Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
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Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
 
Legends and Lyrics.
IV. A Legend of Bregenz
By 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,
  From off 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.
 
She served kind, gentle masters,
  Nor asked for rest or change;
Her friends seemed no more new ones,        35
  Their speech seemed no more strange;
And when she led her cattle
  To pasture every day,
She ceased to look and wonder
  On which side Bregenz lay.        40
 
She spoke no more of Bregenz,
  With longing and with tears:
Her Tyrol home seemed faded
  In a deep mist of years;
She heeded not the rumours        45
  Of Austrian war and strife;
Each day she rose contented,
  To the calm toils of life.
 
Yet, when her master’s children
  Would clustering round her stand,        50
She sang them ancient ballads
  Of her own native land;
And when at morn and evening
  She knelt before God’s throne,
The accents of her childhood        55
  Rose to her lips alone.
 
And so she dwelt: the valley
  More peaceful year by year;
When suddenly strange portents,
  Of some great deed seemed near.        60
The golden corn was bending
  Upon its fragile stalk,
While farmers, heedless of their fields,
  Paced up and down in talk.
 
The men seemed stern and altered,        65
  With looks cast on the ground;
With anxious faces, one by one,
  The women gathered round;
All talk of flax, or spinning,
  Or work, was put away;        70
The very children seemed afraid
  To go alone to play.
 
One day, out in the meadow
  With strangers from the town,
Some secret plan discussing,        75
  The men walked up and down.
Yet, now and then seemed watching,
  A strange uncertain gleam,
That looked like lances ’mid the trees,
  That stood below the stream.        80
 
At eve they all assembled,
  Then care and doubt were fled;
With jovial laugh they feasted;
  The board was nobly spread.
The elder of the village        85
  Rose up, his glass in hand,
And cried, “We drink the downfall
  “Of an accursed land!
 
“The night is growing darker,
  “Ere one more day is flown,        90
“Bregenz, our foemen’s stronghold,
  “Bregenz shall be our own!”
The women shrank in terror,
  (Yet Pride, too, had her part),
But one poor Tyrol maiden        95
  Felt death within her heart.
 
Before her, stood fair Bregenz;
  Once more her towers arose;
What were the friends beside her?
  Only her country’s foes!        100
The faces of her kinsfolk,
  The days of childhood flown,
The echoes of her mountains,
  Reclaimed her as their own!
 
Nothing she heard around her,        105
  (Though shouts rang forth again),
Gone were the green Swiss valleys,
  The pasture, and the plain;
Before her eyes one vision,
  And in her heart one cry,        110
That said, “Go forth, save Bregenz,
  And then, if need be, die!”
 
With trembling haste and breathless,
  With noiseless step she sped;
Horses and weary cattle        115
  Were standing in the shed;
She loosed the strong white charger,
  That fed from out her hand,
She mounted, and she turned his head
  Towards her native land.        120
 
Out—out into the darkness—
  Faster, and still more fast;
The smooth grass flies behind her,
  The chestnut wood is past;
She looks up; clouds are heavy:        125
  Why is her steed so slow?—
Scarcely the wind beside them,
  Can pass them as they go.
 
“Faster!” she cries, “O, faster!”
  Eleven the church-bells chime:        130
“O God,” she cries, “help Bregenz,
  And bring me there in time!”
But louder than bells’ ringing,
  Or lowing of the kine,
Grows nearer in the midnight        135
  The rushing of the Rhine.
 
Shall not the roaring waters
  Their headlong gallop check?
The steed draws back in terror,
  She leans upon his neck        140
To watch the flowing darkness;
  The bank is high and steep;
One pause—he staggers forward,
  And plunges in the deep.
 
She strives to pierce the blackness,        145
  And looser throws the rein;
Her steed must breast the waters
  That dash above his mane.
How gallantly, how nobly,
  He struggles through the foam,        150
And see—in the far distance,
  Shine out the lights of home!
 
Up the steep banks he bears her,
  And now, they rush again
Towards the heights of Bregenz,        155
  That tower above the plain.
They reach the gate of Bregenz,
  Just as the midnight rings,
And out come serf and soldier
  To meet the news she brings.        160
 
Bregenz is saved! Ere daylight
  Her battlements are manned;
Defiance greets the army
  That marches on the land.
And if to deeds heroic        165
  Should endless fame be paid,
Bregenz does well to honour
  The noble Tyrol maid.
 
Three hundred years are vanished,
  And yet upon the hill        170
An old stone gateway rises,
  To do her honour still.
And there, when Bregenz women
  Sit spinning in the shade,
They see in quaint old carving        175
  The Charger and the Maid.
 
And when, to guard old Bregenz,
  By gateway, street, and tower,
The warder paces all night long,
  And calls each passing hour;        180
“Nine,” “ten,” “eleven,” he cries aloud,
  And then (Oh crown of Fame!)
When midnight pauses in the skies,
  He calls the maiden’s name!
 
 
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