The Swiss Mercenaries (Poem by Victor Hugo)

Old Poem



The Swiss Mercenaries
By Victor Hugo


When the regiment of Halberdiers
    Is proudly marching by,
The eagle of the mountain screams
    From out his stormy sky;
Who speaketh to the precipice,
    And to the chasm sheer;
Who hovers o'er the thrones of kings,
    And bids the caitiffs fear.
King of the peak and glacier,
    King of the cold, white scalps — 
He lifts his head, at that close tread,
    The eagle of the Alps.

O shame! those men that march below — 
    O ignominy dire!
Are the sons of my free mountains
    Sold for imperial hire.
Ah! the vilest in the dungeon!
    Ah! the slave upon the seas — 
Is great, is pure, is glorious,
    Is grand compared with these,
Who, born amid my holy rocks,
    In solemn places high,
Where the tall pines bend like rushes
    When the storm goes sweeping by;

Yet give the strength of foot they learned
    By perilous path and flood,
And from their blue-eyed mothers won,
    The old, mysterious blood;
The daring that the good south wind
    Into their nostrils blew,
And the proud swelling of the heart
    With each pure breath they drew;
The graces of the mountain glens,
    With flowers in summer gay;
And all the glories of the hills
    To earn a lackey's pay.

Their country free and joyous — 
    She of the rugged sides — 
She of the rough peaks arrogant
    Whereon the tempest rides:
Mother of the unconquered thought
    And of the savage form,
Who brings out of her sturdy heart
    The hero and the storm:
Who giveth freedom unto man,
    And life unto the beast;
Who hears her silver torrents ring
    Like joy-bells at a feast;

Who hath her caves for palaces,
    And where her ch├ólets stand — 
The proud, old archer of Altorf,
    With his good bow in his hand.
Is she to suckle jailers?
    Shall shame and glory rest,
Amid her lakes and glaciers,
    Like twins upon her breast?
Shall the two-headed eagle,
    Marked with her double blow,
Drink of her milk through all those hearts
    Whose blood he bids to flow?

Say, was it pomp ye needed,
    And all the proud array
Of courtly joust and high parade
    Upon a gala day?
Look up; have not my valleys
    Their torrents white with foam — 
Their lines of silver bullion
    On the blue hillocks of home?
Doth not sweet May embroider
    My rocks with pearls and flowers?
Her fingers trace a richer lace
    Than yours in all my bowers.

Are not my old peaks gilded
    When the sun arises proud,
And each one shakes a white mist plume
    Out of the thunder-cloud?
O, neighbor of the golden sky — 
    Sons of the mountain sod — 
Why wear a base king's colors
    For the livery of God?
O shame! despair! to see my Alps
    Their giant shadows fling
Into the very waiting-room
    Of tyrant and of king!

O thou deep heaven, unsullied yet,
    Into thy gulfs sublime — 
Up azure tracts of flaming light — 
    Let my free pinion climb;
Till from my sight, in that clear light,
    Earth and her crimes be gone — 
The men who act the evil deeds — 
    The caitiffs who look on.
Far, far into that space immense,
    Beyond the vast white veil,
Where distant stars come out and shine,
    And the great sun grows pale.



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