Earth and I Gave You Turquoise by N. Scott Momaday

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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The first line of this poem, which is also the title, “Earth and I gave you turquoise,” lets the reader know the value of the relationship and hints at the geographical location of the setting. In the American Southwest, turquoise is a highly valued stone, often combined with silver in beautiful adornments. In some southwestern Native American cultures, such as the Zuni, the god of turquoise followed his wife, the goddess of salt, to a new location, leaving behind turquoise footsteps in the desert. Historically, turquoise was valued not only for its beauty but also for its trade value.

As with much Native American literature, time does not play a crucial role in this poem except to inform the reader that the years since the subject’s death weigh heavily on the speaker. His family, on the other hand, although their songs are sad, are preparing to dance. This is a sign that only the speaker remains deep in mourning, reaffirming that he has lost his life companion.

Momaday uses key words and phrases to establish the past, present, and future mood for the speaker of this poem. For example, in stanza 1, the reader learns that the speaker’s life and times together with his love were pleasant. The use of the words “singing” and “laughing” are indicators of a happier time, when the speaker shared his life with the subject. The mood of stanzas 2 and 3 is one of overwhelming sadness in the present, as the reader becomes aware of the speaker’s broken heart. “Our songs are sad,” recites the speaker, and yet there is hope when he says, “You will heal my heart.” This mood of hope is in the future, in a time when the speaker will be joining his love in the afterlife on Black Mountain.


(The entire section is 458 words.)