Toward a poetry and poetics of the Americas (19)

From Roger Williams, 'A Key into the Language of America'

Selection & commentary by John Bloomberg-Rissman, in collaboration


Of Fowle.

(New England, 1643)


from A key into the language of America, or, An help to the language of the natives in that part of America called New-England together with briefe observations of the customes, manners and worships, &c. of the aforesaid natives, in peace and warre, in life and death: on all which are added spirituall observations, generall and particular, 1643.


NPeshawog Pussekesësuck.



I goe afowling or hunting.


Hee is gone to hunt or fowle.


He is gone to fowle.


An Eagle.

Wompsacuck quâuog.


Néyhom, mâuog.


Paupock, sûog.


Aunckuck, quâuog.


Chogan, ēuck.

Black-bird, Black-birds.

 Obs. Of this sort there be millions, which are great devourers of the Indian corne as soon as it appeares out of the ground; Unto this sort of Birds, especially, may the mysticall Fowles, the Divells be well resembled (and so it pleaseth the Lord Jesus himselfe to ob∣serve, Matth. 13. which mysticall Fowle follow the sowing of the Word, and picke it up from loose and carelesse hearers, as these Black-birds follow the materiall seed.


Against the Birds the Indians are very carefull, both to set their corne deep enough that it may have a strong root, not so apt to be pluckt up, (yet not too deep, lest they bury it, and it never come up:) as also they put up little watch-houses in the middle of their fields, in which they, or their biggest children lodge, and earely in the morning prevent the Birds &c.


Kokókehom, Ohómous.

An Owle.

Kaukont▪ tuock.

Crow, Crowes.

 Obs. These Birds, although they doe the corne also some hurt, yet scarce will one Native amongst an hundred wil kil them, because they have a tradition, that the Crow brought them at first an Indian Graine of Corne in one Eare, and an Indian or French Beane in another, from the Great God Kaután• … uwits field in the Southwest from whence they hold came all their Corne and Beanes.


Hònck,-hónckock, Wómpatuck-quâuog.

Goose, Geese.


Swans, Swans.

Munnùcks-munnùck suck.

Brants, or Brantgeese.



 Obs. The Indians having abundance of these sorts of Foule upon their waters, take great pains to kill any of them with their Bow and Arrowes; and are marvellous desirous of our English Guns, powder and shot (though they are wisely and generally denied by the English) yet with those which they get from the French, and some others (Dutch and English) they kill abundance of Fowle, being naturally excellent marks-men; and also more hardned to endure the weather, and wading, lying, and creeping on the ground, &c.


I once saw an exercise of training of the English, when all the English had mist the mark set up to shoot at, an Indian with his owne Peece (desiring leave to shoot) onely hit it.




 Obs. These they take in the night time, where they are asleepe on rocks, off at Sea, and bring in at break of day great store of them:


Yo aquéchinock.

There they swim.


I lay nets for them.

 Obs. This they doe on shore, and catch many fowle upon the plaines, and feeding under Okes upon Akrons, as Geese, Turkies, Cranes, and others, &c.



It is fled.


They are fled:


Wing, Wings:

Wunnúppanick anawhone


Wuhóckgock ânwhone



A Pigeon:




Pigeon Countrie:

 Obs. In that place these Fowle breed abundantly, and by reason of their delicate Food (especially in Strawberrie time when they pick up whole large Fields of the old grounds of the Natives, they are a delicate fowle, and because of their abundance, and the facility Page 94 of killing of them, they are and may be plentifully fed on.


Sachim: a little Bird about the bignesse of a swallow, or lesse, to which the Indians give that name, because of its Sachim or Princelike courage and Command over greater Birds, that a man shall often see this small Bird pur∣sue and vanquish and put to flight the Crow, and other Birds farre bigger then it selfe.



They go to the South ward.

 That is the saying of the Natives, when the Geese and other Fowle at the approach of Winter betake themselves, in admirable Order and discerning their Course even all the night long.



They fly Northward.

 That is when they returne in the Spring. There are abundance of singing Birds whose names I have little as yet inquired after, &c.


The Indians of Martins vineyard, at my late being amongst them, report generally, and confidently of some Ilands, which lie off from them to Sea, from whence every morning early, certaine Fowles come and light amongst them, and returne at Night to lodging, which Iland or Ilands are not yet discovered, though probably, by other Reasons they give, there is Land, &c.



Crane, Cranes.


The Hawke.

 Whch the Indians keep tame about their houses to keepe the little Birds from their Corne.


The generall Observation of Fowle.


How sweetly doe all the severall sorts of Heavens Birds, in all Coasts of the World, preach unto Men the prayse of their Makers Wisedome, Power, and Goodnesse, who feedes them and their young ones Summer and Winter with their severall suitable sorts of Foode: although they neither sow nor reape, nor gather into Barnes?


More particularly:


If Birds that neither sow nor reape.

Nor store up any food,

Constantly find to them and theirs

A maker kind and Good!


If man provide eke for his Birds,

In Yard, in Coops, in Cage.

And each Bird spends in songs and Tunes,

His little time and Age!


What care will Man, what care will God,

For’s wife and Children take?

Millions of Birds and Worlds will God.

Sooner then His forsake.




Source: Roger Williams, A Key into the Language of America, ed. Howard M. Chapin, Providence, 1936.


Given eternity in which to work, everyone would eventually stumble into the abyss, just as all matter would eventually be swallowed by black holes. (R.W., The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect: a novel of the singularity


After having been banished by the Massachusetts and Plymouth Bay colonies for his “new and dangerous opinions,” such as freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state, and narrowly escaping deportation to England, Roger Williams fled south, bought land from the local Indians, and founded the Providence Plantation. The Key into the Language of America, which records the language and customs of the Narragansett people, was undertaken and printed to foster harmonious relations between the indigenous inhabitants and the settler colonialists. As another poem from the Key has it,


Boast not, proud English, of thy birth & blood,

Thy brother Indian is by birth as Good,

Of one blood God made Him, and Thee & All,

As wise, as faire, as strong, as personall.