With a Name Like Hamish, I’d Want Revenge, To

When browsing through Sidney Lanier’s collected manuscripts and reading through a collection of his poems, one in particular stood out to me. The poem is called “The Revenge of Hamish” and it is quite an interesting work of narrative poetry.  Sidney Lanier, who taught at Johns Hopkins from 1879 until his death in 1881, was quite well known during his lifetime for his nature poetry. He was quite fond of images from the South, where he grew up and lived before moving to Baltimore. I am quite fond of his less nature oriented poetry.

"The Revenge of Hamish" Poems of Sidney Lanier, 1884. pg 33

What first caught my eye about this poem is the title. Hamish is such a Victorian name. In fact, it is the middle name of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s wonderful Dr. John Watson. Being a bit of a Sherlock Holmes geek, I was immediately intrigued and read the poem with enthusiasm. It’s an interesting story of a servant’s revenge on his master and it is written in very lovely verse that flows around through the hunt during which it is set.

The lines of this poem are rather long and do not always fit on one line on this size page with this typeset. I find that it somewhat detracts from the overall experience of the poem and makes it a little more jarring perhaps than it should feel. Though it is a poem about revenge and death and injustices perpetrated on the speaker, the language does not match the disjointed formatting on the page.

"The Revenge of Hamish" The Sidney Lanier Papers, 1838-1972, Special Collections, The Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.

In looking at the manuscript for the same poem, the handwriting is much more flowing, the lines are of even lengths and the overall visual impact of the poem matches the aural impact of the words. The look of the manuscript matches the feeling and sound of each stanza. Reading it in manuscript version was interesting and very fulfilling. There was not much editing done on the pages of the manuscript, and the poem is not all that different from the finished version, but it feels better than the printed copy does when I read it.

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