Fiction > Harvard Classics > Friedrich von Schiller > Wilhelm Tell
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Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805).  Wilhelm Tell.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Act IV
 
Scene II
 
 
Baronial mansion of Attinghausen. The BARON upon a couch dying. WALTER FÜRST, STAUFFACHER, MELCHTHAL, and BAUMGARTEN attending round him. WALTER TELL kneeling before the dying man.


  Fürst.  All now is over with him. He is gone.
 
  Stauff.  He lies not like one dead. The feather, see,
Moves on his lips! His sleep is very calm,
And on his features plays a placid smile.  [BAUMGARTEN goes to the door and speaks with some one.
 
  Fürst.  Who’s there?        5
 
  Baum.  (returning). Tell’s wife, your daughter, she insists
That she must speak with you, and see her boy.  [WALTER TELL rises.
 
  Fürst.  I who need comfort—can I comfort her?
Does every sorrow centre on my head?
 
  Hedw.  (forcing her way in). Where is my child? unhand me! I must see him.        10
 
  Stauff.  Be calm! Reflect, you’re in the house of death!
 
  Hedw.  (falling upon her boy’s neck). My Walter! Oh, he yet is mine!
 
  Walt.        Dear mother!
 
  Hedw.  And is it surely so? Art thou unhurt?  [Gazing at him with anxious tenderness.
And is it possible he aim’d at thee?        15
How could he do it? Oh, he has no heart—
And he could wing an arrow at his child!
 
  Fürst.  His soul was rack’d with anguish when he did it.
No choice was left him, but to shoot or die!
 
  Hedw.  Oh, if he had a father’s heart, he would        20
Have sooner perish’d by a thousand deaths!
 
  Stauff.  You should be grateful for God’s gracious care,
That ordered things so well.
 
  Hedw.        Can I forget
What might have been the issue? God of Heaven,        25
Were I to live for centuries, I still
Should see my boy tied up,—his father’s mark,—
And still the shaft would quiver in my heart.
 
  Melch.  You know not how the Viceroy taunted him!
 
  Hedw.  Oh, ruthless heart of man! Offend his pride,        30
And reason in his breast forsakes her seat;
In his blind wrath he’ll stake upon a cast
A child’s existence, and a mother’s heart!
 
  Baum.  Is then your husband’s fate not hard enough,
That you embitter it by such reproaches?        35
Have you not feeling for his sufferings?
 
  Hedw.  (turning to him and gazing full upon him).
Hast thou tears only for thy friend’s distress?
Say, where were you when he—my noble Tell—
Was bound in chains? Where was your friendship then?        40
The shameful wrong was done before your eyes;
Patient you stood, and let your friend be dragg’d,
Ay, from your very hands. Did ever Tell
Act thus to you? Did he stand whining by,
When on your heels the Viceroy’s horsemen press’d,        45
And full before you roared the storm-toss’d lake?
Oh, not with idle tears his pity show’d;
Into the boat he sprang, forgot his home,
His wife, his children, and delivered thee!
 
  Fürst.  It had been madness to attempt his rescue,        50
Unarm’d and few in numbers as we were!
 
  Hedw.  (casting herself upon his bosom).
Oh, father, and thou, too, hast lost my Tell!
The country—all have lost him! All lament
His loss; and, oh, how he must pine for us!        55
Heaven keep his soul from sinking to despair!
No friend’s consoling voice can penetrate
His dreary dungeon walls. Should he fall sick!
Ah! In the vapours of the murky vault
He must fall sick. Even as the Alpine rose        60
Grows pale and withers in the swampy air,
There is no life for him, but in the sun,
And in the breath of Heaven’s fresh-blowing airs.
Imprison’d! Liberty to him is breath;
He cannot live in the rank dungeon air!        65
 
  Stauff.  Pray you be calm! And hand in hand we’ll all
Combine to burst his prison doors.
 
  Hedw.        He gone,
What have you power to do? While Tell was free,
There still, indeed, was hope—weak innocence        70
Had still a friend, and the oppress’d a stay.
Tell saved you all! You cannot all combined
Release him from his cruel prison bonds.  [The BARON wakes.
 
  Baum.  Hush, hush! He starts!
 
  Atting.  (sitting up).  Where is he?        75
 
  Stauff.        Who?
 
  Atting.        He leaves me,—
In my last moments he abandons me.
 
  Stauff.  He means his nephew. Have they sent for him?
 
  Fürst.  He has been summoned. Cheerly, sir! Take comfort!        80
He has found his heart at last, and is our own.
 
  Atting.  Say, has he spoken for his native land?
 
  Stauff.  Ay, like a hero!
 
  Atting.        Wherefore comes he not,
That he may take my blessing ere I die?        85
I feel my life fast ebbing to a close.
 
  Stauff.  Nay, talk not thus, dear sir! This last short sleep
Has much refresh’d you, and your eye is bright.
 
