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Themes

(Poetry for Students)

Remembrance and Transcendence
As a poet who identifies herself most significantly with her Native American heritage, Harjo’s themes often reflect the essence of Indian mythology and beliefs in the human connection to the entire world of matter. Much of her work is based on the premise that even as an individual person living in the present day, she is still a part of the history of the human race, the history of animals and vegetation, even the history of planets and stars. Only by realizing and accepting this philosophy of interconnectedness can one both salute the past simply by remembering it and, at the same time, allow the mind to transcend the natural world without dispelling its beauty and importance.

In “Anniversary,” one may view the entire piece as a work of remembrance. From the very first phrase—“When the world was created”—to the poem’s final line—“And it’s been years”— Harjo takes the reader on a fanciful trip through time. Mixing scientific allusions with intriguing metaphors, she celebrates the creation of the world from a positive perspective, with only one little cynical remark thrown in about the purpose of crows: “to / joke about humanity.” The poem is consistent throughout with descriptions of how the natural world developed, from stars and galaxies to birds and fish to, finally, humankind. But nature does not exist in a vacuum here. Rather, the human mind developed an ability to go beyond the physical world—to imagine, to dream, to think—and, so, the act of transcendence is also celebrated in the poem.

While there is a hint of speculation in nearly every depiction of the universe’s unfolding, the most obvious display of the human mind transcending nature is in the fourth stanza. Here, the poet asserts that “The question mark of creation attracts more questions / until the mind is a spiral of gods strung out way over / our heads.” In the next stanza, she acknowledges that humankind may not yet fully understand the makings of the world but there is at least a chance that “we can figure this thing out.” Note that there is no apparent stress or frustration in the mind’s search for answers, and there is no friction between the intellectual transcendence beyond nature and nature itself. Instead, they work in harmony, confirming the notion that the human being is always a part of everything that has ever existed and that everything that has ever existed is a part of the human being.

The World in Motion
Another theme common in Harjo’s poetry and prose is the idea of a world that is constantly in motion. The universe is always moving outward, stars and planets continue to spin, oceans come and go with the tide, rivers never stop flowing,...

(The entire section is 699 words.)