The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Up Rising,” in the tradition of all good political poetry, casts its shadow onto public discourse in ways that are both instructive and artistic. The poem extends to slightly over two pages of free verse. In a play on words, the title resembles the single word “uprising”—evocative of political insurrection—yet because it is written as two words, it suggests the ominous emergence of dark, sinister forces in America that are the foci of the poem’s meditation.

The first line mentions “Johnson,” a reference to Lyndon Baines Johnson, United States President from 1963 to 1969. The poem declares that Johnson will arise “to join the great simulacra”—empty images—of such men as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, and “to work his fame/ with planes roaring out from Guam over Asia.” This reference to America’s bombing of Indochina during the Vietnam War is Robert Duncan’s rationale for equating Johnson with two of the century’s most brutal, prodigious mass-murderers. Duncan’s negative reaction to the Vietnam War is the poem’s unifying element.

Duncan portrays Johnson as a megalomaniac, with “all America” subjected to his “will,” which Duncan labels “a bloated thing,” perhaps a tick, parasitically sucking “blood and dreams” from the nation. The poet notes that Johnson’s “fame” is such that “his name stinks with burning meat and heapt honors.” Duncan also implicates “the professional...

(The entire section is 502 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Two highly distinctive features of “Up Rising” are its long lines and its declamatory language, both of which locate the poem in the tradition of Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg. Whitman was profoundly influenced by the orators of his day, and Ginsberg made a reputation for himself as a spellbinding reader. “Up Rising” is the kind of poem whose cumulative power and effect are significantly magnified by reading it aloud. The reason for this can be summed up in one word: syntax. The poem is written as a single sentence, within which there are four independent clauses that vary greatly in length, from five lines to more than forty. The first spans nine lines, with the subject and verb in the poem’s opening line: “Now Johnson would go up to join the great simulacra of men.” The ensuing eight lines consist of a series of phrases and subordinate clauses that establish a seductive declamatory rhythm.

After the connective “And,” the second independent syntactical unit, six lines long, similarly begins with its main subject and verb, “men wake.” Again, several appended phrases follow. With the third clause, however, a long cumulative incantation of argumentative detail that takes up the bulk of the poem, Duncan breaks this subject-verb pattern. The first line of the passage, “But the mania, the ravening eagle of America,” contains the subject, “mania,” but fifteen lines of verse ensue before the first of the compound verbs, “has...

(The entire section is 479 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Bertholf, Robert J. Robert Duncan: A Descriptive Bibliography. Santa Rosa, Calif.: Black Sparrow Press, 1986.

Bertholf, Robert J., and Ian W. Reid, eds. Robert Duncan: Scales of the Marvelous. New York: New Directions, 1979.

Duncan, Robert. Interview. In Towards a New American Poetics: Essays and Interviews, edited by Ekbert Faas. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Black Sparrow Press, 1978.

Faas, Ekbert. Young Robert Duncan: Portrait of the Poet as Homosexual in Society. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Black Sparrow Press, 1983.

Johnson, Mark. Robert Duncan. Boston: Twayne, 1988.

O’Leary, Peter. Gnostic Contagion: Robert Duncan and the Poetry of Illness. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 2002.

Sagetrieb 4 (Fall/Winter, 1985).