Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A BUFFALO DANCE AT SANTO DOMINGO, by WITTER BYNNER

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

A BUFFALO DANCE AT SANTO DOMINGO, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: Dawn came
Last Line: Our breast and forehead with the turquoise sky.
Alternate Author Name(s): Morgan, Emanuel
Subject(s): Dancing & Dancers; Native Americans; New Mexico; Indians Of America; American Indians; Indians Of South America

Dawn came --
Not yet before us, where the sun was,
But behind us on a snow-peak.

Before us were the desert-hills,
All the barer for being spotted with pinyons;
And on the ridge,
Clustered black against the cold sky,
Were figures too still to be men.
Behind us, at the open edge of the plaza,
Stood the blanketed singers and drummers:
A thick crescent they were, curving toward a star.
And the star-man was taller than the moon-men,
And taller than he was the staff
Which he raised and lowered in the rhythm of the song,
With a shaking of its top-knot of buffalo-toes.

And then the figures on the hill,
Too still until now to be men,
Ran to and fro, criss-crossing the little canyons,
And changed into men
And changed into boys, into children,
And they came down the brown hill,
With rests for renewal,
Two buffaloes,
Four deer,
Two elks,
Two antelopes.

And round us,
At a distance from the waiting chorus
Whose song gave welcome to the sun
And to the godly animals,
Were men and women and children of the pueblo;
And a few of them sat on the walls of old roofless houses,
And most of them wore their blankets hooding their heads from the chill;
And all of them were watching and were silent,
Except the chorus
Which was earth itself
With a song
That followed
The rising and the falling of the hills.

Two buffaloes,
A woman,
But moving like a small bird;
Four deer,
With white fluff on their antlers
And white lace on their legs
And with brightly embroidered kilts of old meaning;
Two antelopes
With white chests;
Two elks
With straight horns, green-pronged, down their shoulders;
They entered the plaza.

And the faces of the men,
Being black,
Were no longer the faces of men
But were lost in the godly presences
Of two buffaloes, four deer, two elks, and two antelopes.

And now, for the dance, there was a hunter,
With eagle-feathers hung from head to ankle
And with a swinging bow and arrow.

And they danced the sun up
And carried it on their shoulders
Into the kiva,
Where it should take counsel with gods and men.

And soon they were back again, to dance,
Back with the sun in the plaza.

The chorus,
Darkly sculptural at dawn,
Was vivid now as a mesa topped with plumes:
Closely curved rows of brightness,
With war-bonnets, with bows and guns,
With slashes and dots and angles of red and yellow paint
On their heightened faces
And with sprays of evergreen, to sing by, in their hands.

And then came another hunter,
Naked, slim, and black,
With a small, sharp helmet of black,
And he circled the dance,
Nervous, deliberate,
With his bow and arrow toward the godly animals.

Circling, foraging, pacing, pausing,
Scenting, shifting, crouching, speeding,
The buffaloes were buffaloes,
The deer were deer,
The elks were elks,
And the antelopes were antelopes:
Moccasins, lean-muscled legs, rain-girdles, shells of turquoise,
Yet buffaloes, deer and elks and antelopes.

How could a short stick, held in two hands
And planted forward from a leaning back,
Become the two legs of an antelope?
How could a short stick held in two hands
And planted forward from a leaning back,
Become the two legs of an elk?
How could a short stick, held in two hands
And planted forward from a leaning back,
Become the sidelong poise of a listening deer?

Only the gods can tell us,
Only the gods who danced that day,
The gods who suddenly flung the beauty of animals
And the beauty of men
Into one quick rainfall rhythm of moccasins:

A steady fall, a broken fall, a fall blown circle-wise
The buffaloes in the center;
With the woman,
Who swayed between and about them like a smooth and friendly wind;
And then the four deer, staffs in a row, feet behind them beating;
And the two antelopes, who had run with delicate hoofs and dainty necks, now
beating a foot-song as vital as the rest;
And the elks, with their large-stepping circles;
And the powerful hunter, with his dips and his calls;
And the subtle hunter, doubtful, hopeful,
Weaving, watching
The circling, the foraging, the pacing, the pausing,
The scenting, the shifting, the crouching, the springing;
And then the quick beat again
Of the moccasins of godly men . . .

All day they followed,
Slow as the sun,
Swift as the rain,
Through centuries . . .

All day the strong voices
In unison . . .

Till at sunset,
The chorus,
Ending its song and its drums,
Made us wonder why the wind had died on the moment,
Why the heart had ceased from hearing itself,
Where the water was lost that had been heaving through the ditches,
And where the hoofs were gone from beating on the sky.

Dead, ceased, gone?
Or we?

We saw, that night, the shadow,
Of a hundred years upon a thousand years.

And a larger earth
Absolved us
Of ourselves
With a song of ourselves,
Of godly animals,
Of godly men
Who follow forever
The rising and the falling of the hills,
Deer, buffalo, elk, antelope, hunter,
Our thighs and ankles painted with the red adobe and the white rain,
Our breast and forehead with the turquoise sky.

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