Philip Freneau was known as “the poet of the American Revolution” because of the many ballads and satires he wrote during this period. His verse, prose and partisan essays appeared in numerous periodicals, and several volumes of his works were published over a half-century. All the while…in romanticizing the wonders of nature in his writings…he searched for an American idiom in verse.
After visiting an Indian burial ground, Freneau wrote the following poem, considered to be one of the first to idealize the Indian. “The Indian Burying Ground” was first published in the American Museum, November, 1787.
The Indian Burying GroundIn spite of all the learned have said, I still my old opinion keep; The posture that we give the dead, Points out the soul's eternal sleep. Not so the ancients of these lands-- The Indian, when from life released, Again is seated with his friends, And shares again the joyous feast. His imaged birds, and painted bowl, And venison, for a journey dressed, Bespeak the nature of the soul, Activity, that knows no rest. His bow, for action ready bent, And arrows, with a head of bone, Can only mean that life is spent, And not the finer essence gone. Thou, stranger, that shalt come this way, No fraud upon the dead commit, Yet, marking the swelling turf, and say, They do not lie, but here they sit. Here, still a lofty rock remains, On which the curious eye may trace (Now wasted half by wearing rains) The fancies of a ruder race. Here, still an aged elm aspires, Beneath whose far-projecting shade (And which the shepherd still admires) The children of the forest played. There oft a restless Indian queen, (Pale Marian, with her braided hair) And many a barbarous form is seen To chide the man that lingers there. By midnight moons, o'er moistening dews, In habit for the chase arrayed, The hunter still the deer pursues, The hunter and the deer-- a shade. And long shall timorous fancy see The painted chief, and pointed spear, And reason's self shall bow the knee To shadows and delusions here.
By Philip Freneau