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

Switzerland: Küssnacht

William Tell

By Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805)

(From Act IV, Scene III)
Translated by C. T. Brooks

HE must needs come along this hollow pass;

No other road will lead to Küssnacht. Here

I ’ll do the deed. The opportunity

Is favorable; behind yon elder-bush

I ’ll hide me, and shoot down the fatal shaft;

The narrow way shall shield me from pursuit.

Now, Gessler, settle thy account with Heaven!

’T is time thou wert gone hence,—thy hour is up.

My life was still and harmless. Save the beast

That roams the forest, not a living thing

Ere felt the shaft directed by my hand;

No thought of murder ever stained my soul,—

But thou hast scared me from my peaceful haunts;

To bloating serpent-poison thou hast changed

The milk of my pure nature, and hast made

Most horrible deeds familiar to my soul.

He who could make a mark of his child’s head

Can aim unerring at his foeman’s heart.

The poor, dear children, little innocents,—

And my true wife; they cry to me for help

Against thy fury, Landvogt! In that hour

When with a trembling hand I drew the string,—

When thou with horrible, with devilish joy

Didst force me at my darling’s head to aim,—

When I in powerless agony knelt to thee,—

Then in my inmost heart I made a vow,

And sealed it with a solemn oath to God,

That the first mark of my next shot should be

Thy heart. The solemn vow silently made

In the tremendous anguish of that hour,

It is a sacred debt, I ’ll pay it now.

Thou art my master and my emperor’s Vogt;

Yet never had the emperor dared to do

What thou hast done. He sent thee to this land

To be our judge, stern, like himself indeed,

But not to gratify thy murderous lust

With deeds of horror, and go all unscathed,—

No, there ’s a God to punish and avenge!

Come forth, thou sometime source of bitter pain,

My costly jewel now, my highest joy,—

Soon thou shalt find a mark, which never yet

The voice of pity or of woe might pierce.

’T will not be proof ’gainst thee,—and, trusty string!

Thou that so oft hast done me faithful service

In games of pleasure, O, forsake me not

Now in this hour of awful earnestness!

Only this once hold fast, true sinew! thou

That hast so oft winged me the stinging shaft,—

If all in vain, this once the bow I bend,

No second arrow have I here to send.

Upon this bench of stone I ’ll seat myself,

Where oft the traveller rests him by the way,—

For here no home is found. Each hurries on,

Nor stops to ask another’s sorrows. Here

The anxious pedler passes by,—the light

Thinly clad pilgrim and the pious monk,—

The gloomy robber and the gay musician,—

The carrier with his heavy-laden steed,

Who comes from farthest habitable lands,

For every road conducts to the world’s end.

With busy steps they hasten on their way

Each to his several business. Mine is murder!

Time was, dear children, if your sire went out,

There was rejoicing, when he came again;

For ever on ’s return he brought you home

Some lovely Alpine flower or rare bird,

Or other wondrous offspring of the mountains. Now

He seeks for other spoil; on the wild way

He sits with murderous thoughts. His foeman’s life,—

It is for that your sire is lurking now.

And yet on you alone he thinks as ever,

Dear children, to protect your innocent heads,

And save you from the tyrant’s vengeance, now

He ’s forced with deadly aim to bend his bow!

I lie in wait for noble game. The hunter

Tires not of roaming all the livelong day

In stern midwinter, making perilous leaps

From rock to rock, or climbing slippery heights,

Gluing his path with blood, and all for what?

All to entrap a miserable chamois!

Here is a far more costly prize at stake,

The heart of the fell foe who seeks my life.

All my life long this bow has been to me

My most familiar friend, I ’ve trained myself

By rules of archery, and oftentimes

I ’ve pierced the target-spot and brought me home

Full many a noble prize from shooting-match.

To-day I ’ll make my master-shot, and win

The proudest prize in all the mountains round.