Month: February 2021

Coyote and the Pebble: A Closer Look

Coyote and the Pebbles is a Native American tale that describes how the stars in the sky came to be. The protagonist of the tale is a tricky coyote who misses out on his opportunity to receive instruction from the Great Mystery. The Great Mystery seems to be a godlike figure who rules over the night creatures (and probably creatures of the daytime as well). The Great Mystery uses the earthly figures to follow out tasks for him. The creatures themselves could also be individual parts of the godhead who carry out specific purposes. The other creatures of the night such as the deer and owl receive the instruction. Therefore, they are prepared to follow through with the task. The night creatures beg for more light in which they are granted. They must gather shiny pebbles that they find and take the pebbles up the mountain. After doing so, they must draw a portrait of themselves in the sky as high as they can reach. By doing so, they will have more light during the nighttime instead of only the moon or fragments of the moon. Coyote, playing the common role of a trickster, is late to the meeting and misses out on this opportunity to claim part of the sky. Coyote only hears about the news from Raven, who tells him that he must hurry because the others have started without him. Perhaps the Raven likes to stir up chaos as well. Coyote then rushes off to fulfill his portion of the task. He is seething with anger and vows to make the biggest and best portrait of them all.

 

https://thelibraryladies.com/2017/01/12/kates-review-moonshot-vol-1-the-indigenous-comics-collection

“I am the greatest artist in the world! Therefore, my drawing will be the largest and the best!” 

Coyote appears to be both a troublemaker and a sympathetic character within the graphic tale. He begins his journey by completely missing his opportunity to light up the night sky. In a rush to claim the biggest and best portion of the sky, he makes a grave mistake. His selfishness seems ironic considering the other night creatures did not wait for him. In a way, they too portrayed some selfish characteristics. For example, they realized he was not there and moved on anyways. Later, when Coyote tries to find a spot in the sky to draw his portrait every space is taken. No one saved him a space in the sky. They were all concerned with their displays being grand enough. Coyote’s betrayal then causes him to act selfishly by trying to create the grandest portrait of all, which only ends with the destruction of all portraits. In the end, no one portrait brightens the night sky. It appears as though all the night creatures want their portraits displayed for all to see, which projects the dangers of self-absorption. The tale not only describes the origin of how stars were created but also amplifies how each night creature was fixated on the fact that the light in the night sky did not reflect versions of themselves they wanted to show to the world. They seem to have forgotten that the main point was to create more light in the sky.

“The pebbles sprang around, higher and higher, here and there, bumping into each other, until they were bumping into everyone else’s drawings.” (page 29 of pdf)

“The night creatures could only watch as their portraits were destroyed” (page 29 of pdf)

In the end, the task was fulfilled, the night sky had more light available than just the moon. Although this was true, the night creatures still could not forgive the Coyote for destroying their portraits. They continue to blame him and forget to realize that the task has been fulfilled. Coyote, distressed for not only the destruction of his portrait but for the others as well, becomes filled with sorrow. He does not want to feel like an outcast anymore and desires a sense of belongingness to the rest of the night creatures. Out of embarrassment, Coyote slips away before the Great Spirit came again to council with them. This act also supports the theme of selfishness within the text. Much to the night creatures’ surprise, the Great Spirit does not hold a grudge against Coyote. The Great Spirit states, “The order of creation is already in place” (page 31 of pdf). The night creatures fail to understand this and continue to resent Coyote for his actions that cannot be undone. Coyote, sick with himself, howls in angst. Coyote is no longer allowed to join in any night creature celebrations. He has become a complete outcast to the rest of the group. He is sorrowful for what he has done because it has landed him in a lonely position. Perhaps he still has not grasped the dangers of selfishness. He mourns for his exile, but perhaps he is not truly sorry for what he has done.

https://thegraphiccanon.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/coyote-howl.png

Writer Dayton Edmonds and artist Micah Farritor display a Native American tale within the graphic Coyote and the Pebble. This text exemplifies the dangers of selfishness as well as explains how the stars in the sky came to be. The godlike figures take on both animal and human characteristics to describe the creation of the stars. The Great Mystery acts as an all-knowing figure who oversees the night creatures. The Great Mystery’s wisdom is displayed throughout the text. For example, after the destruction of the portraits the god states, “We cannot change what has happened. We cannot go back to last month, last week, or even five minutes ago” (page 32 of pdf) which also portrays Native American beliefs. The theme of the tale reminds one to not be selfish and provides the origin of the stars.

