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Once the World Was...

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“Once the world was perfect,” begins the myth-poem by Joy Harjo, a member of the Mvskoke Nation in Oklahoma.

There are so many ways to tell stories about how we humans came to be a part of this world, and how we live with one another today. Myths aren’t supposed to be scientific accounts, but rather symbolic narratives that help give meaning to our lives. Read Harjo’s origin story below, and then craft your own myth-poem—as ThisForestOfWords does in this evocative tale.

As you write, pay attention to the following:
  • Symbolism: How can you use metaphor to tell your story? (Ex: the stones in Harjo’s myth— what do those stones represent?)
  • Characters: How might nontraditional characters play a role? (Ex: Discontent and Doubt in Harjo’s myth)
  • Message: What lesson or idea are you hoping to impart with your myth?

Once the World Was Perfect 
Joy Harjo
Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
Jumped through—
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn't know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.