  Atting.  Life is but pain, and that has left me now;
My sufferings, like my hopes, have pass’d away.  [Observing the boy.        90
What boy is that?
 
  Fürst.        Bless him. Oh, good my lord!
He is my grandson, and is fatherless.  [HEDWIG kneels with the boy before the dying man.
 
  Atting.  And fatherless—I leave you all, ay, all!
Oh wretched fate, that these old eyes should see        95
My country’s ruin, as they close in death!
Must I attain the utmost verge of life,
To feel my hopes go with me to the grave?
 
  Stauff.  (to FÜRST). Shall he depart ’mid grief and gloom like this?
Shall not his parting moments be illumed        100
By hope’s inspiring beams? My noble lord,
Raise up your drooping spirit! We are not
Forsaken quite—past all deliverance.
 
  Atting.  Who shall deliver you?
 
  Fürst.        Ourselves. For know,        105
The Cantons three are to each other pledged,
To hunt the tyrants from the land. The league
Has been concluded, and a sacred oath
Confirms our union. Ere another year
Begins its circling course—the blow shall fall.        110
In a free land your ashes shall repose.
 
  Atting.  The league concluded! Is it really so?
 
  Melch.  On one day shall the Cantons rise together.
All is prepared to strike—and to this hour
The secret closely kept, though hundreds share it;        115
The ground is hollow ’neath the tyrants’ feet;
Their days of rule are number’d, and ere long
No trace will of their hateful sway be left.
 
  Atting.  Ay, but their castles, how to master them?
 
  Melch.  On the same day they, too, are doom’d to fall.        120
 
  Atting.  And are the nobles parties to this league?
 
  Stauff.  We trust to their assistance, should we need it;
As yet the peasantry alone have sworn.
 
  Atting.  (raising himself up in great astonishment). And have the peasantry dared such a deed
On their own charge, without the nobles’ aid—        125
Relied so much on their own proper strength?
Nay then, indeed, they want our help no more;
We may go down to death cheer’d by the thought,
That after us the majesty of man
Will live, and be maintain’d by other hands.  [He lays his hand upon the head of the child who is kneeling before him.        130
From this boy’s head, whereon the apple lay,
Your new and better liberty shall spring;
The old is crumbling down—the times are changing—
And from the ruins blooms a fairer life.
 
  Stauff.  (to FÜRST). See, see, what splendour streams around his eye!        135
This is not Nature’s last expiring flame,
It is the beam of renovated life.
 
  Atting.  From their old towers the nobles are descending,
And swearing in the towns the civic oath.
In Uechtland and Thurgau the work’s begun;        140
The noble Berne lifts her commanding head,
And Freyburg is a stronghold of the free;
The stirring Zurich calls her guilds to arms;—
And now, behold!—the ancient might of kings
Is shiver’d ’gainst her everlasting walls.  [ what follows with a prophetic tone; his utterance rising into enthusiasm.        145
I see the princes and their haughty peers,
Clad all in steel, come striding on to crush
A harmless shepherd race with mailed hand.
Desp’rate the conflict; ’tis for life or death;
And many a pass will tell to after years        150
Of glorious victories sealed in foeman’s blood. 1
The peasant throws himself with naked breast,
A willing victim on their serried spears;
They yield—the flower of chivalry’s cut down,
And Freedom waves her conquering banner high.  [Grasps the hands of WALTER FÜRST and STAUFFACHER.        155
Hold fast together, then,—forever fast!
Let freedom’s haunts be one in heart and mind!
Set watches on your mountain tops, that league
May answer league, when comes the hour to strike.
Be one—be one—be one—  [He falls back upon the cushion. His lifeless hands continue to grasp those of FÜRST and STAUFFACHER, who regard him for some moments in silence, and then retire, overcome with sorrow. Meanwhile the servants have quietly pressed into the chamber, testifying different degrees of grief. Some kneel down beside him and weep on his body: while this scene is passing, the castle bell tolls.        160
 
  Rud.  (entering hurriedly). Lives he? Oh say, can he still hear my voice?
 
  Fürst.  (averting his face). You are our seignior and protector now;
Henceforth this castle bears another name.
 
  Rud.  (gazing at the body with deep emotion). Oh, God! Is my repentance, then, too late?
Could he not live some few brief moments more,        165
To see the change that has come o’er my heart?
Oh, I was deaf to his true counselling voice,
While yet he walked on earth. Now he is gone,—
Gone, and forever,—leaving me the debt—
The heavy debt I owe him—undischarged!        170
Oh, tell me! did he apart in anger with me?
 
  Stauff.  When dying, he was told what you had done,
And bless’d the valour that inspired your words!
 
