Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 6/Schwerting of Saxony

Translation of "Schwerting der Sachsenherzog" (1825). Illustrated by John Everett Millais.



Schwerting, Duke of Saxony, sate at the festive board;
High foamed the sparkling wines, in iron goblets poured;
The costly meats were smoking, in iron dishes laid,
And iron plate and vessels a wild rude clangour made.

Frotho, the Danish king, sate opposite and gazed
On Schwerting and his iron gear, right grievously amazed,
For iron chains were hanging from his neck, and hand, and breast,
And iron clasps shone dark and dim upon his deep black vest.

Now tell me, what may this mean? Sir Brother, speak, I pray,
Why you have bid me to a feast of such sad strange array?
When I left my Danish kingdom to come and be your guest,
I thought to meet a princely host in golden garments drest!”

Sir King, gold for the free-born, but iron for the slave:
Such is a saying, just and true, we Saxon people have:
Ye have shackled us with iron bonds, and that full well ye know,
Oh, had our chains been golden, we had burst them long ago!

Yet think not there are left no means to wipe out such disgrace;
The constant heart, the stubborn will, that mark our valiant race,
These, these must free the arm though bent beneath a thousand chains,
And these shall free the Saxons arm, and blot out slavery’s stains!”

And while the Duke was speaking thus, there entered in the hall
Twelve Saxon nobles, clothed in black, with lighted torches all.
They stood all mute and motionless, awaiting his command,
Then rushing forth with eager haste, each waved his burning brand.

Ere long there fell on every ear a hissing, crackling sound;
Louder and louder still it rose, above, below, around;
Ere long the chamber glowed with a still and sultry heat:
The hour is come!” in hollow tones, the Saxon chiefs repeat.

The Danish King assayed to flee, the Duke he held him back:
Stay! prove that knightly courage, at least, thou dost not lack!
That boisterous foe that storms below successfully withstand,
And thine shall be the Saxon throne, and thine the Saxon land!”

And hotter, ever hotter, it became in that wide hall,
And louder, ever louder the crashing fragments fall,
And brighter, ever brighter, the red reflection glared,
And through the portals, half-consumed, the fiery torrent flared.

Then all the gallant Saxons fell down on bended knee:
Lord, mercy on the souls of those who thus have made them free!”
The Duke looked calmly at the flames on wind-swift pinions borne,
The Danish King sank on the ground, he dragged him up in scorn.

Look here, thou haughty conqueror, and tremble, craven heart!
Tis thus we break thine iron bonds, and heal oppression’s smart!”
He spoke, the wild flames seized him,—one loud and fearful yell,—
And down on that devoted band the crumbling mansion fell.

A. D.