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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Ballad of the French Fleet

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)

[From Poetical Works. 1887.]

October, 1746
Mr. Thomas Prince loquitur.

A FLEET with flags arrayed

Sailed from the port of Brest,

And the Admiral’s ship displayed

The signal: “Steer southwest.”

For this Admiral D’Anville

Had sworn by cross and crown

To ravage with fire and steel

Our helpless Boston Town.

There were rumors in the street,

In the houses there was fear

Of the coming of the fleet,

And the danger hovering near.

And while from mouth to mouth

Spread the tidings of dismay,

I stood in the Old South,

Saying humbly: “Let us pray!

“O Lord! we would not advise;

But if in thy Providence

A tempest should arise

To drive the French Fleet hence,

And scatter it far and wide,

Or sink it in the sea,

We should be satisfied,

And thine the glory be.”

This was the prayer I made,

For my soul was all on flame,

And even as I prayed

The answering tempest came;

It came with a mighty power,

Shaking the windows and walls,

And tolling the bell in the tower,

As it tolls at funerals.

The lightning suddenly

Unsheathed its flaming sword,

And I cried: “Stand still, and see

The salvation of the Lord!”

The heavens were black with cloud,

The sea was white with hail,

And evermore fierce and loud

Blew the October gale.

The fleet it overtook,

And the broad sails in the van

Like the tents of Cushan shook,

Or the curtains of Midian.

Down on the reeling decks

Crashed the o’erwhelming seas;

Ah, never were there wrecks

So pitiful as these!

Like a potter’s vessel broke

The great ships of the line;

They were carried away as a smoke,

Or sank like lead in the brine.

O Lord! before thy path

They vanished and ceased to be,

When thou didst walk in wrath

With thine horses through the sea!