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.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 7-24
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.