From the Ancient Oral Tradition of the Inuit
by Edward Field
Pub Date 01 Sep 2013
Magic Words is a modern translation (1965) of a very old Inuit creation story by nationally known poet Edward Field. As a poem it captures beautifully the intimate relationship this Arctic people have with their natural world.
Magic Words describes a world where humans and animals share bodies and languages, where the world of the imagination mixes easily with the physical. It began as a story that told how the Inuit people came to be and became a legend passed from generation to generation. In translation it grew from myth to poem. The text comes from expedition notes recorded by Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen in 1921. Edward Field got a copy from the Harvard Library and translated it into English.
The Inuit people, whom I had previously thought of as Eskimos, became a reality to me in the 1960s when I was asked to create a book of poems out of the notebooks of the Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen’s expeditions to this remarkable people living north of the Arctic Circle. From his observations and jottings, much of it transcribed verbatim from Inuit people themselves, I selected passages that had the mark of traditional retellings of Inuit history and cosmology – and when I spotted the lines in Rasmussen’s rough translation that became “Magic Words,” I knew that this poem came from the soul of the Inuit people. In fact, “Magic Words” became my most successful Inuit translation, one that has met with a wide response for the lost, and extraordinary, truth it reveals. The artist Mike Blanc has here beautifully captured in his illustrations the pure spirit, the essence, of Inuit art to illuminate this gem of Inuit wisdom for our children, who more than anyone are responsive to the magical power of words and images. I can only congratulate Vanita Oelschlager for bringing this beautiful edition of the ancient Inuit poem I had the honor to discover and translate to the children and to their parents who will read it to them.- Edward Field
• A wonderfully imaginative idea...animals and people sharing ideas, language and even bodies. It is something children might never have thought of, but which will delight their own imaginations.
• For parents and children to read together to understand the Inuit culture.
• Teachers and librarians can use this to talk about other cultures.
• Art classes can use this book to help children draw animal/people combinations.
• This can also be used as a jumping off point for history and geography lessons, showing how the Inuit spread across the Arctic from Canada to Greenland.