Anastasius Grün: “Maximilian Before Vienna” 1/2

Excerpt, “The Last Knight:  A Romance Garland from the German of Anastasius Grün.”  Translated by John O. Sargent.  1871.

A novel-length Life Ballad of Maximilian I (1459-1519), Holy Roman Emperor, King in Germany, of Hungary, Dalmatia, Croatia, etc. Archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, Brabant, Lorraine, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, Limburg, Luxembourg, Gelderland, Landgrave of Alsace, Prince of Swabia, Count Palatine of Burgundy, Princely Count of Habsburg, Hainaut, Flanders, Tyrol, Gorizia, Artois, Holland, Seeland, Ferrette, Kyburg, Namur, Zutphen, Margrave of the Holy Roman Empire, the Enns, Burgau, Lord of Frisia, the Wendish March, Pordenone, Salins, Mechelen, etc.

Matthias Corvin, King of Hungary, the most illustrious monarch of his age, had been for 30 years the plague of the emperor, and had overrun Austria and taken Vienna in 1485.  Frederick was unwilling to pay the 700,000 florins he demanded for the evacuation of his territory; and the more so because the astrologers had predicted the king’s death in 1490.  In that year, it occurred.

Maximilian raised an army of several thousand men, and entered Vienna amid the acclamations of its citizens.  The citadel, occupied by an Hungarian garrison, resisted successfully two storming parties, in one of which the king who led it was wounded.  On the tenth day the garrison surrendered, and its fall was followed by the early surrender of other strongholds and the expulsion of the Hungarians from Austria.



August, 1490

The Reunion


On a hill-side, near Vienna, has stood, from days of yore

With delicate tracery chisell’d, a column tall and hoar;

Since the old days the Spinner at the Cross they’ve called the column,

And the old days rustle round it still, in legends quaint and solemn.


And thou, oh, gazing wanderer, who stands there-now a-days,

Thrill’st with the magic beauties the scenery displays;

And as the golden eagle with rustling plumage flies,

Sinks down upon thy heart inspiration from the skies.


There, with unrivaled grandeur, in matchless beauty bright,

The old imperial city breaks on the startled site;

Around green woods and mountains, streams, meadows, and crops like gold.

God’s scroll of benedictions before thee lies unroll’d.


Round about this sea of stones, through the sloping valley lie,

Low in the broad savannas, and on the upland high,

Chapels, cottages, and castles, strewn on their ground of green,

Like white lambs by the side of the greater cattle seen.


And a stirring joyful murmur, the hollow rumble of drays,

And bells from a hundred steeples, shouts of joy and songs of praise;

In a thousand-fold echo swelling, it reaches the listener’s ear,

As if it were hymning in chorus—“a happy folk lives here.”


The earth with a gentle tremor quivers under thy feet,

The pulses of joy and life there so vigorously beat;

The breezes in light vibration ripple about thine ear,

And speak to thy heart in a whisper—“a happy folk lives here.”


Not such to Max the aspect, when here he took his stand,

And gazes, with moistened vision, on the city and the land;

With him a powerful army of horse and foot appear,

With beaming helm and armour, and banner, shield and spear.


Again he sees the towers of the vast cathedral gleam,

And there, beyond colossal piles, the Danube’s azure stream,

That seems the faithful city with a girdle to enfold,

As a snake of a magician lies in watch before his gold.


The grey ancestral castle, afar he sees once more,

And well it might remind him of the better days of yore;

For once the Hapsburg banner serenely floated where

The hostile flag of Hungary, wild blowing, floats the air.


And around stand, waist and empty, wide fields where once there roll’d

The yellow sheaves of harvest, like a waving sea of gold;

Did the reaper watch his season to cut the ripen’d grain,

Or did the Hungarian pasture his horse upon the plain?


See hill-top green on hill-top the azure stream along,

Once grapes hung there in clusters, once music swell’d and song;

When the vine-dresser plucks thy clusters, he takes his own by stealth,

At night alone he rifles his vineyard’s purple wealth.


Stand churches white and shining on all the hills around,

Where bell and song are silenced, stifled wailings only sound;

Thanks, thanks alone, once blended there with the merry chime of bells—

There is little left to pray for where Thrift with Freedom dwells.


Now sorrow rise on sorrows, and smoking cloud on cloud,

“Approach, and save thy people!” they seem to cry aloud;

And flaming sounds the answer return’d from Max’s breast,

“Deliverance shall give thee prosperity and rest!


“My Austria, peerless Austria! All lands to thee must yield,

Truth shines as thy escutcheon, hold fast the diamond shield!

Rolls o’er thy head an atmosphere that blessing ever fills,

And silver are thy highways, and golden are thy hills.


“My greetings to thee, Austria! Yet how we meet again,

When misery shrouds thy hill-top, and misery sweeps thy plain—

Thine air the smoke of villages, thy rivers streams of blood,

Despair thine only chorus, and Truth thine only good!


“Thou city of my fathers! What a sad meeting ours!

See blood-soaked banners flapping from my ancestral towers;

And I, alas! Who gladly the crown of peace would bring,

Must crackling garlands of fire about thy turrets swing.


“Thou hast suffer’d, and must suffer, and yet thou wilt not fall,

The prison of suffering arches itself to a dome of joy for all;

O, that a fitting guerdon might crown thy strength and truth,

And shine on thee from the darkness a day of spring and youth!”


To be continued…