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S o m e In d ia n T e r r it o r y S o n g s C a r t e r R e v a r d F i n d i n g a V o i c e i n O k l a h o m a Thinking about the fragile greatness of Imperial America, I tried to recall how I found a voice to speak in this great wilderness. Where I found it was in Oklahoma, Land of the Red People, and it was Coyote who gave this voice, so on public occasions it seems good to begin with the words in which he first showed me how the sounds of the world turn into music: Coyote Tells Why He Sings There was a little rill of water, near the den, That showed a trickle, all the dry summer When I was bom. One night in late August, it rained— The Thunder waked us. Drops came crashing down In dust, on stiff blackjack leaves, on lichened rocks, And the rain came in a pelting rush down over the hill, Wind blew wet into our cave as I heard the sounds Of leaf-drip, rustling of soggy branches in gusts of wind. And then the rill’s tune changed— I heard a rock drop That set new ripples gurgling, in a lower key. Where the new ripples were, I drank, next morning, Fresh muddy water that set my teeth on edge. I thought how delicate that rock’s poise was and how The storm made music, when it changed my world. That sonnet was written in Amherst, Massachusetts, upstairs in the old Mabel Loomis Todd house where I was living in 1957-58. (That’s the house where Mrs. Todd, wife of the Amherst College astronomer, used to hold her trysts with Emily Dickinson’s brother, Austin, the Treasurer of Amherst College. Or, to put it in rhyme, it’s where Austin and Mabel did it on the table.) 1 was then teaching at Amherst College, after getting back from Oxford and out of Yale, and one morning before dawn I woke up to the sound of rain on the roof. A hint of light was just beginning to grow outside the window, the kind Tennyson had in mind in “Tears, Idle Tears”— “Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns / The earliest pipe of half-awaken’d birds / To dying ears, when unto dying eyes / The case­ C a r t e r R e v a r d 1 9 3 ment slowly grows a glimmering square, / So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.” But this was a wintry not a summery dawn, and the rain on the roof had a duller sound than that of big summer drops. And yet there were all kinds of rain-sounds coming in there to that second floor bedroom under the eaves— the tap and splash on roof and window, the tankatoonkatinktinktonky gurgle of the gutters tin, the swish and plish and creak of twig and branch in an elm, the sizzly plop and splish of drops on grass, the whispering silk of rain caressing wind. It would have made John Cage envious, those four minutes and forty-four seconds I lay there listening while Nobody played that wonderful piano. And then a terrible thought struck me: I was going deaf and before long would not hear again the sound of rain before dawn. Six years earlier a doctor had tapped a tuning fork and held it beside my right ear till I no longer heard it hum; then he put its base against the back of my skull— and I heard that silvery steel for twenty seconds more. This meant I had otosclerosis, a kind of hereditary arthritis of the ear’s little bones— the prognosis being that in a few years I would be as deaf as my mother and my Uncle Arthur. For some years, it’s true, I kept my wonderful bone-conduction hearing — when I held up a ticking watch to my ear, I could not hear it, but when I put it...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 192-203
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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