Monday, August 18, 2014

Sarah Boyd on Melville's poem "The Coming Storm"

From the first of hopefully more fine annotations by Sarah Boyd in the category of Melville and Art, this one about "The Coming Storm" from Battle-Pieces:
Indeed, mournfulness might have been the emotion Gifford hoped to evoke with this painting: the artist was still in mourning over the death of his brother and seeking solace in his work. The “coming storm” comes close to overwhelming the almost morbid autumnal tints edging the placid lake.  Only the barest hint of a clearer, calmer dawn hovers in the distant skies.

Melville too was “fixed and fascinated” with the “felt” experience of the “awful silence” expressed in the image, but his interest is multivalent.  Opening with the suggestion that “All feeling hearts must feel for him / Who felt this picture” (1-2), Melville’s ambiguous “he” is most likely Booth, but could also stand for Gifford, who, in grief, painted a picture that so fascinated such a captivating figure as the popular Shakespearean actor.  The question of whether artist or patron “felt” in this image the “Presage dim” of the coming storm (which could encompass the assassination of President Lincoln or the fallout from the Civil War and its the problems with Reconstruction), is “dimly” answered in the subsequent lines. 
--Sarah Boyd, Melville's "Coming Storm"
See Melville's poem, Gifford's picture, and the rest of Sarah Boyd's notes here:
Melville's "Coming Storm"
Robert Penn Warren identified the wrong Gifford in his notes to Selected Poems of Herman Melville, probably following the lead of Howard P. Vincent in the Hendricks House Collected Poems.   Hennig Cohen tried to set everybody straight in his explanatory notes to Battle-Pieces by correctly naming Melville's "S. R. Gifford" as Sandford Robinson Gifford. (Nowadays spelled Sanford Robinson Gifford.) But you can find the erroneous attribution to R. S. Gifford (Robert Swain Gifford) repeated in various other places, some surprisingly recent.

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