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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Switzerland and Austria: Vol. XVI. 1876–79.

Switzerland: Sempach

The Battle of Sempach

By Halb Suter

Translated by Sir Walter Scott

’T WAS when among our linden-trees

The bees had housed in swarms

(And gray-haired peasants say that these

Betoken foreign arms),

Then looked we down to Willisow,

The land was all in flame;

We knew the Archduke Leopold

With all his army came.

The Austrian nobles made their vow,

So hot their heart and bold,

“On Switzer carles we ’ll trample now,

And slay both young and old.”

With clarion loud, and banner proud,

From Zurich on the lake,

In martial pomp and fair array,

Their onward march they make.

“Now list, ye lowland nobles all,—

Ye seek the mountain strand,

Nor wot ye what shall be your lot

In such a dangerous land.

“I rede ye, shrive ye of your sins,

Before ye farther go;

A skirmish in Helvetian hills

May send your souls to woe.”

“But where now shall we find a priest

Our shrift that he may hear?”

“The Switzer priest has ta’en the field,

He deals a penance drear.

“Right heavily upon your head

He ’ll lay his hand of steel;

And with his trusty partisan

Your absolution deal.”

’T was on a Monday morning then,

The corn was steeped in dew,

And merry maids had sickles ta’en,

When the host to Sempach drew.

The stalwart men of fair Lucerne

Together have they joined;

The pith and core of manhood stern,

Was none cast looks behind.

It was the Lord of Hare-castle,

And to the Duke he said,

“Yon little band of brethren true

Will meet us undismayed.”

“O Hare-castle, thou heart of hare!”

Fierce Oxenstern replied.

“Shalt see then how the game will fare,”

The taunted knight replied.

There was lacing then of helmets bright,

And closing ranks amain;

The peaks they hewed from their boot-points

Might wellnigh load a wain.

And thus they to each other said:

“Yon handful down to hew

Will be no boastful tale to tell,

The peasants are so few.”

The gallant Swiss Confederates there

They prayed to God aloud,

And he displayed his rainbow fair

Against a swarthy cloud.

Then heart and pulse throbbed more and more

With courage firm and high,

And down the good Confederates bore

On the Austrian chivalry.

The Austrian lion ’gan to growl,

And toss his mane and tail;

And ball, and shaft, and crossbow bolt

Went whistling forth like hail.

Lance, pike, and halbert mingled there,

The game was nothing sweet;

The boughs of many a stately tree

Lay shivered at their feet.

The Austrian men-at-arms stood fast,

So close their spears they laid;

It chafed the gallant Winkelried,

Who to his comrades said:

“I have a virtuous wife at home,

A wife and infant son;

I leave them to my country’s care,—

This field shall soon be won.

“These nobles lay their spears right thick,

And keep full firm array,

Yet shall my charge their order break,

And make my brethren way.”

He rushed against the Austrian band,

In desperate career,

And, with his body, breast, and hand,

Bore down each hostile spear.

Four lances splintered on his crest,

Six shivered in his side;

Still on the serried files he pressed,—

He broke their ranks, and died.

This patriot’s self-devoted deed

First tamed the lion’s mood,

And the four forest cantons freed

From thraldom by his blood.

Right where his charge had made a lane,

His valiant comrades burst,

With sword, and axe, and partisan,

And hack, and stab, and thrust.

The daunted lion ’gan to whine,

And granted ground amain,

The Mountain Bull he bent his brows,

And gored his sides again.

Then lost was banner, spear, and shield,

At Sempach in the flight,

The cloister vaults at Konig’s-field

Hold many an Austrian knight.

It was the Archduke Leopold,

So lordly would he ride,

But he came against the Switzer churls,

And they slew him in his pride.

The heifer said unto the bull:

“And shall I not complain?

There came a foreign nobleman

To milk me on the plain.

“One thrust of thine outrageous horn

Has galled the knight so sore,

That to the churchyard he is borne,

To range our glens no more.”

An Austrian noble left the stour,

And fast the flight ’gan take;

And he arrived in luckless hour

At Sempach on the lake.

He and his squire a fisher called

(His name was Hans von Rot),

“For love, or meed, or charity,

Receive us in thy boat!”

Their anxious call the fisher heard,

And, glad the meed to win,

His shallop to the shore he steered,

And took the flyers in.

And while against the tide and wind

Hans stoutly rowed his way,

The noble to his follower signed

He should the boatman slay.

The fisher’s back was to them turned,

The squire his dagger drew,

Hans saw his shadow in the lake,

The boat he overthrew.

He ’whelmed the boat, and as they strove,

He stunned them with his oar,

“Now, drink ye deep, my gentle sirs,

Yon ’ll ne’er stab boatman more.

“Two gilded fishes in the lake

This morning have I caught,

Their silver scales may much avail,

Their carrion flesh is naught.”

It was a messenger of woe

Has sought the Austrian land:

“Ah! gracious lady, evil news!

My lord lies on the strand.

“At Sempach, on the battle-field,

His bloody corpse lies there.”

“Ah, gracious God!” the lady cried,

“What tidings of despair!”

Now would you know the minstrel wight

Who sings of strife so stern,

Albert the Souter is he hight,

A burgher of Lucerne.

A merry man was he, I wot,

The night he made the lay,

Returning from the bloody spot,

Where God had judged the day.