Reintroducing Philip Freneau At one


Reintroducing Philip Freneau

At one time Philip Freneau ("The Poet of the Revolution") was well-known, taught, and well-loved in the United States. The poem I include here, I include because, despite some embarrassing sentiments regarding race (looked at with our normal chronological Chauvinism, nay imperialism) it spawned a series of similar poems throughout American History. Dylan may already have blogged Longfellow's contribution on the Jewish Cemetery, and of course Robert Lowell's "Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket." Lowell is a fantastically uneven poet, whom I cannot even pretend to like for the most part, but parts of Quaker Graveyard are quite effective. The poem is taken from an anthology by William Cullen Bryant (whose "Thanatopsis" I nearly blogged, but seemed too heavy for a morning made tremendously pretty by having all of our tropical air sucked into Lily) available on the American Verse Project Site.

Philip Freneau

IN 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 stone,
Can only mean that life is spent,
And not the old ideas gone.

Thou, stranger, that shalt come this way,
No fraud upon the dead commit;
Observe 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 Shebah, 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.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 3, 2002 7:51 AM.

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