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James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

October 15

A Ballad of the French Fleet

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)

  • During the war between England and France a fleet was sent by the latter country against the American colonies. After many vicissitudes in the way of sickness and bad weather the fleet was finally dispersed by a storm on Oct. 15, 1746, and returned to France without having done any damage.

  • Mr. Thomas Prince, loquitur
    A FLEET with flags arrayed

    Sailed from the port of Brest,

    And the Admiral’s ship displayed

    The signal: “Steer southwest.”

    For this Admiral D’Anville

    Had sworn by cross and crown

    To ravage with fire and steel

    Our helpless Boston Town.

    There were rumors in the street,

    In the houses there was fear

    Of the coming of the fleet,

    And the danger hovering near.

    And while from mouth to mouth

    Spread the tidings of dismay,

    I stood in the Old South,

    Saying humbly: “Let us pray!

    “O Lord! we would not advise;

    But if in thy Providence

    A tempest should arise

    To drive the French Fleet hence,

    And scatter it far and wide,

    Or sink it in the sea,

    We should be satisfied,

    And thine the glory be.”

    This was the prayer I made,

    For my soul was all on flame,

    And even as I prayed

    The answering tempest came;

    It came with a mighty power,

    Shaking the windows and walls,

    And tolling the bell in the tower,

    As it tolls at funerals.

    The lightning suddenly

    Unsheathed its flaming sword,

    And I cried: “Stand still, and see

    The salvation of the Lord!”

    The heavens were black with cloud,

    The sea was white with hail,

    And ever more fierce and loud

    Blew the October gale.

    The fleet it overtook,

    And the broad sails in the van

    Like the tents of Cushan shook,

    Or the curtains of Midian.

    Down on the reeling decks

    Crashed the o’erwhelming seas;

    Ah, never were there wrecks

    So pitiful as these!

    Like a potter’s vessel broke

    The great ships of the line;

    They were carried away as a smoke,

    Or sank like lead in the brine.

    O Lord! before thy path

    They vanished and ceased to be,

    When thou didst walk in wrath

    With thine horses through the sea!