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.
 
Switzerland: Schächen, the River
The Death of Tell
Henry Morford (1823–1881)
 
THERE are, with forms celestial,
  And faces starry-bright,—
Throughout the joyous youth-time
  A hope and true delight,—
Who fall, as age advances,        5
  Beneath some sad eclipse,
And leave no pleasant record
  To be told by fondest lips.
 
There are, in whom the Godhead,
  In youth but dimly seen,        10
More brightly glows and flashes,
  In conduct as in mien,—
When years have laid their burthen
  On shoulder and on head,—
So “the last days are the best days,”        15
  As one of old has said.
 
Methinks no crown he needed,—
  Thus known to world-wide fame,—
As one who wore so nobly
  The Swiss Deliverer’s name:        20
To be true Tell of Altorf,—
  What more could patriot need?
And how could he be honored
  By any later deed?
 
And yet there was a crowning,        25
  Unknown to history’s roll:
One last great revelation
  That spoke the Switzer’s soul;
And though his years of silence
  Have grown to centuries gray,        30
Why should we pause, to widen
  His glory, if we may?
 
There ’s a little stream, the Schächen,
  Not far from Altorf’s walls,
That downward to its parent,        35
  The Reuss, in tumult brawls;
And dangerous is its current
  To feeble limb or hand,
When those in lusty manhood
  Its force can scarce withstand.        40
 
Old age had bowed Tell’s figure,
  And blanched his dark-brown hair;
The hand that clove the apple
  No more such deed might dare;—
When in that raging torrent        45
  He saw a struggling child,
While on the bank the mother
  In helpless fright ran wild.
 
The Switzer paused no moment;
  Though prudence well might ask        50
If yet the limb held vigor
  For such a venturous task.
He plunged to do that rescue:
  He sank, to rise no more
Until, with weeds and timber,        55
  He floated dead to shore.
 
And thus the great life ended:
  God!—was it not the best
Of all the deeds of valor
  That won a hero’s rest?        60
So mused I, by the Schächen:
  So say we, true and well,
That the last deed was the best deed,
  That closed the life of Tell!
 
 
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