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When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and True Blood (part 1)

June 28, 2011

(part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, part seven)

In honor of the new and fourth season of True Blood (HBO), I am going to publish, in at least six parts, an essay I was spurred to write near the end of last season.

When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and the Politics of Difference in True Blood

In the seventh episode of the third season of True Blood, Lafayette Reynolds says a small prayer over the bedside of his friend and the main character of the series, Sookie Stackhouse, as she lies dying in a hospital from a vicious attack by the vampire Bill (her former boyfriend—it was non-premeditated, Bill was not “in his right mind”). Upon finishing the poem, Lafayette replies to Sookie’s brother Jason’s murmured “that’s beautiful,” with the colorful rejoinder “that shit is Inuit.” He then invokes the use of lesser religions, although I couldn’t quite understand what he said about them. I am interested in this “Inuit poem” of Lafayette’s, how it has traveled from the Arctic to Louisiana, and what exactly the politics of its representation are and how they function within an economy of difference in the space of True Blood.

Let’s look at the poem for a moment. With only a few minutes of online research, I have come to the conclusion that this is not the original poem. The original (as controversial as that term is and one we will look at soon) poem seems to have come from the “Copper Eskimos” (or more accurately, the Kitlinuharmiut) and was first written down by Knud Rasmussen on his Fifth Thule Expedition of 1921-1924. It would have been spoken in Inuktitut, written in Danish and then later translated into English. There are two versions of the poem online, not counting the one spoken on True Blood, and both of these other versions attribute a location or a people to the poem a little more specifically than does Lafayette.

Three different versions of the poem:

The poem as spoken by Lafayette in Season 3, Episode 7. The words and the clip in question can be seen here:

Prayer At Time Of Adversity

I think over again my small adventures.
(…)
My fears, Those small ones that seemed so big,
For all the vital things
I had to get and reach.
And yet there is only one great thing,
The only thing,
To live to see (…) the great day that dawns
And the light that fills the world.

Some probable source songs for the True Blood version (or, really, I should say as used on True Blood; this version has a longer internet life than the TV series):

1. Song from the Kitlinuharmiut (Copper Eskimo), attributed to The Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-1924. Found here.

And I think over again
My small adventures
When from a shore wind I drifted out
In my kayak
And I thought I was in danger.

My fears,
Those small ones
That I thought so big,
For all the vital things
I had to get and to reach.

And yet, there is only
One great thing,
The only thing.
To live and see in huts and on journeys
The great day that dawns,
And the light that fills the world.

2. And another from Nature and Identity in Cross-Cultural Perspective, p. 196-197:

And I think over again my small adventures
When with the wind I drifted in my kayak
And thought I was in danger

My fears,
Those small ones that seemed so big
For all the vital things
I had to get and to reach

And yet there is only one great thing
The only thing
To live to see the great day that dawns
And the light that fills the world.

(The notes read “Anon. Eskimo Song as Translated by Tegoodligak, South Baffin Island cited in Canadian Eskimo Art, The Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources”).

The anthropologist Edmund Carpenter includes the poem in his collection of diverse Inuit songs, Anerca (1959). He attributes its origin to Rasmussen’s Report, vol. 9. In Carpenter, the words are almost identical to the one on the website that also attributes it to Rasmussen, except for a difference in formatting and some punctuation. You may have also noted that only the True Blood internet version has been given a title.

The next segment will consider “song” or “poetry” in an Inuit context while I consider the processes by which this specific song becomes edited into a reduced form.

From → Literature, Poems

8 Comments
  1. Caixa permalink

    Hi,
    This poem was also featured in the movie “Never Cry Wolf”, and I guess it is probably where the series writer took it from, for it uses the same (shorter) format.

  2. Yes, I think you are right. Never Cry Wolf and True Blood are actually connected on several levels and I look more closely at the poem as it appears in the film in a later post: http://arcticisms.com/2011/09/07/when-the-great-day-dawns-inuit-and-true-blood-part-6/

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and True Blood (part 2) « arcticisms
  2. When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and True Blood (part 4) « arcticisms
  3. When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and True Blood (part 3) « arcticisms
  4. When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and True Blood (part 5) « arcticisms
  5. When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and True Blood (part 6) « arcticisms
  6. When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and True Blood (part 7) « arcticisms

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