Deer Dance/For Your Return Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Deer Dance/For Your Return” traces a loss and at the same time performs a ritual or ceremony that achieves recovery from that loss. While the language and allusions of the poem are all directed toward the communal deer dance, the contemporary reader understands the imaginative connection between the deer and the Pueblo and any relationship of love and need. In her correspondence with the American poet James Wright, Silko mentions her reading of the seventeenth century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, who thought that the most significant human capacity was that of being able to love—virtually anything—and to love without the expectation that the loved object or person would love in return. She achieves a dimension of selfless love of the deer in “Deer Dance/For Your Return.” At the same time, it is clear that the deer is either literally (for the people of the Pueblo) or metaphorically (for the contemporary lover) a matter of life and death.

The poem begins in a conditional, uncertain state (“If this will hasten your return”) and concludes with a certainty that “The run/ for the length of the mountains/ is only the beginning.” The movement from speculation to certainty, from loss to restoration, is the most significant theme of the poem. Without diminishing in any way the reservations one must have in an uncertain world, the poem affirms the possibility of reciprocity between human beings (both alone and in community) and the natural world.