Study Guide

Twelfth Song of Thunder

Twelfth Song of Thunder Summary

“Twelfth Song of Thunder” is divided into two stanzas. The first stanza focuses on the “voice of thunder.” This voice comes from above, from the clouds, and it’s a voice that, according to the speaker, beautifies the land (and, if it’s too close, scares us to death). This stanza also emphasizes how the voice of thunder is a repeated sound—it occurs again and again.

The second stanza is all about the “voice of the grasshopper.” The voice of the grasshopper is contrasted with the voice of thunder. It’s an itty-bitty, wee voice, coming from below, from the “plants” in the ground. But, the speaker suggests that, just like the voice of thunder, this voice also beautifies the land. Both the big voices and the little voices of nature, in other words, have a role to play. They all add to the beauty of nature, and they all help sustain us. As in the first stanza, there’s also a lot of repetition in this second section of the poem. Just as the voice of thunder repeats again and again, so does the voice of the grasshopper: cheep, cheep.

  • Stanza 1

    Lines 1-2

    The voice that beautifies the land!
    The voice above,

    • This poem begins with a voice, a powerful voice. In a figurative way, it “beautifies the land” and it comes from somewhere above. 
    • Already, this description of the voice is giving us a sense of something awesome and almost supernatural.

    Lines 3-4

    The voice of thunder
    Within the dark cloud

    • Ah, now we know what this voice is: it’s the personified voice of thunder—that crackling, larger-than-life sound that follows lightning. 
    • The speaker says that the voice comes from “[w]ithin the dark cloud.” Here, the idea of the voice coming from somewhere above is affirmed through the image of the cloud, way up there in the sky. 
    • In describing the cloud as “dark,” the speaker also implies that there is something dark and scary about nature. Thunder can be pretty scary, after all. Weren’t we all a little bit scared of a thunderstorm when we were little kids?
    • (Of course, on a more literal level, thunder tends to accompany rain, which tends to fall from dark clouds. Our speaker could also just be describing your typical rain cloud here.) 
    • In any case, the speaker in these first few lines gives us an awesome view of nature. He’s also giving us a sense of the awesome sounds of nature. Thunder is a pretty spectacular noise.
    • (One quick note on our speaker: we’re just assuming it’s a he at this point, since we have no evidence to the contrary. For a full run-down, check out our “Speaker” section.) 
    • By evoking thunder and clouds in these lines, the speaker also evokes rain. We might remember that “Twelfth Song of Thunder” is performed as part of a ceremony that’s meant to bring rain. (Check out “In a Nutshell” for more.) Rain is central to our livelihood (just as it was central to the Navajo’s livelihood)—without it, food doesn’t grow. 
    • So, this description of thunder is also a description of the way in which nature (and rain specifically) help us survive and prosper.

    Lines 5-6

    Again and again it sounds,
    The voice that beautifies the land. 

    • The speaker’s statement that “Again and again it [the thunder] sounds” gives us a sense of nature’s cycles.
    • Things happen again and again in nature: seasons come and go; plants grow, die, and grow again; and the thunder sounds again and again. 
    • These lines echo, with a slight variation, the first two lines of the poem. The line “The voice that beautifies the land” is a refrain. So in this way, this line also embodies the idea of cycle and repetition. Just as the thunder sounds “again and again,” so these words in the poem are repeated. 
    • By saying that the voice of thunder “beautifies the land” here, the speaker suggests that thunder (and rain) do more than sustain us—they also make the landscape more beautiful.
  • Stanza 2

    Lines 7-8

    The voice that beautifies the land!
    The voice below,

    • We get even more repetition in these lines. The refrain “The voice that beautifies the land!”, which began the poem, is repeated. This repetition, as we’ve mentioned, itself embodies the cyclical time that we’ll find in nature. 
    • But this time, the voice is coming from below, not above. So the speaker’s alerting us to the fact that we are listening to another voice here, not the voice of thunder. 
    • By referring to a different voice in this stanza, the speaker suggests that there is more than one voice that beautifies the land. It’s not just one voice that’s important in nature, all the voices are important.

    Lines 9-10

    The voice of the grasshopper
    Among the plants

    • Here we’re down among the plants, with the grasshopper. While the first stanza of the poem focused on the awesome sound of thunder coming from the sky, these lines place us in a natural environment that contrasts with the one evoked in the first stanza. We’re no longer way up high. We’re down on the ground, hanging out with tiny bugs in the grass. 
    • By introducing the personified voice of the grasshopper along with the sound of thunder in this poem, the speaker essentially equates the two voices. They may be different, but they’re equal. 
    • Sure, we may think that the voice of thunder is much more awesome and intense and beautiful than the voice of some little, chirrupy grasshopper, but our speaker suggests that all the voices of nature are important—whether they’re booming and loud like the voice of thunder, or slight and chirrupy like the voice of a grasshopper.

    Lines 11-12

    Again and again it sounds,
    The voice that beautifies the land

    • Here again, we get the familiar refrain: “The voice that beautifies the land.”
    • The repetition at this point works, as it did earlier in the poem, to give us a sense of the cycles of nature. These sounds—both the thunder’s and the grasshopper’s—are repeated, occurring over and over in nature. 
    • On another level, the voice of the grasshopper is given equal importance to the voice of thunder in the poem, since the speaker devotes just as much time to describing the grasshopper’s sounds. Like the voice of thunder, the grasshopper’s voice equally “beautifies” the land. 
    • By equating one voice with the other, the speaker also gives us a sense of the harmony that characterizes nature.
    • The voices of animals, the voices of the weather, the voices of little bugs, the voices of the wind and, well, everything else—they’re all working together to create beauty in nature. It’s one big, happy symphony.