In previous posts we’ve looked at Lincoln as a sailor, a wrestler, an inventor, and a strongman. In this post we’ll look at another aspect of his personality—poet. Anyone who ever spent much time putting words together has tried their hand at poetry, and Lincoln was no exception. In 1846 he wrote a poem which he titled “Bear Hunt.” The poem would never have been considered great literature, but by my lights it was pretty good. Unlike a lot of stuff that gets passed off as poetry, “Bear Hunt” rhymed and had a relatively consistent meter. The poem’s rhyme scheme and meter is helped if you mispronounce some of the words, but who knows, perhaps that was the way they pronounced those words in antebellum Illinois.
Lincoln’s spelling of many words is nonstandard, but I think we can overlook that shortcoming. He was self-educated and spell check wouldn’t be available for another century and a half. Only one word should cause any real problems with interpretation—“fice.” The word has gone out of common usage since Lincoln wrote, but any of Lincoln’s contemporaries would have recognized a “fice” as a feisty mongrel dog.
People who come from a rural background and who have done some hunting with dogs will be best able to appreciate the poem. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Perhaps you will too.
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[e] 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;
Th[r]ough 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 not a few
Of pompous, two-legged dogs there be,
Conceited quite as you.