Winter 1996 • Vol. XVIII No. 1 Orpheus. Descending. |

The Land of the Dead

I. Coyote's Impulse    In the winter of 1929-30, Archie Phinney went to the Fort Lapwai Indian reservation in northeastern Idaho to record stories told by his sixty-year-old mother, Wayfilatpu, a Nez Percé who spoke only her native tongue, no English. In 1934, Columbia University Press brought out Phinney's book, Nez Percé Texts, which records about forty of these tales with the native Shahaptian interlined by a literal translation, and followed by a free translation. Phinney includes two versions of a story in which Coyote travels to the Land of the Dead. In the first, Coyote's daughter has been killed and Coyote follows her to the spirit world; he is allowed to try to carry her back to the world of the living, provided that he not look behind him on the way. He fails in this task. What follows here is the second version of the tale, in Phinney's free translation, after which I offer my own autobiographical reflection on this ancient motif of trying to recover the dead.

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Lewis Hyde's books include Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership (FSG, 2010), The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (Random House 1983; reprinted 2007), Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art (FSG, 1998), and the book of poems This Error is the Sign of Love (Milkweed Editions, 1988). He has edited a volume of essays on Henry David Thoreau and a book of responses to the poetry of Allen Ginsberg, and has translated the selected poems of Vicente Aleixandre. Hyde's many awards include grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Lannan Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 1991 he was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow. He is currently the Richard L. Thomas Chair in Creative Writing at Kenyon College. In addition to Pablo Neruda, Hyde has translated Spain's 1976 Nobel laureate, Vicente Aleixandre.

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Liberty to Communicate

By Lewis Hyde

I. Coyote's Impulse    In the winter of 1929-30, Archie Phinney went to the Fort Lapwai Indian reservation in northeastern Idaho to record stories told by his sixty-year-old mother, Wayfilatpu, […]

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