To understand a poem, the reader must first look to the poet. N. Scott Momaday, a Kiowa Indian writer, interjects into his work the culture of his ancestors. He spent his childhood on reservations throughout the Southwest; thus, his poems illustrate the oral tradition of the Native American, who spoke, chanted, danced, and sang their poetry. Momaday's writing techniques include simplicity of word choice, repetition of key lines, and dependence on figurative language.
In the poem, "The Delight Song of Tsoai-talee," an understanding of the Kiowa words is necessary. Momaday's Indian name is Tsoai-talee which translates to Rock Tree Boy. This name was given to him in commemoration of being taken as a child to Devil's Tower in Wyoming, a 865 foot volcanic butte that is sacred to the Kiowa people. Tsen-tainte, the other Kiowa name, refers to White Horse, a Kiowa chief during the second half of the nineteenth century noted for his daring. As an apprentice warrior, White Horse showed remarkable adeptness.
Native American writers often employ three characteristics: the motif of the boy undergoing the change to manhood; the personification of animals or inanimate objects; and the relationship of man to the land in which he lives. These attributes can be seen in this poem.
At the heart of the poem is Rock Tree Boy, who is describing himself as part of the world. His mood is joyful demonstrated in the title word "Delight..." Every image of the boy fulfils the vision of happiness, satisfaction, and enjoyment of life. Momaday lists the boy's qualities figuratively with metaphors. The speaker in the poem wants the reader to know that he is on the earth, and he is glad to be alive. The importance and reason for his telling the world may lie in the line, "I stand in good relationto the daughter of Tsen-Tainte..." letting the reader know that love has found his heart.
The closeness to nature and the land are represented through Momaday's use of symbols important to the Native American culture.
feather-a symbol of prayer; a creative force
the deer-hunting prey animal; a sacrifical protector
the eagle-master of the skies; a carrier of prayers
the flame-the heart of the people; cleansing of the spirit
He lets the eagle frolic with the wind, the rain rumble, and the shadow follow the child. All these images speak to the bounty the of the boy's life.
When reading the poem, the reader should allow himself to become the boy who stands on the precipice of life. For what are we grateful? How are we a part of the collective story of life? Where do we fit in with the land its occupants? In Momaday's song, it is good to be alive and have a place in the scheme of things.