At the Long Sault: May, 1660

Under the day-long sun there is life and mirth
  In the working earth,
  And the wonderful moon shines bright
  Through the soft spring night,
  The innocent flowers in the limitless woods are springing
  Far and away
  With the sound and the perfume of May,
  And ever up from the south the happy birds are winging,
  The waters glitter and leap and play
  While the grey hawk soars.

  But far in an open glade of the forest set
  Where the rapid plunges and roars,
  Is a ruined fort with a name that men forget,--
  A shelterless pen
  With its broken palisade,
  Behind it, musket in hand,
  Beyond message or aid
  In this savage heart of the wild,
  Mere youngsters, grown in a moment to men,
  Grim and alert and arrayed,
  The comrades of Daulac stand.
  Ever before them, night and day,
  The rush and skulk and cry
  Of foes, not men but devils, panting for prey;
  Behind them the sleepless dream
  Of the little frail-walled town, far away by the plunging stream,
  Of maiden and matron and child,
  With ruin and murder impending, and none but they
  To beat back the gathering horror
  Deal death while they may,
  And then die.

  Day and night they have watched while the little plain
  Grew dark with the rush of the foe, but their host
  Broke ever and melted away, with no boast
  But to number their slain;
  And now as the days renew
  Hunger and thirst and care
  Were they never so stout, so true,
  Press at their hearts; but none
  Falters or shrinks or utters a coward word,
  Though each setting sun
  Brings from the pitiless wild new hands to the Iroquois horde,
  And only to them despair.

  Silent, white-faced, again and again
  Charged and hemmed round by furious hands,
  Each for a moment faces them all and stands
  In his little desperate ring; like a tired bull moose
  Whom scores of sleepless wolves, a ravening pack,
  Have chased all night, all day
  Through the snow-laden woods, like famine let loose;
  And he turns at last in his track
  Against a wall of rock and stands at bay;
  Round him with terrible sinews and teeth of steel
  They charge and recharge; but with many a furious plunge and wheel,
  Hither and thither over the trampled snow,
  He tosses them bleeding and torn;
  Till, driven, and ever to and fro
  Harried, wounded, and weary grown,
  His mighty strength gives way
  And all together they fasten upon him and drag him down.

  So Daulac turned him anew
  With a ringing cry to his men
  In the little raging forest glen,
  And his terrible sword in the twilight whistled and slew.
  And all his comrades stood
  With their backs to the pales, and fought
  Till their strength was done;
  The thews that were only mortal flagged and broke
  Each struck his last wild stroke,
  And they fell one by one,
  And the world that had seemed so good
  Passed like a dream and was naught.

  And then the great night came
  With the triumph-songs of the foe and the flame
  Of the camp-fires.
  Out of the dark the soft wind woke,
  The song of the rapid rose alway
  And came to the spot where the comrades lay,
  Beyond help or care,
  With none but the red men round them
  To gnash their teeth and stare.

  All night by the foot of the mountain
  The little town lieth at rest,
  The sentries are peacefully pacing;
  And neither from East nor from West

  Is there rumour of death or of danger;
  None dreameth tonight in his bed
  That ruin was near and the heroes
  That met it and stemmed it are dead.

  But afar in the ring of the forest,
  Where the air is so tender with May
  And the waters are wild in the moonlight,
  They lie in their silence of clay.

  The numberless stars out of heaven
  Look down with a pitiful glance;
  And the lilies asleep in the forest
  Are closed like the lilies of France.

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Archibald Lampman

Archibald Lampman, FRSC was a Canadian poet. more…

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"At the Long Sault: May, 1660" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2019. Web. 6 Dec. 2019. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/3616/at-the-long-sault:-may,-1660>.

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