 

References:

Edmonds, Dayton and Micah Farritor. “Coyote and the Pebbles.” pages 20-33. The Graphic Canon, Vol. 1. Editor Russ Kick. Publisher Seven Stories Press. 2012. New York.

 

Puram Poems Aren’t So Focused On The External As One May Think —Payton Hayes

When readers think of poetry, typically a few images come to mind —the intricate love poem, the vivid poem describing nature’s beauty, the epic. However, poetry can take many forms and cover even more topics. It’s an art form that transcends age, race, time, culture, distance, and experience and continues to bring people together over miles of stone, sand, and sea and centuries. Indian poetry comes in all kinds of forms and covers a wide variety of subjects —the Classical Tamil lyric for example, is typically split into two genres: akam and puram. In his article from the Daily Star, Farhad Ahmed explains the distinction between the two Tamil genres and what readers could expect to find in poems that fell into these two categories:

“Akam dealt with ‘that which is inside’ or ‘the inner world’ – in other words, love poems, written in highly structured forms. Puram’s themes were on ‘the outer world’, and dealt with public life, with war, death, and the glory of kings.” (Ahmed 1)

Ahmed explains that puram poetry covered topics such as ‘public life, war, death, and the glory of kings’ but these weren’t the only topics found in puram poetry. Sometimes, purams covered more personal topics such as the value of one’s life without children, the quality of the world being that of the quality of the men in it, and much more which blurred the lines between the internal and the external.

For example, in “This World Lives Because” the narrator explains how the world as they know it is even permitted to exist as it is, because of the fearless men who protect it.

THIS WORLD LIVES BECAUSE

 

This world lives

because

 

some men

do not eat alone,

not even when they get

the sweet ambrosia of the gods;

 

they’ve no anger in them,

they fear evils other men fear

but never sleep over them;

 

give their lives for honor,

will not touch a gift of whole worlds

if tainted;

 

there’s no faintness in their hearts

and they do not strive

for themselves.

 

Because such men are,

this world is.

 

—Anonymous

Translated by A.K. Ramanujan (Norton Anthology 982)

“The World Lives Because” from the Norton Anthology of World Literature Washed in Sunlight By Payton Hayes

While this poem does of course cover typical puram topics such as honor, masculinity, and bravery, it also explores internal topics such as emotions —fear, anger, and selflessness. The imagery in this poem conjures up very personal and emotional images in the reader’s mind’s eye, even though it deals more heavily with the external.

Another puram poem that does this is “Earth’s Bounty” by Ilam Peruvaluti.

EARTH’S BOUNTY BY ILAM PERUVALUTI

Bless you, earth:

field

forest,

valley,

or hill,

 

you are only

as good

as the good young men

in each place.

— Ilam Peruvaluti

Translated by A.K. Ramanujan (Norton Anthology 983)

Even though the reader is provided with very external imagery — “field / forest / valley / or hill” and the plural “men,” it invokes a feeling of appreciation and acknowledgement of sacrifice (especially when read closely with the previous poem). The latter lines really drive home the very personal and deeply moving notion that the world reflects both he good and evil within it. Essentially, the narrator of the poem is saying “the world is only as good as the people in it make it.” This phrase can be compared to a more modern phrase “you get out of the world what you put into the world” which can give credit to karma — the idea of destiny or fate, following as effect from cause. This is certainly interesting because the Classical Tamil Lyric precedes Hinduism and Buddhism and makes “no references to karma or dharma, caste or pollution, Siva or Visnu, the Ramayana or Mahabarata —or rasa and Sanskrit poetics.” (Puchner, 970)

Another Puram poem to closely examine for instances where the internal appear (in this typically external-focus genre) is Auvaiyar’s “Children.”

