Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hiawatha's Canoe V - Schoolcraft's Words

I scoured Schoolcraft's scholarly works looking for the words about canoe construction which might have inspired or instructed Longfellow. In volume 2 of his massive six-volume "Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Conditions and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States" I found:
Canoes of Bark
"..These are made from the rind of the betula papyracea which is peeled in large rolls. A frame, which is called a gabarie by the Canadian French, is then suspended by four stout posts. This indicates the inner form and length of the vessel. Gunwales are then constructed of cedar wood, which sustain the ribs of the same material, that are arranged closely from its bow to its stern. The next process is to sheet the ribs with thin, flat and flexible pieces of cedar, placed longitudinally.  The sheathing of  bark is then adjusted, and sewn together by means of a square-bladed awl, and thread composed of fibrous roots of the cedar, called watab, which is soaked in hot water. The seams are pitched with boiled and prepared gum from the pitch pine, which is payed on with a small swab. The bow and stern, which are secured, are usually decorated with figures of animals or other pictographic devices."
These words were written sometime prior to 1847.
Then in "The Literary Voyager", a weekly magazine written by Schoolcraft, I found the following poem (Issue No. 2, December 1826)
The Birchen Canoe
"In the region of the lakes, where the blue waters sleep,
Our beautiful fabric was built,
Light cedar supported its weight on the deep,
And its sides with sunbeams were gilt,:
The bright leafy bark of the betula tree,
 A flexible sheathing provides;
And the fir's thready roots draw the parts to agree,
And bind down its high swelling sides.
"No compass or gavel was used on 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 with tender young roots woven 'round,
Like a pattern of wicker-work rare;
And it pressed on the wave with as lightsome a bound,
As a basket suspended in air.
"The heavens in their brightness and glory below,
Were reflected quite plain in the view,
And moved like a swan-with as graceful a show,
Our beautiful birchen canoe.
The trees on the shore, as we glided along,
Seemed moving in a contrary way;
And our voyagers lightened their toil with a song,
That caused every heart to be gay.
"And still as we floated by rock and by shell,
Our bark raised a murmur aloud,
And it danced on the waves, as they rose, or they fell,
Like a Fay on a bright summer cloud,
We said as we passed o'er the liquid expanse,
With the landscape in smiling array,
How blest we should be if our lives would advance
Thus tranquil and sweetly away.
"The skies were serene-not a cloud was in sight-
Not an angry surge beat on the shore;
And we gazed on the water, and then on the light,
Till our vision could bear it no more,
O long will we think of those silver bright-lakes,
And scenes they exposed to our view
Our friends, and the wishes we formed for their sakes,
And our bright yellow birchen canoe.
NEXT: Comparing Longfellow and Schoolcraft

No comments: