Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VIII. National Spirit
Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VIII. National Spirit.  1904.
II. Freedom
“Make way for Liberty”
James Montgomery (1771–1854)
[Battle of Sempach, fourteenth century]

  “MAKE way for Liberty!”—he cried;
Made way for Liberty, and died!
  In arms the Austrian phalanx stood,
A living wall, a human wood!
A wall, where every conscious stone        5
Seemed to its kindred thousands grown;
A rampart all assaults to bear,
Till time to dust their frames should wear;
A wood like that enchanted grove
In which with fiends Rinaldo strove,        10
Where every silent tree possessed
A spirit prisoned in its breast,
Which the first stroke of coming strife
Would startle into hideous life:
So dense, so still, the Austrians stood,        15
A living wall, a human wood!
Impregnable their front appears,
All horrent with projected spears,
Whose polished points before them shine,
From flank to flank, one brilliant line,        20
Bright as the breakers’ splendors run
Along the billows to the sun.
  Opposed to these, a hovering band
Contended for their native land:
Peasants, whose new-found strength had broke        25
From manly necks the ignoble yoke,
And forged their fetters into swords,
On equal terms to fight their lords,
And what insurgent rage had gained
In many a mortal fray maintained:        30
Marshalled once more at Freedom’s call,
They came to conquer or to fall,
Where he who conquered, he who fell,
Was deemed a dead, or living, Tell!
Such virtues had that patriot breathed,        35
So to the soil his soul bequeathed,
That wheresoe’er his arrows flew
Heroes in his own likeness grew,
And warriors sprang from every sod
Which his awakening footstep trod.        40
  And now the work of life and death
Hung on the passing of a breath;
The fire of conflict burned within,
The battle trembled to begin:
Yet, while the Austrians held their ground,        45
Point for attack was nowhere found;
Where’er the impatient Switzers gazed,
The unbroken line of lances blazed:
That line ’t were suicide to meet,
And perish at their tyrants’ feet,—        50
How could they rest within their graves,
And leave their homes the homes of slaves?
Would they not feel their children tread
With clanging chains above their head?
  It must not be: this day, this hour,        55
Annihilates the oppressor’s power;
All Switzerland is in the field,
She will not fly, she cannot yield,—
She must not fall; her better fate
Here gives her an immortal date.        60
Few were the numbers she could boast;
But every freeman was a host,
And felt as though himself were he
On whose sole arm hung victory.
  It did depend on one indeed;        65
Behold him,—Arnold Winkelried!
There sounds not to the trump of fame
The echo of a nobler name.
Unmarked he stood amid the throng,
In rumination deep and long,        70
Till you might see, with sudden grace,
The very thought come o’er his face,
And by the motion of his form
Anticipate the bursting storm,
And by the uplifting of his brow        75
Tell where the bolt would strike, and how.
  But ’t was no sooner thought than done,
The field was in a moment won:—
  “Make way for Liberty!” he cried,
Then ran, with arms extended wide,        80
As if his dearest friend to clasp;
Ten spears he swept within his grasp.
  “Make way for Liberty!” he cried;
Their keen points met from side to side;
He bowed amongst them like a tree,        85
And thus made way for Liberty.
  Swift to the breach his comrades fly;
“Make way for Liberty!” they cry,
And through the Austrian phalanx dart,
As rushed the spears through Arnold’s heart;        90
While, instantaneous as his fall,
Rout, ruin, panic, scattered all:
An earthquake could not overthrow
A city with a surer blow.
  Thus Switzerland again was free;        95
Thus Death made way for Liberty!

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