Paul Revere by Cyrus Dallin, North End, Boston

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Memorial Day, Boston 2012

I usually post a photo of one of my favorite sculptures in Boston, The Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, which is installed across the street from the Massachusetts State House, on the Boston Common.

"Commissioned from the celebrated American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens in the early 1880s and dedicated as a monument in 1897, the Shaw Memorial has been acclaimed as the greatest American sculpture of the nineteenth century.

The relief masterfully depicts Colonel Shaw and the first African American infantry unit from the North to fight for the Union during the Civil War. The sculpture combines the real and allegorical, and presents a balance of restraint and vitality."


I also include, with the post, Robert Lowell's moving poem about the Shaw Memorial in which Lowell ties in the yet unresolved issues of the Civil War with the mindless consumerism that grips the nation in his poem “For the Union Dead”.  It is one of my favorite poems; and when I visit the Shaw Memorial, as I often do, I think of Lowell's poem that so perfectly limns the relief and its setting in the Boston Common.


"One of Lowell’s best-known works, Union Dead is a multi-layered poem set in the heart of Boston. On the surface, it is an elegy to the heroic Massachusetts 54. The soldiers fought with valor and moral integrity while trying to preserve the Union and end slavery. A closer examination reveals a country that blindly worships Capitalism. Following consumerism alone has left the country directionless. Lowell watches the steam shovels atwork and comments that avarice is literally and figuratively shaking the Massachusetts Statehouse, “Parking spaces luxuriate like civic sandpiles in the heart of Boston. A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders braces the tingling Statehouse.” Lowell is nostalgic for the Boston of his youth and for a country, real or imagined, whose moral integrity was intact. Lowell is raising an objection to a country that commodifies the nuclear age, he objects to the new realism; he objects to the triumph of
commercialism over morality, he objects to a country that has forsaken spirituality for physicality:“On Boylston Street a commercial photograph shows Hiroshima boiling over a Mosler safe, the “Rock of Ages” that survived the blast. Space is nearer.”  


The space that Lowell speaks of is just that--Nothingness. Extinction of the human race will be the cost if we cannot move to higher moral ground."

FOR THE UNION DEAD

The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.
Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the crowded, compliant fish.

My hand draws back. I often sign still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile. One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.

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 of 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 a 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.

He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man's lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die-
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.

On a thousand small town New England greens
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic

The stone statutes of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year-
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns…

Shaw's father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son's body was thrown
and lost with his "niggers."

The ditch is nearer.
There are no statutes for the last war here;
on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
shows Hiroshima boiling

over a Mosler Safe, the "Rock of Ages"
that survived the blast. Space is nearer.
when I crouch to my television set,
the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.
Colonel Shaw
is riding on his bubble,
he waits
for the blessed break.

The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.


                                    --Robert Lowell


Also this Memorial Day, a new exhibit on the Boston Common: 




Over 200 volunteers spent Wednesday [May 23] planting flags for Memorial Day on the grounds of Boston Common in downtown Boston in honor of those who served and died for our country. 

The 33,000 flags represent all of the fallen soldiers from Massachusetts who have died since the civil war.

Peace.

13 comments:

Tim said...

While we are all enjoying our backyard Bar-B-Q's let's remember the veterans that have fallen, and even the ones who serve in safer posts, that work long hours (no overtime) and endure long separations from hearth and home, and the loved ones who wait for them to return.

Dave Miller said...

Amen Tim...

Nice post Shaw...

Silverfiddle said...

Peace indeed.

Anonymous said...

Can't celebrate the holiday, it's all wrapped in fake patriotism by conservatives.

Rational Nation USA said...

More hateful rhetoric from the vacuum chamber of the progressive left. Great way to m? ake your case for more unprincipled thought anon. Have you picked an identity yet? Or will you remain nothing but a vapor swirling around in the unidentifiable collective?

Rational Nation USA said...
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Steve said...
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Steve said...
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Rational Nation USA said...

Rational Nation USA has bee under attack for some time. I initially believed it was an attack from the left because I am a strict constitutionalist and a advocate of Bastiat and Randian principals.

Following an exhaustive analysis, as admittedly uncertain as my conclusion might be, all evidence now points to the attack being initiated by, and sustained by a right wing blogger, one that I initially had trusted exclusively. Even to the point I gave him administrative rights to my site. My problems begin immediately following said authorization.

Point being, at least for me is... Trust No One. Protect your site by changing login passwords weekly, and give NO ONE administrative authority or posting authorization to your site unless you know them PERSONALLY.

I learned the hard lesson and perhaps it is too late. While I remain a advocate for Randian principles and objectivism, as well as limited and responsible government the attack on my person and my integrity by the right has to say the least given me a different perspective.

The hard core right is, just as Ayn Rand and Leonard Piekoff argued nothing more than rightist statism at its best, and at its worst hard core fascism.

To the respectable and honorable liberals I may have recently offended, WELL, I STAND BY MY RATIONAL PRINCIPLES.

Shaw, thanks for putting up with me...

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Rational Nation USA said...
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Rational Nation USA said...
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