chapter  2
17 Pages

“A Canadian Boat Song”

Origins and Impact in English Canada
WithD.M.R. Bentley

Of all the pieces that Moore wrote in and about North America in Epistles, Odes and Other Poems (1806) and later gathered together as “Poems Relating to America” in the second volume of his Poetical Works (1840), none has had a greater impact on Canadian writing than “A Canadian Boat Song. Written on the River St. Lawrence”, one of six poetic products of his visit to Upper Canada (Ontario), Lower Canada (Quebec), and Nova Scotia in the summer and autumn of 1804. First published in London with accompanying music by Moore himself, “A Canadian Boat Song” has been recognised as having exerted a significant influence on nineteenth-century French-Canadian poetry. Less appreciated, and no less significant, are the origins of “A Canadian Boat Song” in previous responses to the songs of the voyageurs by Isaac Weld and others, and its long-lived and multi-faceted presence in English Canada as, by turns, a literary site piece, a source of Irish-Canadian pride, a contributor to the rhetoric of Canadian nationalism, and a component of tourist guides and travelogues. This chapter focusses on the variety of cultural tasks performed by “A Canadian Boat Song” as an index of the adaptability to Moore’s work to different purposes, circumstances, and historical moments in the course of the nineteenth century.