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“Embellishes” (par. 1). Makes beautiful.
“Council fire” (par. 1). It was the habit of the leading men in an Indian tribe to gather about a fire and hold council before entering upon any great undertaking in hunting, in war, or in making peace. In some tribes, the Indians erected a large wigwam, in which these councils were held. The fire seems to have been an important part of the ceremony.
“Pinion” (par. 2). Wing.
2. ALLUSIONS. “Echoing whoop” (par. 1) and “war cry” (par. 4). It was the custom of the Indians to keep up their courage and endurance in battle by shouting aloud to one another. Each tribe had its own peculiar war cry, which was recognized not only by members of that tribe but by their foes.
“Defying death song” (par. 1). When an Indian was in imminent danger of death, from which he could see no way of escape, he sang his death chant. There are numerous accounts of Indians doing this when under the extremest torture. It violated every tradition of the race for an Indian to show signs of suffering or pain, and this song
of his was a defiance to his enemies and a preparation for death.
“The smoke of peace” (par. 1). When Indian tribes made peace, representatives of both tribes sat around the fire. One of them lighted a pipe, from which he drew a puff of smoke, and then passed the pipe on to the next, who smoked and, in turn, passed the pipe on until it returned to the man who had lighted it. The pipe of peace was smoked between individuals and was as sacred a symbol of friendship and devotion as the giving of salt is among the Arabs.
“Tables of stone” (par. 2). This is an allusion to the writing of the Ten Commandments upon the tables of stone. See Exodus xxxii, 15, 16. You can find what became of those original tables of stone by reading Exodus xxxii, 19, and can read of the renewing of the tables in Exodus xxxiv, 1, 4.
“God of Revelation” (par. 2). This means the God of the Bible, the God of revealed religion, and not, specifically, a God as described in the book of Revelation.
“Pilgrim bark” (par. 3). This was the Mayflower, which, with the first Pilgrims, landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620.
"Foot of the conqueror is on his neck” (par. 3). In olden times, when battles were largely personal hand-tohand conflicts, and especially during the age of knighthood, when men were encumbered by heavy armor, the victor literally placed his foot upon the body of the person he had overthrown. The beaten man accepted this as final and was thereafter the slave of the victor. Here the phrase is used figuratively.
3. FIGURES OF SPEECH. “Same moon that smiles" (par. 1). Human beings smile; the moon can not smile; but as the moon has a pleasing appearance, and its light is soft and gentle, we may personify it by giving it an attribute of the human being. Personification is a very common figure, which you will find again and again in this selection.
“Wigwam blaze beamed” and “council fire glared” (par. 1). Here are two other examples of personification. Note the force of the figures and their contrast. The blaze in the wigwam, around which the family sits, beams like a good-natured human being; the council fire, in whose vivid light war may be declared, glares like an angry
“Tiger strife” (par. 1). As the tiger is a very fierce animal, “tiger strife" must be a very fierce battle. Metaphor.
“From many a dark bosom went up a pure prayer" (par. 2). The prayer originated in the heart and was uttered by the tongue, but as the bosom contains the heart, we may figuratively speak of the bosom as the source of the prayer. What figure of speech is this?
“Had traced them on the tables of their hearts" (par. 2). The Commandments were traced on tables of stone, but the commandments which the Indians obeyed were held only in their hearts; so their hearts may
pared to the tables of stone upon which the Commandments were written. What figure is this?
"Midday throne" (par. 2.) The sun really has no throne, but its brilliance in the heavens, and its power to bring glory to the day, give one the idea of kingly majesty, and so we speak of the sun upon his throne at midday.
“Pine that had defied” (par. 2). This is personification. It means that it had withstood a thousand storms.
“Seeds of life and death" (par. 3). The Pilgrims in the Mayflower came here to seek for freedom to worship God as they pleased; it was life to them to do so. But that they and their descendants might live and enjoy this country, the Indian must be driven away; consequently, liberty, or life, for the white became death to the Indian. Such were the "seeds of life and death.” Note that the figure continues through the next sentence. The seeds of death, it is said there, "sprang up in the path of the simple native.”
“Blotted forever” (par. 3). A blot of ink smeared over a page will make the writing invisible. Utilizing this idea, we may say that darkness blots out the light of day; and, carrying the figure still further, this peculiar people is blotted forever from the face of the continent.
