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Theodore Martin - Wilhelm Tell (Act 1 Scene 4) lyrics

The House of WALTER FURST.
WALTER FURST and ARNOLD
VON MELCHTHAL enter simultaneously at different sides.

MELCHTHAL.
Good Walter Furst.

FURST.
If we should be surprised!
Stay where you are. We are beset with spies.

MELCHTHAL.
Have you no news for me from Unterwald?
What of my father? 'Tis not to be borne,
Thus to be pent up like a felon here!
What have I done of such a heinous stamp,
To skulk and hide me like a murderer?
I only laid my staff across the fingers
Of the pert varlet, when before my eyes,
By order of the governor, he tried
To drive away my handsome team of oxen.

FURST.
You are too rash by far. He did no more
Than what the governor had ordered him.
You had transgressed, and therefore should have paid
The penalty, however hard, in silence.

MELCHTHAL.
Was I to brook the fellow's saucy words?
"That if the peasant must have bread to eat;
Why, let him go and draw the plough himself!"
It cut me to the very soul to see
My oxen, noble creatures, when the knave
Unyoked them from the plough. As though they felt
The wrong, they lowed and butted with their horns.
On this I could contain myself no longer,
And, overcome by pa**ion, struck him down.

FURST.
Oh, we old men can scarce command ourselves!
And can we wonder youth shall break its bounds?

MELCHTHAL.
I'm only sorry for my father's sake!
To be away from him, that needs so much
My fostering care! The governor detests him,
Because he hath, whene'er occasion served,
Stood stoutly up for right and liberty.
Therefore they'll bear him hard—the poor old man!
And there is none to shield him from their gripe.
Come what come may, I must go home again.

FURST.
Compose yourself, and wait in patience till
We get some tidings o'er from Unterwald.
Away! away! I hear a knock! Perhaps
A message from the viceroy! Get thee in!
You are not safe from Landenberger's 6 arm
In Uri, for these tyrants pull together.

MELCHTHAL.
They teach us Switzers what we ought to do.

FURST.
Away! I'll call you when the coast is clear.

[MELCHTHAL retires.

Unhappy youth! I dare not tell him all
The evil that my boding heart predicts!
Who's there? The door ne'er opens but I look
For tidings of mishap. Suspicion lurks
With darkling treachery in every nook.
Even to our inmost rooms they force their way,
These myrmidons of power; and soon we'll need
To fasten bolts and bars upon our doors.

[He opens the door and steps back in surprise as
WERNER STAUFFACHER enters.

What do I see? You, Werner? Now, by Heaven!
A valued guest, indeed. No man e'er set
His foot across this threshold more esteemed.
Welcome! thrice welcome, Werner, to my roof!
What brings you here? What seek you here in Uri?

STAUFFACHER
(shakes FURST by the hand).
The olden times and olden Switzerland.

FURST.
You bring them with you. See how I'm rejoiced,
My heart leaps at the very sight of you.
Sit down—sit down, and tell me how you left
Your charming wife, fair Gertrude? Iberg's child,
And clever as her father. Not a man,
That wends from Germany, by Meinrad's Cell, 7
To Italy, but praises far and wide
Your house's hospitality. But say,
Have you come here direct from Flueelen,
And have you noticed nothing on your way,
Before you halted at my door?

STAUFFACHER (sits down).
I saw
A work in progress, as I came along,
I little thought to see—that likes me ill.

FURST.
O friend! you've lighted on my thought at once.

STAUFFACHER.
Such things in Uri ne'er were known before.
Never was prison here in man's remembrance,
Nor ever any stronghold but the grave.

FURST.
You name it well. It is the grave of freedom.

STAUFFACHER.
Friend, Walter Furst, I will be plain with you.
No idle curiosity it is
That brings me here, but heavy cares. I left
Thraldom at home, and thraldom meets me here.
Our wrongs, e'en now, are more than we can bear.
And who shall tell us where they are to end?
From eldest time the Switzer has been free,
Accustomed only to the mildest rule.
Such things as now we suffer ne'er were known
Since herdsmen first drove cattle to the hills.

FURST.
Yes, our oppressions are unparalleled!
Why, even our own good lord of Attinghaus,
Who lived in olden times, himself declares
They are no longer to be tamely borne.

