Posted in Poetry

…much to my literary chagrin…

10♠  10♠  10♠  10♠  10♠  10♠  10♠

Over a year ago, when I put together my list of short stories for my 2013 Deal Me In Project, I picked a few stories from a collection that I have called Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages.  In glancing through the table of contents, I discovered “The Bell Tower” and “The Portent” by Herman Melville.  At that time, I had not read much by Melville so I thought I’d choose both of these for my project.  I read “The Bell Tower” earlier this year and have been looking forward to “The Portent”.

So this week, I chose the Ten of Spades which corresponded to this remaining Melville story.  Much to my surprise and my literary chagrin, I find the story in my book and discover that it is actually a poem – a very short poem.  In scanning through the table of contents, I had simply assumed that Melville only wrote prose.  Obviously, I was wrong. I have nothing against poetry, I’m just not quite as into it as I am prose.  I debated about choosing another story to replace this poem but decided I would just go with it.

Herman Melville

Another confession:  I didn’t know what the word “portent” meant so I looked it up.  It means “omen”.  The poem itself appears to stand as a warning.  The speaker of the poem directs their words to the Shenandoah river.  I immediately think American Civil War when I think of the Shenandoah.  As I read further,  a name jumps out several times – a name that gives no doubt to the Civil War backdrop of the poem.   In speaking to the famous river, the poet refers to a dead body saying:

So your future veils its face,/Shenandoah!

As I did a little research, I found that Melville wrote a number of poems about the American Civil War.  If they are as good as this one, they could be worth reading.

Even though this wasn’t what I was expecting when I chose the title, I’m glad I read it.  Feel free to read the poem yourself.  It’s takes approximately 20 seconds to read.  You can find it here.

2 thoughts on “…much to my literary chagrin…

  1. Hi Dale,

    I liked the poem, and I think you made the right decision to proceed with reading it instead of replacing it with an “actual story” since the hand of fate seems to be involved. I believe fate should not be ignored, especially if the work is Melville’s(!)

    Reading about the Shenendoah River also reminded me of my “Project: Civil War” reading in 2010, particularly a biography of Stonewall Jackson, whose main theater of operation was the Shenendoah Valley.

    Didn’t reference to John Brown’s involvement in Kansas somehow pop up in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, too?


    1. Hi Jay! Yes, the hand of fate and Melville go – well – hand in hand! I think John Brown did appear in Gilead. John Ames’ father and grandfather were at odds with each other over the issue of war. I forget which was the pacifist. Glad you liked the poem. I need to read more of his Civil War poetry.

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