09 April 2009

Fowl Times Portrayed in Poetic Prose of Sportsmen of the 1870s

Here is another sample of poetry about wild fowl written by contributors to Forest and Stream, the sportsmen's newspaper of the 1870s.

The Canvas-back Duck.

In sharp November, from afar,
From Northern river, stream and lake
The flocks of noble canvas-back,
Their migratory journeys make.
The frosty morning finds them spread
Along the flats of Barnegat,
Where grows the valisneria root,
The duck-grass with its bulbous thread.
But chief where Chesapeake receives
From Susquehannah, brackish tides,
By calm Potomac and the James,
Feeding at will from morn till eve,
Mid those aquatic pastures green,
The ribbon'd grass and bulbous root
Where slant the yellow sedges lean.
By myriads there the wild fowl come
To taste the rich, delicious fare
The red head and the canvas-back
The widgeon with its plumage rare,
The ruddy-duck, the buffer-head,
The broad-bill and Canadian goose,
Loving o'er placid shoal or cove
Their winnowing pinions to unloose.
Through all day, dispersed around
They swim and circle o'er the bay,
And at the eve, in gather'd flocks
To mouth of creeks they take their way,
Where some a wakeful vigil keep,
Others at anchor float asleep.
And when winter keen sets in,
And frozen is the river's face
To its salt confluence with the bay
The flocks seek out their feeding place.
And where across the ice, a pool
Of open water they discern,
The hungry flocks their flight suspend
And toward the friendly pasture turn;
And tyere the lurking fowler waits,
(Amid the ice-blocks hid from sight)
With heavy gun and deadly aim,
To thin the numbers that alight.
Isaac McLellan. November 20, 1873. Forest and Stream 1(15). On the front page.
For Forest and Stream.

The Whippoorwill.

The white fog drifts along the meadow,
And the gleam
Of the Western sky is fading
From the ripples that were crimson
On the stream.
The thousand tiny voices of the hylas
Fill the air,
And the music of the woodthrush,
Floating softly down the mountain,
Seems a prayer.
When twilight shadows gather 'neath the cedars
On the hill—
Where the robin lately warbled,
And the sparrow sang his vesper,
All is still.
But the whippoorwill complaining in the valley
Far below,
With its voice so wild and restless
Wakens memories forgotten
Long ago.
Till the thoughts of former joys and former sorrows
Come again,
And they fall upon the spirit
With the gentle measured cadence
Of the rain.
P. C. B. September 3, 1874. Forest and Stream 3(4): 49.
For Forest and Stream and Rod and Gun.

Western Wild Fowl Shooting.

By J.S. Van Dyke.
Many the scenes that deeply, keenly thrill
The sportsman's bosom, as o'er dale and hill
With throbbing heart and tingling nerve he bounds
With pointer, setter, or the ringing hounds.
But few more grand and wild emotions raise
Than one that oft is seen in autumn days,
When first the surly blasts begin to howl,
And heaven's smile to change into a scowl.
When droops the wild rice its once stately head,
And rush and reed and flag are sere and dead;
When withered leaves ride swift on whistling gales,
The wild fowl for their journey spread their sails,
But pause awhile around some favorite place
Ere starting on their long and weary race.
At such a time and spot our stand we take,
Close by the borders of some rice-fringed lake.
Wondrous and grand the scene that now unfolds,
And the astonished eye enchanted holds!
From every quarter of the great blue dome,
In countless throngs the wild fowls swiftly come,
Circling, rushing, darting, wheeling, dashing,
Towering, settling, in the water splashing.
High in the air, with stately, solemn wings,
Slow sail the geese in long converging strings.
Still higher up, with proud, majestic pace,
The sand-hill cranes float by in easy grace,
While far above in dignified array,
The swans are drifting on their southward way.
From every side what varied sounds we hear,
That make true music to the sportsman's ear:
The mellow "honk," the "scape" of saucy snipe,
The widgeon's whistle and the loon's clear pipe;
The "clank-a-lank" that from the brant doth ring,
The rushing bustle of the broadbill's wing,
The mallard's "quack," the frightened wood duck's squeal,
The sandhill's trumpet that o'er all doth peal!
As fall the night, they faster, nearer come;
The air resoundeth with their steady hum,
But we've not come to idly stand and gaze,
And fast and sure spouts forth the deadly blaze.
With rapid buzz the broadbill by us whirls,
But in a trice his whistling pinion furls.
In vain the blue wing plies his whizzing wings,
The deathful hail across his pathway sings;
The lovely wood duck, with his plumage bright,
Whirls struggling down into the shades of night.
The watchful goose, that cautious threads the air,
Droops neck and wings, as if in silent prayer,
And downward plunges with impetuous crash.
In vain the mallard, with his wary eye
Doth seek, with vigorous "quack," to climb on high,
Too late his care; Too late his skyward dash!
He downward thunders with a sullen splash.
Waiting with patience till we give the word,
Our faithful dog retrieves each fallen bird.
The trusty creature, having marked its fall,
Bounds through the reeds, however thick or tall;
Although they fall where man could never stand,
This honest servant brings them to our hand.
The lake is cold; its edge fringed with ice;
But still he flounders on through tangled rice,
Heedless of comfort or the wintry blast,
Toils shivering on until he gets the last.
Then to our boat, and down the moonlit stream
We glide to camp, and soon the fire doth beam.
From drift wood piled on high, the cheery blaze
Shoots far and wide, and o'er the river plays;
And soon we gather round the festive board,
Laden with viands that would tempt a lord;
Then round the fire comes the social smoke,
The song, the story, or the spicy joke;
And then to sleep upon our bed of reeds,
While fancy pictures out to-morrow's deeds.
June 21, 1877. Forest and Stream & Rod and Gun 8(20): 317.

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