STAUFFACHER.
In Unterwalden yonder 'tis the same;
And bloody has the retribution been.
The imperial seneschal, the Wolfshot, who
At Rossberg dwelt, longed for forbidden fruits—
Baumgarten's wife, that lives at Alzellen,
He wished to overcome in shameful sort,
On which the husband slew him with his axe.

FURST.
Oh, Heaven is just in all its judgments still!
Baumgarten, say you? A most worthy man.
Has he escaped, and is he safely hid?

STAUFFACHER.
Your son-in-law conveyed him o'er the lake,
And he lies hidden in my house at Steinen.
He brought the tidings with him of a thing
That has been done at Sarnen, worse than all,
A thing to make the very heart run blood!

FURST
(attentively).
Say on. What is it?

STAUFFACHER.
There dwells in Melchthal, then,
Just as you enter by the road from Kearns,
An upright man, named Henry of the Halden,
A man of weight and influence in the Diet.

FURST.
Who knows him not? But what of him? Proceed.

STAUFFACHER.
The Landenberg, to punish some offence,
Committed by the old man's son, it seems,
Had given command to take the youth's best pair
Of oxen from his plough: on which the lad
Struck down the messenger and took to flight.

FURST.
But the old father—tell me, what of him?

STAUFFACHER.
The Landenberg sent for him, and required
He should produce his son upon the spot;
And when the old man protested, and with truth,
That he knew nothing of the fugitive,
The tyrant called his torturers.

FURST
(springs up and tries to lead him to the other side).
Hush, no more!

STAUFFACHER
(with increasing warmth).
"And though thy son," he cried, "Has escaped me now,
I have thee fast, and thou shalt feel my vengeance."
With that they flung the old man to the earth,
And plunged the pointed steel into his eyes.

FURST.
Merciful heavens!

MELCHTHAL
(rushing out).
Into his eyes, his eyes?

STAUFFACHER
(addresses himself in astonishment to WALTER FURST).
Who is this youth?

MELCHTHAL
(grasping him convulsively).
Into his eyes? Speak, speak!

FURST.
Oh, miserable hour!

STAUFFACHER.
Who is it, tell me?

[STAUFFACHER makes a sign to him.

It is his son! All righteous heaven!

MELCHTHAL.
And I
Must be from thence! What! into both his eyes?

FURST.
Be calm, be calm; and bear it like a man!

MELCHTHAL.
And all for me—for my mad wilful folly!
Blind, did you say? Quite blind—and both his eyes?

STAUFFACHER.
Even so. The fountain of his sight's dried up.
He ne'er will see the blessed sunshine more.

FURST.
Oh, spare his anguish!

MELCHTHAL.
Never, never more!

[Presses his hands upon his eyes and is silent for some
moments; then turning from one to the other, speaks in a
subdued tone, broken by sobs.

O the eye's light, of all the gifts of heaven,
The dearest, best! From light all beings live—
Each fair created thing—the very plants
Turn with a joyful transport to the light,
And he—he must drag on through all his days
In endless darkness! Never more for him
The sunny meads shall glow, the flowerets bloom;
Nor shall he more behold the roseate tints
Of the iced mountain top! To die is nothing,
But to have life, and not have sight—oh, that
Is misery indeed! Why do you look
So piteously at me? I have two eyes,
Yet to my poor blind father can give neither!
No, not one gleam of that great sea of light,
That with its dazzling splendor floods my gaze.

STAUFFACHER.
Ah, I must swell the measure of your grief,
Instead of soothing it. The worst, alas!
[Lyrics from: https:/lyrics.az/theodore-martin/-/wilhelm-tell-act-1-scene-4.html]
Remains to tell. They've stripped him of his all;
Naught have they left him, save his staff, on which,
Blind and in rags, he moves from door to door.

MELCHTHAL.
Naught but his staff to the old eyeless man!
Stripped of his all—even of the light of day,
The common blessing of the meanest wretch.
Tell me no more of patience, of concealment!
Oh, what a base and coward thing am I,
That on mine own security I thought
And took no care of thine! Thy precious head
Left as a pledge within the tyrant's grasp!
Hence, craven-hearted prudence, hence! And all
My thoughts be vengeance, and the despot's blood!
I'll seek him straight—no power shall stay me now—
And at his hands demand my father's eyes.
I'll beard him 'mid a thousand myrmidons!
What's life to me, if in his heart's best blood
I cool the fever of this mighty anguish.

