Johnson, Ojibwa Birch Canoe, 1857
The BIRCHEN CANOE
In the region of lakes where the blue waters sleep
My beautiful fabric was built;
Light cedars supported its weight on the deep,
And its sides with the sunbeams are gilt.
The bright leafy bark of the betula tree,
A flexible sheathing provides;
And the fir’s thready roots drew the parts to agree,
And bound down its high swelling sides.
No compass or gavel was used in the bark,
No art but the simplest degree;
But the structure was finished and trim to remark,
And as light as a sylph’s could be.
Its rim was with tender young roots woven round,
Like a pattern of wicker-work rare;
And it pressed on the waves was as lightsome a bound,
As a basket suspended in air.
The heavens in their brightness and glory below,
Were reflected quite plain to the view;
And it moved like a swan – with as graceful a show,
My beautiful birchen canoe.
The tree on the shore as I glided along.
Seemed rushing a contrary way;
And my voyagers lightened their toll with a song,
That caused every heart to be gay.
And still as I floated by rock and by shell
My bark raised a murmur aloud;
And it danced on the waves as they rose and they fell,
Like a fay on a bright summer cloud.
I thought as I pass’d o’er the liquid expanse,
With the landscape in smiling array;
How blest I should be, if my life should advance,
Thus tranquil and sweetly away.
The skies were serene, not a cloud was in sight,
Not an angry surge beat the shore,
And I gazed on the waters and then on the light,
Till my vision could bear it no more.
Oh! long shall I think of those silver bright lakes,
And the scenes they expose to my view;
My friends – and the wishes I formed for their sakes
And my bright yellow birchen canoe.
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft
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