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James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

November 15

Song of the Battle of Morgarten

By Felicia Dorothea Hemans (1793–1835)

  • In this battle, fought on Nov. 15, 1315, the Austrians were defeated by the Swiss Confederates.

  • THE WINE-MONTH shone in its golden prime,

    And the red grapes clustering hung,

    But a deeper sound, through the Switzer’s clime,

    Than the vintage-music, rung.

    A sound, through vaulted cave,

    A sound, through echoing glen,

    Like the hollow swell of a rushing wave;

    ’Twas the tread of steel-girt men.

    And a trumpet, pealing wild and far,

    ’Midst the ancient rocks was blown,

    Till the Alps replied to that voice of war

    With a thousand of their own.

    And through the forest-glooms

    Flashed helmets to the day,

    And the winds were tossing knightly plumes,

    Like the larch-boughs in their play.

    In Hasli’s wilds there was gleaming steel,

    As the host of the Austrian passed;

    And the Schreckhorn’s rocks, with a savage peal,

    Made mirth of his clarion’s blast.

    Up ’midst the Righi snows

    The stormy march was heard,

    With the charger’s tramp, whence fire-sparks rose,

    And the leader’s gathering word.

    But a band, the noblest band of all,

    Through the rude Morgarten strait,

    With blazoned streamers, and lances tall,

    Moved onwards in princely state.

    They came with heavy chains,

    For the race despised so long—

    But amidst his Alp-domains,

    The herdsman’s arm is strong!

    The sun was reddening the clouds of morn

    When they entered the rock defile,

    And shrill as a joyous hunter’s horn

    Their bugles rung the while.

    But on the misty height,

    Where the mountain people stood,

    There was stillness as of night,

    When storms at distance brood.

    There was stillness, as of deep dead night,

    And a pause—but not of fear,

    While the Switzers gazed on the gathering might

    Of the hostile shield and spear.

    On wound those columns bright

    Between the lake and wood,

    But they looked not to the misty height

    Where the mountain people stood.

    The pass was filled with their serried power,

    All helmed and mail-arrayed,

    And their steps had sounds like a thunder-shower

    In the rustling forest-shade.

    There were prince and crested knight,

    Hemmed in by cliff and flood,

    When a shout arose from the misty height

    Where the mountain-people stood.

    And the mighty rocks came bounding down,

    Their startled foes among,

    With a joyous whirl from the summit thrown—

    Oh! the herdsman’s arm is strong!

    They came like lauwine hurled

    From Alp to Alp in play,

    When the echoes shout through the snowy world

    And the pines are borne away.

    The fir-woods crashed on the mountainside,

    And the Switzers rushed from high,

    With a sudden charge, on the flower and pride

    Of the Austrian chivalry:

    Like hunters of the deer,

    They stormed the narrow dell,

    And first in the shock, with Uri’s spear,

    Was the arm of William Tell.

    There was tumult in the crowded strait,

    And a cry of wild dismay,

    And many a warrior met his fate

    From a peasant’s hand that day!

    And the empire’s banner then

    From its place of waving free,

    Went down before the shepherd-men,

    The men of the Forest-sea.

    With their pikes and massy clubs they brake

    The cuirass and the shield,

    And the war-horse dashed to the reddening lake

    From the reapers of the field!

    The field—but not of sheaves—

    Proud crests and pennons lay,

    Strewn o’er it thick as the birch-wood leaves,

    In the autumn tempest’s way.

    Oh the sun in heaven fierce havoc viewed,

    When the Austrian turned to fly,

    And the brave, in the trampling multitude,

    Had a fearful death to die!

    And the leader of the war

    At eve unhelmed was seen,

    With a hurrying step on the wilds afar,

    And a pale and troubled mien.

    But the sons of the land which the freeman tills,

    Went back from the battle-toil,

    To their cabin-homes ’midst the deep green hills,

    All burdened with royal spoil.

    There were songs and festal fires

    On the soaring Alps that night,

    When children sprung to greet their sires

    From the wild Morgarten fight.