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Best Native American Poetry Translations of Michael R. Burch

These are modern English translations of some of my favorite Native American poems, proverbs and sayings. I translated the first three poems when my father, Paul Ray Burch Jr., made the decision to stop taking dialysis and enter hospice. We believe he had Native American blood, possibly Cherokee. One of the poems has been attributed to Crazy Horse, others to Tecumseh, Chief White Elk, Chief Black Elk, Chief Seattle, Chief Dan George and Chief Joseph. Native Americans were creating poems and songs in pre-Columbian days; Mayan and Aztec literature dates back to the first millennium BCE.―Michael R. Burch

Cherokee Travelers' Blessing I
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I will extract the thorns from your feet.
Yet a little longer we will walk life's sunlit paths together.
I will love you like my own brother, my own blood.
When you are disconsolate, I will wipe the tears from your eyes.
And when you are too sad to live, I will put your aching heart to rest.

Cherokee Travelers' Blessing II
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Happily may you walk
in the paths of the Rainbow.
               Oh!,
and may it always be beautiful before you,
beautiful behind you,
beautiful below you,
beautiful above you,
and beautiful all around you
where in Perfection beauty is finished.

Cherokee Travelers' Blessing III
loose loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

May Heaven’s warmest winds blow gently there,
where you reside,
and may the Great Spirit bless all those you love,
this side of the farthest tide.
And when you go,
whether the journey is fast or slow,
may your moccasins leave many cunning footprints in the snow.
And when you look over your shoulder, may you always find the Rainbow.

Sioux Vision Quest
by Crazy Horse, Oglala Lakota Sioux, circa 1840-1877
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A man must pursue his Vision
as the eagle explores
the sky's deepest blues.

Native American Travelers' Blessing
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Let us walk together here
with earth's creatures great and small,
remembering, our footsteps light,
that one wise God created all.

Native American Prayer
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Help us learn the lessons you have left us
in every leaf and rock.

Warrior's Confession
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Oh my love, how fair you are—
far brighter than the fairest star!

Cherokee Proverb
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Before you judge
a man for his sins
be sure to trudge
many moons in his moccasins.

Cherokee Prayer
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

As I walk life's trails
imperiled by the raging wind and rain,
grant, O Great Spirit,
that yet I may always
walk like a man.

When I think of this prayer, I think of Native Americans walking the Trail of Tears.

The Receiving of the Flower
excerpt from a Mayan love poem
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Let us sing overflowing with joy
as we observe the Receiving of the Flower.
The lovely maidens beam;
their hearts leap in their breasts.

Why?

Because they will soon yield their virginity to the men they love!

The Deflowering
excerpt from a Mayan love poem
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Remove your clothes;
let down your hair;
become as naked as the day you were born

virgins!

Prelude to Lovemaking
excerpt from a Mayan love poem
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Lay out your most beautiful clothes,
maidens!
The day of happiness has arrived!

Grab your combs, detangle your hair,
adorn your earlobes with gaudy pendants.
Dress in white as becomes maidens ...

Then go, give your lovers the happiness of your laughter!
And all the village will rejoice with you,
for the day of happiness has arrived!

The Flower-Strewn Pool
excerpt from a Mayan love poem
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You have arrived at last in the woods
where no one can see what you do
at the flower-strewn pool ...
Remove your clothes,
unbraid your hair,
become as you were
when you first arrived here
naked and shameless,
virgins, maidens!

Native American Proverbs

Before you judge
a man a man for his sins
be sure to trudge
many moons in his moccasins.
—loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The soul would see no Rainbows if not for the eyes’ tears.
—loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A woman’s highest calling is to help her man unite with the Source.
A man’s highest calling is to help his woman walk the earth unharmed.
—loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced.
Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.
White Elk, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Earthbound
an original poem by Michael R. Burch

Tashunka Witko, better known as Crazy Horse, had a vision of a red-tailed hawk at Sylvan Lake, South Dakota. In his vision he saw himself riding a spirit horse, flying through a storm, as the hawk flew above him, shrieking. When he awoke, a red-tailed hawk was perched near his horse.

Earthbound,
and yet I now fly
through the clouds that are aimlessly drifting ...
so high
that no sound
echoing by
below where the mountains are lifting
the sky
can be heard.

Like a bird,
but not meek,
like a hawk from a distance regarding its prey,
I will shriek,
not a word,
but a screech,
and my terrible clamor will turn them to clay—
the sheep,
the earthbound.


