CANADIAN BALLADS,

AND

OCCASIONAL VERSES.

By Thomas D’Arcy McGee


 

“OUR LADYE OF THE SNOW!”



If, Pilgrim, chance thy steps should lead
Where, emblem of our holy creed,
                  Canadian crosses glow—
There you may hear what here you read,
And seek in witness of the deed

5
                  Our Ladye of the Snow! (10)

                                    I.


In the old times when France held sway
From the Balize to Hudson’s Bay
                  O’er all the forest free,
A noble Breton cavalier

10

Had made his home for many a year
                  Beside the Rivers three. [Page 31]


                                    II.


To tempest and to trouble proof
Rose in the wild his glitt’ring roof
                  To every trav’ler dear;

15

The Breton song, the Breton dance,
The very atmosphere of France,
                  Diffused a generous cheer.


                                    III.


Strange sight that on those fields of snow
The genial vine of Gaul should grow

20

                  Despite the frigid sky!
Strange power of Man’s all-conqu’ring will,
That here the hearty Frank can still
                  A Frenchman live and die!


                                    IV.


The Seigneur’s hair was ashen grey,

25

But his good heart held holiday,
                  As when in youthful pride
He bared his shining blade before
De Tracey’s regiment on the shore
                  Which France has glorified. [Page 32]

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                                    V.


Gay in the field, glad in the hall,
The first at danger’s frontier call,
                  The humblest devotee—
Of God and of St. Catherine dear
Was the stout Breton cavalier

35

                  Beside the Rivers three.


                                    VI.


When bleak December’s chilly blast
Fettered the flowing waters fast,
                  And swept the frozen plain—
When with a frightened cry, half heard,

40

Far southward fled the arctic bird,
                  Proclaiming winter’s reign—


                                    VII.


His custom was, come foul, come fair,
For Christmas duties to repair,
                  Unto the Ville Marie,

45

The city of the mount, which north
Of the great River looketh forth,
                  Across its sylvan sea. [Page 33]


                                    VIII.


Fast fell the snow, and soft as sleep,
The hillocks looked like frozen sheep,

50

                  Like giants grey the hills—
The sailing pine seemed canvas-spread,
With its white burden overhead,
                  And marble hard the rills.


                                    IX.


A thick dull light where ray was none

55

Of moon or star, or cheerful sun,
                  Obscurely showed the way—
While merrily upon the blast
The jingling horse-bells, pattering fast,
                  ’Tim’d the glad roundelay.

60

                                    X.


Swift eve came on, and faster fell
The winnowed storm on ridge and dell,
                  Effacing shape and sign—
Until the scene grew blank at last,
As when some seamen from the mast

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                  Looks o’er th’ shoreless brine. [Page 34]


                                   XI.


Nor marvel aught to find ere long
In such a scene the death of song
                  Upon the bravest lips—
The empty only could be loud

70

When Nature fronts us in her shroud
                  Beneath the sky’s eclipse.


                                   XII.


Nor marvel more to find the steed
Though fam’d for spirit and for speed,
                  Drag on a painful pace—

75

With drooping crest and faltering foot,
And painful whine, the weary brute
                  Seems conscious of disgrace.


                                   XIII.


Until he paused with mortal fear,
Then plaintive sank upon the mere

80

                  Stiff as a steed of stone—
In vain the master winds his horn,
None save the howling wolves forlorn
                  Attend the dying roan. [Page 35]


                                   XIV.


Sad was the heart and sore the plight

85

Of the benumb’d, bewildered knight
                  Now scrambling thro’ the storm.
At every step he sank apace—
The death dew freezing on his face—
                  In vain each loud alarm!

90

                                   XV.


The torpid echoes of the Rock
Answered with one unearthly mock
                  Of danger round about!
Then muffled in their snowy robes,
Retiring sought their bleak abodes,

95

                  And gave no second shout.


                                   XVI.


Down on his knees himself he cast,
Deeming that hour to be his last,
                  Yet mindful of his faith—
He prayed St. Catherine and St. John

100

And our dear Ladye called upon
                  For grace of happy death. [Page 36]


                                   XVII.


When lo! a light beneath the trees,
Which clank their brilliants in the breeze,
                  And lo! a phantom fair,

105

As God’s in heaven! by that blest light,
Our Lady’s self rose to his sight,
                  In robes that spirits wear!


                                   XVIII.


Oh! lovelier, lovelier far than pen,
Or tongue, or art, or fancy’s ken

110

                  Can picture, was her face—
Gone was the sorrow of the sword,
And the last passion of our Lord
                  Had left no living trace!


                                   XIX.


As when the moon across the moor

115

Points the lost peasant to his door,
                  And glistens on his pane—
Or when along her trail of light
Belated boatmen steer at night,
                  A harbor to regain— [Page 37]

120

                                   XX.


So the warm radiance from her hands
Unbind for him Death’s icy bands,
                  And nerve the sinking heart—
Her presences make a perfect path.
Ah! he who such a helper hath

125

                  May anywhere depart.


                                   XXI.


All trembling, as she onward smil’d,
Followed that Knight our mother mild,
                  Vowing a grateful vow—
Until far down the mountain gorge,

130

She led him to the antique forge,
                  Where her own shrine stands now.


                                   XXII.
 


If, Pilgrim, chance thy steps should lead
Where, emblem of our holy creed,
                  Canadian crosses glow—

135

There you may hear what here you read,
And seek in witness of the deed,
                  Our Ladye of the Snow! [Page 38]