  Rud.  (kneeling down beside the dead body). Yes, sacred relics of a man beloved!
Thou lifeless corpse! Here, on thy death-cold hand        175
Do I abjure all foreign ties for ever!
And to my country’s cause devote myself.
I am a Switzer, and will act as one,
With my whole heart and soul.  [Rises.
        Mourn for our friend,        180
Our common parent, yet be not dismay’d!
’Tis not alone his lands that I inherit,—
His heart—his spirit have devolved on me;
And my young arm shall execute the task,
Which in his hoary age he could not pay.        185
Give me your hands, ye venerable sires!
Thine, Melchthal, too! Nay, do not hesitate,
Nor from me turn distrustfully away.
Accept my plighted vow—my knightly oath!
 
  Fürst.  Give him your hands, my friends! A heart like his,        190
That sees and owns its error, claims our trust.
 
  Melch.  You ever held the peasantry in scorn,
What surety have we, that you mean us fair?
 
  Rud.  Oh, think not of the error of my youth!
 
  Stauff.  (to MELCH.). Be one! They were our father’s latest words.        195
See they be not forgotten!
 
  Melch.        Take my hand,—
A peasant’s hand,—and with it, noble sir,
The gage and the assurance of a man!
Without us, sir, what would the nobles be?        200
Our order is more ancient, too, than yours!
 
  Rud.  I honour it—will shield it with my sword!
 
  Melch.  The arm, my lord, that tames the stubborn earth,
And makes its bosom blossom with increase,
Can also shield its owner’s breast at need.        205
 
  Rud.  Then you shall shield my breast, and I will yours,
Thus each be strengthen’d by the other’s strength.
Yet wherefore talk ye, while our native land
Is still to alien tyranny a prey?
First let us sweep the foemen from the soil,        210
Then reconcile our difference in peace!  [After a moment’s pause.
How! You are silent! Not a word for me?
And have I yet no title to your trust?—
Then must I force my way, despite your will,
Into the League you secretly have form’d.        215
You’ve held a Diet on the Rootli,—I
Know this,—know all that was transacted there;
And though not trusted with your secret, I
Have kept it closely like a sacred pledge.
Trust me—I never was my country’s foe,        220
Nor would I ever have against you stood!
Yet you did wrong—to put your rising off.
Time presses! We must strike, and swiftly too!
Already Tell is lost through your delay.
 
  Stauff.  We swore that we should wait till Christmastide.        225
 
  Rud.  I was not there,—I did not take the oath.
If you delay, I will not!
 
  Melch.        What! You would—
 
  Rud.  I count me now among the country’s chiefs,
And my first duty is to guard your rights.        230
 
  Fürst.  Your nearest and holiest duty is
Within the earth to lay these dear remains.
 
  Rud.  When we have set the country free, we’ll place
Our fresh victorious wreaths upon his bier.
Oh, my dear friends, ’tis not your cause alone!—        235
I with the tyrants have a cause to fight,
That more concerns myself. My Bertha’s gone,
Has disappear’d,—been carried off by stealth,—
Stolen from amongst us by their ruffian hands!
 
  Stauff.  So fell an outrage has the tyrant dared        240
Against a lady free and nobly born!
 
  Rud.  Alas! my friends, I promised help to you,
And I must first implore it for myself!
She that I love, is stolen—is forced away,
And who knows where she’s by the tyrant hid,        245
Or with what outrages his ruffian crew
May force her into nuptials she detests?
Forsake me not!—Oh, help me to her rescue!
She loves you! Well, oh, well, has she deserved,
That all should rush to arms in her behalf!        250
 
  Stauff.  What course do your propose?
 
  Rud.        Alas! I know not.
In the dark mystery that shrouds her fate,—
In the dread agony of this suspense,—
Where I can grasp at nought of certainty,—        255
One single ray of comfort beams upon me.
From out the ruins of the tyrant’s power
Alone can she be rescued from the grave.
Their strongholds must be levell’d, every one,
Ere we can penetrate her dungeon walls.        260
 
  Melch.  Come, lead us on! We follow! Why defer
Until to-morrow, what to-day may do?
Tell’s arm was free when we at Rootli swore.
This foul enormity was yet undone.
And change of circumstance brings change of vow;        265
Who such a coward as to waver still?
 
  Rud.  (to WALTER FÜRST). Meanwhile to arms, and wait in readiness.
The fiery signal on the mountain tops!
For swifter than a boat can scour the lake
Shall you have tidings of our victory;        270
And when you see the welcome flames ascend
Then, like the lightning, swoop upon the foe,
And lay the despots and their creatures low!
 
Note 1. An allusion to the gallant self-devotion of Arnold Struthan of Winkelried, at the battle of Sempach [9th July, 1386], who broke the Austrian phalanx by rushing on their lances, grasping as many of them as he could reach, and concentrating them upon his breast. The confederates rushed forward through the gap thus opened by the sacrifice of their comrade, broke and cut down their enemy’s ranks, and soon became the masters of the field. “Dear and faithful confederates, I will open you a passage. Protect my wife and children,” were the words of Winkelried, as he rushed to death. [back]
 

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