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Tuesday, 19 August 2008

An Old Eskimo Poem

by Suzan Abrams

Actually called an Inuit poem, the Inuit people were formerly known as the Eskimos, the indigenous population of the North American Artic that stretches from Bering Strait to East Greenland, spanning a land of over 6,000 kilometres. The ocean-loving people who made huskies and igloos cool, traditionally inhabited the polar regions made up of parts of Alaska, Canada and Siberia. Eskimo is actually an American-Indian word meaning "eaters of raw meat". The Inuit's favourite food is still blubber.

You may read more on the Artic Website.


The great sea stirs me.

The great sea sets me adrift,

it sways me like the weed

on a river-stone.

The sky's height stirs me.

The strong wind blows through my mind,

It carries me with it,

so I shake with joy.

(C) Translation: Tom Lowenstein


What I cherish about this poem is its lively sunny energy. It radiates a mood that hints of sunlight on my shoulders instead of underwater explorations. I visualize wide open spaces with no measured horizon and the observer held as an audience no bigger than a speck in the vast tranquil scene.

This poem describes the unknown poet's gullible, childlike awe; cheerful at the prospect of a capture that spells excitement. Far from the hardy fishing net or razor-sharp lampoon, the writer's kidnapper is no other than the mighty sea. The poet is satisfied at being held in this force's thumb, where in his dual role as hunter of whales, seals and fish, he pays homage to the origins of his livelihood.

is the kind of obliging celebratory verse that graciously salutes a harvest festival or even the worshipper of paganism. It stops short at being a folksong. The Inuit indulgently beholds the ocean's greatness and its underlying depths of mystery. He pays reverence to its powerful strength. The sea in turn, breeds secret thoughts in the poet's otherwise subdued mind and heart and shakes him out of fair sobriety to embrace the exhilaration of the moment.

At the prospect of a tempest, the relationship between the poet and the sea is still kind.

The poet does not perceive the sea as a dangerous threat or foe when roused but rather, a friend in whom he would bank his trust. It is easy to picture him on his kayak as he recalls with confidence and gaiety, the memory of being rocked. The closest imagery would be of a baby being cradled in its mother's arms. "...The great sea sets me adrift, it sways me like the weed on a river-stone." How feeble indeed the weed and yet uncomplaining too, of its botanical structure, housed in unlikely places.

The poet offers a courage that may challenge adventure. Not even the strong wind, as he writes, can make him tremble. For at the end he resigns himself to a happy acceptance and contentment when he signs off with the tell-tale line, "It carries me with it, so I shake with joy." This liner also suggests an animated conjuncture of bliss, once the poet sets his vision on the sea.


A radical thought may also suggests the idea of master and servant. The poet bears servitude to the ocean's instructions for his providence and in turn, trusts the masterful ocean - no questions asked - with his life.

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