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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Americas: Vol. XXX. 1876–79.

British America: Halifax, the Harbor, N. S.

D’Anville’s Fleet

By John Hunter-Duvar (1821–1899)


’T WAS in the month October,

On an Indian summer day,

That a fleet of foreign war-ships

Sailed up Chebucto Bay,—

On the waters of the Basin,

Scarce heaving there they lay.

The ships seemed old and storm-beat,

Their canvas was in strips,

The rust of smoke and ocean spray

Hung on the cannons’ lips,

And in the lull, the fleur-de-lys

Hung drooping o’er the ships.

There were but seventeen vessels,

As our traditions tell,

Of seventy sail that three months since

Sailed out of gay Rochelle,

Yet skilful were the captains,

And they sailed their vessels well.

But fogs uprose, with never a noon,

For clouds upclomb the heights,

And then would fall, as dark as pall,

The long Atlantic nights,

Save for the north-wind’s harbinger,

The bright auroral lights.

Whereby from out the nor’west cloud

Would storm come on to blow,

And in the wrack tall mast would crack,

Till, shattered aloft and low,

The gallant hulls like wearied things

Lay rocking to and fro.

Four enemies had that struggling fleet,—

The tempest and the sea,

The English ships and the pestilence,

They might have withstood the three,

But the angel of death sailed with the ships,

And preyed there silently.


Brave men! but yet stout hearts grew faint,

For whispers dark and vague,

Of spectres such as legends tell

Beleaguered the walls of Prague,

Crept man to man, for men knew then

On board them was the plague!

At even-fire the bells were rung,

To cast to the deep their dead;

At morning gun death’s rites begun,—

The sheet and the weight of lead;

And all day long the dying groan

Told another vacant bed.

The gunner who fired the sunrise gun,

With a comrade by his side,

Ere eight bells tolled the hour of noon,

Was drifting out on the tide;

And his comrade ere the day was done

Was ta’en with the plague and died.

And so from wearisome day to day

The pestilence walked the decks,

Till hands were so few that scarce a crew

Could man those floating specks,

And at length, when they lay in Chebucto Bay,

They were little but death and wrecks.

Of seventy sail of armèd ships

That were fitted out in June,

But seventeen sail made up the tale,—

With their Admiral sick,—that noon;

And there, the shattered hulks, they lay

In form of a half-moon.

Arrived at last, men glances cast

At the coast of rock and tree,

While thoughts of home came winging fast

From over the sorrowful sea,

And the little sailor-boy up on the mast,

Up on the mast sang he:

“My cousin spinning at her wheel,

My sister Nanette’s tread,

As watches she so kind and leal

By my sick mother’s bed,—

Ah! do they in their evening prayer

Pray God and Mary for me?

Oh, never again! Oh, never again!

My home in Picardie!”

Kneeling, the Admiral sadly prayed,

And sadly himself he crossed:

“My soul to God and my sword to the King,

And tell him that all is lost.

Oh, weary my life! Oh, weary my death!

Oh, weary and tempest-tost!”

Next morn the Admiral’s barge of state

Was rowed adown the Bay,

And in it, wrapped in the flag of France,

The Admiral D’Anville lay,

And sad the boom of his funeral guns

Made the heart of the fleet that day.

Then cried the Seigneur d’Estournelle:

“Shall I command this host?

Shall I go back to gallant France

And say that all is lost?

No! weary my life! Oh, weary my death,

Oh, weary and tempest-tost!”

Again the Admiral’s barge of state

Was rowed adown the Bay,

And in it, wrapped in the flag of France,

Sieur d’Estournelle he lay,

And sad the sound of his funeral guns

Made the heart of the fleet that day.

Then spoke the crews among themselves:

“Is this without remede?

Ho! Scotsman, Sieur de Ramsay,

St. André be thy speed!

Now that the Admiral’s dead and gone,

You help us in our need!”

Up spake the Sieur de Ramsay:

“Make ready to advance!”

This is the hand of God, my men,

And not the work of chance;

And by God’s help and St. Denis,

I ’ll take this fleet to France!

“Ho! mates, there! beat to quarters,—

Tell off each man and gun,—

Fire wrecks! the rest make sailing-trim

Ere rising of the sun,—

Who is there fears to follow me?

Who? Men of France? Not one!”

All night the forges’ sparkles flew,

All night rang hammers’ clank,

All night the boat and swift canoe

Plied to and from the bank,—

When morning broke the shattered fleet

Was rearranged in rank.

With swelling hearts, yet steady front,

They turned them to the west;

The pine grove lay in its shadows gray

Above their comrades’ rest.

And the wrecks, a fleet of fire they lay

Reddening the water’s breast.

Last look all took of the burning ships

Lit up in fitful glow,

The tongues of flame they whistled and moaned

As the breeze came on to blow,

And the sigh of the trees o’er the buried dead

Sang requiem soft and low.


God sain thy soul, O Duc d’Anville!

D’Estournelle, Christ thee save!

May clement Heaven benignant be

To all ye Frenchmen brave,

Though naught now shows your resting-place,

No cairn to mark your grave,—

Naught save, in hollow of a hill,

A bed of lichened stones,

With scattered tufts of herbage sown,

And flecked with pine-tree cones

From stunted trees, whose prying roots

Grope among dead men’s bones.

Yet, sometimes, some stray thinkers

Take boat, and downwards glance

Where, blue as Mediterranean,

“The Basin’s” waters dance,

And see the ribs of d’Anville’s fleet,

The Armada of fair France.