Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/The death of Winkelreid
THE DEATH OF WINKELREID.
(BATTLE OF SEMPACH, 9TH JULY, 1386).
In July, when the bees swarmed thick upon the linden tops,
And farmers gazed with pride and joy upon their ripening crops,
The watchmen οn our tall church towers, looking towards Willislow,
Saw the stacked barley in a flame, and the wheat fields in a glow.
For Archduke Leopold had come from Zurich by the lake,
With lance, and bow, and banner spread, a dire revenge to take;
On Monday morning when the dew lay bright upon the corn,
Each man of Sempach blew alarm upon his mountain horn.
The young and old from fair Lucerne gathered to bar the way,
The reapers threw their sickles down, and ran to join the fray;
We knelt, and prayed to Heaven for strength, crying to God aloud;
And lo! a rainbow rising shone against a thunder cloud.
Burghers of Berne, and lads of Schweiz and Unterwalden’s best,
Warriors of Uri, strong as bulls, were there among the rest;
The oldest of our mountain-priests had come to fight—not pray,
Our women only kept at home upon that battle day.
The shepherds, sturdy wrestlers with the grim mountain bear,
And chamois hunters, lithe and swift, mingled together there;
Rough boatmen from the mountain lakes, and fishermen by scores,
The children only had been left to guard the nets and oars.
The herdsmen joined us from their huts on the far mountain-side,
Where cow-bells chimed among the pines, and far above in pride
The granite peaks rose soaring up in snowy pinnacles,
Past glacier’s ever-gaping jaws and vulture’s citadels.
The citizens of Zurich town under their banners stood,
Their burly lances bleak and bare as any winter wood,
Geneva sent her archers stout, and swordsmen not a few,
And over the brave men of Berne their great town banner blew.
How fierce we ran with partisan, and axe, and spear, and sword,
With flail, and club, and shrieking horns, upon that Austrian horde;
But they stood silent in the sun, mocking the Switzer bear,
Their helmets crested, beaked, and fanged, like the wild beasts that they were.
Like miners digging iron ore from some great mountain heart,
We strove to hew, and rend, and cleave that hill of steel apart;
But clamped like statues stood the knights in their spiked phalanx strong,
Though our Swiss halberds, and our swords, hewed fiercely at the throng.
Hot, sharp, and thick our arrows fell upon their helmet crests,
Keen on their vizors’ glaring bars, and sharp upon their breasts;
Fierce plied our halberds at the spears, that thicker seemed to grow:
The more we struck, more boastfully the banners seemed to blow.
The Austrians, square and close locked up, stood firm with threatening spears,
Only the sterner when our bolts flew thick about their ears;
Our drifts of arrows blinding fell, and nailed the mail to breast,
But e’en the dead men as they dropped were ramparts to the rest.
With furnace heat the red sun shone upon that wall of steel,
And crimsoned every Austrian knight from helmet unto heel.
They slew their horses where they stood, and shortened all their spears,
Then back to back, like boars at bay, they mocked our angry cheers.
Till Winkelreid stepped forth and said, knitting his rugged brow,
“Out on ye, men of Zurich town, go back and tend your plough;
Sluggards of Berne, go hunt and fish, when danger is not nigh.
See now how Unterwalden taught her hardy sons to die.”
Then out he rushed, with head bent low; his body, breast, and hands,
Bore down a sheaf of spears, and made a pathway for our bands.
Four lances splintered on his brow, six shivered in his side,
But still he struggled fiercely on, and, shouting “Victory!” died.
Then on that broken flying rout, we Swiss, rejoicing, rushed,
With sword, and mace, and partisan, that struck, and stabbed, and crushed;
Their banners beaten to the earth and all their best men slain,
The Austrians threw away their shields and fled across the plain.
And thus our Switzerland was saved, upon that summer’s day,
And Sempach saw rejoicing men returning from the fray.
As we bore home brave Winkelreid a rainbow spanned our track,
But where the Austrian rabble fled a thunder-storm rolled black.