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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Our History
By Louis Honoré Fréchette (1839–1908)
 
Fragments from ‘La Légende d’un Peuple’: Translation of Maurice Francis Egan

O HISTORY of my country,—set with pearls unknown,—
With love I kiss thy pages venerated.
 
O register immortal, poem of dazzling light
Written by France in purest of her blood!
Drama ever acting, records full of pictures        5
Of high facts heroic, stories of romance,
Annals of the giants, archives where we follow,
As each leaf we turn, a life resplendent,
And find a name respected or a name beloved,
Of men and women of the antique time!        10
 
Where the hero of the past and the hero of the future
Give the hand of friendship and the kiss of love;
Where the crucifix and sword, the plowshare and the volume,—
Everything that builds and everything that saves,—
Shine, united, living glories of past time        15
And of time that is to be.
 
The glories of past time, serene and pure before you,
O virtues of our day!
Hail first to thee, O Cartier, brave and hardy sailor,
Whose footstep sounded on the unexplored shores        20
Of our immense St. Lawrence. Hail, Champlain,
Maisonneuve, illustrious founders of two cities,
Who show above our waves their rival beauties.
There was at first only a group of Bretons
Brandishing the sword-blade and the woodman’s axe,        25
Sea-wolves bronzed by sea-winds at the port of St. Malo;
Cradled since their childhood beneath the sky and water,
Men of iron and high of heart and stature,
They, under eye of God, set sail for what might come.
Seeking, in the secrets of the foggy ocean,        30
Not the famous El Dorados, but a soil where they might plant,
As symbols of their saving, beside the cross of Christ,
The flag of France.
 
After them came blond-haired Normans
And black-eyed Pontevins, robust colonists,        35
To make the path a road, and for this holy work
To offer their strong arms: the motive was the same;
The dangers that they fronted brought out prodigies of courage.
They seemed to know no dangers; or rather,
They seemed to seek the ruin that they did not meet.        40
Frightful perils vainly rose before them,
And each element against them vainly had conspired:
These children of the furrow founded an empire!
 
Then, conquering the waves of great and stormy lakes,
Crossing savannahs with marshes of mud,        45
Piercing the depths of the forests primeval,
Here see our founders and preachers of Faith!
Apostles of France, princes of our God,
Having said farewell to the noise of the world,
They came to the bounds of the New World immense        50
To sow the seed of the future,
And to bear, as the heralds of eternal law,
To the end of the world the torch of progress.
 
Leaning on his bow, ferociously calm,
The child of the forest, bitter at heart,        55
A hunted look mingling with his piercing glance,
Sees the strangers pass,—encamped on the plain or ambushed in the woods,—
And thinks of the giant spirits he has seen in his dreams.
For the first time he trembles and fears—
Then casting off his deceitful calm,        60
He will rush forth, uttering his war-cry,
To defend, foot by foot, his soil so lately virgin,
And ferocious, tomahawk in hand, bar this road to civilization!
*        *        *        *        *
A cowardly king, tool of a more cowardly court,
Satyr of the Parc aux cerfs, slave at the Trianon,        65
Plunged in the horrors of nameless debauches,
At the caprice of Pompadour dancing like an atom,—
The blood of his soldiers and the honor of his kingdom,
Of our dying heroes hearing he no voice.
Montcalm, alas! conquered for the first time,        70
Falling on the field of battle, wrapped in his banner.
Lévis, last fighter of the last fight,
Tears—avenging France and her pride!—
A supreme triumph from fate.
*        *        *        *        *
That was all. In front of our tottering towers        75
The stranger planted his insolent colors,
And an old flag, wet with bitter tears,
Closed its white wings and went across the sea!
 
 
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