The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.

XXXII. Non-English Writings II

§ 11. Amerind Poetry

All our conclusions about aboriginal prose style are more or less conjectural. Because of the necessity of carrying it wholly in mind, sacred matter was committed almost wholly to song and symbolic ritual. Explanation and narration of the story, necessary for the carrying out of these rites, took place only before the novitiates. When the rites themselves were made public, the story on which they were strung was sketchily the common possession. In the kiva or earth-lodge, in whatever sacred privacy they were rehearsed, the story was a solemn narrative, developed by repetition to explicit form. Beginning as informal prose, such a narrative tended to become more and more rhythmic, until it made a matrix within which the lyric and symbolic elements were enclosed. Tribal ceremonies in all stages of this logical development can be found among the American tribes, well on their way to becoming epic and drama.