“Twelfth Song of Thunder” is a chant, which means it’s meant to be sung out loud. So we might not be surprised to notice that the poem is very repetitive when we read it out loud. We discussed the poem’s use of refrains over in “Form and Meter,” so be sure to check that out. Apart from the cyclical nature of the repeated words and lines in this poem, though, the sounds of the words themselves are pretty straightforward.
Nope, you won’t find any fancy alliteration or consonance here. That’s largely because this poem doesn’t need any linguistic prettying up. Its subject matter—the harmonic splendor of nature—is all the simple beauty this poem needs. The words cut straight to the heart of that beauty, without any tricky sound techniques to distract us.
This poem’s title tells us several things. First of all, the title clues us in to the fact that this is a poem that is meant to be sung out loud, because the word “Song” is in the title. The “Twelfth Song” refers to the fact that it’s also part of a series of songs. In fact, the Mountain Chant ceremony—of which this song forms a part—is made up of a number of songs on different subjects, including songs on the “Mountain Sheep,” a song on “Last Daylight,” and songs of the “Holy Young Men.” This “Twelfth Song” is a piece of a larger puzzle.
The reference to “Thunder” in the title is also important. Thunder means rain, and so this word suggests the importance of rain in the lives of the Navajo. The Navajo depended on rain to grow their crops and feed themselves. (This may come as a shock, Shmoopers, but the rest of us depend on that rain too.) The word “Thunder” clues us in to how important a part of the Navajo’s lives rain is, and it reminds us of the importance of nature in our lives as well.
The setting of this poem is, well, the great outdoors. There are no houses or roads or people. What the poem does give us is a sweeping vision of nature, which takes in natural phenomena happening way up there (thunder in the clouds) to way down here (grasshoppers in the grass). The poem calls our attention to both the big and the little things of nature and celebrates them all equally.
The speaker of “Twelfth Song of Thunder” is a lover of nature. She’s a tree-hugger. Or maybe he’s a tree-hugger. We don’t get any identifying information here, so we’re just going to go with “she” in this case for the sake of balance. She, then, has a profound relationship with nature and its beauty. What’s more, she’s also a very observant speaker. She not only notices the big and spectacular phenomena of nature—like thunder—she also notices the small things, like a grasshopper chirping in the grass. She’s someone who has a strong conception of how all aspects of nature feed into one another, how the big voices connect with the small voices and vice versa.
Considering that “Twelfth Song of Thunder” is a chant, we can assume that this speaker also likes to sing. In this way, she also adds her voice to the “voices” of nature, in order to make one big happy harmony.
We believe the technical term for this poem’s difficulty is “easy-peasy.” Even a second-grader wouldn’t have trouble with it. There are no complicated words, it’s repetitive, and its subject matter is straightforward. It’s a very straightforward poem about thunder and grasshoppers: of course little kids would love it.
The author (or authors) of this poem are anonymous. We don’t know who came up with it. But we can recognize it as a Navajo song because it has a lot of features in common with other Navajo songs that form part of the Mountain Chant ceremony.
The songs that make up the Mountain Chant ceremony often use repetition. In “Twelfth Song of Thunder,” there’s a lot of repetition of words and phrases. We can find similar patterns of repetition and refrain in other songs such as “Sixth Song of the Mountain Sheep” and “Sixth Song of the Holy Young Men.”
The “Twelfth Song of Thunder” was traditionally performed as a chant. It doesn’t stick to a specific poetic meter or form. That said, the repetition that we’ll find in the poem is characteristic of chants. Let’s look at the second stanza as an example:
The voice that beautifies the land!
The voice below,
The voice of the grasshopper
Among the plants
Again and again it sounds,
The voice that beautifies the land. (7-12)
As we can see from the above stanza, the line lengths vary, and the words don’t adhere to a specific rhythm. However, if we look closely, we see some important repetition going on. For example, “The voice that beautifies the land”—with or without an exclamation mark—appears four times in this twelve-line poem. As well, “Again and again it sounds” appears twice. That, Shmoopers, makes these lines refrains.
Now, in poetry, a refrain is used to remind the reader of something. It comes up again and again for a particular purpose. In this case, the refrain is a reminder of the cyclical nature of… well, nature. Things die, they are born, they live, and then they die again. More particular to this poem: rain falls, it evaporates, and then it falls again. The repetition of the refrain, then, reminds us of nature’s influence on every aspect of our lives, this poem included.
There are two important refrains in “Twelfth Song of Thunder.” They go a little something like this: “The voice that beautifies the land” and “Again and again it sounds.” Together, these two lines make up half of the entire poem, in fact. Of course, this is a song, and songs tend to use a lot of repetition. But these refrains are there for a reason: not only do they create a certain rhythm, they also give us a sense of the cycles of nature. This is a poem about nature, and the various voices of nature repeat themselves in a cyclical way, just as the seasons do.
Quick: what’s the sound of one grasshopper speaking? If you said “cheep, cheep,” give yourself… half credit. This poem is letting us know that the sounds of the natural world are, in fact, important (if figurative) voices. Every element in nature, in other words, has the power to speak to us—if only we listen closely enough.
“Twelfth Song of Thunder” is about the voices of nature melding with one another to create one big, beautiful harmony. The poem creates a harmony out of the big noises of nature (like thunder) and the little noises, (like a grasshopper’s). In this way, the speaker suggests that all voices are important and equal to one another. Those loud kids in English class who hog the discussion sure could learn a lesson from this poem. All voices are equal—even the quiet ones.
The beauty of nature is an important motif in “Twelfth Song of Thunder.” The poem gives us a vision of how all of these aspects of nature—thunder and grasshoppers and plants and clouds—come together to form a beautiful landscape. It’s a song that dwells on nature’s beauty. Is it any wonder that the word “beautifies” is repeated four times in this short poem?
Grasshoppers and thunder? It’s not the most X-rated material you’ll ever find. The “Twelfth Song of Thunder” is so G-rated, we could sing it to our kid brother or sister to lull them to sleep.