Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  Burgoyne’s Fleet

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

Middle States: Champlain, the Lake, N. Y.

Burgoyne’s Fleet

By Alfred Billings Street (1811–1881)

(From Poem on the Occasion of the Centennial of the Surrender of Burgoyne)

A DEEP, stern sound! the starting signal-roar!

And up Champlain Burgoyne’s great squadron bore.

In front, his savage ally’s bark canoes

Flashing in all their bravery wild of hues,

Their war-songs sounding and their paddles timed;

Next the bateaux, their rude, square shapes sublimed

With pennon, sword, and bayonet, casting glow

In pencilled pictures on the plain below;

Last, the grand ships, by queenly Mary led,

Where shines Burgoyne in pomp of gold and red;

And then, in line, St. George, Inflexible,

And radeau Thunderer, dancing on the swell

The glad wind made: how stately shone the scene!

June in the forests each side smiling green!

The graceful chestnut’s dark green dome was fraught

With golden tassels; ivory, seeming brought

From winter lingering in the Indian Pass,

Mantled the locust; as in April grass

Rich dandelions burn, the basswood showed

Its bells of yellow; while the dogwood glowed

In a white helmet thickly plumed atop;

The earlier cherry let its sweet pearls drop

With every breeze; the hemlock smiled with edge

Fringed in fresh emerald; even the sword-like sedge,

Sharp mid the snowy lily-goblets set

In the nooked shallows like a spangled net,

Was jewelled with brown bloom. By curving point

Where glittering ripples umber sands anoint

With foamy silver, by deep crescent bays

Sleeping beneath their veil of drowsy haze,

By watery coverts shimmering faint in film,

Broad, rounded knolls one creamy, rosy realm

Of laurel blossom with the kalmia-urns

Dotted with red, the fleet, as sentient, turns

The winding channel; in tall towers of white

The stately ships reflect the golden light

Dazzling the lake; the huge bateaux ply deep

Their laboring, dashing pathway; fronting, keep,

With measured paddle-stabs, the light canoes

Their gliding course; the doe, upstarting, views

And hides her fawn; the panther marks the scene

And bears her cubs within the thicket’s screen;

The wolf lifts sharpened ear and forward foot;

Waddles the bear away with startled hoot

As some sail sends a sudden flash of white

In the cove’s greenery; slow essaying flight,

The loon rears, flapping, its checked, grazing wings,

Till up it struggling flies and downward flings

Its Indian whoop; the bluebird’s sapphire hue

Kindles the shade; the pigeon’s softer blue

Breaks, swarming, out; the robin’s warble swells

In crumply cadence from the skirting dells;

And restless rings the bobolink’s bubbly note

From the clear bell that tinkles in his throat.

Thus stately, cheerily, moves the thronging fleet!

On the lake’s steel the blazing sunbeams beat;

But now a blast comes blustering from a gorge;

The white caps dance; it bends the tall St. George,

And even the Thunderer tosses; the array

Breaks up; canoe, bateau, grope doubtful way

Through the dim air; in spectral white, each sail

Glances and shivers in the whistling gale;

All the green paintings of point, bank, and tree

Vanish in black and white, and all but see

A close horizon where near islands lose

Their shapes, and distant ranks of forest fuse

Into a mass; at length the blast flies off,

Shallows stop rattling, and the hollow cough

Of surges into caves makes gradual cease,

Till on the squadron glides once more in sunny peace.

So on some blue-gold day white clouds upfloat

In shining throng, and next are dashed remote

By a fierce wind, then join in peace again,

And smoothly winnow o’er the heavenly plain;

Or so some fleet of wild fowl on the lake,

Dipping and preening, quiet journey take,

Till the sky drops an eagle circling low

For the straight plunge; wild scattering to and fro,

They seek the shed of bank, the cave of plants,

Tunnel of stream, wherever lurk their haunts,

Until the baffled eagle seeks again

His sky, and safety holds, once more, its reign.


On Lady Mary’s deck Burgoyne would stand

Drinking the sights and sounds at either hand,

Replete with beauty to his poet-heart,

Laughing to scorn man’s paltry works of Art:

The grassy vista with its grazing deer;

The lone loon oaring on its shy career;

The withered pine-tree with its fish-hawk nest;

The eagle-eyrie on some craggy crest;

The rich white lilies that wide shallows told;

Their yellow sisters with their globes of gold

At the stream’s mouth; the ever-changeful lake;

Here a green gleaming, there a shadowy rake

Of scudding air-breath; here a dazzling flash

Searing the eyeball, there a sudden dash

Of purple from some cloud; a streak of white

The wake of some scared duck avoiding sight.

The dogwood, plumed with many a pearly gem,

Was a bright queen with her rich diadem;

An oak with some crooked branch up pointing grand,

A monarch with his sceptre in his hand;

A rounded root a prostrate pine-tree rears

A slumbering giant’s mighty shield appears;

A long-drawn streak of cloud with pendent swell

Of hill, a beam with its suspended bell.

In some gray ledge, high lifted up, he sees

An ancient castle looking from its trees;

Some mountain’s rugged outline shows the trace

Of the odd profile of the human face;

A slender point tipped with its drinking deer

Seems to his soldier eye a prostrate spear;

In the near partridge-pinion’s rolling hum,

He hears, with smiles, the beating of the drum;

And in the thresher’s tones, with music rife,

The stirring flourish of the whistling fife;

And thus his fancy roams, till twilight draws

Around the fading scene its silver gauze.

A golden, lazy summer afternoon!

The air is fragrant with the scents of June,—

Wintergreen, sassafras, and juniper,

Rich birch-breath, pungent mint and spicy fir

And resinous cedar; on Carillon’s walls

The sentry paces where cool shadow falls;

His comrade sits, his musket on his knee,

Watching the speckling gnats convulsively

Stitching the clear dark air that films some nook.

He hears the dashing of the Horicon brook

Loud at the west,—that curved and slender chain

By which the Tassel hangs upon Champlain,—

It chimes within his ear like silver bells,

And the sweet jangling only quiet tells;

In front he sees the long and leafy points

Curving the waters into elbow-joints

Of bays; a crest beyond the old French lines,

Domes the flat woods; east, opposite, inclines

Mount Independence, its sloped summit crowned

With its star-fort, with battery breastplate bound,

The floating bridge between, the massive boom

And chain in front, and in the rearward room

A group of patriot craft; and sweeping thence

The forest landscape’s green magnificence.

Southward the lake a narrowed river bends

With one proud summit where the brook suspends

Horicon’s tassel to King Corlaer’s crown,

Close to Carillon’s dark embattled frown.