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

June 22

The Battle of Morat

By William Wetmore Story (1819–1895)

  • Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, was defeated in this battle by the Swiss on June 22, 1476.

  • OUR men fought well at Morat! They fought like lions, boy,

    Like lions, that within their lair the hunter dares annoy.

    Ah! now I’m old, but I was then a boy as you are now,

    And this old tree was nothing but a bit of broken bough.

    ’Tis sixty good long years ago—how fast the years go by,

    Since we crushed, that deadly day of June, the hosts of Burgundy;

    The morning threatened thick with cloud, a weird and solemn gloom

    Hung o’er the town—the empty streets were silent as a tomb,

    Save here and there were little groups with sad and anxious brow,

    Old men, and boys, and women, were gathered talking low,

    Recounting news of Burgundy in words of doubt and fear,

    Or tales of our own mountain strength their trembling hearts to cheer.

    Some wrung their hands the while they spoke—in many a maiden’s eye

    The slow tears brimmed, the pale mouth twitched in secret agony,

    And old men sadly shook their heads, while at their mother’s side

    Children were pulling at their gowns, and asking why they cried?

    Sad o’er us hung the sullen sky,—our hearts were dark with gloom,

    When suddenly the cannon’s peal, with heavy muffled boom,

    Rolled dully smiting on the heart, that for a moment stilled,

    Stopped in the breast, then wildly like a hurried drum-beat thrilled.

    ’Twas then, ere rang their battle-cry, our brothers in the field

    Bared their stern brows, and on the earth to ask God’s blessing kneeled;

    And Hans Von Hallwyll lifted, while all were silent there,

    Mid the thunder voice of cannon, the still, small voice of prayer.

    The heavens hung low and gloomy above them lowly bowed,

    But as they prayed the sudden sun broke through the shattered cloud

    And flashed across their bended ranks, and Hallwyll from his knee,

    Sprang shouting—“Up! behold, God lights the way to victory!”

    Ah, why was I not with them? why was I doomed to stay,

    An idle boy to range along the ramparts all that day?

    The cannon thrilled my startled blood—the Landshorn shrilly cried,

    “Flee from old men and women! strike for freedom at our side!”

    Alas, I could not flee from them! half mad in heart and brain,

    I watched with them the smoke-cloud cling along the distant plain;

    We strained our eyes in vain,—we seemed to hear with nervous ears,

    The battle-cry of Burgundy—the Eidgenossen’s cheers.

    We fought with them in spirit in the tumult of the fight,

    We swung our swords with Hallwyll for Liberty and Right,

    With Waldman’s band of rugged Swiss adown the hill we clove

    Through the shining helms of Burgundy, as through some tall pine grove.

    Our avalanches thunder—we crushed them to the earth,

    We swept them from the hill-side with a wild exultant mirth—

    We slid upon their horsemen, and hurled them to the lake

    In terror and confusion—as the land slidden when they break.

    Adown our mountain gorges,—in a heap of steel and blood,

    And shattered cuirasses and helms, they rolled into the flood;

    Their hands that gleamed with diamonds in vain they lifted high,

    As the red wave bubbled over them, and drowned their fearful cry.

    We rushed with old Von Hertenstein, his white hair streaming free,

    Where Hallwyll battled with the pride of knightly Burgundy;

    With the mountain force of stout Lucerne we sheared them from the plain,

    And mowed their glittering sheaves of spears, like fields of autumn grain!

    What served their orders then to them, their proud and knightly blood?

    It stained the grass and lay in pools amid the trampled mud;

    Their jewelled chains we scattered—and on gleaming breast and brain.

    Our great swords rattling in their ears played Liberty’s refrain.

    Leap! baffled Duke of Burgundy,—leap on thy swiftest steed!

    The Bear of Berne is after thee—spur at thine utmost need!

    Plunge in that reeking, quivering flank, thy golden spur, and flee

    Till his nostrils gush with blood and steam—Lucerne is hunting thee.

    Leave, leave upon the hillside your twenty thousand slain,

    Leave in the lake your heaps of dead, its waves with gore to stain.

    Speed! speed! and when night darkens down,—blown, beaten, blasted stand,

    With only thirty ghastly horsemen left of all your band.

    Such hope as this was thrilling us the while we leaned and gazed,

    With clenching hands, and young fierce eyes, and cheeks that hotly blazed;

    But oft the fear of dread defeat, and conquest pouring down

    Above our murdered, shattered ranks to deluge all the town

    With rapine and with ravage, knocked against our hearts with dread;

    We heard the crackling rafters crash above our fated head,

    We saw the red flames lick the air and glare against the sky,

    And ’mid the screams of women rang the clash of soldiery.

    At last the distant thunder ceased—and as we strained our eyes

    We saw above the road’s far ridge a little dust-cloud rise;

    And on it came, and on, and on, upon the dry white road,

    Until a dark and moving spot like a running figure showed.

    News from the field! what news, what news?—alas, our brothers fly!

    No, no, he waves a branch of lime—that tells of Victory.

    He staggers, wounded, on, he reels, he faints beside the gate;

    Speak! speak!—he cannot speak—and yet ’tis agony to wait.

    We gather round, as through the street with reeling, staggering pace,

    He falls along—and panting, points toward the market-place.

    There, while the blood starts from his mouth, he waves the branch on high,

    And with a last faint shout expires, exclaiming “Victory.”

    That branch of lime we planted in the spot whereon he fell,

    And there it took its root, and throve, and spread its branches well,

    And you shall sit beneath its shade, as now we sit, when I

    Am dust—and say, “My Grandsire brought that branch of Victory.”