James Sullivan: On "The March I"

An account of the confrontation at the Pentagon between the antiwar protesters and the military the day after [Lowell's reading at an antiwar rally], "The March" . . . describes Lowell's own ambivalence as a participant. The marchers listened to "the remorseless amplified harangues for peace" at the Lincoln Memorial, and then later at the Pentagon, at the end of their march, "heard, alas, more speeches." The political significance of the event lay less in the specific words anyone spoke through a microphone than in the very fact and size of the demonstration. The speakers, whatever they said, whatever the quality of their oratory, provided a focus for the crowd. Having gathered in part to display their numbers, they needed something to do, so they listened. Marching across the Potomac was something more pleasingly active to do, but more risky, since as they approached the Pentagon they would meet the lines of MPs guarding the building. In the poem, the marchers, "mostly white-haired, or bald, or women," appear weak, dwarfed by overstated state monuments on the mall, not to mention the Pentagon itself. In their submission to hearing still more speeches, the marchers appear weak even in the face of their own movement, which sends them "off like green Union Army recruits / for the first Bull Run." Lowell felt weak in body and spirit before this . . . . Weak as any of us, he offers a model of responsibility beyond hardly anyone's strength. His heart his cowardly and foolhardy as my own; his glasses, slick with the sweat of fear as my own would be, slip down his nose. In the "fear, glory, chaos, rout" of the confrontation, when the MPs "trampled us flat and back," he neither stood his ground nor escaped under his own power, but by the aid of "kind hands / that helped me stagger to my feet and flee."

Details

Criticism Overview
Title James Sullivan: On "The March I" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author James Sullivan Criticism Target Robert Lowell
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 04 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication On the Walls and in the Streets: American Poetry Broadsides from the 1960s
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