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A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers by Robert Bringhurst

By Robert Bringhurst

The Haida international is a misty archipelago 100 stormy miles off the coasts of British Columbia and Alaska. For one thousand years and extra earlier than the Europeans got here, a very good tradition flourished in those islands. The masterworks of classical Haida sculpture, now enshrined in lots of of the world's nice museums, diversity from beautiful tiny amulets to marvelous large housepoles. Classical Haida literature is every piece as a variety of and fantastic. It extends from tiny jewels crafted by way of grasp songmakers to tricky mythic cycles lasting many hours.

The linguist and ethnographer John Swanton took dictation from the final nice Haida-speaking storytellers, poets and historians from the autumn of 1900 throughout the summer time of 1901. His Haida hosts and co-workers were raised in a unconditionally oral international the place the mythic and the private interpenetrate thoroughly. They joined forces with their customer, consciously making a nice treasury of Haida oral literature in written shape. Poet and linguist Robert Bringhurst has labored for a few years with those century-old manuscripts, that have waited beforehand for the vast acceptance they deserve.

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Additional info for A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and Their World

Sample text

A painting or a poem can tell a story or represent an image and be rigorously abstract, or in some sense absolutely musical, both at the same time. Ghandl’s poem about the man who married a goose is an example. Consider, for instance, some of the symmetries in the poem. It begins at a lake – a patch of water surrounded by land – where a young man falls in love with a soft-spoken, beautiful goose. It ends with the same man marooned on a reef – a patch of land surrounded by water – where the man himself is squawking like a loudmouthed gull.

The second is in the bride’s father’s house. There the omnivorous groom, who cannot speak directly to his father-in-law, tries to eat the same restricted diet as the birds. indd 51 01/12/2010 2:54:51 PM a sto ry a s s ha rp a s a k ni f e page 38: lines 113–119 bride, whose connections with the skyworld have saved them from starvation, and the bride flies off. In the bride’s village, the groom insults the people, who nevertheless respond with perfect courtesy, offering to fly him back to earth since he cannot fly himself.

Rembrandt, for example, painted the same subject ten or twelve years later, while he was still in his early twenties and living in Leiden. indd 57 01/12/2010 2:54:52 PM a sto ry a s s ha rp a s a k ni f e little chance that he had seen Velázquez’s painting – a work by another young artist like himself, with as yet only a local reputation, living 1,600 sea miles to the south – but Rembrandt also knew the story. He assembled the same figures on his canvas, while turning the arrangement inside out.

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