Invocation, by Jane Johnston Schoolcraft


To my Maternal Grand-father on hearing his descent
from Chippewa ancestors misrepresented

Rise bravest chief! of the mark of the noble deer,

With eagle glance,

Resume thy lance,

And wield again thy warlike spear!

The foes of thy line,

With coward design,

Have dared with black envy to garble the truth,

And stain with a falsehood thy valorous youth.

 

They say when a child, thou wert ta’en from the Sioux,

And with impotent aim,

To lessen thy fame

Thy warlike lineage basely abuse;

For they know that our band,

Tread a far distant land,

And thou noble chieftain art nerveless and dead,

Thy bow all unstrung, and thy proud spirit fled.

 

Can the sports of thy youth, or thy deeds ever fade?

Or those e’er forget,

Who are mortal men yet,

The scenes where so bravely thou’st lifted the blade,

Who have fought by thy side,

And remember thy pride,

When rushing to battle, with valour and ire,

Thou saw’st the fell foes of thy nation expire?

 

Can the warrior forget how sublimely you rose?

Like a star in the west,

When the sun’s sink to rest,

That shines in bright splendour to dazzle our foes?

Thy arm and thy yell,

Once the tale could repel

Which slander invented, and minions detail,

And still shall thy actions refute the false tale.

 

Rest thou, noblest chief! in thy dark house of clay,

Thy deeds and thy name,

Thy child’s child shall proclaim,

And make the dark forests resound with the lay;

Though thy spirit has fled,

To the hills of the dead,

Yet thy name shall be held in my heart’s warmest core,

And cherish’d till valour and love be no more.

 

*

“Invocation was first published in 1827 in the magazine The Literary Voyager. The poem is both a celebration and reclamation of Native American heritage.

Born in 1800 in what is now part of state Michigan, the Ojibwe writer was no stranger to colonization and it effects on her people.Growing up, Schoolcraft was able to learn to speak and write both English and Ojibwe. With the help of her husband, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, she published many of her poems in the magazine The literary voyager, or, Muzzeniegun, edited by Schoolcraft.

The poem is composed in nine line stanzas–with the exception of the first couplet at the beginning of the poem. Only the second, third, fifth, and sixth lines are indented, while the rest are left at their full length. The rhyme scheme in the nine-line stanzas is also mostly regular with an “ABBACCDD” pattern. Instead of the typical alternating rhymes or constant couplets, the poem offers a combination of the two with its first four lines.

“Invocation” begins with an invocation of her grandfather as a deity or muse. The speaker expresses discomfort in the misrepresentation of his character and reputation. Christine Cavalier explains the reasons for her writing this poem.  “Outraged by rumors that her grandfather was really a Dakota and, hence, descended from Ojibwes’ rivals along their western borderlands, Schoolcraft responds to this presumptuous appropriation of her family’s past by calling on Waub Ojeeg himself to revive his prowess as a warrior and a noted singer and storyteller.” The poem is reverent on the fierce talent of Schoolcraft’s grandfather and acts as a redemption of his honor as an Ojibwe. The lines “Can the warrior forget how sublimely you rose? / Like a star in the west, / When the sun’s sink to rest, / That shines in bright splendour to dazzle our foes?” bring the memory to life as Schoolcraft’s grandfather is presented in a far better light than the one in which she has perceived him to be misrepresented. Cavalier also suggests that the poem offers a bicultural light.  “On the one hand,” she writes, “these rumors may have been inspired by white settlers’ and Ojibwe traditionalists’ growing resentment of the bicultural advancements, relative affluence, and political influence enjoyed by Schoolcraft’s métis family.” This cultural framework helps us to see “Invocation” as an attempt to remedy the tense relationship between Schoolcraft’s burgeoning identities.

“Invocation” is at once a celebration of heritage and a reclamation of such heritage from those that would hope for it to be tarnished. The poem celebrates the fulfilling life Jane Johnston Schoolcraft’s grandfather once had and remarks on the memory and impact it still holds on her own.

Bibliography and Further Readings Christine R. Cavalier, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft’s Sentimental Lessons: Native Literary Collaboration and Resistance. MELUS, 38. 1 (2013); Andrew Wiget, ed., Dictionary of Native American literature (1994); Jane Johnston Schoolcraft. Poets.org.

Credits Composed by Robert Sturtevant, Fall 2018.

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American Poetry and Poetics by Mark C. Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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