Powhatan's Daughter

> Indiana


Gold mining is a nice metaphor for Crane's poetic project of going into a visionary state and then finding a way to distill or write down the ineffable truths he sees there (cf. "golden syllables" in line 19). (The journey of Orpheus to Hades to retrieve his wife Eurydice is another nice metaphor for this, and I think it is referenced throughout The Bridge.)


(numbers refer to lines of the poem)

Indiana: means "land of the Indians" in Modern Latin.

6-7: I think this portrays Larry's birth. I think the "prairie's door" is not meant to be a literal door (of a farmhouse, for example), but I'm not sure.

11: drop the scythe to grasp the oar : Larry is leaving the farm for the sea. This is the kind of image of Crane's that bothers me, because it seems sloppy. I think Crane chose an oar because you hold it in your hands like you do a scythe, so there is symmetry. But what boat postdating 1859 (a year cited as already having happened in line 26) used oars? Could Crane be referring to little rowboats that ferry people between the shore and larger ships? Even then, this image seems vague and ill-chosen to me.

15-16: We found God lavish there in Colorado / But passing sly : there was a lot of gold in Colorado (or, in a reading I actually like more, it was very beautiful in Colorado), but we couldn't find any gold ourselves.

17: firecat : no definition on Webster.com or in my OED. Perhaps a coinage? The same word (if perhaps separately invented) appears multiple times in Wallace Stevens's poem "Earthly Anecdote" from his book Harmonium (1923), which Crane would surely have read. In the Stevens poem, the firecat appears in Oklahoma, so perhaps it was a Midwestern term?

The meaning of "firecat" in Stevens's poem is just as unclear, however. Helen Vendler thinks it refers to the obstacles that poets face. Mervyn Nicholson thinks it describes the sun. (See the Wikipedia article on Harmonium.)

18: freshets : see definition

20: His : I think the antecedent is God, not the firecat (assuming the firecat isn't just another name for God).

26: fifty-nine : the Pike's Peak Gold Rush (also called the Colorado Gold Rush) reached its pinnacle 1859.

34-35: not black / But sharp with pain : I don't quite grasp how black eyes and pained eyes are antithetical.

40: I held you up : The central event of the poem. Crane wrote that this moment was about "'the transference of the role of Pocahontas to the pioneer white'" (Lewis p. 317). It is a sort of passing of the torch from natives to foreigners, making the latter legitimate inheritors of the land of the USA.

It is probably significant in this context that the squaw may be a "halfbreed" (line 32), a blend of white and Native American. But "halfbreed" is usually an insulting term, and if Crane wanted to make the word over as a positive for his own purpose, I don't think he quite succeeded.

Many find this moment sentimental, in the pejorative sense.

49: came out of Arrowhead : I'm not sure which Arrowhead is intended (there does not seem to be one in Kentucky; the closest place to Kentucky with that name seems to be Lake Arrowhead, which is outside of Atlanta, Georgia). But the real purpose of this place name is to reinforce that these white pioneers are the spiritual inheritors of the Native Americans.

Also, Melville's home was called Arrowhead, and Crane loved Melville.

52-53: Are these lines an inversion of the story of the Medusa, because Larry's gaze transforms his mother from stone back to human?

58: Rio : may refer to the Rio Grande river on the border of Texas and Mexico, although since Larry is going to sea and the Rio Grande is not navigable by boats according to Wikipedia, it might refer to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

21: Eldorado : usually spelled "El Dorado," this is a mythical "city of gold" or fabulous wealth that was supposed to exist in South America and inspired many explorers from the 1500s on. It is also the name of a number of actual places in the USA.

59: I know your word! : Seems to me to have a second meaning besides "I know you'll keep your word to write to me;" means also, "The moment when your letter arrives is already here, and I recognize your handwriting."

61: ranger : probably means simply "one who ranges (travels around)," though I think there is also an echo of the Texas Rangers (former mounted law enforcers), given the mention of "Rio" above.

66: my friend : I feel that Crane thinks it's admirable that the mother calls her son her friend, but to me it seems weird (not that a mother and son shouldn't be friends, but that the relationship is more than that). Perhaps looking more into Crane's fraught relationship with his own mother would help me understand this word choice.




This page has been edited 5 times. The last modification was made by - MisterMartin MisterMartin on Mar 10, 2008 10:36 am