Monday, March 5, 2012

Monday's Poetry: "The Bear Hunt"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

A few weeks ago while I was researching some trivia on Abraham Lincoln, I came across information related to his life-long interest in poetry.  It seems that Honest Abe had a particular fondness for the works of Robert Burns and Lord Byron.

I found several references to Lincoln's "favorite" poem, an epic on the subject of death being the great leveler.  That poem, Mortality by Scottish poet William Knox, was clipped from a newspaper and given to Lincoln when he was a young man.  The copy he received, in fact, did not even bear the poet's name.   Lincoln was so taken with the work that he gradually memorized all fifty-six laborious lines of the piece - and would often recite it to family and friends.  Shortly before his death, an acquaintance heard one of Lincoln's recitations of Mortality and recognized it as a piece by William Knox.  The friend then sent the President a copy of a volume of poetry by Mr. Knox that contained the poem Mortality.

I had intended to present Mortality in this space (and it is readily available at other locations along the cyber highway), but after reading the poem, I discovered that I was not nearly as taken with it as Lincoln had been.  I also considered some of the poems written about Lincoln, such as Walt Whitman's O Captain!  My Captain!,  a work that has been reviewed and recited ad nauseam, as well as several others published shortly after his murder.  But those still did not feel like what I was after.  I wanted something that would reveal our 16th President as a real person, not as some legend of mythic proportions.

Finally I came across a couple poems written  by Abraham Lincoln.  The first, My Childhood Home I See Again was a bit sappy until it took a sudden detour into strangeness.  The second, however, The Bear Hunt, was fun and painted a picture of the poet as a bit of thrill-seeker and a humorist.   It follows.

The Bear Hunt
by Abraham Lincoln

A wild-bear chace, didst never see?
Then hast thou lived in vain.
Thy richest bump of glorious glee,
Lies desert in thy brain.

When first my father settled here,
'Twas then the frontier line:
The panther's scream, filled night with fear
And bears preyed on the swine.

But wo for Bruin's short lived fun,
When rose the squealing cry;
Now man and horse, with dog and gun,
For vengeance, at him fly.

A sound of danger strikes his ear;
He gives the breeze a snuff;
Away he bounds, with little fear,
And seeks the tangled rough.

On press his foes, and reach the ground,
Where's left his half munched meal;
The dogs, in circles, scent around,
And find his fresh made trail.

With instant cry, away they dash,
And men as fast pursue;
O'er logs they leap, through water splash,
And shout the brisk halloo.

Now to elude the eager pack,
Bear shuns the open ground;
Through matted vines, he shapes his track
And runs it, round and round.

The tall fleet cur, with deep-mouthed voice,
Now speeds him, as the wind;
While half-grown pup, and short-legged fice,
Are yelping far behind.

And fresh recruits are dropping in
To join the merry corps:
With yelp and yell,--a mingled din--
The woods are in a roar.

And round, and round the chace now goes,
The world's alive with fun;
Nick Carter's horse, his rider throws,
And more, Hill drops his gun.

Now sorely pressed, bear glances back,
And lolls his tired tongue;
When as, to force him from his track,
An ambush on him sprung.

Across the glade he sweeps for flight,
And fully is in view.
The dogs, new-fired, by the sight,
Their cry, and speed, renew.

The foremost ones, now reach his rear,
He turns, they dash away;
And circling now, the wrathful bear,
They have him full at bay.

At top of speed, the horse-men come,
All screaming in a row,
"Whoop! Take him Tiger. Seize him Drum."
Bang,--bang--the rifles go.

And furious now, the dogs he tears,
And crushes in his ire,
Wheels right and left, and upward rears,
With eyes of burning fire.

But leaden death is at his heart,
Vain all the strength he plies.
And, spouting blood from every part,
He reels, and sinks, and dies.

And now a dinsome clamor rose,
'Bout who should have his skin;
Who first draws blood, each hunter knows,
This prize must always win.

But who did this, and how to trace
What's true from what's a lie,
Like lawyers, in a murder case
They stoutly argufy.

Aforesaid fice, of blustering mood,
Behind, and quite forgot,
Just now emerging from the wood,
Arrives upon the spot.

With grinning teeth, and up-turned hair--
Brim full of spunk and wrath,
He growls, and seizes on dead bear,
And shakes for life and death.

And swells as if his skin would tear,
And growls and shakes again;
And swears, as plain as dog can swear,
That he has won the skin.

Conceited whelp! we laugh at thee--
Nor mind, that now a few
Of pompous, two-legged dogs there be,
Conceited quite as you.

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