"The Portent" by Herman Melville
Herman Melville's poem, "The Portent" is about the brutal death of the famous abolitionist, John Brown. A portent is an evil omen. Herman Melville and many others thought of John Brown as the portent of the Civil War. Melville was known as a moralist and a supporter of Abraham Lincoln. The theme of the poem is about the courageous death of a martyr. The atitude is sad and dramatic. The connotation reflects the author's sympathy towards a punished abolitionist.
On October 16, 1859 John Brown led twenty-one men to seize the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in hope of starting a slave rebellion throughout the south. Brown was known as a bit of a lunitic. He neglected to inform the slaves of his plans and even failed to supply his men with enough food to last one day. Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee and his troops quickly overpowered th raiders. Brown was convicted of treason and was hanged on December 2, 1859. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that Brown would "make the gallows as glorious as the cross."
In the poem, John Brown is obviously favored by the author. Melville tells how John Brown was hanged for treason. He slowly swayed. this was his punishment by the law. His thin shadow was cast upon the green ground at Charlestown in the Shenendoah Valley. When Brown was captured, he had been given a head wound. Poor John Brown. His stab wounds will not heal agter his death. During the execution, a hood was placed over his head. No one could see or feel the extreme pain that he hid uneder the hood.
The poem began by telling of a traitor's consequences for leading an illegal rebellion and shifted to his death being a forewarning of thing to come. John Brown's slave rebellion could have been Shenendoah's future, but instead, Brown's face was covered and he was condemned. His beard hung out from under the hood. John Brown was extraordinary and fantastic. He was