Tuesday Poem: The Great Vision by Black Elk (Sioux)

'... Now I knew the sixth Grandfather was about to speak, he who was the Spirit of the Earth, and I saw that he was very old, but more as men are old.  His hair was long and white, his face was all in wrinkles and his eyes were deep and dim.  I stared at him, for it seemed I knew him somehow;  and as I stared, he slowly changed, for he was growing backwards into youth, and when he had become a boy, I knew that he was myself with all the years that would be mine at last.  When he was old again, he said: "My boy, have courage, for my power shall be yours, and you shall need it, for your nation on the earth will have great troubles.  Come."

... I looked below me where the earth was silent in a sick green light, and saw the hills look up afraid and the grasses on the hills and all the animals; and everywhere about me were the cries of frightened birds and sounds of fleeing wings.  I was the chief of all the heavens riding there, and when I looked behind me, all the twelve black horses reared and plunged and thundered and their manes and tails were whirling hail and their nostrils snorted lightning.  And when I looked below again, I saw the slant hail falling and the long, sharp rain, and where we passed, the trees bowed low and all the hills were dim.'

In my research into the mythologies of North America I've discovered an anthology compiled by Jerome Rothenberg called Technicians of the Sacred, published in 1968.

It was very difficult to get hold of in the UK and most copies were beyond my price-range, but eventually I found a cheap second hand edition.  It was worth the trouble - there are some real gems in this book - both poetry and prose.   The above is from a long piece in three sections which seems to describe some kind of apocalypse and it has a psalm-like quality.  It's been written down as prose, but is clearly oral poetry.
'Black Elk' was born in 1863 and died in 1950.  He was a very famous visionary of the Oglala Lakota. The vision recorded above came to him when he was 9 years old.  His words have been  much quoted. This is one of my favourites - he got it right!

The Tuesday Poets are an international group who try to post a poem every Tuesday and take it in turns to edit the main website.  If you'd like to see what other Tuesday poets are posting please click over to the hub and take a look! 


  1. Based on the selection you've featured, it sounds a very interesting book.

    1. It is, Helen. Not just North American mythology but also Maori, Pacific Island, Australian, Inuit, Asian and European. It's fascinating stuff!


Post a Comment

Popular Posts