[He is going.

FURST.
Stay, this is madness, Melchthal! What avails
Your single arm against his power? He sits
At Sarnen high within his lordly keep,
And, safe within its battlemented walls,
May laugh to scorn your unavailing rage.

MELCHTHAL.
And though he sat within the icy domes
Of yon far Schreckhorn—ay, or higher, where
Veiled since eternity, the Jungfrau soars,
Still to the tyrant would I make my way;
With twenty comrades minded like myself,
I'd lay his fastness level with the earth!
And if none follow me, and if you all,
In terror for your homesteads and your herds,
Bow in submission to the tyrant's yoke,
I'll call the herdsmen on the hills around me,
And there beneath heaven's free and boundless roof,
Where men still feel as men, and hearts are true
Proclaim aloud this foul enormity!

STAUFFACHER
(to FURST).
'Tis at its height—and are we then to wait
Till some extremity——

MELCHTHAL.
What extremity
Remains for apprehension, where men's eyes
Have ceased to be secure within their sockets?
Are we defenceless? Wherefore did we learn
To bend the crossbow—wield the battle-axe?
What living creature, but in its despair,
Finds for itself a weapon of defence?
The baited stag will turn, and with the show
Of his dread antlers hold the hounds at bay;
The chamois drags the huntsman down the abyss;
The very ox, the partner of man's toil,
The sharer of his roof, that meekly bends
The strength of his huge neck beneath the yoke,
Springs up, if he's provoked, whets his strong horn,
And tosses his tormenter to the clouds.

FURST.
If the three Cantons thought as we three do,
Something might, then, be done, with good effect.

STAUFFACHER.
When Uri calls, when Unterwald replies,
Schwytz will be mindful of her ancient league. 8

MELCHTHAL.
I've many friends in Unterwald, and none
That would not gladly venture life and limb
If fairly backed and aided by the rest.
Oh, sage and reverend fathers of this land,
Here do I stand before your riper years,
An unsk**ed youth whose voice must in the Diet
Still be subdued into respectful silence.
Do not, because that I am young and want
Experience, slight my counsel and my words.
'Tis not the wantonness of youthful blood
That fires my spirit; but a pang so deep
That even the flinty rocks must pity me.
You, too, are fathers, heads of families,
And you must wish to have a virtuous son
To reverence your gray hairs and shield your eyes
With pious and affectionate regard.
Do not, I pray, because in limb and fortune
You still are una**ailed, and still your eyes
Revolve undimmed and sparkling in their spheres;
Oh, do not, therefore, disregard our wrongs!
Above you, too, doth hang the tyrant's sword.
You, too, have striven to alienate the land
From Austria. This was all my father's crime:
You share his guilt and may his punishment.

STAUFFACHER
(to FURST).
Do then resolve! I am prepared to follow.

FURST.
First let us learn what steps the noble lords
Von Sillinen and Attinghaus propose.
Their names would rally thousands in the cause.

MELCHTHAL.
Is there a name within the Forest Mountains
That carries more respect than thine—and thine?
To names like these the people cling for help
With confidence—such names are household words.
Rich was your heritage of manly virtue,
And richly have you added to its stores.
What need of nobles? Let us do the work
Ourselves. Although we stood alone, methinks
We should be able to maintain our rights.

STAUFFACHER.
The nobles' wrongs are not so great as ours.
The torrent that lays waste the lower grounds
Hath not ascended to the uplands yet.
But let them see the country once in arms
They'll not refuse to lend a helping hand.

FURST.
Were there an umpire 'twixt ourselves and Austria,
Justice and law might then decide our quarrel.
But our oppressor is our emperor, too,
And judge supreme. 'Tis God must help us, then,
And our own arm! Be yours the task to rouse
The men of Schwytz; I'll rally friends in Uri.
But whom are we to send to Unterwald?

MELCHTHAL.
Thither send me. Whom should it more concern?

FURST.
No, Melchthal, no; thou art my guest, and I
Must answer for thy safety.

MELCHTHAL.
Let me go.
I know each forest track and mountain pa**;
Friends too I'll find, be sure, on every hand,
To give me willing shelter from the foe.

