By Layli Long Soldier


“Whereas” is a profound and innovative collection of poems by Layli Long Soldier, a writer of Oglala Lakota descent. This book stands out in the realm of contemporary poetry due to its unique blend of personal experience and political commentary. 🌟

Layli Long Soldier crafts her work against the backdrop of the Native American experience, interweaving elements of history, personal life, and a response to the U.S. government’s resolutions regarding Native peoples. Specifically, “Whereas” confronts the language and implications of the Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans, an act that many found empty and insufficient.

This collection is not just poetry; it’s a hybrid of genres, including prose, letters, and legislative language, all of which challenge the formal structures of both government documents and poetry itself. Long Soldier’s voice is both incisive and introspective, demanding acknowledgment of past injustices while exploring the nuanced process of personal reconciliation and resistance. 💬📜

Meaning of Whereas

“Whereas” is structured into sections that progressively delve deeper into both the personal and political landscapes. Each section can be viewed as a layer in the excavation of identity and historical truth.

Opening Section The opening passages of “Whereas” set the tone for the collection. They introduce the premise tied to the U.S. government’s official apology to Native Americans. Here, Long Soldier begins her exploration of language’s power and limitations. For example, she writes:

“I did not desire to take a piece of the States for myself to fold away and cut the shape, cut a map from the sea…”

Mid Section In the middle sections, Long Soldier intertwines her personal reflections with broader cultural commentary, often challenging the official narratives or words that have been historically used to describe Indigenous people. This part includes powerful verses like:

“Whereas I tire. Of my effort to match the effort of the statement: ‘apologies to all Native peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States.’”

Concluding Section The concluding parts of “Whereas” bring a poignant synthesis of the emotional and intellectual journeys presented earlier. The poet’s language here often turns reflective and meditative, pondering the implications of reconciliation and the act of apology:

“Whereas truthfully, at a distance, I am moved beyond words.”

In-depth Analysis

“Whereas” is rich in its poetic craftsmanship and employs numerous literary techniques across its stanzas. Here’s a look at how Layli Long Soldier uses various elements to deepen the impact of her work:

Syntax and Diction

  • Long Soldier frequently employs unconventional syntax that breaks from traditional English constructions, mirroring the disruption of Native oral traditions by English.
  • Her diction is precise, often choosing words that carry multiple layers of meaning, reflecting on their historical and cultural contexts.

Figurative Language

  • Metaphor: Long Soldier uses metaphors to draw connections between personal experiences and larger historical or cultural issues, enhancing the reader’s ability to perceive the deep and often painful ties between them.
  • Simile: Comparisons in her poetry often serve to highlight the contrasts between what is stated by the government and what is felt by the Indigenous communities.

Themes and Symbols

  • Themes of Identity and Resilience: The poems repeatedly touch on themes of identity, resistance, and the struggle for self-definition against a backdrop of historical oppression.
  • Symbols of Silence and Voice: Silence in the text often represents the erasure and neglect faced by Native communities, while the act of speaking or writing symbolizes resistance and the reclamation of voice and history.

Poetic Devices used in Whereas

In “Whereas” by Layli Long Soldier, a range of poetic devices is intricately woven throughout the text, enhancing both its emotional depth and intellectual complexity. Here’s a breakdown of the top 10 poetic devices used in the poem:

AlliterationRepetition of initial consonant sounds to create rhythm and emphasis.
AssonanceRepetition of vowel sounds in non-rhyming words, often used to affect the mood of the poem.
ConsonanceRepetition of consonant sounds within or at the end of words in close proximity.
EnjambmentThe continuation of a sentence without a pause beyond the end of a line, couplet, or stanza, used to maintain the flow and speed of the poem’s narrative.
MetaphorImplicit comparisons between two unrelated things to highlight particular similarities, often deepening thematic elements.
SimileExplicit comparisons using “like” or “as,” making descriptions more vivid and direct.
IronyUse of words to convey a meaning that is opposite of its literal meaning, often highlighting the contrast between expectations and reality.
PersonificationAttributing human characteristics to non-human elements, enhancing emotional engagement or thematic depth.
SymbolismUse of symbols to represent ideas or qualities, imbuing the poem with multiple layers of meaning beyond the literal.
AnaphoraThe repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses, often used to emphasize a particular theme or emotion.


What is the main theme of “Whereas” by Layli Long Soldier? The main themes of “Whereas” include identity, resistance, the impact of history on present-day experiences, and the power of language as a tool for both oppression and liberation.

How does Layli Long Soldier use structure in her poetry? Layli Long Soldier often uses a fragmented or non-linear structure that reflects the complex and sometimes disjointed experiences of Indigenous peoples in America. This structure challenges traditional Western narrative forms and invites readers to engage more actively with the text.

What is the significance of the title “Whereas”? The title “Whereas” refers to the legal and formal language often used in governmental apologies and documents, highlighting the disparity between official statements and the lived experiences of Indigenous people.

Can you explain the use of space in “Whereas”? Long Soldier uses visual spacing in her poems to create pauses, emphasize silence, or signify absence, enhancing the reader’s perception of the poem’s themes and emotional tones.

Why is the book “Whereas” important for understanding Native American literature? “Whereas” is crucial for understanding Native American literature because it directly addresses contemporary political issues through the lens of personal and cultural identity, using innovative poetic forms that challenge traditional narratives.

Whereas Study Guide

Exercise: List all the poetic devices used in the following verse from “Whereas”:

“I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.”


  • Anaphora: Repetition of “I am” at the beginning of the clause.
  • Personification: Imbuing the speaker with attributes of deliberation and fearlessness, usually qualities attributed to a conscious, sentient being.
  • Parallelism: The structure of the sentence reflects balanced and rhythmic phrasing, enhancing its poetic quality.

This exercise helps students identify and understand the various poetic techniques that contribute to the depth and impact of Layli Long Soldier’s poetry.