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C A R O L K Y L E University of Illinois, Urbana Point of View in “Returned to Say” and the Wilderness of William Stafford The perspective in William Stafford’s “Returned to Say” is probably the most interesting of the approaches to an understand­ ing of the poem. From the title of the book of poetry, Traveling through the Dark, the perspective is clearly that of the traveler; in this poem, the traveler seems to have emerged from the other world, to have come back from the other side of the grave, as the title again “Returned to Say” suggests. The returned figure is a “lost Cree / on some new shore”; from all accounts an Indian could only be lost in a world totally alien, on the shore of a kingdom not his own. The exact identification of the persona of the Indian is not so important as an identification of co-existent possibilities. A spirit returned from the other world like a ghost haunting a cove does not rule out the interpretation of the spirit as a sort of guide, or a kind of guardian angel. Information on the Cree Indian identifies the tribe to which he belongs as the North American Cristineaux Indian living in the forests and plains of Montana through Ontario and Saskatchewan, thus the allusion to facing north, and also to traveling north. But more than this, the Cree tribes believed that the basis for success in life was the acquisition of a guardian spirit acquired at adolescence. The return of a spirit to guard another person just starting his adult life is not at all inconsistent with the general view of the returned spirit, but it is difficult to reconcile with the fact given in the poem that the supposed guide is “lost.” This is hardly explained in the name of irony since the tone of the poem suggests an ideal world of romance or dream vision, or trance, not a world of absurd contradictions. The reconciliation might be made however on the grounds that the Cree, having just re­ turned, must begin anew to reacquaint himself with the topography 192 Western American Literature of the North American wilderness. Like a true American, descended from Christopher Columbus who lost his way to find America, the Indian must temporarily lose himself to find himself. Like Frost’s “Directive” in a pre-historic, geologically-strange wilderness, the directions lead only to one’s getting lost; the road to the children’s playhouse back into time, the closed-off road to the center of one’s childhood, the map for the finding of the treasure buried with the Holy Grail, lie in one’s self. The “directive” is St. Mark’s from the Bible, losing one’s self as a part of the process of growing up, of moving through childhood and adolscence to a kind of self-knowledge . Perhaps this is the reason for the strength of the identification of the spiritual guide as one’s alter-ego. The clearest support for this theory comes from the point of view registered in the poem of the gradual merging of the first and third persons after the initial split. That is, originally, the speaker is the “I” of the poem and the two figures are definitely traveling separately: “he in a hurry and I beside him” closes the first stanza. The person shifts back and forth from first to third person in the second stanza: It will be a long trip; he will be a new chief; we have drunk new water from an unnamed stream; under little dark trees he is to find a path we both must travel because we have met. (11. 5-8) The two symbolically drink water as “we,” but then “he” finds the path and both the pathfinder and his pupils follow. This pattern continues throughout the poem: in stanza three “we” gesture, but the Indian performs the ritual alone of blowing the grain of sand off his knifeblade. Again this Indian history shows a special devo­ tion to certain symbolic objects, sometimes recommended in a dream or vision. As the breathing of this by now very physically present...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 191-202
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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