An Indian, in the days of yore —
Of “fish and fur’s” abounding store —
Would cross Niagara’s stream —
Just where the river, smooth and wide,
Pours toward the gulf its treacherous tide,
Like some deceitful dream.
Near by, a bear was crossing, too :
Whose head no sooner rose to view,
Than straight the “Brave” urged his canoe
To grasp an easy prey ;
But Bruin fled not — glad to greet
A resting-place for weary feet,
He turned and swam his foe to meet,
Upon the watery way.
They met — the paddle’s blow was dealt ;
With paw received, or scarcely felt
By fur-protected bear.
Who, reaching up as for a bough,
Climbed gracefully into the prow
And sat serenely there.
The astonished “Brave” sought in his turn
The “ultima thule” of the stern,
And then sat down to stare.
And thus in armed neutrality
They sat in thoughtful “vis-à-vis,”
While the bark drifted silently
To meet the breakers white ;
But when the Indian seized an oar,
To stay his course, or seek the shore,
Admonished by an ominous roar,
He dropped it in affright :
For in those cavernous jaws he sees
Molars, incisors, cuspidés —
Enough a hero’s heart to freeze
Or dentist to delight.
More dreadful still, the angry Fall,
Like some huge monster seemed to call,
Impatient for its prey ;
And shows its breakers’ flashing teeth,
To welcome him to depths beneath ; —
And breathes its breath of spray.
Visions of fire and frying pan
Encompassed that bewildered man
(Tho’ watery fears oppressed)
And Shakspeare’s thought his bosom fills
“Better to bear our present ills
Than fly” — you know the rest.
Whether the Brave proved dainty fare,
And then the Fall devoured the bear,
Though unto them the “loss was sair”
To us is less ado :
But still, arrayed in fancy’s gleam,
Have floated down Tradition’s stream
The twain in that canoe —
And furnished to the faces pale,
The matter to “adorn a tale,”
And “point a moral,” too.
We float upon life’s lapsing tide
While toward some gulf the waters glide
With unremitting might ;
And some black bear holds us in awe,
Like the “black Care” which Horace saw
Behind the Roman knight.
We fain would seize an oar to reach
Some sylvan shore, some silvery beach ;
But still the moment miss —
For Pride, or Ease, or Care, or Fear,
Sits with o’erwhelming presence near ;
The saving hand we dare not lift,
And gently thus we drift, drift, drift,
Into the dread abyss.
Our land, which boasts that it prepares
Its morel and material wares,
Should make its legends, too :
And mixing one of native clay,
Let’s drop “a lion’s in the way,”
And in its stead hereafter say —
“A bear’s in the canoe.”
Source: The Crayon, vol. 8, no. 7, July 1861.
Florio is possibly a pseudonym used by Clement Clarke Moore. Two poems published in the New York Evening Post under the name of Florio later appeared in Moore’s 1844 book Poems, as outlined in the blog post Two Poems by Clement C. Moore, as First Published in the New York Evening Post