b. 1813

Sarah Tittle Barrett Bolton was born in Kentucky, but while she was still an infant, her family traveled to Jennings County, Indiana while the area was still a wilderness. Bolton was educated at a school in Madison, and one of her poems was published in the Madison Banner in 1826, when she was thirteen years old. At the age of sixteen, she wrote, but never published, a novel about the Haitian revolution. Bolton was best known during her lifetime for her inspirational poem "Paddle Your Own Canoe."

Paddle Your Own Canoe

Voyager upon life’s sea,
To yourself be true,
And where’er you may be,
Paddle your own canoe.
Never, though the winds may rave,
Falter or look back.
But upon the darkest wave
Leave a shining track.

Nobly dare the wildest storm
Stem the hardest gale;
Brave of heart and strong of arm,
You will never fail.
When the world is cold and dark,
Keep an aim in view,
And toward the beacon mark
Paddle your own canoe.

Every wave that bears you on
To the silent shore,
From its sunny course has gone
To return no more.
Then let not an hour’s delay
Cheat you of your due;
But, while it is called today,
Paddle your own canoe.

If your birth denied you wealth,
Lofty state and power,
Honest fame and hardy ealth
Are a better dower;
But if these will not suffice,
Golden gain puruse;
And, to win the glittering prize,
Paddle your own canoe.

Would you wrest the wreath of fame
From the hand of fate?
Would you write a deathless name
With the good and great?
Would you bless your fellow-man?
Heart and soul imbue
With the holy task, and then
Paddle your own canoe.

Would you crush the tyrant wrong
In the world’s free fight?
With a spirit brave and strong,
Battle for the right;
And to break the chains that bind
The many to the few,
To enfranchise slavish mind —
Paddle your own canoe.

Nothing great is lightly won,
Nothing won is lost;
Every good deed nobly done
Will repay the cost.
Love to heaven in humble trust
All you will to do;
But if you succeed you must
Paddle your own canoe.


Bolton, Sarah T[ittle Barrett]. The Life and Poems of Sarah T. Bolton. Indianaplis: Fred L. Horton & Co., 1880.

— — —. Paddle Your Own Canoe and Other Poems. ed. John Clark Ridpath. Indianapolis: Bowen-Merrill, 1897.

— — —. Poems. New York: Carleton, 1865.