Songs of the Spavinaw

Ruth Muskrat Bronson

‘Songs of the Spavinaw’ by Ruth Muskrat Bronson describes the powers, abilities and fears of a river which is at the mercy of humankind. 


Ruth Muskrat Bronson

Nationality: American, Indian

Ruth Muskrat Bronson was a Cherokee poet and activist.

She served as executive secretary for the National Congress of American Indians

Get More from Every Poem

Your one-stop shop for discovering, learning, and enjoying poetry to the max.

‘Songs of the Spavinaw’ by Ruth Muskrat Bronson is a six stanza poem that is separated into four sets of six and two sets of nine lines. There is no standard rhyme scheme that unites the poem, but each stanza does have its own individual pattern. For example, the first stanza follows the scheme of abaaab while the second follows, abccbb. 

The poet, Bronson, also makes use of repetition throughout ‘Songs of the Spavinaw.’ There are moments in which the same word is repeated multiple times in the same stanza. One example of this occurs in the second stanza in which three lines end with the word “world.” 

A reader should also take note of instances in which the same word endings are used repetitively. The third line of the second stanza shows this clearly, as well as the fifth and sixth lines of the fifth stanza. 

The river which is mentioned in the title of this piece, as well as a number of times throughout the poem, “Spavinaw,” refers to a river in eastern Oklahoma. At the time of this poem’s conception, it was located on Cherokee Nation land. 

Songs of the Spavinaw by Ruth Muskrat Bronson



Songs of the Spavinaw’ by Ruth Muskrat Bronson describes the powers, abilities, and fears of a river that is at the mercy of humankind.

The poem begins with the speaker stating that it is “the river Spavinaw.” It was once in control of the highs and lows of the surrounding areas but now it has been forced to “withdraw” into the hills and away from the plain. It once provoked happiness in those around it and was described with such words as “dimple, sparkle and ripple.” 

This time has passed and now it is forced to contend with a new world. It retreats to the “north” but even here it must fight. 


Analysis of Songs of the Spavinaw

Stanza One

I am the river of Spavinaw,

     I am the river of pain;

Sadness and gladness must answer my law;

Measure for measure I give, and withdraw

Back through the hills of the Spavinaw,

     Hiding away from the plain.

In the first stanza of this poem the speaker introduces itself as being the “river of Spavinaw.” The poet has chosen to personify the river and allow it to speak for itself. Each stanza of ‘Songs of the Spavinaw’ is used to discuss the power, life, and abilities of the river and how it has been impacted by the actions of humankind. 

In the first stanza, the speaker declares that the river is one of “pain.” It carries along its waters the painful history of the Cherokee people and has come to represent so much more than just a river. In the next lines, the river declares its own power. It has the ability to inflict “Sadness and gladness” in turn. They are controlled by the river and must “answer” its “law.” 

The river states that it will give back what it gets. If pain is given, pain will be returned. In the last line, the river states that it will recede back from the surrounding “hills” in an attempt to “hide” from the “plain.” 


Stanza Two

I am the river of Spavinaw;

     I sing the songs of the world;

Dashing and whirling, swishing and swirling,

Delicate, mystical, silvery spray hurling,

     Sing I the songs of the world,

     The passionate songs of the world.

In the second stanza, the speaker begins with the same opening line, “I am the river of Spavinaw.” This time rather than going immediately to the pain of the people and land, the speaker turns to the “songs of the world.” It speaks on the “Dashing, and whirling” which comes along with being a river. The river is celebrating its own passions and abilities. 

A reader should take note of the repetition of the “-ing” ending in these lines. This choice allows the lines to read fluidly, like the movement of water. 


Stanza Three

I sing of laughter and mirth,

     And I laugh in a gurgle of glee

As the myriad joys of the earth

     Trip through the light with me.

Gay shallows dimple, sparkle and ripple.

     Like songs that a lover would sing,

        Skipping in moonlight,

        Tripping in moonlight,

     Whispering echoes of spring.

In the third stanza, the tone remains the same. There is no talk of pain or suffering, only gladness, “laughter and mirth.” The river represents the pain of a nation as much as it does the glory and happiness. In the sounds of the water, one can hear the “gurgle of glee.” 

Within the river’s bounds, there are songs that a “lover would sing.” It is inspiring those around it to sing, skip and trip in the moonlight. These movements, the general sounds which are made by the river, and the emotions it evokes are reminiscent of spring and rebirth. 


Stanza Four

And again

     I move with the slow sadness of pain.

In my dark blue deep, where the shadows creep,

     I catch up life’s sorrows and mirror them back again.

And my song is a throbbing, pitiful sobbing,

     Choked by an agonized pain.

In the fourth stanza of ‘Songs of the Spavinaw’, the poem takes another turn and the remaining lines are written with a darker tone in mind. The river-as-speaker continues on saying that it has moments of happiness but more and more frequently it is going “with the slow sadness of pain.” It meanders through the land “where shadows creep” and its waters reflect back the world’s “sorrows.”

It is clear at this point that the river is changing with the times. The more sorrowful the Cherokee people who lived on the land are, the darker and more “pitiful” is the river. 

Its songs are now “throbbing” rather than gleeful. They are often “Choked” off “by an agonized pain.” 


Stanza Five 

And then

     I move forth toward the beckoning north,

        And I sing of the power of men.

            As I dash down my falls,

            As I beat at my walls

Frantically fighting, running and righting,

All through the flood, through the snarling and biting,

        I sing of the power of men,

        Of the hurry and power of men.

In the second to last stanza, the river continues its narrative. It has come to experience nothing but pain and sorrow from the world and has therefore chosen to “move forth toward the beckoning north.” It is here that it will “sing of the power of men.” Humankind has come to control the destiny of the river just as it did the destiny of the Cherokee Nation. The river might “dash down [its] falls” and “beat at [its] walls” but it cannot escape from humankind. 

The river is now “Frantic” and doing its best to “run” and “fight.” The fight for its life and land is punctuated with continued thoughts of the “power” and needs “of men.”


Stanza Six 

        I am the river of Spavinaw,

        I am the giver of pain;

Sadness and gladness must answer my law;

Measure for measure I give, and withdraw

Back through the hills of the Spavinaw,

        Hiding away from the plain.

The final stanza of ‘Songs of the Spavinaw’ is a duplicate of the first. The river reiterates everything which has been said about its abilities and its need to escape from humankind. It reminds the reader that once it was the “giver of pain” and the controller of “Sadness and gladness,” but that now it is retreating into the hills and away from the “plain.” 

Get More with Poetry+

Upgrade to Poetry+ and get unlimited access to exclusive content.

Printable Poem Guides

Covering every poem on Poem Analysis (all 4,175 and counting).

Printable PDF Resources

Covering Poets, Rhyme Schemes, Movements, Meter, and more.

Ad-Free Experience

Enjoy poetry without adverts.

Talk with Poetry Experts

Comment about any poem and have experts answer.

Tooltip Definitions

Get tooltip definitions throughout Poem Analysis on 881 terms.

Premium Newsletter

Stay up to date with all things poetry.

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

Join the Poetry Chatter and Comment

Exclusive to Poetry+ Members

Join Conversations

Share your thoughts and be part of engaging discussions.

Expert Replies

Get personalized insights from our Qualified Poetry Experts.

Connect with Poetry Lovers

Build connections with like-minded individuals.

Sign up to Poetry+
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Got a question about the poem? Ask an expert.x

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry, straight to your inbox

Start Your Perfect Poetry Journey

The Best-Kept Secrets of Poetry

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry ever straight to your inbox

Share to...