Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
France: Vols. IX–X. 1876–79.



By Frédéric Mistral (1830–1914)

(From Mirèio)
Translated by Harriet W. Preston

OUR captain was Bailly Suffren;

We had sailed from Toulon,

Five hundred seafaring Provençaux,

Stout-hearted and strong:

’T was the sweet hope of meeting the English that made our hearts burn,

And till we had thrashed them we vowed we would never return.

But all the first month of our cruise

We saw never a thing

From the shrouds, save hundreds and hundreds

Of gulls on the wing;

And in the next dolorous month we ’d a tempest to fight,

And had to be bailing out water by day and by night.

By the third, we were driven to madness

At meeting no foe

For our thundering cannon to sweep

From the ocean. When lo!

“Hands aloft!” Captain cried. At the maintop one heard the command,

And the long Arab coast on the lee-bow intently he scanned.

Till, “God’s thunder!” he cried. “Three big vessels

Bear down on us strong;

Run the guns to the ports! Blaze away!”

Shouted Bailly Suffren.

“Sharp, lads! Of our Antibes figs we will give them a taste,

And see how they like those,” Captain said, “ere we offer the rest!”

A crash fit to deafen! Before

The words left his lips

We had sent forty balls through the hulls

Of the Englishers’ ships!

One was done for already. And now the guns only heard we,

The cracking of wood and perpetual groan of the sea.

And now we were closing. O, rapture!

We lay alongside,

And our gallant commander stood cool

On the deck, and he cried,

“Well done, my brave boys! But enough! Cease your firing, I say,

For the time has come now to anoint them with oil of Aix.”

Then we sprang to our dirks and our hatchets,

As they had been toys;

And, grapnel in hand, the Provençal

Cried, “Board ’em, my boys!”

A shout and a leap, and we stood on the Englishers’ deck;

And then, ah, ’t was then we were ready our vengeance to wreak!

Then, O, the great slaughter! The crash

Of the mainmast ensuing!

And the blows and the turmoil of men

Fighting on mid the ruin!

More than one wild Provençal I saw seize a foe in his place,

And hug till he strained his own life out in deadly embrace.

So with blood-dabbled feet fought we on

Four hours, until dark.

Then, our eyes being cleared of the powder,

We missed from our bark

Fivescore men. But the king of the English lost ships of renown:

Three good vessels with all hands on board to the bottom went down.

And now, our sides riddled with shot,

Once more homeward hie we,

Yards splintered, masts shivered, sails tattered;

But brave Captain Bailly

Spake us words of good cheer. “My comrades, ye have done well!

To the great king of Paris the tale of your valor I ’ll tell!”

“Well said, Captain dear!” we replied:

“Sure the king will hear you

When you speak. But for us, his poor mariners,

What will he do,—

Who left our all gladly, our homes and our firesides,” we said,

“For his sake, and lo! now in those homes there is crying for bread?

“Ah, Admiral, never forget

When all bow before you,

With a love like the love of your seamen

None will adore you!

Why, say but the word, and, ere homeward our footsteps we turn,

Aloft on the tips of our fingers a king you are borne!”

A Martigau, mending his nets

One eve, made this ditty.

Our admiral bade us farewell,

And sought the great city.

Were they wroth with his glory up there at the court? Who can say?

But we saw our beloved commander no more from that day!