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Commentary.-I. The "Yellow-Faced One" is a descriptive name of the Fire God who had many other names. Tzommolco was a temple to this god in Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) and Tetemocan is probably a second name for the same building. The question "shall I affront you' means "shall I withhold from you the prescribed sacrifice." It is a formula that is often used. The plural my fathers" may have been addressed to the several priests in charge of the ceremony who were regarded as representatives and impersonators of the god.
II. Mecatlan was possibly a temple of music; at any rate the "yucca tree booms' refers to the beating of the drums which were made of the hollow trunk of the yucca. The next name. Chiueyocan, may be translated "Place of Eight-ness, -but even then the term is cryptic enough. It
shields, and raise aloft our strength and courage.
The religious chants preserved by Sahagun are written in archaic Nahuatl. The phrases must have sounded as strangely in the ears of the common Indian of those days as the verses of Chaucer do in our ears today-perhaps more so. Even when carefully translated these chants are unintelligible to persons ignorant of Aztecan beliefs and usages. Therefore I have found it wise to follow this chant with a fairly detailed explanation.
SONG OF THE YELLOW-FACED ONE1
In Tzommolco, my fathers, shall I affront you?
In Tetemocan shall I affront you?
In the temple of Mecatlan, O, my Lords, the yucca tree booms.
In Chiueyocan, the House of Disguises, the masquerade has come down.
In Tzommolco they have begun to sing
In Tzommolco human beings shall be given The Sun has come up!
Human beings shall be given.
In Tzommolco now ceases the song Without effort he has grown rich, to lordship he has attained,
It is miraculous, his being pardoned.
O little woman utter the speech Lady of the House of Mist utter the speech abroad.
1 Eduard Seler, Die religiösen Gesänge der alten Mexikaner.
was possibly a temple where dancers donned their animal masks and other ceremonial regalia.
III. and IV. These stanzas relate the progression of the ceremony and call the priests to a sacrificial rite with human victims. The Fire God appears to have been the same as the Sun God and the sacrifice was made at sunrise.
V. These words refer to the rewards given by the Fire God to the person on whose vow or petition the ceremony had been called. This divinity was also God of Wealth and Honors. He was pleased by worship and he heaped sudden wealth and high rank upon his worshipers.
VI. The last stanza doubtless has some esoteric connection with the preceding stanzas. The person referred to is possibly a mountain goddess connected in some mythical way with the Fire God. Possibly she is requested to herald his fame and powers.
AMERICAN INDIAN POETRY
This Aztecan chant takes up events in succession and gives enough detail to indicate this succession to anyone familiar with the words and the religious background. It must be evident to the reader that the feeling of mystery and illusion gained from the first perusal largely disappears when we are in possession of even a portion of the facts and formulæ known to the creators. In the absence of this knowledge we get an emotional reaction, it is true. Our intelligence, that naturally strives to make sense out of words, is teased and thwarted.
The religious poems of the Pueblo Indians, of the Navaho, Pawnee, and Omaha, are filled with formulæ and with more or less esoteric and priestly phrases that the Indians call "high words." For instance, the repetition of a prayer to the four directions and to the above and the below is a formula of universality. The association with these world points of special colors, hunting animals, game animals, birds, etc., is a pictographic device probably taken over by the northern tribes from the highly developed cosmology of Mexico. The greater gods of the northern Indians lack, in general, the definite characterizations that we find in Mexico. They are formless powers that move in clouds and floods. But there are lesser gods who are commonly personifications of animals, plants, etc. Of course, the names of these gods can never have associations for us of the same sort that they do for the original Americans.
Indian invocations often carry a dreadful sincerity and give a sense of impending divinity. The argument is consistently made through objective reality to subjective ideality. Note how the Sia appeal through the eye and ear to the reasoning mind that would know the Makers of Storms:
Cover my earth mother four times with many flowers.
Let the heavens be covered with the banked up clouds.
Let the earth be covered with fog; cover the earth with rains.
Great waters, rains, cover the earth.
Let thunder be heard over the earth; let
Let thunder be heard over the six regions of the earth.
To these Indians the æsthetic arts are useful and filled with magic. Their songs are prayers for rain as are likewise the designs they paint on pottery or weave on cloth. They live immersed in beauty, but it is the beauty that does, not the beauty that seems. While the Navaho god created he sang as follows:
In old age wandering on the trail of beauty.
To form them fair, for them I labor.
In these words is expressed the philosophy that beauty is truth and perfection in use and being.
The question soon asked by a person skilled in the use of words on reading American Indian verse is this: "How much of the effect is real and how much is adventitious?" Someone has somewhere observed that when you learn a new language you acquire a new soul. Words are not merely the carriers of thought, they are also to a large extent the molds of thought. New sets of words involve new ways of thinking because they establish new associations between objects and ideas. Literal translation may put into the language of the second part some original quality of the language of the first part, but more often it puts in a new and picturesque something that comes from mere contrast between two systems of word order and word association.
