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I, the Song
Classical Poetry of Native North America
A. L. Soens
American Indian / Poetry
I, the Song is an introduction to the rich and complex classical North American poetry that grew out of and reflects Indian life before the European invasion. No generalization can hold true for all the classical poems of North American Indians. They spring from thirty thousand years of experience, five hundred languages and dialects, and ten linguistic groups and general cultures. But the poems from these different cultures and languages belong to poetry unified by similar experiences and shared continent.
Built on early transcriptions of Native American “songs” and arranged by subject, these poems are informed by additional context that enables readers to appreciate more fully their imagery, their cultural basis, and the moment that produced them. They let us look at our continent through the eyes of a wide range of people: poets, hunters, farmers, holy men and women, and children. This poetry achieved its vividness, clarity, and intense emotional powers partly because the singers made their poems for active use as well as beauty, and also because they made them for singing or chanting rather than isolated reading.
Most striking, classical North American Indian poetry brings us flashes of timeless vision and absolute perception: a gull’s wing red over the dawn; snow-capped peaks in the moonlight; a death song. Flowing beneath them is a powerful current: the urge to achieve a selfless attention to the universe and a determination to see and delight in the universe on its own terms.
A.L. Soens is emeritus professor of English, Notre Dame University. He lives in Durango, Colorado.
Table of Contents:
I. In a Sacred Manner
III. Creation and Emergence
VI. The Great Ceremonies
XIII. Planting and Harvesting
Glossary of Tribal Names and Territories
Praise and Reviews:
“The translations are clear and reflect North American Indian life before the European invasion. Capable of inducing lamentable emotions (even disturbing ones at times), while at other times it is light and imaginative—yet it is always informative.”
—Books of the Southwest
“This well-structured book introduces readers to the back ground and cultural significance of poetry and song to cultures whose identity is imbedded in an oral tradition.”
“These songs—very much in the poetic tradition—reveal cultures in ways that anthropologists and historians never can.”
—Utah Historical Quarterly
“This grand anthology gave me more than I dared to hope for. A wonderful read.”
—The Durango Herald
“Arranged by subject, these poems are informed by additional context enabling readers to more fully appreciate their imagery and cultural basis.”
—The New York Review of Books
“The poems/songs preserved and translated here for modern urbanites to enjoy are thoroughly organized, the organization is completely intuitive and easy to use, and the material translated is fascinating.”