Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Switzerland
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Switzerland and Austria: Vol. XVI.  1876–79.
 
Austria: Bregenz
A Legend of Bregenz
Adelaide Anne Procter (1825–1864)
 
GIRT round with rugged mountains
  The fair Lake Constance lies;
In her blue heart reflected,
  Shine back the starry skies;
And watching each white cloudlet        5
  Float silently and slow,
You think a piece of Heaven
  Lies on our earth below!
 
Midnight is there; and silence,
  Enthroned in heaven, looks down        10
Upon her own calm mirror,
  Upon a sleeping town:
For Bregenz, that quaint city
  Upon the Tyrol shore,
Has stood above Lake Constance        15
  A thousand years and more.
 
Her battlements and towers,
  Upon their rocky steep,
Have cast their trembling shadow
  For ages on the deep;        20
Mountain and lake and valley
  A sacred legend know,
Of how the town was saved one night
  Three hundred years ago.
 
Far from her home and kindred,        25
  A Tyrol maid had fled,
To serve in the Swiss valleys,
  And toil for daily bread;
And every year that fleeted
  So silently and fast        30
Seemed to bear farther from her
  The memory of the Past.
*        *        *        *        *
And so she dwelt: the valley
  More peaceful year by year;
When suddenly strange portents        35
  Of some great deed seemed near.
The golden corn was bending
  Upon its fragile stalk,
While farmers, heedless of their fields,
  Paced up and down in talk.
*        *        *        *        *
        40
One day, out in the meadow
  With strangers from the town,
Some secret plan discussing,
  The men walked up and down.
Yet now and then seemed watching        45
  A strange uncertain gleam,
That looked like lances mid the trees
  That stood below the stream.
 
At eve they all assembled,
  All care and doubt were fled;        50
With jovial laugh they feasted,
  The board was nobly spread.
The elder of the village
  Rose up, his glass in hand,
And cried, “We drink the downfall        55
  Of an accursed land!
 
“The night is growing darker,
  Ere one more day is flown,
Bregenz, our foemen’s stronghold,
  Bregenz, shall be our own!”        60
The women shrank in terror
  (Yet Pride, too, had her part),
But one poor Tyrol maiden
  Felt death within her heart.
*        *        *        *        *
With trembling haste and breathless,        65
  With noiseless step she sped:
Horses and weary cattle
  Were standing in the shed;
She loosed the strong white charger,
  That fed from out her hand,        70
She mounted and she turned his head
  Towards her native land.
 
Out, out into the darkness,
  Faster, and still more fast;
The smooth grass flies behind her,        75
  The chestnut wood is past;
She looks up; clouds are heavy:
  Why is her steed so slow?
Scarcely the wind beside them
  Can pass them as they go.        80
 
“Faster!” she cries, “O, faster!”
  Eleven the church-bells chime;
“O God,” she cries, “help Bregenz,
  And bring me there in time!”
But louder than bells’ ringing,        85
  Or lowing of the kine,
Grows nearer in the midnight
  The rushing of the Rhine.
 
Shall not the roaring waters
  Their headlong gallop check?        90
The steed draws back in terror,
  She leans above his neck
To watch the flowing darkness,
  The bank is high and steep,
One pause,—he staggers forward,        95
  And plunges in the deep.
 
She strives to pierce the blackness,
  And looser throws the rein,
Her steed must breast the waters
  That dash above his mane.        100
How gallantly, how nobly,
  He struggles through the foam,
And see,—in the far distance,
  Shine out the lights of home!
 
Up the steep bank he bears her,        105
  And now they rush again
Towards the heights of Bregenz,
  That tower above the plain.
They reach the gate of Bregenz
  Just as the midnight rings,        110
And out come serf and soldier
  To meet the news she brings.
 
Bregenz is saved! Ere daylight
  Her battlements are manned;
Defiance greets the army        115
  That marches on the land.
And if to deeds heroic
  Should endless fame be paid,
Bregenz does well to honor
  The noble Tyrol maid.        120
 
Three hundred years are vanished,
  And yet upon the hill
An old stone gateway rises
  To do her honor still.
And there, when Bregenz women        125
  Sit spinning in the shade,
They see, in quaint old carving,
  The Charger and the Maid.
 
And when, to guard old Bregenz,
  By gateway, street, and tower,        130
The warder paces all night long,
  And calls each passing hour,
“Nine,” “ten,” “eleven,” he cries aloud,
  And then (O crown of Fame!)
When midnight pauses in the skies,        135
  He calls the maiden’s name!
 
 
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