(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Captivity” is a medium-length narrative poem in free verse, its fifty-eight lines divided into six stanzas which are, respectively, nine, ten, eleven, eight, ten, and ten lines long. The title refers to the subject of the narrative: It is a woman’s story of her capture by a band of American Indians in the seventeenth century. No names are given for the narrator or any of the other characters—the man she identifies as her captor, a woman associated with him, and the narrator’s child and husband. An epigraph, a short quote from Mary Rowlandson’s 1676 narrative about her own capture and travels with a band of Wampanoag, follows the title of the poem. The quote reads: “He (my captor) gave me a bisquit, which I put in my pocket, and not daring to eat it, buried it under a log, fearing he had put something in it to make me love him.”

Although the poem is written in the first-person point of view, the Rowlandson reference makes it clear that Erdrich is creating a narrator whose culture, experiences, and beliefs are different from the poet’s own. The speaker of the poem is based on a historical figure. Erdrich is a twentieth century poet of German and Chippewa descent; the narrator of “Captivity” is a woman like Mary Rowlandson.

The poem begins with a description of the group’s flight through the woods. The narrator states that she had trouble crossing a stream but that someone, referred to only as “he,” saved her. The captive has...

(The entire section is 576 words.)