Madison Julius Cawein

(1865-1914 / the United States)

Zyps Of Zirl


The Alps of the Tyrol are dark with pines,
Where, foaming under the mountain spines,
The Inn's long water sounds and shines.

Beyond, are peaks where the morning weaves
An icy rose; and the evening leaves
The glittering gold of a thousand sheaves.

Deep vines and torrents and glimmering haze,
And sheep-bells tinkling on mountain ways,
And fluting shepherds make sweet the days.

The rolling mist, like a wandering fleece,
The great round moon in a mountain crease,
And a song of love make the nights all peace.

Beneath the blue Tyrolean skies
On the banks of the Inn, that foams and flies,
The storied city of Innsbruck lies.

With its mediaeval streets, that crook,
And its gabled houses, it has the look
Of a belfried town in a fairy-book.

So wild the Tyrol that oft, 'tis said,
When the storm is out and the town in bed,
The howling of wolves sweeps overhead.

And oft the burgher, sitting here
In his walled rose-garden, hears the clear
Shrill scream of the eagle circling near.

And this is the tale that the burghers tell:
The Abbot of Wiltau stood at his cell
Where the Solstein lifts its pinnacle.

A mighty summit of bluffs and crags
That frowns on the Inn; where the forest stags
Have worn a path to the water-flags.

The Abbot of Wiltau stood below;
And he was aware of a plume and bow
On the precipice there in the morning's glow.

A chamois, he saw, from span to span
Had leapt; and after it leapt a man;
And he knew 't was the Kaiser Maxmilian.

But, see! though rash as the chamois he,
His foot less sure. And verily
If the King should miss ... 'Jesu, Marie!

'The King hath missed!'-And, look, he falls!
Rolls headlong out to the headlong walls.
What saint shall save him on whom he calls?

What saint shall save him, who struggles there
On the narrow ledge by the eagle's lair,
With hooked hands clinging 'twixt earth and air?

The Abbot, he crosses himself in dread
'Let prayers go up for the nearly dead,
And the passing-bell be tolled,' he said.

'For the House of Hapsburg totters; see,
How raveled the thread of its destiny,
Sheer hung between cloud and rock!' quoth he.

But hark! where the steeps of the peak reply,
Is it an eagle's echoing cry?
And the flitting shadow, its plumes on high?

No voice of the eagle is that which rings!
And the shadow, a wiry man who swings
Down, down where the desperate Kaiser clings.

The crampons bound to his feet, he leaps
Like a chamois now; and again he creeps
Or twists, like a snake, o'er the fearful deeps.

'By his cross-bow, baldrick, and cap's black curl,'
Quoth the Abbot below, 'I know the churl!
'T is the hunted outlaw Zyps of Zirl.

'Upon whose head, or dead or alive,
The Kaiser hath posted a price.-Saints shrive
The King!' quoth Wiltau. 'Who may contrive

'To save him now that his foe is there?'
But, listen! again through the breathless air
What words are those that the echoes bear?

'Courage, my King!-To the rescue, ho!'
The wild voice rings like a twanging bow,
And the staring Abbot stands mute below.

And, lo! the hand of the outlaw grasps
The arm of the King-and death unclasps
Its fleshless fingers from him who gasps.

And how he guides! where the clean cliffs wedge
Them flat to their faces; by chasm and ledge
He helps the King from the merciless edge.

Then up and up, past bluffs that shun
The rashest chamois; where eagles sun
Fierce wings and brood; where the mists are spun.

And safe at last stand Kaiser and churl
On the mountain path where the mosses curl
And this the revenge of Zyps of Zirl.

Submitted: Friday, October 05, 2012

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