“Falcon glance” (par. 3). The falcon is a bird of prey that was formerly used in hunting. It not only has great power of sight, but its eye is keen and flashing, The Indian had an eye of similar intensity, and thus we come to speak of his “falcon glance.”
“Lion bearing” (par. 3). The derivation of this figure is similar to that of the one preceding.
“Crawl upon the soil” (par. 3). The animals we most detest, such as worms, snakes and other reptiles, crawl upon the soil. By applying these words to the Indians, we show how complete was their degradation. It does not mean literally that they crawled.
“Have withered from the land” (par. 4). A plant withers in hot sun and dies away.
“Their arrows are broken” (par. 4). They have lost their implements of war and chase, and the few that remain use the implements of the white men.
"Springs have dried up” (par. 4). To a certain extent this is literal, for the clearing of land and the advance of civilization have destroyed thousands of springs at which the Indians drank. More figuratively, the expression means that they no longer can use the pools in the wilderness, but must drink from wells as white men do.
“Cabins are in the dust” (par. 4). When the Indians disappear, their cabins decay or are burned and go back to dust and ashes. In a figurative sense it means that there are no longer any Indian homes. “Council fire has
gone out on the shore" (par. 4). This is a figurative way of saying that the Indians no longer meet in council. “War cry is fast dying away” (par. 4).
Literally, this means that their war cry is no longer heard except at intervals and in remote parts of the country.
“The distant mountains” (par. 4). This may be an allusion to the Rocky Mountains, which in 1825 were at the extreme west of the inhabited country. And again, the author may merely have used it figuratively to show that the Indians are being driven westward.
“Doom in the setting sun” (par. 4). As the sun sets in the west, and night comes on, so the Indian race is disappearing in darkness; that is, the Indian sees that his race is becoming extinct as the sun is extinguished at night.
“Mighty tide” (par. 4). Twice in every twenty-four hours the ocean rolls in toward the shore and sweeps everything before it until the tide is at its full height. The white men, coming from the east, have been like a mighty tide of water which has rolled over this country. The figure is continued in the words "last wave", further on in the sentence.
4. GENERAL QUESTIONS. “The rank thistle” (par. 1). Why does the speaker choose the thistle? (The thistle in civilized communities is regarded as a weed and exterminated wherever possible. The small fields of the Indian probably never suffered from the inroads of the Canadian thistle.)
“The wild fox” (par. 1). No more timid animal exists than the fox, nor is there a wiser animal or one
more intelligent in hiding himself from his foes. The author uses the fox to show that there were no whites about. (The probabilities are, however, that the fox was as much afraid of the Indian as he was of the white man.)
“Noble limbs" (par. 1). As a matter of fact, the Indians were large, lithe and strong. Before they were contaminated by the whites their physical development was noble.
“Behind his lowly dwelling” (par. 2). Do the stars seem to set as the sun does? In what part of the sky do they set?
“Sacred orb" (par. 2). What is the orb alluded to here? Why is it called the "sacred” orb?
“Fearless eagle” (par. 2). Is the eagle really fearless, or is it merely that because of his great size and his tyranny over smaller birds we have come to regard his as fearless? How does he act in the presence of man? May the word “fearless” allude to his flight?
“Wet in clouds” (par. 2). The Indian gazed at the eagle, flying far above the earth, circling about for hours without apparent weariness, in storms as well as in sunshine, and saw in the bird a personification of his deity.
“Peculiar people” (par. 3). The Indians were not an odd or unusual people, but they were peculiar to this country.
“Untrodden west" (par. 4). How far had civilization extended west in 1825, when this speech was delivered? What parts of the country could then be called "untrodden west”? What parts are now untrodden west? Are there any Indians now living as wild tribes in this country? In what states are there Indians on reservations? As a matter of fact, are the Indians really dying away? Is it true to a greater extent now than it was in 1825? Was Mr. Sprague a prophet?
"Over them forever” (par. 4). Is it a fact that the Indians will become an extinct race?
ANALYSIS OF THought. The thought may be analyzed as follows (the numbers in parentheses indicate the paragraphs of the oration) :
a. Not long ago this was a wild country (1).