Common Concerns: John Berryman’s “Boston Common” and Robert Lowell’s “For the Union Dead” (3506 words)

Literary/ Cultural Context Essay

John Berryman’s 1942 poem “Boston Common” and Robert Lowell’s much better-known “For the Union Dead”, first published as “Colonel Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th” in 1959, are attempts to use Boston Common and Augustus St. Gauden’s bronze relief of Shaw and his black soldiers as the focus for some critical reflections on contemporary American life. Both poems stand in a long line of Shaw-inspired social criticism going back virtually to July 1863 when the Massachusetts volunteers suffered huge losses, including Shaw himself, during a hopeless attempt to capture Fort Wagner from its Confederate defenders. Robert Lowell’s ancestor – and Shaw’s relative – James …

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Spencer, Luke. "Common Concerns: John Berryman’s “Boston Common” and Robert Lowell’s “For the Union Dead”". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 22 February 2017
[, accessed 13 December 2018.]

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