The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Angle of Geese” is an elegy in six four-line stanzas. The poem presents an initial obscurity to the reader, for the subject and occasion are not immediately clear. The author evidently recognized the reader’s potential difficulty; according to Matthias Schubnell, N. Scott Momaday wrote to his friend and mentor, Yvor Winters, that he proposed adding an epigraph to the poem: “For a friend on the death of his child.”

In fact, the poem alludes to two separate incidents in the author’s life. The first three stanzas express a plural “we”: The occasion is the death of a child, and the speaker defines an intimate sympathy with the grieving parents in voicing the impossibility of finding words that “we” may find adequate to this moment. Words are not adequate; they are only superficial decoration for such a profound and inexplicable event as the death of a firstborn child. Custom and manners provide both a means and a barrier to the expression of feelings. The speaker feels almost able to comprehend the parents’ grief; he attempts to sound the depth of their loss but is hard put to achieve any reconciliation to it.

The last three stanzas move to an earlier event in Momaday’s life, the recollection of a hunt for wild geese. On that occasion, as the poet wrote about it elsewhere, he witnessed the calm but alert wariness of geese resting on water, then the rushing chaos as, at the first gunshot, they ascended from the water, and...

(The entire section is 419 words.)