Ralph Waldo Emerson

Chief Tecumseh Essay by Emerson: Explore the Life & Legacy of the Native Leader

Chief Tecumseh Poem Summary:

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "When you were born, you cried, and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice." This quote resonates deeply with the poem attributed to Tecumseh, especially with the theme of living a full and meaningful life.

Tecumseh, a Shawnee leader, was known for his eloquence in speech, courage in battle, and passionate efforts to unite Native American tribes in the face of encroaching white settlers. His philosophy, as we understand it, was that of respect for nature, bravery in the face of adversity, and living a life of integrity and honor.

The attributed poem and Emerson's quote both share these themes. They inspire individuals to lead brave, authentic, and purposeful lives to leave the world a better place, causing grief at their departure.

Despite the lack of concrete historical evidence linking Tecumseh to the poem, the sentiments within it align with his historically recognized principles, creating a significant parallel between the Native American leader's known philosophies and the spirit of the poem.

"Chief Tecumseh" is a poem that pays tribute to the Shawnee Native American leader Tecumseh. Tecumseh was a charismatic and skilled military leader who fought against the expansion of American settlements into Native American territories in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The poem "Chief Tecumseh" extols Tecumseh's bravery and leadership and describes him as a noble and wise figure who stood up for his people. The poem also reflects on the larger historical context of the time, including the displacement and mistreatment of Native American populations. Through his portrayal of Tecumseh, Emerson pays homage to the Native American leader. He draws attention to the injustices faced by Native American communities in the early days of American expansion. The poem "Chief Tecumseh" is considered a seminal work in American literature and is often studied in American literature and history courses.

Life is a journey, not a destination.

Chief Tecumseh - Native American Death Poetry

Tecumseh, Native American Death PoetryThis pleasing summer-day story is the work of a well read, cultivated writer, with a skillful ear, and an evident admirer of Scott and Campbell. There is a metrical sweetness and calm perception of beauty spread over the poem, which declare that the poet enjoyed his own work; and the smoothness and literary finish of the cantos seem to indicate more years than it appears our author has numbered. Yet the perusal suggested that the author had written this poem in the feeling, that the delight he has experienced from Scott's effective lists of names might be reproduced in America by the enumeration of the sweet and sonorous Indian names of our waters.

The success is exactly correspondent. The verses are tuneful, but are secondary; and remind the ear so much of the model, as to show that the noble aboriginal names were not suffered to make their own measures in the poet's ear, but must modulate their wild beauty to a foreign metre. They deserved better at the author's hands. We felt, also, the objection that is apt to lie against poems on new subjects by persons versed in old books, that the costume is exaggerated at the expense of the man.

The most Indian thing about the Indian is surely not his moccasins, or his calumet, his wampum, or his stone hatchet, but traits of character and sagacity, skill or passion; which would be intelligible at Paris or at Pekin, and which Scipio or Sidney, Lord Clive or Colonel Crockett would be as likely to exhibit as Osceola and Black Hawk.


Society everywhere is in conspiracy - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Who was Tecumseh?

Chief Tecumseh, 1768-1813 (translated as "shooting star" or "blazing comet"), led the Shawnee tribe and saw his people's lands, culture, and freedoms threatened by the aggressive white settlements. His tribe, located in the Northern Territory (the modern Great Lakes region), a Native American Confederacy was formed, led by Tecumseh, who believed that all tribes in the area needed to unite in order to preserve their heritage.

He was known by his followers as a gifted speaker with a strong voice and an eloquent orator. With his strong convictions and unyielding courage, Tecumseh led his tribe and followers in an aggressive stance against the white settlers and the United States, even to the point of fighting on the side of the British in the War of 1812. Tecumseh was killed in the Battle of Thames, and without his leadership, the confederacy he formed ceased to exist.

General Isaac Brock, who served as Commander of the British Forces at Amherstburg, poetically described Tecumseh, “A more sagacious or a gallant warrior does not, I believe, exist.”

What was the poem Chief Tecumseh wrote?

“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.
Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view,
and demand that they respect yours.
Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life.
Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people.

Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.
Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend,
even a stranger, when in a lonely place.
Show respect to all people and grovel to none.
When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the food and for the joy of living.
If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself.
Abuse no one and no thing,
for abuse turns the wise ones into fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die,
be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death
so that when their time comes, they weep and pray for a little more time
to live their lives over again in a different way.
Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”

This poem has been referred to as The Indian Death Prayer, The Indian Death Poem, and even Chief Tecumseh Death Song. The poem is simply about respect and the importance of respecting yourself as well as others.

Do not follow where the path may lead - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Live Your Life by Chief Tecumseh

Ralph Waldo Emerson Self Reliance

Ralph Waldo Emerson left the ministry to pursue a career in writing and public speaking. Emerson became one of America's best known and best-loved 19th-century figures.
More About Emerson

Emerson Quotes

"Every man has his own courage, and is betrayed because he seeks in himself the courage of other persons."
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” 
– Ralph Waldo Emerson