Memorial Day: remembrance

For the Union Dead by Robert Lowell is a meditation on the memorial to Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, who fought and died at Fort Wagner in South Carolina. The 54th was one of the first regiments composed entirely of African American soldiers.

Below is an excerpt, but by all means, read the whole thing.

Parking spaces luxuriate like civic

sandpiles in the heart of Boston.

A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders

braces the tingling Statehouse,

shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw

and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry

on St. Gaudens’ shaking Civil War relief,

propped by a plank splint against the garage’s earthquake.

Two months after marching through Boston,

half the regiment was dead;

at the dedication,

William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

Their monument sticks like a fishbone

in the city’s throat.

Its Colonel is as lean

as a compass-needle.

He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,

a greyhound’s gentle tautness;

he seems to wince at pleasure,

and suffocate for privacy.

The move Glory also commemorates Shaw and the 54th. Here is a scene.

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