The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.

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...

(The entire section is 483 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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...

(The entire section is 484 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.