This poem published in 1901 is about the legendary Muskogee orator and chief, Crazy Snake, who led resistance to federal allotment of Muskogee lands.
The author, DeWitt Clinton Duncan, was born in the Cherokee Nation in Georgia in 1829. A poet, short story writer, and essayist, he was an attorney for the Cherokee Nation and a translator of Cherokee law, as well as a teacher of Latin, English, and Greek.
The opening line is an allusion to line thirty-three of William Cullen Bryant’s poem “The Battle-Field,” which reads “Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again”—an idea which this poem sharply contradicts.
Which “truth” will rise today?
“Truth crushed to earth will rise again,”
’Tis sometimes said. False! When it dies,
Like a tall tree felled on the plain,
It never, never more, can rise.
Dead beauty’s buried out of sight;
’Tis gone beyond the eternal wave;
Another springs up into light,
But not the one that’s in the grave.
I saw a ship once leave the shore;
Its name was “Truth;” and on its board
It bore a thousand souls or more:
Beneath its keel the ocean roared.
That ship went down with all its crew.
True: other ships as proud as she,
Well built, and strong, and wholly new,
Still ride upon that self-same sea.
But “Truth,” and all on her embarked
Are lost in an eternal sleep,
(The fatal place itself unmarked)
Far down in the abysmal deep.
Let fleeing Aguinaldo speak;
And Oc̅eola from his cell;
And Sitting Bull, and Crazy Snake;
Their story of experience tell.
There is no truth in all the earth
But there’s a Calvary and a Cross;
We scarce have time to hail its birth,
Ere we are called to mark its loss.
The truth that lives and laugh’s a sneak,
That crouching licks the hand of power,
While that that’s worth the name is weak,
And under foot dies every hour.