At the Long Sault: May, 1660

Original Text: 
At the Long Sault and Other New Poems, ed. Duncan Campbell Scott and Edward Killoran Brown (Toronto: Ryerson, 1943): 1-4, as reprinted in The Poems of Archibald Lampman (including At the Long Sault), intro. by Margaret Coulby Whitridge (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974).
2    In the working earth,
3And the wonderful moon shines bright
4    Through the soft spring night,
5The innocent flowers in the limitless woods are springing
6    Far and away
7    With the sound and the perfume of May,
8And ever up from the south the happy birds are winging,
9    The waters glitter and leap and play
10    While the grey hawk soars.
11But far in an open glade of the forest set
12    Where the rapid plunges and roars,
13Is a ruined fort with a name that men forget,--
14    A shelterless pen
15    With its broken palisade,
16    Behind it, musket in hand,
17    Beyond message or aid
18    In this savage heart of the wild,
19    Mere youngsters, grown in a moment to men,
20    Grim and alert and arrayed,
21    The comrades of Daulac stand.
22    Ever before them, night and day,
23    The rush and skulk and cry
24    Of foes, not men but devils, panting for prey;
25Behind them the sleepless dream
26Of the little frail-walled town, far away by the plunging stream,
27    Of maiden and matron and child,
28With ruin and murder impending, and none but they
29To beat back the gathering horror
30Deal death while they may,
31    And then die.
32Day and night they have watched while the little plain
33Grew dark with the rush of the foe, but their host
34Broke ever and melted away, with no boast
35But to number their slain;
36And now as the days renew
37Hunger and thirst and care
38Were they never so stout, so true,
39Press at their hearts; but none
40Falters or shrinks or utters a coward word,
41Though each setting sun
42Brings from the pitiless wild new hands to the Iroquois horde,
43And only to them despair.
44Silent, white-faced, again and again
45Charged and hemmed round by furious hands,
46Each for a moment faces them all and stands
47In his little desperate ring; like a tired bull moose
48Whom scores of sleepless wolves, a ravening pack,
49Have chased all night, all day
50Through the snow-laden woods, like famine let loose;
51And he turns at last in his track
52Against a wall of rock and stands at bay;
53Round him with terrible sinews and teeth of steel
54They charge and recharge; but with many a furious plunge and wheel,
55Hither and thither over the trampled snow,
56He tosses them bleeding and torn;
57Till, driven, and ever to and fro
58Harried, wounded, and weary grown,
59His mighty strength gives way
60And all together they fasten upon him and drag him down.
61So Daulac turned him anew
62With a ringing cry to his men
63In the little raging forest glen,
64And his terrible sword in the twilight whistled and slew.
65And all his comrades stood
66With their backs to the pales, and fought
67Till their strength was done;
68The thews that were only mortal flagged and broke
69Each struck his last wild stroke,
70And they fell one by one,
71And the world that had seemed so good
72Passed like a dream and was naught.
73And then the great night came
74With the triumph-songs of the foe and the flame
75Of the camp-fires.
76Out of the dark the soft wind woke,
77The song of the rapid rose alway
78And came to the spot where the comrades lay,
79Beyond help or care,
80With none but the red men round them
81To gnash their teeth and stare.
82All night by the foot of the mountain
83    The little town lieth at rest,
84The sentries are peacefully pacing;
85    And neither from East nor from West
86Is there rumour of death or of danger;
87    None dreameth tonight in his bed
88That ruin was near and the heroes
89    That met it and stemmed it are dead.
90But afar in the ring of the forest,
91    Where the air is so tender with May
92And the waters are wild in the moonlight,
93    They lie in their silence of clay.
94The numberless stars out of heaven
95    Look down with a pitiful glance;
96And the lilies asleep in the forest
97    Are closed like the lilies of France.

Notes

1] Westward out of Montreal in May 1660, Adam Dollard des Ormeaux ("Daulac") led seventeen Frenchmen and 44 Hurons and Algonquins against Iroquois bands but,as luck would have, encountered a much larger Iroquois force, in the hundreds. After ill-advisedly shooting at the Iroquois, the French took refuge in a "ruined fort" near the Long Sault rapids on the Ottawa River. Abandoned by their native allies, the French held out for a week under siege, but the Iroquois then overran the palisade and killed the Frenchmen remaining alive, after torturing and cannibalizing them. The town Lampman alludes to may be Ville-Marie. He adopts the traditional view of 19th-century Roman Catholic historians, that the French laid down their lives for the communities of New France. See André Vachon's article on "Dollard des Ormeaux" in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, I (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1966): 274-83. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1943
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1997.