This powerful poem was written by Chief Tecumseh and is one of his few poetic works. Tecumseh himself is best-known through historical accounts and the works of John Richardson who immortalized him in his 1828 epic, ‘Tecumseh: or, The Warrior of the West.’ Since his death in the War of 1812, Tecumseh has featured in numerous histories of American expansionism, plays, novels, and poems.
Live Your Life Chief Tecumseh 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 to 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.”
Explore Live Your Life
‘Live Your Life’ by Chief Tecumseh explores the nature of a good life. That is, one that is lived without the fear of death.
In the first lines of this poem, the speaker begins by telling readers that the best thing one can do throughout their life is to live without a fear of death. This is one of the major themes of the poem and is repeated within each stanza. In the next lines, the speaker goes on to tell the reader a few more things that they should consider when analyzing how they want to live their life.
One should not allow their own beliefs to be misused or disregarded, just as they should not abuse other people or other religions. It is also important to live one’s life in service of others, be kind to everyone that one meets, and more.
Structure and Form
‘Live Your Life’ by Chief Tecumseh is a poem that, depending on the iteration a reader has, may be divided into three stanzas or more. The lines are written and free verse. This means that the poet did not make use of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. In this particular version of the poem, the lines are divided into three stanzas. The first stanza contains five lines, known as a quintain, as does the third stanza. The second is the longest stanza. It contains eight lines, known as an octet.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Caesura: occurs when a poet inserts a pause in a line of verse. This could be through the use of punctuation or through a natural pause in the meter. For example, “If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself.”
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “life” and “life” in line one.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting and effective descriptions. They should inspire the reader to imagine the scene in the greatest detail as possible. For example: “Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, / even a stranger, when in a lonely place.
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.
In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker begins with the word “so.” By utilizing this simple word, they bring the reader into the poem in what feels like the middle of a statement. They are addressing the nature of life and death and the importance of living life in a particular way. The speaker says that it is essential that the “fear of death never enter your heart.” This is a strong statement, one that is far easier to express than it is to live.
The speaker’s opinion on one’s life and how they live it continues into the next lines as they request that the reader remember how important it is to respect everyone else’s religion, other’s views, and demand that “they respect yours.”
In the fourth line of this stanza, the poet repeats the word “life” three times. By utilizing commas, they create a list-like collection of short phrases that break up the rhythm of the poem so far.
The final line ends with the request that everyone make their lives “long” and live with purpose. It is not enough to do what one likes throughout their life. Instead, it is important to live for other people and ensure that one’s life is a service to others.
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 to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.
The second stanza is the longest of the three. As with the first stanza, the speaker begins by referring to death. The speaker wants everyone to, throughout their life, be prepared for the day when they’re going to die, or “go over the great divide.” This is a great example of a metaphor and a euphemism.
The speaker is talking about death, but not in a morbid way. The tone of the poem remains respectful and peaceful.
The second stanza also contains a few more suggestions for how one should live their life. One should show respect for all people, “grovel to none,” and when getting up in the morning, remember to give thanks for all that one has. The simple statements, written in clear and easy-to-read language, are highly effective. They are nearly universal in their appeal and therefore should affect all readers similarly.
The final lines of this stanza suggest that if one abuses someone or something, that abuse turns the “wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.” By treating other people or other things, such as animals or resources, unkindly or with a general disregard, one degrades their moral spirit.
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.
The final stanza of the poem is a quintain, meaning that it consists of five lines. Once again, the speaker begins the third stanza by speaking about death. But, this time, death is the main subject of all five lines. The speaker says that when it comes time for “you” to die, do not allow your heart to be overcome with fear. This connects back to the first line of the poem in which the speaker made a strong statement about how one should live their life without fear.
The speaker sees no honor or respect in a death that’s preceded by crying and weeping for more time. That’s why, throughout one’s life, one should live as well as possible. Then, when it comes time to die, one will not feel as though they need more time on Earth.
The speaker utilizes the best-known line of the poem as their final suggestion. One should “Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.” The line is filled with a great deal of meaning, even more so than some of the preceding lines. What exactly readers interpret as a “hero going home” is likely to vary. But, it’s clear that the speaker regards an honorable and brave death as the best kind. One should see death not as an end, but as the beginning of a rest period, as a hero may regard going home after a long time away.
Chief Tecumseh was a Shawnee chief born in 1768. He was part of the resistance to the expansion of the United States throughout Native American lands during the period. Today, he is well-regarded as a skilled orator and writer. He died in the War of 1812 and became an iconic folk hero in popular history.
This poem was written with the intention of inspiring readers to live the best possible life, one that is experienced without fear of death. One should embrace death in the same way as a hero going home rather than feeling terrified and begging for more time.
It’s likely that the intended speaker of this poem was Chief Tecumseh himself. Although it’s not 100% certain, considering his reputation and how he spent his own life, it’s possible that all the beliefs included in these three stanzas were his own.
The themes of this poem are living a good life and fear of death. The speaker believes that these two themes are intertwined. To live a good life, one must not live with the fear of death. Instead, one should dedicate their life to serving those around them in the best possible way, showing kindness to everyone they meet, and refusing to allow their own beliefs and identity to be taken advantage of or abused.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other related poems. For example:
- ‘Death is Nothing At All’ by Henry Scott Holland – speaks thoughtfully about the nature of death. The speaker explains that it’s not a real separation.
- ‘Crow Testament’ by Sherman Alexie – speaks on the hardships of Native Americans through its seven sections.
- ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson – a historically important poem that tells of the incredible bravery of the British cavalry during the Battle of Balaclava.