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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 Patriot’s Password

By James Montgomery (1771–1854)

  • On the achievement of Arnold von Winkelried, at the battle of Sempach, in which the Swiss insurgents secured the freedom of their country, against the power of Austria, in the fourteenth century.

  • “MAKE way for liberty!” he cried,

    Made way for liberty, and died.

    In arms the Austrian phalanx stood,

    A living wall, a human wood;

    A wall,—where every conscious stone

    Seemed to its kindred thousands grown,

    A rampart all assaults to bear,

    Till time to dust their frames should wear;

    A wood,—like that enchanted grove

    In which with fiends Rinaldo strove,

    Where every silent tree possessed

    A spirit imprisoned in its breast,

    Which the first stroke of coming strife

    Might startle into hideous life;

    So still, so dense the Austrians stood,

    A living wall, a human wood.

    Impregnable their front appears,

    All-horrent with projected spears,

    Whose polished points before them shine,

    From flank to flank, one brilliant line,

    Bright as the breakers’ splendors run

    Along the billows to the sun.

    Opposed to these, a hovering band

    Contended for their fatherland;

    Peasants, whose new-found strength had broke

    From manly necks the ignoble yoke,

    And beat their fetters into swords,

    On equal terms to fight their lords,

    And what insurgent rage had gained,

    In many a mortal fray maintained.

    Marshalled once more, at freedom’s call

    They came to conquer or to fall,

    Where he who conquered, he who fell,

    Was deemed a dead or living Tell;

    Such virtue had that patriot breathed,

    So to the soil his soul bequeathed,

    That wheresoe’er his arrows flew,

    Heroes in his own likeness grew,

    And warriors sprang from every sod,

    Which his awakening footstep trod.

    And now the work of life and death

    Hung on the passing of a breath;

    The fire of conflict burned within,

    The battle trembled to begin;

    Yet while the Austrians held their ground,

    Point for assault was nowhere found;

    Where’er the impatient Switzers gazed,

    The unbroken line of lances blazed;

    That line ’t were suicide to meet,

    And perish at their tyrants’ feet:

    How could they rest within their graves,

    To leave their homes the haunts of slaves?

    Would they not feel their children tread,

    With clanking chains, above their head?

    It must not be; this day, this hour,

    Annihilates the invader’s power;

    All Switzerland is in the field,

    She will not fly, she cannot yield,

    She must not fall; her better fate

    Here gives her an immortal date.

    Few were the numbers she could boast,

    Yet every freeman was a host,

    And felt as ’t were a secret known,

    That one should turn the scale alone,

    While each unto himself was he,

    On whose sole arm hung victory.

    It did depend on one indeed;

    Behold him,—Arnold Winkelried;

    There sounds not to the trump of fame

    The echo of a nobler name.

    Unmarked he stood amidst the throng,

    In rumination deep and long,

    Till you might see, with sudden grace,

    The very thought come o’er his face,

    And by the motion of his form

    Anticipate the bursting storm,

    And by the uplifting of his brow

    Tell where the bolt would strike, and how.

    But ’t was no sooner thought than done,

    The field was in a moment won;

    “Make way for liberty!” he cried,

    Then ran, with arms extended wide,

    As if his dearest friend to clasp;

    Ten spears he swept within his grasp;

    “Make way for liberty!” he cried,

    Their keen points crossed from side to side;

    He bowed amidst them, like a tree,

    And thus made way for liberty.

    Swift to the breach his comrades fly,

    “Make way for liberty!” they cry,

    And through the Austrian phalanx dart,

    As rushed the spears through Arnold’s heart,

    While, instantaneous as his fall,

    Rout, ruin, panic seized them all;

    An earthquake could not overthrow

    A city with a surer blow.

    Thus Switzerland again was free;

    Thus death made way for liberty.