…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 responses to “…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?


    • 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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