CHILDREN BY AUVAIYAR

Even when a man has earned much

of whatever can be earned,

shared it with many,

even when he is a master of great estates,

 

if he does not have

children

 

who patter on their little feet,

stretch tiny hands,

scatter, touch,

grub with mouths

and grab with fingers

smear rice and ghee

all over their bodies,

and overcome reason with love,

 

all his days

have come to nothing.

 

—Auvaiyar

Translated by A.K. Ramanujan (Norton Anthology 983)

This poem while seemingly external in nature with its mention of the man and his children, is actually very internally focused, especially with the mention of personal and touching images of the children and the provocative “overcome reason with love,” line.

In “A Young Warrior” by Pantiyan Arivutai Nampi, there are many provocative and emotional moving images as well.

A YOUNG WARRIOR BY PANTIYAN ARIVUTAI NAMPI

O heart

sorrowing

for this lad

 

once scared of a stick

lifted in mock anger

when he refused

a drink of milk,

now

not content with killing

war elephants

with spotted trunks,

 

this son

of the strong man who fell yesterday

 

seems unaware of the arrow

in his wound.

his head of hair is plumed

like a horse’s,

 

he has fallen

on his shield,

 

his beard still soft.

 

—Pantiyan Arivutai Nampi

Translated by A.K. Ramanujan (Norton Anthology 983)

Imagine if this poem were read aloud and the quiet that would sweep the room after. There is so much emotional imagery in this poem and so many internal topics buried beneath the surface. While on the first layer, the poem’s narrator is discussing war and the brutality of it, they’re also discussing childhood, loss, fear, anger, bloodlust, bravery, and sorrow. The images on the outside, are external, yes, but the topics on the inside —the real meat of the poem and the point it drives home is gravely internal.

The last puram poem to be examined in this blog post is “A Mother’s List of Duties” by Ponmutiyar.

A MOTHER’S LIST OF DUTIES BY PONMUTIYAR

 

To bring forth and rear a son is my duty.

To make him noble is the father’s.

To make spears for him is the blacksmith’s.

To show him good ways is the king’s.

 

And to bear

A bright sword and do battle,

To butcher enemy elephants,

And come back:

That is the young man’s duty.

 

—Ponmutiyar

Translated by A.K. Ramanujan (Norton Anthology 984)

This poem once again outwardly seems to follow all of the criteria for fitting in with the puram poetry genre. However, if one examines the poem closely enough, below the surface lies a world of meaning in these few lines. The narrator, a mother is explaining that she only has one job and all the other responsibilities in her son’s life fall on the other people around them. But beyond that, she is saying “if it is my job to bear and raise a son, then it is his job to come back to me, and that is all we owe each other.” When looked at it this way, the poem really seems more personal, emotionally provocative, and ultimately internal.

Puram Poems from the Norton Anthology of World Literature Washed in Sunlight By Payton Hayes

All of this is to say that while Classical Tamil Lyrics can and have been split into two main genres for centuries, it doesn’t mean the topics and nature of either style (puram or akam) are mutually exclusive. While it may be easy to file poems into either category with a  quick glance, upon closer inspection, readers will find a wealth of imagery, meaning, emotion, and value in poems from either genre.

 

Works Cited:

Ahmed, Farhad. “Tamil Poetry: akam and puram.” The Daily Star, https://www.thedailystar.net/news-detail-97372. Accessed 23 February 2021. (para 4)

Puchner, Martin, Akbari, Suzanne, Denecke, Wiebke, Fuchs, Barbara, Levine Caroline, Lewis, Pericles, Wilson, Emily, editors. The Norton Anthology of World Literature, Volume A, Fourth Edition. W.W. Norton & Company 2018. (p. 982-984)

Photos and captions by Payton Hayes