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 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
Upon her own calm mirror, upon a sleeping town:
For Bregenz, that quaint city upon the Tyrol shore,
Has stood above Lake Constance a thousand years and more.
Her battlement and towers, from off their rocky steep,
Have cast their trembling shadow for ages on the deep;
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, 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,
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, 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.
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 rumors 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,
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 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.
The golden corn was bending upon its fragile stock,
While farmers, heedless of their fields, paced up and down in talk.
The men seemed stern and altered, 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;
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, 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.
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 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,
Bregenz, our foeman’s stronghold, Bregenz shall be our own!”
The women shrank in terror, (yet Pride, too, had her part,)
But one poor Tyrol maiden 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!
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, (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,
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 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.
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: Why is her steed so slow?—
Scarcely the wind beside them can pass them as they go.
“Faster!” she cries. “Oh, faster!” Eleven the church-bells chime;
“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 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
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, 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,
And see—in the far distance shine out the lights of home!
Up the steep bank he bears her, and now they rush again
Toward the heights of Bregenz, 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.
Bregenz is saved! Ere daylight her battlements are manned;
Defiance greets the army that marches on the land.
And if to deeds heroic should endless fame be paid,
Bregenz does well to honor the noble Tyrol maid.
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 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,
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 he calls the maiden’s name!