Kenneth C. Mason: On "Carriers of the Dream Wheel"

"Carriers of the Dream Wheel" defines better than any poem I know the spirit of the oral tradition. William Stafford, in his poem, "A Stared Story," addresses the Indian "survivors" of the twentieth century, who are "slung here in our cynical constellation." These people must now "live by imagination." Momaday's poem shows that it is the imagination that has always given life to Indian cultures. It is the "Wheel of Dreams," their "sacred songs" and "old stories," living orally, ever one generation from extinction, that expresses their reality, and enables them to find and feet a wholeness and meaning in existence: "This is the Wheel of Dreams / Which is carried on their voices, / By means of which their voices turn / And center upon being." The Wheel of Dreams, which is both the body of the songs and stories and the dynamic imagination that calls them into being, defines the reality of the First World: men "shape their songs upon the wheel / And spin the names of the earth and sky, / The aboriginal names." In The Names Momaday explains his belief that the real essences of things are inherent in their names. Thus, the great power of the Wheel that enables men to name things, and, in a manner of speaking, create or reveal the nature of the world.

The most evocative lines in the poems ate the final four. They express just how the oral tradition sustained and renewed itself and gave life to the people. The contemporary relevance of these lines and of the poem is that it states how the old traditions can be preserved and regenerated today. Contemporary Indian poets are the current "Carriers of the Dream Wheel," and it is through their poems that contemporary Indians can define their reality and "center upon being." This is obviously what Duane Niatum had in mind when he used this poem as the title poem of his anthology of contemporary Indian poetry.


Title Kenneth C. Mason: On "Carriers of the Dream Wheel" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Kenneth C. Mason Criticism Target N. Scott Momaday
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 28 May 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication "Beautyway: The Poetry of N. Scott Momaday"
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