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H N OFFERING to our readers a number almost entirely devoted to poems from American-Indian motives, it seems proper to call their attention to the rich mines of folk-lore *Asoso still unrevealed, or but half revealed, among our aboriginal tribes. The poems we present are not translations, but interpretations: they use subjects and rhythms drawn from aboriginal life and song; and, in Dr. Gordon's case at least, they should be read—or rather chanted—to the accompaniment of a posture dance and the strong beat of an instrument.
Vivid as such work is in its suggestion of racial feeling and rhythm, it gives merely a hint of the deeper resources— it is a mere outcropping of the mine. But, although the mine exists with its stores of treasure, the danger is that the tribes, in the process of so-called civilization, will lose all trace of it; that their beautiful primitive poetry will perish among the ruins of obliterated states.
Thus we owe a special debt of gratitude to the few enthusiasts who have done something to preserve the fast disappearing folk-lore of the tribes. Few red men are numbered among them, though Charles Alexander Eastman has retold two or three volumes of tales from the Ohiyesa and Sioux tribes; also, many tribal poets have generously coöperated with their white investigators.
There are, of course, two methods of approach to this literature—that of science and that of art. These two overlap, however, because science often uses an artist to make its researches; one who, as in Frank Cushing's case, uncovers whatever beauty he finds with reverence and without violence. Work of great value has been done by the U. S. Bureau of Ethnology, the Peabody Museum of Harvard, the Universities of California and other western states, the Carnegie Institution of Washington, the Field Columbian Museum of Chicago, and the American folk-lore and antiquarian societies; so that we have such books and reports as George A. Dorsey's Pawnee Mythology and Traditions of the Arapaho, William D. Lyman's Oregon Myths, Washington Matthews' Navajo Legends, Stephen C. Simms' Traditions of the Crows and Henry R. Voth's Traditions of the Hopi. In addition to these, we have a few more or less scientific or philosophic books of comparison or reflection, like Jeremiah Curtin's Creation Myths of Primitive America in Relation to the Religious History and Mental Development of Mankind; or Ellen R. Emerson's Indian Myths of All America Compared with Myths of Other Nations.
Then there are books by private investigators and enthusiasts, like George Bird Grinnell's careful transcripts of Blackfoot Lodge Tales and Pawnee Hero Stories, Charles F. Lummis' Pueblo Folk Stories, James W. Schultz' Black foot Tales of Glacier National Park, and others; besides the numerous more popular versions for grown-ups and Aboriginal Poetry
A few investigators, however, have gone further in an effort to perpetuate the poetry and music of the redskins. Miss Natalie Curtis, for example, cannot be too highly praised for the loving care and painstaking research which have given us The Indian's Book, which she calls “an offering by the American Indians of Indian lore, musical and narrative, to form a record of the songs and legends of their race.” Miss Alice C. Fletcher, in Indian Story and Song, Indian Games and Dances, etc., has studied the songs and festivals of various tribes, transcribing the music with both the original words and literal translations. And Mr. Sandburg will speak below of the work of Miss Frances Densmore. The phonograph is a valuable aid to these modern investigators. I myself saw the Snake-dance of the Hopis, in the lofty “sky-city” of Walpi; and I longed to be able to transcribe and translate those ancient chants which rose out of the desert as fitly as the mesa or the sunrise.
But of all the students in this field, Frank Hamilton Cushing—who died too young, alas!—probably had the most sympathetic and creative mind. As he accepted the life of the Zuñis and became an adopted son of the tribe, so he entered fully into the spirit of their religion and poetry, and left us, in his beautiful translation of The Creation Myth of the Zunis, a masterpiece of primitive song which should rank, and undoubtedly will ultimately rank, among the great epics of the world. At present it is hidden in one of those massive tomes which entomb the annual reports of the U. S. Bureau of Ethnology, and it is a reproach to our civilization that no publisher has yet dug it out for all to see. But sooner or later it is sure of a shining resurrection. Cushing's Zuni Folk-tales, published in 1901, fine as they are, are not comparable with this heroic epic of a fading race. H. M.
The researches and translations by Miss Frances Densmore of Red Indian songs have become somewhat known in the musical world, where adaptations have been made from her work for orchestral and choral use. In the literary world this work has, however, escaped analysis, or even such notice as it deserves in “news value.” The explanation probably is that Miss Densmore's work was done for the United States government and forms two official reports of the Bureau of Ethnology. As no efforts are made by that organization to exploit and advertise a writer, the researches and translations have slumbered in a more or less innocuous desuetude.
The woman spent two years among Chippewa tribes and had the help of tribesmen who had lived twenty-five years on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. Chippewa Music is the title of the two volumes containing her notes and observations, and they constitute Bulletin 45 and Bulletin 53 of the Bureau of Ethnology. In both volumes are songs of tribal games and dances, songs “composed in dreams,” and individual songs of forgotten warriors.
I Have Lost My Sweetheart and I Will Not Drink are names of love songs. He Killed a Man and I Carry It Away Aboriginal Poetry
are dance songs. And Chippewa juveniles have the Song
of the Game of Silence and the Song of the Crawfish. Suspicion arises definitely that the Red Man and his chil
dren committed direct plagiarisms on the modern imagists
and vorticists. These are specimens: /
MY LOVE HAS DEPARTED
To Sault Ste. Marie
LOVE CHARM SONG
What are you saying to me?
SONG FOR THE CURE OF THE SICK
They are in close consultation
I am singing and dreaming in my poor way
I who will again disembark
Upon the earth.