Thursday, June 16, 2016

Poetry Month Day 16, George Croynyn, translator, "Chippewa Nonsense Song of the Game of Silence"


(If you speak or laugh you are defeated)It is hanging
    in the edge of the sunshine
It is a pig I see
    with its double (cloven) hoofs
It is a very fat pig.
The people who live in a hollow tree
    are fighting

They are fighting bloodily
He is rich
He will carry a pack toward the great water.
(The rabbit speaks)
At the end of the point of land
I eat the bark off the tree
I see the track of a lynx
I don't care, I can get away from him
It is a jumping trail

I'm utterly exhausted, so I don't feel like tracking down any provenance on this. It's from my lovely wife's trip to the library sale (many many books of poetry!), a collection of American Indian Poetry edited by George Cronyn. I can only imagine that it's a lot funnier in the original, because I find I can read it with a straight face. But, also, perhaps there's something lost when it's on the page.

Ok, I lied. A little research. Frances Dunsmore recorded the poem/song in 1913 for the Bureau of American Ethnography, as told to him by a John Carl, whose mother was Chippewa, and who lived with the Chippewa until he was 10. The poem/song was performed for children, to keep them busy while grownups were doing something else. Prizes were awarded to the children who stayed quiet the best. The joke comes from the 4 distinct images: a fat pig hanging from a tree, a fight between people who live in a hollow tree (probably French people, in their log cabins), a rich man carries a sack, and then the rabbit at the end. There are actions to go with these, which might be grotesque or over stated to get a reaction. The song ends abruptly - sep! - again to provoke a reaction. Who laughed? Who gasped?