St. Ignatius Where the Salish Wail

Hugo, Richard

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Willms, Janice
  • Date of entry: May-12-2003
  • Last revised: Nov-28-2006


It is Good Friday, or, rather two Good Fridays: one muddy and stormy and demanding an indoor funeral conducted by a black-robe but infused with an attenuated Salish ritual. This is the bad Good Friday. The real Good Friday, the warm and sunny one, escapes the Christian emblems. The tribal mourners' ". . . chanting / bangs the door of any man's first cave." As the narrator leaves the church of the bad Good Friday funeral service, he notes, "Every year / A few less live who know the Salish hymn."


Although not a Native American himself, Hugo spent much of his adult life among the people of the tribes near his Montana home. He wandered onto the reservations, observed the plight of the tribal members, studied the progressive erosion of these ancient and deeply spiritual cultures. This poem, like others of his, reflect on the disappearance of language and ritual. "Every year / a few less live who know the Salish hymn." Implicitly Hugo seems to implicate the white man, especially the white man's religious institutions, in the crumbling of native pride and stature.


Collection first published in 1973; The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir was nominated for the National Book Award.

Primary Source

The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir


Carnegie Mellon Univ. Press

Place Published