What are the themes and images in the poem, "Another Dying Chieftain" by Rayna Green?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Rayna Green's poem, "Another Dying Chieftain," we seem to hear the lament of what a leader of his tribe has been reduced to when he can no longer prove himself a man, a warrior, on the battlefields of eras gone by.

He was a "braids-and-shades dog solider." "Braids" refer to his traditional dressing of his hair, but "shades" refers to something more modern, father away from his roots. These examples of imagery refer to the old and the new.

The Dog Soldiers or Dog Men (Cheyenne Hotamétaneo'o) was one of six military societies of the Cheyenne Indians.

The next reference is the dog soldier and AIM; AIM refers to the American Indian Movement, which is a Native American organization whose activists work for the betterment of Native Americans throughout the U.S. used with the more historical association, the dog soldier. Once again, the past and the modern are shown in these images: dog soldier as opposed to the AIM member.

So the "chieftain" that the speaker describes seems to be a man following several paths: that of the Native American and the white man, and a path between the old ways and the new world, or between the past and the present.

Dictionary.com defines "coup" as it pertains to the Native Americans:

...(among the Plains Indians of North America) a brave or reckless deed performed in battle by a single warrior, as touching or striking an enemy warrior without sustaining injury oneself.

This stanza speaks to how this chieftain now tells stories of the past to women gathered, perhaps to hear him speak: but they are tales of the past, not the present. The "coup" then, refers to accomplishments in battle, part of his group of "stories."

Those attendants are attracted by his Native American persona; he wants some publicity from the reporters who must have been there before, either today or another day, because he wants them "back again." These images show a man trying to recall the Native American glory days, and women enjoying that mysterious "Indian" persona.

Because he can no longer prove himself in the battle, he lectures people, hoping that talk will serve in the absence of battle. Here again, the images "talk" and "battle" not only show a man trying to compensate when the world of his ancestors is gone, but also hoping that his stories will be as appealing as talking about a "warpath."

Others enter the room, they are Indian women and other people who are not of his tribe. They, too, understand the war the chieftain is fighting. They understand what he is feeling: his struggle to live up to the expectations of others and his heritage, and his loss of self. The imagery deals with the loss of the past, meeting up with the inevitability of the present.

A member of the audience asks about his degree of adoption; the old chieftain shakes his fist in anger or frustration. It's not what makes headlines or brings attention: it is not easy to fade gracefully ("to die in these wars").

The theme of this story is how difficult it is to be a lecturer, when one's heart wants to go to battle. He no longer feels he leads a worthy and/or colorful life, but that talking about the past may be a pale substitute, and the imagery used supports this thematic element.

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