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.
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.
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.