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.)