Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Wonalancet, Priests, and Prophecy

The Passaconaway poem I posted yesterday is actually the first of a trilogy on the last three Pennacook sachems. The next concerns Wonalancet, his son. And, to hearken back to previous comments here on the school of prophecy, in a way, these were the first poems I wrote that I felt were veering in that direction, but in an oddly historical fashion (I am a trained historian so do not attempt this on your own). The prophecy comes from the past. It’s easier to think that way of course. And safer.

Wonalancet's Dream
Now you exhort me to leave and change my old canoe and embark
in a new one, to which I have been unwilling; but now I yield
myself to your advice and do engage to pray to God hereafter.

--Wonalancet, Chief Sachem of the Pennacook Confederacy


Wonalancet guides his old canoe
through rapids, turbulent with pale-faced men
and Mohawks. Granite churns the bloodlike foam:
the Pennacook defeat their foes again.
Dawn awakens him to worlds gone wrong;
the flood runs still, no longer fast and strong.

His new canoe of cross and briars drifts
within the shallows of these troubled days.
He longs for birch bark, ash, the roots of spruce,
and river journeys in the ancient ways,
when Glooskap briskly stirred the Merrimack
beneath the silver birch and tamarack.

Instead he tends the garden of a church;
he deeded them the grounds, the last of all
his once immense domain. Above the corn
and summer squash he prays the waterfall
will rise again, undammed by Manitou.
Above its spray will wing a white canoe.

~Greg Perry 2003-2005


Mark Lamoureux left an interesting comment in my Saturday post: “the idea of poetry as a kind of "other" speech, very much in keeping with glossollalia and prophecy. The classical image of the sybilian (sp.?) oracle receiving speech from the gods in the form of gibberish which was then translated into comprehensible prophecy (in iambs, I think) by the temple priest. Our contemporary SoQ/P-A dialectics in some respects deal with whether or not we need or do not need said interpreting priest.”

I agree, but probably not for the same reason as Mark would argue. And maybe that’s why I’m not comfortable in the formalist world as well. Although, in practice it appears such poets would be interpreters (whereas the pomo’s [aka SoN’s {school of novelty}] would leave the interpretation to the reader), still most traditionalists (aka SoQ’s), I would argue, do not believe there’s any prophecy to begin with.

So poetry these days is left with this conundrum: the interpreters do not believe in a prophetic message and the prophets don’t believe in interpretation.

2 comments:

Mark said...

That is an apt analogy, though I'm not certain that all of the chanellers believe in the prophecy , either. In dissolving the Romantic "I," I'd say a good number of langpo-oriented poets would also be uncomfortable with the notion of some kind of sacred quality of language. For some langage is just language.

I myself differ from others with whom I might be identified in that respect. I haven't necessarily determined what my lineage is (being a youngster and all) but I identify more with, say, the automatic writing of the Surrealists than L=A=N=G per se. Which is not to say that I would discount the influence of said poets on my writing.

I myself try to listen to the iterpreters from time to time. I think as our literary history progresses the two halves of the equation will begin to have commerce once more...

Mark said...

By the way, the use of the Native American words in these poems is very powerful. They are, after all, the true names of this place.