CANADIAN BALLADS,

AND

OCCASIONAL VERSES.

By Thomas D’Arcy McGee


 

THE LAUNCH OF THE GRIFFIN.



I.
 


Within Cayuga’s forest shade
The stocks were set—the keel was laid—
Wet with the nightly forest dew,
The frame of that first vessel grew. (4)
Strange was the sight upon the brim

5
 

Of the swift river, even to him
       The builder of the barque;
To see its artificial lines
Festooned with summer’s sudden vines,
       Another New-World’s ark.

10

II.
 


As rounds to ripeness manhood’s schemes
Out of youth’s fond, disjointed dreams,
So ripened in her kindred wood
That traveller of the untried flood.
And often as the evening sun

15
 

Gleamed on the group, their labor done—
       The Indian prowling out of sight
       Of corded Friar and belted Knight—smiled upon them                   as they smiled,
The builders on the barque—their child! [Page 25]


III.
 


The hour has come: upon the stocks

20
 

The mast’d hull already rocks—
The mallet in the master’s hand
Is pois’d to launch her from the land.
Beside him, partner of his quest
For the great river of the West,

25
 

Stands th’ adventurous Recollect
Whose page records that anxious day. (5)
To him the master would defer
The final act—he will not hear
That any else than him who plann’d,

30
 

Should launch “the Griffin” from the land.
In courteous conflict they contend
The Knight and Priest, as friend with friend—
       In that strange savage scene
The swift blue river glides before,

35
 

And still Niagara’s awful roar
       Booms through the vistas green.

 

IV.
 


And now the mallet falls, stroke—stroke—
On prop of pine and wedge of oak
       The vessel feels her way;

40
 

The quick mechanics leap aside
As, rushing downward to the tide,
       She dashes them with spray. [Page 26]
The ready warp arrests her course,
And holds her for a while perforce,

45
 

While on her deck the merry crew
Man every rope, loose every clew,
       And spread her canvas free.
Away! ’tis done! the Griffin floats,
First of Lake Erie’s winged boats—

50
 

       Her flag the Fleur-de-lis.

 

V.
 


Gun after gun proclaims the hour,
As nature yields to human power;
And now upon the deeper calm
The Indian hears the holy psalm—

55
 

Laudamus to the Lord of Hosts!
Whose name unknown on all their coasts,
The inmost wilderness shall know,
Wafted upon yon wings of snow
That, sinking in the waters blue,

60
 

Seem but some lake-bird lost to view.

 

VI.
 


In old romance and fairy lays
Its wondrous part the Griffin plays—
Grimly it guards the gloomy gate
Sealed by the strong behest of Fate—

65
 

Or, spreading its portentous wings,
Wafts Virgil to the Court of Kings; [Page 27]
And unto scenes as wondrous shall
Thy Griffin bear thee, brave La Salle.
Thy wing’d steed shall stall where grows

70
 

On Michigan the sweet wild rose;
Lost in the mazes of St. Clair,
Shall give thee hope amid despair,
And bear thee past those Isles of dread
The Huron peoples with the dead,

75
 

Where foot of savage never trod
Within the precinct of his god; (6)
And it may be thy lot to trace
The footprints of the unknown race
’Graved on Superior’s iron shore,

80
 

Which knows their very name no more. (7)
Through scenes so vast and wondrous shall
Thy Griffin bear thee, brave La Salle—
True Wizard of the Wild! whose art,
An eye of power, a knightly heart,

85
 

A patient purpose silence-nurst,
A high, enduring, saintly trust—
Are mighty spells—we honor these,
Columbus of the inland seas! [Page 28]