Truth Is Mortal

Lines suggested by the tenor of a friendly interview between the author and the editor of the Chieftain in reference to the capture and incarceration of Crazy Snake, the Muskogee patriot.

“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.


This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 6, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“Truth is Mortal” was first published in the Indian Chieftain on February 7, 1901. The poem was later collected in the anthology Changing Is Not Vanishing (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), where Robert Dale Parker, professor of English and American Indian studies at the University of Illinois, explains that the poem and its epigraph are most likely in reference to the arrest of “Chitto Harjo, translated into English as Crazy Snake, the legendary Muskogee orator and chief who led resistance to federal allotment of Muskogee lands.” He writes, “In 1901, federal troops moved against Harjo and his expanding group of followers (Crazy Snakes, or Snakes). On 27 January the troops arrested Harjo and many other Snakes, perhaps in time to inspire Too-qua-stee’s poem published 7 February.” 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 Too-qua-stee’s poem sharply contradicts.