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 I
 
Scene I
 
 
A high rocky shone of the Lake of Lucerne opposite Schwytz. The lake makes a bend into the land; a hut stands at a short distance from the shore; the fisher boy is rowing about in his boat. Beyond the lake are seen the green meadows, the hamlets and farms of Schwytz, lying in the clear sunshine. On the left are observed the peaks of The Hacken, surrounded with clouds; to the right, and in the remote distance, appear the Glaciers. The Ranz des Vaches, and the tinkling of cattle bells, continue for some time after the rising of the curtain.

Fisher boy  (sings in his boat)
Melody of the Ranz des Vaches

The smile-dimpled lake woo’d to bathe in its deep,
A boy on its green shore had laid him to sleep;
      Then heard he a melody
        Floating along,
      Sweet as the notes        5
        Of an angel’s song.
And as thrilling with pleasure he wakes from his rest,
The waters are rippling over his breast;
      And a voice from the deep cries,
        “With me thou must go,        10
      I charm the young shepherd,
        I lure him below.”
 
Herdsman  (on the mountains)
Air.—Variation of the Ranz des Vaches

      Farewell, ye green meadows,
        Farewell, sunny shore,
      The herdsman must leave you,        15
        The summer is o’er.
We go to the hills, but you’ll see us again,
  When the cuckoo calls, and the merry birds sing,
When the flowers bloom afresh in glade and in glen,
  And the brooks sparkle bright in the sunshine of spring.        20
        Farewell, ye green meadows,
      Farewell, sunny shore,
        The herdsman must leave you,
      The summer is o’er.
 
Chamois Hunter  (appearing on the top of a cliff)
Second Variation of the Ranz des Vaches

On the heights peals the thunder, and trembles the bridge,
        25
The huntsman bounds on by the dizzying ridge.
      Undaunted he hies him
        O’er ice-covered wild,
      Where leaf never budded,
        Nor Spring ever smiled;        30
And beneath him an ocean of mist, where his eye
No longer the dwellings of man can espy;
      Through the parting clouds only
        The earth can be seen,
      Far down ’neath the vapour        35
        The meadows of green.  [A change comes over the landscape. A rumbling, cracking noise is heard among the mountains. Shadows of clouds sweep across the scene.
  [RUODI, the fisherman, comes out of his cottage. WERNI, the huntsman, descends from the rocks. KUONI, the shepherd, enters, with a milkpail on his shoulders, followed by Seppi, his assistant.
 
  Ruodi.  Come, Jenni, bustle; get the boat on shore.
The grizzly Vale-King 1 comes, the Glaciers moan,
The Mytenstein 2 is drawing on his hood,
And from the Stormcleft chilly blows the wind;        40
The storm will burst before we know what’s what.
 
  Kuoni.  ’Twill rain ere long; my sheep browse eagerly,
And Watcher there is scraping up the earth.
 
  Werni.  The fish are leaping, and the water-hen
Keeps diving up and down. A storm is brewing.        45
 
  Kuoni  (to his boy).
Look, Seppi, if the beasts be all in sight.
 
  Seppi.  There goes brown Liesel, I can hear her bells.
 
  Kuoni.  Then all are safe; she ever ranges farthest.
 
  Ruodi.  You’ve a fine chime of bells there, master herdsman.        50
 
  Werni.  And likely cattle, too. Are they your own?
 
  Kuoni.  I’m not so rich. They are the noble lord’s
Of Attinghaus, and told off to my care.
 
  Ruodi.  How gracefully yon heifer bears her ribbon!
 
  Kuoni.  Ay, well she knows she’s leader of the herd,        55
And, take it from her, she’d refuse to feed.
 
  Ruodi.  You’re joking now. A beast devoid of reason—
 
  Werni.  Easily said. But beasts have reason, too,—
And that we know, we chamois-hunters, well.
They never turn to feed—sagacious creatures!        60
Till they have placed a sentinel ahead,
Who pricks his ears whenever we approach,
And gives alarm with clear and piercing pipe.
 
  Ruodi  (to the shepherd). Are you for home?
 
  Kuoni.        The Alp is grazed quite bare.        65
 
  Werni.  A safe return, my friend!
 
  Kuoni.        The same to you!
Men come not always back from tracks like yours.
 
  Ruodi.  But who comes here, running at topmost speed?
 
