The Indian Student: or, Force of Nature

by Philip Freneau

Philip Freneau

FROM Susquehanna’s farthest springs,
Where savage tribes pursue their game,
(His blanket tied with yellow strings,)
A shepherd of the forest came.
Not long before, a wandering priest
Express’d his wish with visage sad—
“Ah, why (he cried) in Satan’s waste,
Ah, why detain so fine a lad?
“In white man’s land there stands a town,
Where learning may be purchased low—
Exchange his blanket for a gown,
And let the lad to college go.”
From long debate the council rose,
And viewing Shalum’s tricks with joy,
To Cambridge Hall, o’er wastes of snows,
They sent the copper-color’d boy.
One generous chief a bow supplied,
This gave a shaft, and that a skin;
The feathers, in vermilion dyed,
Himself did from a turkey win:
Thus dress’d so gay, he took his way
O’er barren hills, alone, alone!
His guide a star, he wander’d far,
His pillow every night a stone.
At last he came, with foot so lame,
Where learned men talk heathen Greek,
And Hebrew lore is gabbled o’er,
To please the muses,—twice a week.
Awhile he writ, awhile he read,
Awhile he conn’d their grammar rules—
(An Indian savage so well bred
Great credit promised to the schools.)
Some thought he would in law excel,
Some said in physic he would shine;
And one that knew him passing well,
Beheld in him a sound divine.
But those of more discerning eye,
Even then could other prospects show,
And saw him lay his Virgil by,
To wander with his dearer bow.
The tedious hours of study spent,
The heavy moulded lecture done,
He to the woods a hunting went,
Through lonely wastes he walk’d, he run.
No mystic wonders fired his mind;
He sought to gain no learn’d degree,
But only sense enough to find
The squirrel in the hollow tree.
The shady bank, the purling stream,
The woody wild his heart possess’d,
The dewy lawn, his morning dream
In fancy’s gayest colors drest.
“And why,” he cried, “did I forsake
My native wood for gloomy walls;
The silver stream, the limpid lake
For musty books, and college halls.
“A little could my wants supply—
Can wealth and honor give me more;
Or, will the sylvan god deny
The humble treat he gave before?
“Let seraphs gain the bright abode,
And heaven’s sublimest mansions see—
I only bow to Nature’s God—
The land of shades will do for me.
“These dreadful secrets of the sky
Alarm my soul with chilling fear—
Do planets in their orbits fly,
And is the earth, indeed, a sphere?
“Let planets still their course pursue,
And comets to the centre run—
In him my faithful friend I view,
The image of my God—the sun.
“Where nature’s ancient forests grow,
And mingled laurel never fades,
My heart is fix’d and I must go
To die among my native shades.”
He spoke, and to the western springs,
(His gown discharged, his money spent,
His blanket tied with yellow strings,)
The shepherd of the forest went.

Last updated January 11, 2023