Monday, March 13, 2017

Nathaniel Hawthorne's "darken'd veil"

First there is this, “Oh could I raise the darken’d veil,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne:

Oh could I raise the darken’d veil,
Which hides my future life from me,
Could unborn ages slowly sail,
Before my view—and could I see
My every action painted there,
To cast one look I would not dare.
There poverty and grief might stand,
And dark Despair’s corroding hand,
Would make me seek the lonely tomb
To slumber in its endless gloom.
Then let me never cast a look,
Within Fate’s fix’d mysterious book.

                                        Source: The Spectator (1820)

* * * * *

And there is this personal postscript:

I should avoid judgments when it comes to poetry, so I will defer to others on that score, but Hawthorne's poem leads me to several simple conclusions:

(1) he chose wisely when he abandoned poetry and concentrated instead on prose fiction;
(2) a person's Fate, both fortunately and unfortunately (without intending any pun within that paradox), cannot and should not be foretold or previewed (i.e., simply take life one day at a time and hope for the best);
(3) I must read much more about and by Nathaniel Hawthorne in order to look beyond his "darken'd veil" to better fathom his apparent fascination with "Despair" and "gloom."

So, with those three conclusions offered for your consideration, I now open the door to you by asking, "What do you think?"

In the meantime, while waiting for your comments, I will be putting together my Nathaniel Hawthorne reading list. "Twice-Told Tales" will be a good beginning.

Also, if you are interested, you can read more about Hawthorne via this Poetry Foundation link.


  1. Interesting that in this early piece, what is beneath the veil is feared... The veil as image and an idea appeals to Hawthorne elsewhere, as in "The Minister's Black Veil" or the veiled lady (Priscilla) of "The Blithedale Romance" (or her half-sister Zenobia, who talks about the black veil of death.)

    1. Yes, the veil imagery caught my attention too. He was 16 when this was published (if the source information is correct)! Some wags might speculate on what Hawthorne might have been hiding all his life. I'll resist going down that pig trail.

    2. Well, there has been speculation, of course. I don't care for that sort of thing.

    3. Yes, the Melville-Hawthorne speculation has been overblown.

  2. i'm simple. i like H's poetry, it's comprehensible... and i agree with #2; i'm afraid i'll never get around to #3, although i've read a fair amount of his work over the last many years...

    1. I need to avoid forgetting #2, but it is easy for me to get wrapped up in worrying about tomorrows and the creeping petty pace of life.

  3. I couldn't agree more with your comment about people's fates, Tim. The Buddha said, 'The future is impenetrable,' and I think that's true.

    1. I first read Impenetrable as Imperative. That was an interesting misreading!

    2. indeed... although that might be true; unless the universe plans on disappearing over night; that would upset a lot of plans...