Abstract

Melville’s poem “The Portent” presents readers with a haunted vision of the divided American landscape before and during the Civil War. Through the speaker’s apostrophe to the Shenandoah—a metonym for the shadowy presence of fugitive slaves, dissident bodies, and dead soldiers in the Valley—the poem dislocates the reader into the ethical position of literary witness, suggesting the power of poetry to make visible shadows otherwise unseen. The tenuous moment between looking and seeing, speaking and awaiting reply, threatens the reader’s ability to read the poem coherently, and this essay argues that Melville’s play with the conventions of apostrophe and prosopopoeia ultimately poses a deeper relation between the act of reading and the encounter with a face not one’s own.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 7-24
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-21
Open Access
No
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