To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
.......................................again
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Friday, March 6, 2009

Shaking the Pumpkin (6): Navajo Correspondences, with commentary


(First Set)

1
red willow
Sun
yellow

2
arrow
Wind
Cicada
arrow-crossing
life

3
aspen
white
summer
pink

4
Bat
Darkness
wing feather
Big Fly

5
Big Fly
feather
Wind
skin at tip of tongue
speech

(Second Set)

1
black
Darkness
Black Wind
yellow squash

2
Black God
Black Star
Darkness

3
bull-roarer
lightning
snakes
pokers
danger line
hoops

4
ambush woods
emetic frames
pokers

5
cane
digging stick
arrow
water


(Third Set)

1
cotton
motion
clouds

2
Earth
Yellow Wind
Pink Thunder
Reared-in-the-earth
Pink Snake
rainbow
redshell
sunglow
Holy Girl

3
feather cloak
yellow lightning

4
Frog
hail
potatoes
dumplings

5
Old Age
ax
Frog


(Fourth Set)

1
cloud water
fog
moss

2
smoke
cloud
rain
acceptance
breathing in

3
spiderweb
nerves & veins
marrow
conveyances

4
red willow
water
blue

5
yellow
Yellow-evening-light
Yellow Wind
black squash


COMMENTARY

SOURCE. Gladys Reichard, Navajo Religion, Bollingen Series, XVIII, Pantheon, 1950, pages 518-521. Selected from sixty-five such groupings & arranged in sets by JR.

Reichard speaks of such correspondences (“associations” her word for them) as “key to the Navajo system of symbolism” & maintains that they “are by no means ‘free,’ but are held together in a stipulated pattern which only the details that compose it can explain” – details, however, which she finds impossible to get at, therefore no “explanation” presently possible, etc. While the present writer accepts all that as “true enough,” it seems to him that there’s also a level at which the combination of images (poised between languages & cultures) has a way of opening our eyes to possibilities of relationships it would be hard to reach by following our own set habits-of-thought. And while it’s interesting to learn in relation, say, to the fifth group of the third set, that the “ax which destroyed anyone who took hold of it, other than the owner, was possessed by Frog, Gambler & Old Age,” it seems obvious that the matter didn’t end there but might itself be changing under the influence of transmission through succeeding generations or as touched by the vision of a single seer (= “poet”) – which is something that is always going on.

[Originally printed in Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas. The book, first published by Doubleday in 1972 & last by University of New Mexico Press in 1986 & 1992, has now been out of print for several years.]