Tag Archives: action

Philip Freneau, “The Indian Burying Ground”

28 Sep

Speaking of orientalism, here’s another striking portrait, this time, as the title suggests of Indian burial practices. And as he did in “Wild Honey Suckle,” Freneau uses his encounter with a foreign culture to score points against the dominant culture, the one he hails from.

In this case, the contrast is more explicit than in the other poem: he sets American-English, who are laid in their graves in a prone position, v. Native Americans who are buried sitting up– he explictly contrasts “the soul’s eternal sleep” of the Westerner v. the Native American’s “Activity, that knows no rest.”

He goes on to draw our attention, in later sections of the poem, to a fuller description of the burial ground that underscores his point, and his distortions: he notes “a lofty rock remains, on which the curious eye may trace…. the fancies of a ruder race.” Here, his argument is a little confused, unless he means “ruder” sarcastically (I don’t think he does– I think for him the NA maintains a purity the same way the Honey Suckle did), but also naturalizes the NA lifestyle, and ultimately, death.

In the end, the poem is an elegy for a way of life, which I suppose is kind of novel, given the way of life that’s being elegized. But it’s awkwardly pushy in its message, in a way that “Wild Honey Suckle” was not, and that probably makes it a weaker poem– aside from the offense you commit when you unrealistically romanticize actual people, instead of a flower.

There is also the irony, that here Freneau is celebrating activity when in the previous poem, he seemed to celebrate retreat, hiding, passivity.