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III the dance Every day No Water’s1 Camp was growing near the mouth Of White Clay Creek,2 lean-flowing in the drouth.3 What matter if the doomed, unfriendly sky, The loveless grudging Earth, so soon to die, Ignored the supplication of the lean? Rains of the spirit, wonders in the green, Bloom of the heart and thunders of the Truth, Waking the deathless meadowlark of youth, Were yonder. So the village grew. And most Who came there felt the leading of the ghost; But if the clever in their own regard, Amused contenders that the hills were hard And could not flow, came mockingly to see, They saw indeed. They saw the Holy Tree, A sapling cottonwood with branches lopped, Set in the center of a ring, and topped With withered leaves.4 Around it and around, Weaving a maze of dust and mournful sound, The women and the children and the men Joined hands and shuffled, ever and again Rounding a weird monotony of song, Winged with the wail of immemorial wrong, And burdened with the ancient hope at prayer. And now and then one turned a knowing stare Upon the empty dazzle of the skies, Muttering names, and then, as one who dies, Slumped to the dust and shivered and was still.5 And more and more were seized upon, until The ring was small of those who could not see; And weeping there beneath the withered tree, They sang and prayed. But when the sleepers woke To stagger from the dust, the words they spoke, As in a dream, were beautiful and strange. And many a scoffer felt a still swift change Come over things late darkened with the light Of common day; as in a moony night The rapt sleepwalker lives and is aware, Past telling, in the landscape everywhere About him till no alien thing can be, And every blade of grass and weed and tree, Seed-loving soil and unbegetting stone, Glow with the patient secret they have known These troubled whiles, and even men shall know. One moment, shrewdly smiling at a show, The clever ones could see a common pole, The antic6 grandmas, little children, droll7 With grownup airs, the clowning men who wept, And dust. But suddenly, as though they slept And dreamed till then, to wake at last and see, Swift saps of meaning quickened to a tree The rootless bole,8 the earth-forgotten thing With starveling leafage; and the birds would sing Forever in that shielding holiness. 531 The Dance A joy that only weeping can express This side of dying, swept them like a rain Illumining with lightning that is pain The life-begetting darkness that is sorrow. So there would be more dancers on the morrow To swell the camp. The Moon When Ponies Shed9 Had aged and died; and, risen from the dead, The Moon of Fatness,10 only in the name, Haunted the desert heavens and became A mockery of plenty at the full, Remembering the thunders of the bull, The lowing of the countless fatted cows, Where now it saw the ghostly myriads browse Along a thousand valleys, still and sere. But mightily the spirit of the year, At flood, poured out upon the needy ones The Light that has the dazzle of the sun’s For shadow, till the very blind could see. And then it was beneath the withered tree Young Black Elk stood and sent a voice and wept; And little had he danced until he slept The sleep of vision; for a power lay Upon him from a child,11 and men could say Strange things about his seeing that were true, And of the dying made to live anew By virtue of the power. When he fell The sun was high. When he awoke to tell The silent crowd that pressed about the place 532 the song of the messiah Of what he saw, with awe upon its face The full moon rose and faltered, listening. It was, he said, like riding in a swing,12 Afraid of falling; for the swing rose high; And faster, deeper into empty sky It mounted, till the clutching hands let go, And, like an arrow leaping from a bow, He clove13 the empty spaces, swift and prone. Alone he seemed, and terribly alone, For there was nothing anywhere to heed The helpless, headlong terror of the speed, Until a single eagle feather blew Before him in the emptiness...


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MARC Record
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