Rocky is not for those who have never thrown or caught a punch. They cannot understand why the poet is bashful about this man & his actions. But we know: without such restraint, Rocky would come to a tragic end. The poet shows us ugly, badly spoken, poor Rocky wooing. To mate this man is a political necessity; & it requires politic speeches. The ugliness of the warrior is war, but the poet, unafraid, will first show us the man, & only later his heroism. People love themselves in their warriors; unlovable Rocky they pity… I trust you see that pity is a better ground for justice than flattery. Ironically, people pity Rocky before they admire him: the poet gently chastises us for our presumption.
Rocky shows great endurance, but he is not a conqueror. He suffers humiliation quietly. He trains & fights, suffering harshness equally quietly. A young man, he is choked by anger & finally his suffering shows he knows injustice & hates it. The poet calms anger by turning it into ambition. Rocky is American: he wants to fight for the good things he desires.
Endurance without justice is horrible, like torture. Strong men find enduring the rule of law particularly difficult: Rocky could satisfy his desires by his anger, but he is ashamed. The laws protect decent men, but they also expect men to be decent in face of temptation or despair. That is too much for most people, but not for Rocky. Nevertheless, among men, Rocky is the one who goes unrewarded.
His adversary never had to fight to the finish. He may lack endurance, but who can doubt his courage? – No one lasted that long with him. He shows the corruption of public opinion: He thinks himself invincible because people think him so. But they cannot judge warlike prowess; they are merely flattered to think their approval makes him invincible. He looks down on Rocky without ever having seen him fight. – Vanity is injustice. He must believe only famous fighters are fighters: he must have forgotten where he started. He deserves his fate. But his trainer is undeceived: he ignores public opinion, because he has a job to do & he is good at it.
This champ prances around dressed as Uncle Sam, he wants to fight in Philadelphia on the bicentennial anniversary of the Declaration, & talks about the American Dream. He is the image of America in caricature. The poet suggests patriotism is the reverse of this show: it is moderate in speeches, it is not motivated by gain, & it is skeptical of praise. As we learn from the army, only the hallowed dead deserve to be dressed in the flag.