Fiction

Battle Ready

JACK MITCHELL

From The Plains of Abraham, an epic poem performed across Canada in 2000 and 2005 as part of the Rhapsodic Tour sponsored by the Dominion Institute. In this excerpt, Wolfe and Montcalm prepare for battle.

                              WOLFE

First he put on his woollen trousers • after that his linen shirt

And then he found his leather boots • and pulled the silver buckles tight

He clothed himself in red • within that tent • and donned his tricorn cap; 

He seized his sword from off its peg • and slipped it to its golden sheath 

The sword by which he’d made his vow • to seize impregnable Quebec 

And last he took the cane of oak • he once had borne at Louisbourg;

And yet he did not speak: • on each in turn • he rested his green eyes 

And terror filled those brigadiers • who did not dare to meet that gaze; 

For in his pallid face • beneath his brows • there gleamed a ghastly light.

As when the sun runs south • in winter months • and yet the snow is slow 

And clouds let fall a rain of ice • which thickens on the naked wood

And one by one the branches drop • and some are smashed and 

    some are snapped 

And from the broken limbs • across the plain • there gleams a ghastly light

And men and women both lament • the ruin of the long-lived wood 

Just so the English brigadiers • lamented for the red-haired Wolfe 

As he alone went forth • with silent step • unto the army’s camp.

                              MONTCALM

So now when all had found their places • by the town of bright Beauport 

Indeed the Marquis of Montcalm • now brought them to the field of war. 

As when, towards the west • where in the hills • the wild roses blow

A warm wind from the rocky heights • descends to melt the crackling ice 

A winter wind, and yet to many • welcome as the breath of spring

And girls untie their braided hair • and on the grass the brothers box 

Just so the regiments of France • descended from the Beauport shore 

Behind the Marquis of Montcalm • the captain of the King of France; 

And in their midst the singers then • began to chant a cheerful song 

And they themselves had made the song • to glorify their generals

The dark-haired Marquis of Montcalm • and Bourlamaque, and good Lévis 

And so they gladly sang • upon that day • before the citadel

Of how the padre gave a speech • and cleansing absolution preached:

His children could advance with pride • with Lord and Virgin on their side; 

How all were heroes on that day • or if there was a man to say

The general had a tragic flaw • they’d break the dirty rascal’s jaw: 

Just so they gladly sang • upon that day • before the citadel;

And so the Marquis of Montcalm • now brought them to the field of war

His handsome face was glad • for in his heart • he knew the hour had come 

When destiny would be decided • ’neath impregnable Quebec

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JACK MITCHELL

Jack Mitchell, a Toronto writer, has published two historical novels for young adults. His website is jackmitchell.ca.


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