  Werni.  I know the man; ’tis Baumgart of Alzellen.        70
 
  Konrad Baumgarten  (rushing in breathless). For God’s sake, ferryman, your boat!
 
  Ruodi.        How now?
Why all this haste?
 
  Baum.        Cast off! My life’s at stake!
Set me across!        75
 
  Kuoni.        Why, what’s the matter, friend?
 
  Werni.  Who are pursuing you? First tell us that.
 
  Baum.  (to the fisherman). Quick, quick, man, quick! they’re close upon my heels!
It is the Viceroy’s men are after me;
If they should overtake me, I am lost.        80
 
  Ruodi.  Why are the troopers in pursuit of you?
 
  Baum.  First make me safe and then I’ll tell you all.
 
  Werni.  There’s blood upon your garments—how is this?
 
  Baum.  The Imperial Seneschal, who dwelt at Rossberg—
 
  Kuoni.  How! What! The Wolfshot? 3 Is it he pursues you?        85
 
  Baum.  He’ll ne’er hurt man again; I’ve settled him.
 
  All  (starting back). Now, God forgive you, what is this you’ve done!
 
  Baum.  What every free man in my place had done.
Mine own good household right I have enforced
’Gainst him that would have wrong’d my wife—my honour.        90
 
  Kuoni.  How? Wronged you in your honour, did he so?
 
  Baum.  That he did not fulfil his foul desire,
Is due to God, and to my trusty axe.
 
  Werni.  And you have cleft his skull then with your axe?
 
  Kuoni.  O, tell us all! You’ve time enough, and more,        95
While he is getting out the boat there from the beach.
 
  Baum.  When I was in the forest felling timber,
My wife came running out in mortal fear.
“The Seneschal,” she said, “was in my house,
Had ordered her to get a bath prepared,        100
And thereupon had ta’en unseemly freedoms,
From which she rid herself, and flew to me.”
Arm’d as I was, I sought him, and my axe
Has given his bath a bloody benison.
 
  Werni.  And you did well; no man can blame the deed.        105
 
  Kuoni.  The tyrant! Now he has his just reward!
We men of Unterwald have owed it long.
 
  Baum.  The deed got wind, and now they’re in pursuit.
Heavens! whilst we speak, the time is flying fast.  [It begins to thunder.
 
  Kuoni.  Quick, ferryman, and set the good man over.        110
 
  Ruodi.  Impossible! a storm is close at hand,
Wait till it pass! You must.
 
  Baum.  Almighty heavens!
I cannot wait; the least delay is death.
 
  Kuoni.  (to the fisherman). Push out—God with you! We should help our neighbours;        115
The like misfortune may betide us all.  [Thunder and the roaring of the wind.
 
  Ruodi.  The South-wind’s up! 4 See how the lake is rising!
I cannot steer against both wind and wave.
 
  Baum.  (clasping him by the knees). God so help you as now you pity me!
 
  Werni.  His life’s at stake. Have pity on him, man!        120
 
  Kuoni.  He is a father: has a wife and children.  [Repeated peals of thunder.
 
  Ruodi.  What! and have I not, then, a life to lose,
A wife and child at home as well as he?
See how the breakers foam, and toss, and whirl,
And the lake eddies up from all its depths!        125
Right gladly would I save the worthy man,
But ’tis impossible, as you must see.
 
  Baum.  (still kneeling). Then must I fall into the tyrant’s hands.
And with the shore of safety close in sight!
Yonder it lies! My eyes can see it clear,        130
My very voice can echo to its shores.
There is the boat to carry me across,
Yet must I lie here helpless and forlorn.
 
  Kuoni.  Look! who comes here?
 
  Ruodi.  ’Tis Tell, ay, Tell, of Bürglen. 5  [Enter TELL with a crossbar.        135
 
  Tell.  What man is he that here implores of aid?
 
  Kuoni.  He is from Alzellen, and to guard his honour
From touch of foulest shame, has slain the Wolfshot,
The Imperial Seneschal, who dwelt at Rossberg.
The Viceroy’s troopers are upon his heels;        140
He begs the ferryman to take him over,
But frightened at the storm he says he won’t
 
  Ruodi.  Well, there is Tell can steer as well as I.
He’ll be my judge, if it be possible.  [Violent peals of thunder—the lake becomes more tempestuous.
Am I to plunge into the jaws of hell?        145
I should be mad to dare the desperate act.
 
