Monday, June 9, 2014

The Joy of Prosody: Native American Poetry

By Liz Mastin

Native American Poetry
Path on the Rainbow
I had the pleasure of discovering Native American poetry almost eight years ago, when Coeur d’Alene’s “Rare and Used Bookstore” on Fourth Street was going out of business. I took advantage of the large inventory of marked-down volumes to stock up on some great books of poetry. 

One of the books I purchased was a very old copy of Path on the Rainbow by George W. Cronyn. A thick book with yellowing pages, it had a weathered black-leather cover and the title was stamped in crumbling gold leaf. The poems contained in the book had been gathered by Cronyn at a time when the colonists had just begun making journeys into America’s heartland and the Native American culture was, as yet, unchanged. I was so fortunate to happen upon this fascinating book as it inspired my interest in Native American poetry along with early Native American thought; the minds of those who lived in this country prior to the white man.

Themes covered in the book are various belief systems, fascinating myths, accounts of bravery, tribal traditions, harvest and hunting rituals, romance and love, etc. Many of the poems are songs or chants with repetitions used as a memory devise, enabling them to be passed on to successive generations. Poems in my book “Path on the Rainbow” were spoken or sung by (now unknown) poets and represent a variety of tribes. The book is available on and there a Kindle version available as well.

From Path on the Rainbow, I especially enjoyed this particular poem constructed almost entirely of metaphors!

Early Moon

The baby moon, a canoe, a silver canoe, sails and
Sails in the Indian West.

A ring of silver foxes, a mist of silver foxes, sit and sit around
The Indian moon.

One yellow star for a runner, and rows of blue stars for more
Runners, keep a line of watchers.

O foxes, baby moon, runners, you are the panel of memory;
fire-white writing tonight, of the Red man’s dreams.

Who squats, legs crossed, and arms folded, matching its look
Against the moon-face, the star-faces, of the West?

Who are the Mississippi Valley ghosts, of copper foreheads,
riding wiry ponies in the night? –no bridles, love arms on the
pony necks, riding in the night, a long old trail?

Why do they always come back when the silver foxes sit
Around the early moon, a silver papoose, in the Indian West?

According to a web site called “Indians.Org” If you should attempt to write a poem to mimic the tone of Native American poetry, you should remember to use the first person and mull over their deep personal thoughts about life, family, nature, etc. If possible, try and incorporate a life lesson into the poems general theme.

Liz Mastin Bio
Liz Mastin is a poet who lives in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho during the summer and Bullhead City, Arizona in winter. She thrives on the study of the great poets, their biographies, the schools of poetry to which they adhered, and the poetic conventions of the times in which they lived.

While she enjoys free verse as well as metrical poetry, her main interest lies in prosody. She notices that most of the enduring poems are those we can remember and recite. Liz enjoys poetry forms such as the sonnet, the sestina, the couplet, blank verse, simple quatrains, etc. and she hopes to see modern poets regain interest in studied metrical poetry.

Liz is currently putting together her first collection of poems which should be completed soon. The poems are a mixture of metrical and free verse poems.

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