The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 483

N. Scott Momaday’s poem “Earth and I Gave You Turquoise” is an elegy consisting of five sestet stanzas. In this poem, the speaker pays tribute to a deceased love and makes plans to join her in the afterlife. The first stanza establishes the relationship between the speaker, “I,” and the subject, “you.” Written in the past tense, the opening lines of the poem tell the reader that the happy life experienced by the speaker and the subject ended when the subject became ill. The reader infers that the subject died after becoming “ill when the owl cried.” The first stanza reveals the speaker’s plans to join his loved one on Black Mountain, most likely her final resting place, the entrance point into the afterlife.

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In stanza 2, the reader learns what will happen when the speaker and subject reunite in the next life. Each with a specific role, they will make a new life together. The speaker “will bring corn for planting,” and together they will make a fire, signifying that once again they will have a home. In discussing their new life together, Momaday expands the feminine companion role of the subject in healing the speaker’s heart to a maternal one, with children coming to her breast. Attesting to his love for her, the speaker tells his love that not only does he remember her but also does nature, as exemplified by “the wild cane.”

The third stanza shifts the setting to the speaker’s brother’s house, the scene of sad songs, a place where “we have not spoken of you.” This signifies that the family still mourns her loss. It is here, midway through the poem, that the speaker reveals when he plans to join his love on Black Mountain. He will follow the current moon’s path, her “white way” as she travels the sky. Separating himself from the present life, having already joined his love in spirit, the speaker tells his love at the close of stanza 4 that “you and I will not be there” for the dancing near Chinle. The reader knows this place to be their former home, for it is here that her “loom whispered beauty.” In Native American cultures of the Southwest, particularly the Navajo, women were well known for their weaving, which was an integral part of their lives.

The speaker’s memory of his love is triggered by several places and things within the poem. Even the sight of a crow in a familiar location, Red Rock, reminds him of his love’s black hair. However, even though the “years are heavy” for the speaker, he will join his love as a young man on a swift horse. From her place on Black Mountain, the subject will hear the “drumming hooves” of her love’s horse as he joins her and they begin a new life together in another world.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 484

“Earth and I Gave You Turquoise” has no apparent rhyme scheme and is devoid of any punctuation. Each of the five stanzas is written with the same mixed rhythms. The first four lines of each stanza are pairs of iambic hexameter and iambic pentameter. Each six-line stanza closes with a couplet of iambic hexameter. Places are named, such as Black Mountain, Chinle, and Red Rock, which establish the location of the poem in Navajo country in present-day Arizona. Even though the speaker declares in stanza 2, “I speak your name many times,” Momaday does not reveal her name, nor the name of the speaker’s brother, nor the children who come to the subject’s breast. As with the naming of the landscape, the moon is treated with the personification of “Moon Woman.”

There is marked significance to line 3 of each stanza. In stanzas 1 and 3, the subject of the third line is “we” with a different collective subject. The “we” of stanza 1 is the speaker and the object of the poem, his lost love. The line “We lived laughing in my house” tells the reader that they were married. In stanza 3 however, the “we” is composed of the speaker and those gathered in his brother’s house. “We have not spoken of you” is a signifier of the cultural custom of not mentioning aloud the name of a deceased family member. This practice is symbolic of one of the ways in which many American Indian societies honor the dead. In stanzas 2, 4, and 5, line 3 reveals something about the “you” to whom the speaker refers. Respectively, Momaday uses “your breast,” “your loom,” and “your hair” in the middle of these stanzas as he continues to describe the woman who is the object of this elegiac poem.

The beauty of “Earth and I Gave You Turquoise” lies in its implied action. The reader can only surmise the speaker’s intentions and actions through Momaday’s magnificent use of words and cultural symbols. Signifiers of Native American culture in the Southwest within the poem are turquoise, which comes from the sacred earth; the loom, which whispers beauty; mutton, which is part of a festive gathering; and the old stories the lovers tell together.

Momaday has the speaker indicate his intentions to join his dead love in the last line of stanza 1, “We will meet on Black Mountain.” He lets the reader know when this is to take place at the end of stanza 3: “When Moon Woman goes to you/ I will follow her white way.” Finally, the reader finds out how the speaker intends to carry out his plan to join his love in the last lines of the poem. Whether or not he really rides the swiftest horse to Black Mountain is known only to Momaday, the speaker, and his love, as well as to the reader, who will perhaps also hear the drumming hooves of his horse.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 180

Barry, Nora. Review of Ancestral Voice: Conversations with N. Scott Momaday. MELUS 16 (December 22, 1989): 115-117.

Douglas, Christopher. “The Flawed Design: American Imperialism in N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 45 (Fall, 2003): 3-24.

Isernhagen, Hartwig. Momaday, Vizenor, Armstrong: Conversations on American Indian Writing. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.

Owen, Louis. Other Destinies: Reading the American Indian Novel. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992.

Roemer, Kenneth, ed. Approaches to Teaching Momaday’s “The Way to Rainy Mountain.” New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1988.

Scarberry-Garcia, Susan. Landmarks of Healing: A Study of “House Made of Dawn.” Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1990.

Scenters-Zapico, John. “Cross-Cultural Mediations: Language, Storytelling, History, and Self as Enthymematic Premises in the Novels of N. Scott Momaday.” The American Indian Quarterly 21 (June 22, 1997): 499.

Schubnell, Matthias. “Locke Setman, Emil Nolde, and the Search for Expression in N. Scott Momaday’s The Ancient Child.” The American Indian Quarterly 18 (September 22, 1994): 468-480.

Stevens, Jason W. “Bear, Outlaw, and Storyteller: American Frontier Mythology and Ethnic Subjectivity of N. Scott Momaday.” American Literature 73 (September, 2001): 599-631.

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