  Tell.  The brave man thinks upon himself the last.
Put trust in God, and help him in his need!
 
  Ruodi.  Safe in the port, ’tis easy to advise.
There is the boat, and there the lake! Try you!        150
 
  Tell.  The lake may pity, but the Viceroy never.
Come, risk it, man!
 
  Shepherd and Huntsman.  O save him! save him! save him!
 
  Ruodi.  Though ’twere my brother, or my darling child,
I would not go. ’Tis Simon and Jude’s day,        155
The lake is up, and calling for its victim.
 
  Tell.  Nought’s to be done with idle talking here.
Each moment’s precious; the man must be help’d,
Say, boatman, will you venture?
 
  Ruodi.  No; not I.        160
 
  Tell.  In God’s name, then, give me the boat! I will,
With my poor strength, see what is to be done!
 
  Kuoni.  Ha, gallant Tell!
 
  Werni.  That’s like a huntsman true.
 
  Baum.  You are my angel, my preserver, Tell.        165
 
  Tell.  I may preserve you from the Viceroy’s power,
But from the tempest’s rage another must.
Yet better ’tis you fall into God’s hands,
Than into those of men.  [To the herdsman.
  Herdsman, do thou        170
Console my wife if I should come to grief.
I could not choose but do as I have done.  [He leaps into the boat.
 
  Kuoni  (to the fisherman). A pretty man to keep a ferry, truly!
What Tell could risk, you dared not venture on.
 
  Ruodi.  Far better men would never cope with Tell.        175
There’s no two such as he ’mong all our hills.
 
  Werni  (who has ascended a rock). Now he is off. God help thee, gallant sailor!
Look how the little boat reels on the waves!
There! they have swept clean over it. And now
 
  Kuoni  (on the shore).        180
’Tis out of sight. Yet stay, there ’tis again!
Stoutly he stems the breakers, noble fellow!
 
  Seppi.  Here come the troopers hard as they can ride!
 
  Kuoni.  Heavens! so they do! Why, that was help, indeed.  [Enter a troop of horsemen.
 
  1st H.  Give up the murderer! You have him here!        185
 
  2nd H.  This way he came! ’Tis useless to conceal him!
 
  Ruodi and Kuoni.  Whom do you mean?
 
  1st H.  (discovering the boat). The devil! What do I see?
 
  Werni.  (from above). Isn’t he in yonder boat ye seek? Ride on,
If you lay to, you may o’ertake him yet.        190
 
  2nd H.  Curse on you, he’s escaped!
 
  1st H.  (to the shepherd and fisherman). You help’d him off,
And you shall pay for it! Fall on their herds!
Down with the cottage! burn it! beat it down!  [They rush off.
 
  Seppi  (hurrying after them). Oh, my poor lambs!        195
 
  Kuoni  (following him). Unhappy me, my herds!
 
  Werni.  The tyrants!
 
  Ruodi.  (wringing his hands). Righteous Heaven! Oh, when will come Deliverance to this doom-devoted land?  [Exeunt severally.
 
Note 1. The German is, Thalvogt, Ruler of the Valley—the name given figuratively to a dense grey mist which the south wind sweeps into the valleys from the mountain tops. It is well known as the precursor of stormy weather. [back]
Note 2. A steep rock, standing on the north of Rutli, and nearly opposite to Brumen. [back]
Note 3. In German, Wolfenschiessen—a young man of noble family, and a native of Unterwalden, who attached himself to the House of Austria, and was appointed Burvogt, or Seneschal, of the Castle of Rossberg. He was killed by Baumgarten in the manner, and for the cause, mentioned in the text. [back]
Note 4. Literally, The Föhn is loose! “When,” says Müller, in his History of Switzerland, “the wind called the Föhn is high, the navigation of the lake becomes extremely dangerous. Such is its vehemence, that the laws of the country require that the fires shall be extinguished in the houses while it lasts, and the night watches are doubled. The inhabitants lay heavy stones upon the roofs of their houses, to prevent their being blown away.” [back]
Note 5. Bürglen, the birthplace and residence of Tell. A chapel, erected in 1522, remains on the spot formerly occupied by his house. [back]
 

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