guide

For the Union Dead Sacrifice

By Robert Lowell

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"Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam." (Epigraph)

Translation: "They gave up all to serve the republic." To give one's life is the ultimate sacrifice. It certainly trumps trying to give up Facebook for a month (by about a zillion times).

Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked N**** infantry
on St. Gaudens' shaking Civil War relief (21–23)

This is the first appearance of the memorial, which commemorates the sacrifice of the Union Soldiers. The whole squad is up there representing. Big ups.

Two months after marching through Boston,
half the regiment was dead; (25–26)

The soldiers traveled and fought in harsh conditions and ultimately sacrificed their lives. Not only did they die, but they had to suffer for months beforehand. Talk about adding insult to injury.

he cannot bend his back (40).

Colonel Shaw fought so hard and long during the war that he's physically wasted. He sacrificed his body. While his posture is upright and seemingly confident, try tying your shoes without bending your back. Not easy, folks.

frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic. (43–44)

The flags are symbols of the soldiers' sacrifice (although they are frayed and fading). We could probably think of a few more comforting things than frayed flags for quilts (like an actual quilt, for one). It seems like even though the sacrifice was great, the reward is little.

Shaw's father wanted no monument (49)

Colonel Shaw's father believed that sacrifice was his son's duty, and that there needn't be a monument to recognize that. Talk about tough love, pops.

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