STAUFFACHER.
Nay, let him go; no traitors harbor there:
For tyranny is so abhorred in Unterwald
No minions can be found to work her will.
In the low valleys, too, the Alzeller
Will gain confederates and rouse the country.

MELCHTHAL.
But how shall we communicate, and not
Awaken the suspicion of the tyrants?

STAUFFACHER.
Might we not meet at Brunnen or at Treib,
Hard by the spot where merchant-vessels land?

FURST.
We must not go so openly to work.
Hear my opinion. On the lake's left bank,
As we sail hence to Brunnen, right against
The Mytenstein, deep-hidden in the wood
A meadow lies, by shepherds called the Rootli,
Because the wood has been uprooted there.
'Tis where our Canton boundaries verge on yours;—

[To MELCHTHAL.

Your boat will carry you across from Schwytz.

[To STAUFFACHER.

Thither by lonely by-paths let us wend
At midnight and deliberate o'er our plans.
Let each bring with him there ten trusty men,
All one at heart with us; and then we may
Consult together for the general weal,
And, with God's guidance, fix our onward course.

STAUFFACHER.
So let it be. And now your true right hand!
Yours, too, young man! and as we now three men
Among ourselves thus knit our hands together
In all sincerity and truth, e'en so
Shall we three Cantons, too, together stand
In victory and defeat, in life and d**h.

FURST and MELCHTHAL.
In life and d**h.

[They hold their hands clasped together for some moments in silence.

MELCHTHAL.
Alas, my old blind father!
Thou canst no more behold the day of freedom;
But thou shalt hear it. When from Alp to Alp
The beacon-fires throw up their flaming signs,
And the proud castles of the tyrants fall,
Into thy cottage shall the Switzer burst,
Bear the glad tidings to thine ear, and o'er
Thy darkened way shall Freedom's radiance pour.


Footnotes:

6 Berenger von Landenberg, a man of noble family in Thurgau and
governor of Unterwald, infamous for his cruelties to the Swiss, and
particularly to the venerable Henry of the Halden. He was slain at the
battle of Morgarten in 1315.

7 A cell built in the ninth century by Meinrad, Count Hohenzollern,
the founder of the Convent of Einsiedlen, subsequently alluded to in the
text.

8 The League, or Bond, of the Three Cantons was of very ancient
origin. They met and renewed it from time to time, especially when their
liberties were threatened with danger. A remarkable instance of this
occurred in the end of the thirteenth century, when Albert of Austria
became emperor, and when, possibly, for the first time, the bond was
reduced to writing. As it is important to the understanding of many
pa**ages of the play, a translation is subjoined of the oldest known
document relating to it. The original, which is in Latin and German, is
dated in August, 1291, and is under the seals of the whole of the men of
Schwytz, the commonalty of the vale of Uri, and the whole of the men of
the upper and lower vales of Stanz.

THE BOND.

Be it known to every one, that the men of the Dale of Uri, the Community
of Schwytz, as also the men of the mountains of Unterwald, in
consideration of the evil times, have full confidently bound themselves,
and sworn to help each other with all their power and might, property and
people, against all who shall do violence to them, or any of them. That
is our Ancient Bond.

Whoever hath a Seignior, let him obey according to the conditions of his
service.

We are agreed to receive into these dales no Judge who is not a
countryman and indweller, or who hath bought his place.

Every controversy amongst the sworn confederates shall be determined by
some of the sagest of their number, and if any one shall challenge their
judgment, then shall he be constrained to obey it by the rest.

Whoever intentionally or deceitfully k**s another shall be executed, and
whoever shelters him shall be banished.

Whoever burns the property of another shall no longer be regarded as a
countryman, and whoever shelters him shall make good the damage done.

Whoever injures another, or robs him, and hath property in our country,
shall make satisfaction out of the same.

No one shall distrain a debtor without a judge, nor any one who is not
his debtor, or the surety for such debtor.

Every one in these dales shall submit to the judge, or we, the sworn
confederates, all will take satisfaction for all the injury occasioned by
his contumacy. And if in any internal division the one party will not
accept justice, all the rest shall help the other party. These decrees
shall, God willing, endure eternally for our general advantage.

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