Ralph Waldo Emerson

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

Chief Tecumseh is renowned as a prominent figure among the Shawnee and the leader of a significant tribal alliance that stood against the United States in the conflicts known as Tecumseh's War and the War of 1812. Tecumseh is often attributed with a poem that is said to encapsulate his philosophy. This poem sometimes referred to as "Live Your Life" or "Tecumseh's Words of Wisdom," is not historically documented as his writing but is a modern creation that reflects the spirit and values that Tecumseh might have espoused. It has become popular in various self-help and motivational contexts.

What You Will Learn From The Chief Tecumseh Poem

  1. Live Life to the Fullest:
    The poem encourages individuals to live to the fullest without fearing death. It suggests that one should not live as if they are never going to die, and when it's time to die, one should not wish for more time because they have lived life fully. This message stresses the importance of living in the present and maximizing every moment.
  2. Respect and Love:
    Tecumseh's poem underscores the importance of mutual respect and love among people. It advocates for treating others well, as this is what will be remembered after one is gone. It’s a reminder of the enduring impact of kindness and how one's actions and treatment of others define their legacy.
  3. Harmony with Nature:
    The poem often attributed to Tecumseh speaks of a deep connection with nature and the Earth, encouraging a life in harmony with the environment. It reflects the Native American reverence for the natural world and implies that understanding and respecting nature is essential for a well-lived life.

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.

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.


Live Your Life by Chief Tecumseh

A Poem by Tecumseh

The following is an excerpt commonly quoted from this poem:

"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."

It's important to note that while these values are widely admired and associated with Chief Tecumseh, the exact origins of the poem are unclear, and it may not be a direct quote from Tecumseh himself. Nevertheless, the poem reflects principles that are consistent with many Native American cultural values.

Life is a journey, not a destination.
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