Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 458

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...

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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.

While the reader knows that the speaker’s family also mourns her loss because they do not speak her name, they are ready to move into a more festive time as they prepare to dance, “eat mutton/ and drink coffee till morning.” Momaday removes the speaker from the present—“You and I will not be there”—placing him with the subject at the end of stanza 4. In stanza 5, the reader experiences the difficult time of the “heavy” years for the speaker without his love and also feels a sense of relief in the closing two lines of the poem. Closing the poem in the future tense, Momaday leaves the speaker, his love, and the reader on a positive emotional plane. The lovers not only are reunited on Black Mountain but also return to the beauty and excitement of their youth as the speaker rides “the swiftest horse” and his love hears “the drumming hooves” as he approaches her.

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