BLACK ELK SPEAKS: SUMMER READING
About Black Elk Speaks
In August 1930, the Midwestern writer John Neihardt went with his son Sigurd to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to speak with Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux. Neihardt was in the process of completing A Cycle of the West, an epic poem concerning the history of the American West. He had published the fourth section, The Song of the Indian Wars, and was looking for material for the final section, The Song of the Messiah. Neihardt had earlier become acquainted with Indian culture when he lived near the Omaha reservation at Bancroft, Nebraska, and he knew Black Elk's reputation as a holy man and the second cousin to the great Sioux Chief Crazy Horse. When the two men met, Black Elk recognized that Neihardt was a sympathetic listener, someone interested in the spiritual world and in Indian history. He wanted to tell Neihardt his life story, especially the story of his vision, because he felt he would soon die. (Black Elk, 68 years old at the time, would die in 1950 at the age of 87; Neihardt, 43, would live to be 92.) Black Elk had not told many people about this vision; as the story progresses, the reader learns that Black Elk has not told even his best friend, Standing Bear. Black Elk said to Neihardt, "What I know was given to me for men and it is true and it is beautiful. Soon I shall be under the grass and it will be lost. You were sent to save it, and you must come back so that I can teach you." Neihardt did come back with his daughters in May 1931 to continue the conversation, which forms the book Black Elk Speaks. Black Elk's son Ben acted as interpreter for the two men, and Neihardt's daughter Enid recorded their conversation in writing.
Chapter 1: The Offering of the Pipe
Black Elk makes it known that he intends to tell John Neihardt the story of his life, especially his early vision, which Black Elk says he failed to fulfill. In ritual fashion, Black Elk and Neihardt...