If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian, he can live in peace ... Treat all men alike. Give them all the same law. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers. The Earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it ... Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself, and I will obey every law, or submit to the penalty.Heinmot Tooyalaket (Chief Joseph), Nez Perce Leader

When all the trees have been cut down,
when all the animals have been hunted,
when all the waters are polluted,
when all the air is unsafe to breathe,
only then will you discover that you cannot eat money.
Cree Prophecy

Like the grasses showing tender faces to each other,
thus should we do,
for this was the wish of the Grandfathers of the World.
Black Elk

Hold on to what is good,
even if it is a handful of dirt.
Hold on to what you believe,
even if it is a tree that stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do,
even if it is a long way from here.
Hold on to life,
even if it is easier to let go.
Hold on to my hand,
even if I have departed.
Pueblo Blessing

When you arise in the morning,
give thanks for the morning light,
for your life and strength.
Give thanks for your food and the joy of living. 
If you see no reason for giving thanks,
the fault lies in yourself.
Tecumseh

The beauty of the trees,
the softness of the air,
the fragrance of the grass,
speaks to me.

The summit of the mountain,
the thunder of the sky,
the rhythm of the sea,
speaks to me.

The strength of the fire,
the taste of salmon,
the trail of the sun,
and the life that never goes away,
they speak to me.

And my heart soars.
Chief Dan George, Tsleil-Waututh (1899-1981)

May the stars carry your sadness away,
May the flowers fill your heart with beauty,
May hope forever wipe away your tears,
And, above all, may silence make you strong.
Chief Dan George, Tsleil-Waututh (1899-1981)

Humankind has not woven the web of life.
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
All things connect.
Chief Seattle, 1854

In October 1838 the Cherokees began to walk the "Trail of Tears." Most of them made the thousand mile journey west to Oklahoma on foot. An estimated 4,000 people, or a quarter of the tribe, died en route. The soldiers "escorting" the Cherokees at bayonet point refused permission for the dead to be buried, threatening to shoot anyone who disobeyed. So the living were forced to carry the corpses of the dead until camp was made for the night.

When Pigs Fly
by Michael R. Burch

On the Trail of Tears,
my Cherokee brothers,
why hang your heads?
Why shame your mothers?
Laugh wildly instead!
We will soon be dead.

When we lie in our graves,
let the white-eyes take
the woodlands we loved
for the hoe and the rake.
It is better to die
than to live out a lie
in so narrow a sty.

Years after the Cherokees had been rounded up and driven down the Trail of Tears, John G. Burnett reflected on what he and his fellow soldiers had done, saying, "Schoolchildren of today do not know that we are living on lands that were taken from a helpless race at the bayonet point, to satisfy the white man's greed ... Murder is murder and somebody must answer, somebody must explain the streams of blood that flowed in the Indian country ... Somebody must explain the four thousand silent graves that mark the trail of the Cherokees to their exile."

In the same year, 1830, that Stonewall Jackson consigned Native Americans to the ash-heap of history, Georgia Governor George Gilmer said, "Treaties are expedients by which ignorant, intractable, and savage people are induced ... to yield up what civilized people have the right to possess." By "civilized" he apparently meant people willing to brutally dispossess and kill women and children in order to derive economic benefits for themselves.

These nights bring dreams of Cherokee shamans
whose names are bright verbs and impacted dark nouns,
whose memories are indictments of my pallid flesh . . .
and I hear, as from a great distance,
the cries tortured from their guileless lips, proclaiming
the nature of my mutation.
―Michael R. Burch, from "Mongrel Dreams" (my family is part Cherokee, English and Scottish)

After Jackson was re-elected with an overwhelming majority in 1832, he strenuously pursued his policy of removing Native Americans, even refusing to accept a Supreme Court ruling which invalidated Georgia's planned annexation of Cherokee land. But in the double-dealing logic of the white supremacists, they had to make the illegal resettlement of the Indians appear to be "legal," so a small group of Cherokees were persuaded to sign the "Treaty of New Echota," which swapped Cherokee land for land in the Oklahoma territory. The Cherokee ringleaders of this infamous plot were later assassinated as traitors. (Hitler was similarly obsessed with the "legalities" of the Nazi Holocaust; isn't it strange how mass murderers of women and children can seek to justify their crimes?)

Native Americans understood the "circle of life" better than their white oppressors ...

When we sit in the Circle of the People,
we must be responsible because all Creation is related
and the suffering of one is the suffering of all
and the joy of one is the joy of all
and whatever we do affects everything in the universe.
"Lakota Instructions for Living" by White Buffalo Calf Woman, translated by Michael R. Burch

Related Pages: Ancient Mayan Love Poems

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