The Indian Burying Ground

Engraving of the bust of Frenau. He is wearing a button-up coat with a ruffled collar showing underneathPhilip Morin Freneau (January 2, 1752 – December 18, 1832) was an American poet, nationalist (also known as Federalist), polemicist, sea captain and newspaper editor sometimes called the “Poet of the American Revolution.”

The non-political works of Freneau are a combination of neoclassicism and romanticism. His poem “The House of Night” makes its mark as one of the first romantic poems written and published in America. The Gothic elements and dark imagery are later seen in the poetry by Edgar Allan Poe, who is well known for his gothic works of literature. Freneau’s nature poem, “The Wild Honey Suckle” (1786), is considered an early seed to the later Transcendentalist movement taken up by William Cullen Bryant, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. Romantic primitivism is also anticipated by his poems “The Indian Burying Ground,” and “Noble Savage.”


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.[1]

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.


  1. "The North American Indians bury their dead in a sitting posture; decorating the corpse with wampum, the images of birds, quadrupeds, &c: And (if that of a warrior) with bows, arrows, tomhawks, and other military weapons."—Freneau's note.