‘The story of our wretched kind / To be — and be no more’

From a collection of poems written by Dabney Carr Terrell, a friend of Thomas Jefferson, a poem called “On An Indian Mound”:

Can’st say what tenant fills yon grave?
Oppressor stern, or crouching slave?
Or gallant chieftain, vainly brave,
Who for the land he could not save
Was well content to die?
Or beauteous maiden in her bloom,
Who rashly sought an early doom,
Because unable to resume
Her lover’s heart? or, in the tomb
Do both united lie?

Or it may be some bard divine,
Whose lofty lay and polished line,
By age unthreaten’d with decline,
A thousand years had seen to shine,
With still increasing ray;
When from the north the savage horde
Of hostile tribes, like torrents poured;
Sweeping the peasant, throne and lord,
The shiver’d shield and broken sword,
Like wither’d leaves away.

Or it may be some victor proud
Came o’er the world like tempest cloud,
With blaze as bright and noise as loud,
Trampling on earth the servile crowd,
Their wonder and their fear.
Or it may be some patriot chief,
Camillus-like, that brought relief,
Whose clos’d career, Alas! too brief,
Awoke a nation’s bursting grief
To millions justly dear;

Or it may be — but whither springs
Bold Fancy on her airy wings?
Unmeasured Time deep darkness flings
O’er what our fond imaginings
Try vainly to explore.
Yet this past race has left behind
A lesson dear to Wisdom’s mind;
In that lone mound, summ’d up, wee find
The story of our wretched kind,
To be — and be no more.

My copy of this poem comes from Armistead C. Gordon‘s Virginian Writers of Fugitive Verse, published in 1923. A reminder of an interesting book excerpt published here about two years ago which is a more modern imagining of the disappearance of native Americans.

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