Language makes possible the transference of ideas from one human mind to another only because articulated sounds or graphic symbols that substitute for them in writing-rest upon a social basis of common acceptance for the word and common experience for the meaning. But just as the art of
weaving varies from one place to another because tools, materials, and ideas of construction vary, so the art of presenting thought in sounds or preserving it in sound symbols, is modified and limited by the mechanical possibilities and suggestions inherent in the particular language. Textile design, properly speaking, must follow the lines of construction. Poetry is design in words and in any particular language it must also adjust itself to construction. The device of rhyme, for instance, is not always possible. Rhythm of one kind or another is usually present because primitive poems are usually sung. Accent is common in polysyllabic languages but the primitive singer does not hold himself strictly to these accents. Syllables may be slurred, lengthened, reduplicated, etc., to meet the requirements of the singing voice. Repetition often gives rise to stanza forms especially when there is an or derly variation combined with the repetition. Thus in an extempore song of virtues in a funeral ceremony a qualifying phrase may vary between set phrases. For example:
She is dead, the generous one, My daughter is dead, dead!
She is dead, the loving one, My daughter is dead, dead!
In the translation of poetry there are the prose and the poetical methods. The prose method is to translate simply the thought, and the natural tendency of the followers of this method is to translate the thought into English which is devoid of any emotional quality. The poetic method is to translate the thought as directly as possible into words of emotional quality. The difficulty with this method is that it is hard to match emotional qualities between languages. Moreover, the persons who naturally prefer it have subjective rather than objective interests. American Indian languages are rich in terms that single out details of the outside
world and in classifications of the states of matter but they are weak in words that present or qualify the subjective world and the states of mind. Yet, far from being materialistic, the Indians recognized a persistent duality in nature and each thing had its soul.
Some anthropologists, especially Frank Cushing, Alice Fletcher, Washington Matthews, and Jeremiah Curtin, have treated Indian songs and myths in literary fashion. But they
have worked from native texts and so have not gone far astray on the fundamental meanings of the original words. The criticism of their translations lies not so much in denotation as connotation. An English word may have approximately the same meaning as an Indian word and yet have entirely dif ferent associations. They have given a poetic quality where there should be a poetic quality-but perhaps they have endowed the rose with the fragrance of the violet.
When it comes to a second remove such as is seen in the "interpretation" of Indian verse we are on still more doubtful ground. Even the most pretentious interpreters of Indian modes of thought make mistakes. For instance, one might place greater faith in the emotional and intuitive judgments of Mary Austin if the poem chosen by her to represent the quintessence of Indian art were not a flagrant fraud long since exposed. The epithalamium of Tiakens was written by a French student of languages named Parisot when scarcely twenty years of age. The daring youth fabricated the grammar, vocabulary, and texts of a language which he declared to be that of the now extinct Taensa tribe and was successful in deceiving the world for several years.
Of course what the interpreters want are new themes and freshened expressions. They can get these by imitating the objectivity of Indian poetry that pictures causes and circumstances and
AMERICAN INDIAN POETRY
lets the mind of the hearer or reader interpret for itself. Sometimes the word association or the sentence structure in a foreign language can be transferred legitimately into English. For instance, in a song given above let us take the Tewa terms p'in'e and ha'e, the diminutive forms of p'in and hâ, that mean "heart" and "breath." These terms of endearment are different from the ones we use in English but are understandable because we ourselves make use of the affectionate diminutive (as in little mother, motherkin, etc.) and we associate the heart and the breath with love and life. The exotic quality that exhales from Burton's translation of the Arabian Nights' Entertainments is partly due to peculiar similes and recurring phrases that strike forcibly upon our western imaginations. To eastern readers these are conventions pure and simple and the signs of real excellence something entirely different.
A translation that is first and last the carrying over of a thought and all its associations from one language to another, is essentially a new creation. A human mind must intervene and receive the terms and construction of the language of the first part and give out not the form but the content of the message in terms and constructions of the language of the second part. Poets who attain the grotesque by half translations make an unfair use of Indian verses.
Constance Lindsay Skinner, in the terminal essay to The Path On the Rainbow, unconsciously makes clear that her reaction to Indian verse is involved and subjective and that she sees only through the eyes of the English language albeit sympathetically. She says: "The Indian water-song is poetry to me because of a memory:-an old chief, his hair grayed and his broad brown face deep-lined by a hundred and ten years, his sightless eves-almost hidden under sagging, crinkled lids
raised to the wet air." After all it is the subjective of our own culture rather than the subjective of Indian culture that is stirred by Indian poems.
I believe that the study of primitive American poetry should have a wholesome and stimulating effect upon modern American literature. It is open, sincere, and inspiring, and it has an engaging quality of directness and simplicity.
There is today, however, a pseudoprimitive school that in painting, sculpture, music, dancing, and poetry affects the mold but ignores the content of art that is genuinely primitive. The work of this school lacks communal acceptance, undivided purpose, and innate sincerity, and is essentially individualistic and revolutionary. Nevertheless, good may come out of such efforts if only the public learn sufficient discrimination to select gold from dross. Real primitive art has behind it a tradition of untold centuries while pseudoprimitive art can boast only a doubtful present. If a choice were to be made between the atavistic muse of Dr. Frank Gordon that sings:
By south-way, east-way, shore-land place, Men come,
Man-who-Paints, much-talker, he much
Easterly, south also, All-time stalked-..