xml/lby.00023.xml Icons of Liberty: from Make Way for Liberty!

James Montgomery , from Make Way for Liberty! (1828)

Transcribed from pages 256-259 of The Poetry of Freedom anthology (1945), edited by William Rose Benét and Norman Cousins.

From Make Way for Liberty!

[Battle of Sempach, July 9, 1386.]

  • "Make way for Liberty!"—he cried;
  • Make way for Liberty, and died!
  • In arms the Austrian phalanx stood,
  • A living wall, a human wood!
  • A wall, where every conscious stone
  • 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 . . .
  • So dense, so still, the Austrians stood,
  • A living wall, a human wood! . . .
  • Opposed to these, a hovering band
  • Contended for their native land:
  • Peasants, whose new-found strength had broke
  • From manly necks the ignoble yoke,
  • And forged their fetters into swords,
  • On equal terms to fight their lords,
  • And what insurgent rage he gained
  • In many a mortal fray maintained:
  • 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!
  • 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,
  • 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,—
  • 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,
  • 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.
  • 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;
  • Behold him,—Arnold Winkelried!
  • There sounds not to the trump of fame
  • The echo of a nobler name.
  • "Make way for Liberty!" he cried,
  • Then ran, with arms extended wide,
  • 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,
  • 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;
  • 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;
  • Thus Death made way for Liberty!

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