Thomas R. Edwards: On "The March I"

The poet wryly mocks his activist self, the bespectacled, aging, nervous man of letters playing Union Recruit in his first engagement, not yet sure that Bull Run will be a defeat but vaguely hopeful that defeats may feel more glorious than victories anyway. Washington appears as a post-card version of itself, everything bigger and whiter than life; and the theatrical setting and melodramatized "sci-fi" enemy mock the poet's excitement at doing something "important" and exhilaratingly remote from his usual sense of himself. His distaste for the "amplified harangues" is reassuring but a little suspect even to himself -- is his the impatience of the would-be man of action, anxious to get on with it before his resolution cools? If this is a sketch, it nevertheless manages to show the poet seeing himself from outside even while honouring the inner feeling of the occasion.

. . . .

"The March" could have and no doubt was meant to confirm the value of a public gesture by admitting the ineptness of one's own part in it and finding that even irony doesn't spoil the whole significance. But as it stands the poem seems more concerned with the pathos of one's public impotence, the helpless realization that you have made a gesture your consciousness of weakness keeps you from trusting. . . . "The March," in short, inclines toward a familiar liberal situation, that of a mind aware of its "practical" ineffectuality trying to participate in a political act without believing that its participation matters -- which is, in effect, to doubt the reality of politics altogether. The poem dwells too much on the poet's ability to survive his humiliations and feel a decent compassion for all participants, admirable human achievements but not adequate ways of understanding a terrible public crisis.

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Criticism Overview
Title Thomas R. Edwards: On "The March I" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Thomas R. Edwards Criticism Target Robert Lowell
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 04 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Imagination and Power: A Study of Poetry on Public Themes
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