In the seaport of St. Malo ’twas a smiling morn in May,
When the Commodore Jacques Cartier to the westward sailed away;
In the crowded old cathedral all the town were on their knees
For the safe return of kinsmen from the undiscovered seas:
And every autumn blast that swept o’er pinnacle and pier,
Filled manly hearts with sorrow, and gentle hearts with fear.
A year passed o’er St. Malo again came round the day
When Commodore Jacques Cartier to the westward sailed away;
But no tidings from the absent had come the way they went,
And tearful were the vigils that many a maiden spent:
And manly hearts were filled with gloom, and gentle hearts with fear,
When no tidings came from Cartier at the closing of the year.
But the earth is as the future, it hath its hidden side;
And the captain of St. Malo was rejoicing in his pride
In the forests of the north. While his townsmen mourned his loss,
He was rearing on Mount Royal, the fleur-de-lis and cross;
And when two months were over, and added to the year,
St. Malo hailed him home again, cheer answering to cheer.
He told them of a region, hard, iron-bound, and cold,
Nor seas of pearl abounded, nor mines of shining gold;
Where the wind from Thule freezes the word upon the lip,
And the ice in spring comes sailing athwart the early ship;
He told them of the frozen scene until they thrilled with fear,
And piled fresh fuel on the hearth to make him better cheer.
But when he changed the strain he told how soon are cast
In early spring the fetters that hold the waters fast;
How the winter causeway broken is drifted out to sea,
And the rills and rivers sing with pride the anthem of the free;
How the magic wand of summer clad the landscape to his eyes,
Like the dry bones of the just when they wake in Paradise.
He told them of the Algonquin braves the hunters of the wild,
Of how the Indian mother in the forest rocks her child;
Of how, poor souls, they fancy in every living thing
A spirit good or evil, that claims their worshipping;
Of how they brought their sick and maimed for him to breathe upon,
And of the wonders wrought for them through the Gospel of St. John.
He told them of the river whose mighty current gave
Its freshness for a hundred leagues to Ocean’s briny wave;
He told them of the glorious scene presented to his sight,
What time he reared the cross and crown on Hochelaga’s height;
And of the fortress cliff that keeps of Canada the key,
And they welcomed back Jacques Cartier from his perils o’er the sea.
THOMAS D’ARCY McGEE