Angle of Geese and Other Poems
MOMADAY had been writing poetry since his college days at University of New Mexico, and this volume incorporates many of his earlier efforts. Momaday admired the poetry of Hart Crane as an undergraduate, and early poems like "Los Alamos" show Crane's influence. Under the tutelage of Yvor Winters at Stanford Momaday developed an ability to provide clear, precise details and images in his verse.
As a graduate student at Stanford, Momaday absorbed the influence of an eclectic group of poets including Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, Paul Valery, Charles Baudelaire, and Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, the subject of Momaday's PhD dissertation. What these poets had in common, at least in the eyes of Momaday and Winters, was the practice of establishing a conceptual theme, but then giving it meaning with concrete, sensory images.
The title poem, "Angle of Geese," shows how Momaday employs sensory experience as an integral part of the message, not just as ornament. In the first part of the poem, Momaday relates his reactions to the funeral of a friend's child: "How shall we adorn/ Recognition with our speech?/ Now the dead firstborn/ Will lag in the wake of words." "Wake" refers to the trail of water behind a boat, but also to the gathering one has to celebrate the life and mourn the loss of a dead person. Momaday broaches a favorite theme: the power and limitations of language.
The second part of the poem relates an incident that occurred in Momaday's youth. On a hunting trip he had shot a goose,...