Believe it or not, I actually found this poem in a school book. Albeit one I am afraid to hold all the way open lest it fall apart in its old age.
The battle takes place July 9, 1386 in the pass of Sempach. The Austrian cavalry was unable to be used to advantage in the narrow pass so they dismounted and formed a wall of spears. After repeated unsuccesful attempts to break the line a knight, Arnold von Winkelried, threw himself upon the spears to make a way thru. This was the battle that won Switzerland its freedom from the Austrians.
Make way for Liberty
“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
Seemed to its kindred thousands grown;
A rampart all assaults to bear,
Till time to dust their frames shall wear;
A wood like that enchanted grove,
In which, with fiends, Rinaldo strove,
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,
A living wall, a human wood!
Impregnable their front appears,
All horent with projected spears,
whose polished points before them shine,
From flank to flank, one brilliant line,
Bright as the breakers’ splendor 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
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:
Marshaled once more at Freedom’s call
They come 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 lanced blazed;
That line ‘t were suicide to meet,
And perish at their tyrant’s feet;
How could they rest within their graves,
And leave their homes the homes of slaves?
Would they not feel their children tread
With clanking 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 arms 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.
Unmarked he stood amid the throng,
In rumination deep and long,
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,
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,
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 among them like a tree,
And thus was 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 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.
Such was the day for our regiment
Dread the revenge we will take
Dearly we paid for the blunder
A drawingroom General’s mistake.
The festal blazes, the triumphal show,
The ravish’d standard, and the captive foe,
The senate’s thanks, the Gazette’s pompous tale,
With force resistless o’er the brave prevail.
Such bribes the rapid Greek o’er Asia whirl’d;
For such the steady Romans shook the world;
For such in distant lands the Britons shine,
And stain with blood the Danube or the Rhine;
This power has praise, that virtue scarce can warm,
Till Fame supplies the universal charm.
Yet Reason frowns on War’s unequal game,
Where wasted nations raise a single name,
And mortgaged ‘states their grandsires’ wreaths regret,
From age to age in everlasting debt;
Wreaths which at last the dear-bought right convey
To rust on medals, or on stones decay.
– Samuel Johnson