It’s the anniversary of the birth of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807) and John Steinbeck (1902) and the 80th birthday of N. Scott Momaday.
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
“Paul Revere’s Ride”
And he rushed into the wigwam,
Saw the old Nokomis slowly
Rocking to and fro and moaning,
Saw his lovely Minnehaha
Lying dead and cold before him,
And his bursting heart within him
Uttered such a cry of anguish,
That the forest moaned and shuddered,
That the very stars in heaven
Shook and trembled with his anguish
Then he sat down, still and speechless,
On the bed of Minnehaha,
At the feet of Laughing Water,
At those willing feet, that never
More would lightly run to meet him,
Never more would lightly follow.
“The Song of Hiawatha”
“I’ll be ever’where—wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’—I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build—why, I’ll be there. See?”
Tom Joad, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Momaday was presented with the National Medal of Arts in 2007.
The Navajo Ben Benally remembers a snow-filled day (from House Made of Dawn):
And afterward, when you brought the sheep back, your grandfather had filled the barrel with snow and there was plenty of water again. But he took you to the trading post anyway, because you were little and had looked forward to it. There were people inside, a lot of them, because there was a big snow on the ground and they needed things and they wanted to stand around and smoke and talk about the weather. You were little and there was a lot to see, and all of it was new and beautiful: bright new buckets and tubs, saddles and ropes, hats and shirts and boots, a big glass case all filled with candy. Frazer was the trader’s name. He gave you a piece of hard red candy and laughed because you couldn’t make up your mind to take it at first, and you wanted it so much you didn’t know what to do. And he gave your grandfather some tobacco and brown paper. And when he had smoked, your grandfather talked to the trader for a long time and you didn’t know what they were saying and you just looked around at all the new and beautiful things. And after a while the trader put some things out on the counter, sacks of flour and sugar, a slab of salt pork, some canned goods, and a little bag full of the hard red candy. And your grandfather took off one of his rings and gave it to the trader. It was a small green stone, set carelessly in thin silver. It was new and it wasn’t worth very much, not all the trader gave for it anyway. And the trader opened one of the cans, a big can of whole tomatoes, and your grandfather sprinkled sugar on the tomatoes and the two of you ate them right there and drank bottles of sweet red soda pop. And it was getting late and you rode home in the sunset and the whole land was cold and white. And that night your grandfather hammered the strips of silver and told you stories in the firelight. And you were little and right there in the center of everything, the sacred mountains, the snow-covered mountains and the hills, the gullies and the flats, the sundown and the night, everything—where you were little, where you were and had to be.
Momaday was instrumental in the production of the PBS series The West, whose website includes biographical background.