Schiller’s Ballad: Rudolf of Hapsburg

Der Graf von Habsburg

From “The Poems and Ballads of Schiller” translated from the German of Friedrich Schiller by Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, the last London edition, 1866.

Translator’s note: Hinrichs properly classes this striking ballad (together with the yet grander “Fight with the Dragon”) amongst those designed to depict and exalt the virtue of Humility. The source of the story is in Aegidius Tschudi, a Swiss chronicler; and Schiller appears to have adhered, with much fidelity, to the original narrative. The metre in the translation is slightly altered, when strictly rendered into English, a certain jerk in its rhythm, not pleasing to the ear.
Aix-la-Chapelle, in imperial array,
In that time-hallowed hall renown’d,
At solemn feast King Rudolph sate,
The day that saw the hero crown’d!
Bohemia and thy Palgrave, Rhine,
Give this the feast, and that the wine;
The Arch Electoral Seven,
Like choral stars around the sun,
Gird him whose hand a world has won,
That anointed choice of heaven.
In galleries raised above the pomp,
Pressed crowd on crowd their panting way;
And with the joy-resounding joyful tromp,
Rang out the million’s loud hurra!
For after rapine, strife and crime,
Has closed the fearful Kingless time,
Earth knows a JUDGE again:
No longer rules the iron spear,
No longer need the feeble fear
That might alone shall reign.
In Rudolf’s hand the goblet shines,
And gayly round the board looks he:
“And proud the feast, and bright the wines,
My kingly heart feels glad to me!
Yet where the Gladness-Bringer – blest,
In the sweet art which moves the breast,
With lyre and verse divine?
Dear from my youth the craft of song,
And what as knight I loved so long,
As Kaiser, still be mine.”
Lo, ‘mid the princely circle there.
With sweeping robe, the Bard appears,
As silver white his gleaming hair,
Bleach’d by the winds of many years:
“Sweet music sleeps in golden strings,
Love’s rich reward the minstrel sings,
The highest and the best-
The heart can wish, or sense desire;
He praises; – Dictate to my lyre
Theme for thy stateliest feast.”
The Great One smil’d — “Not mine the sway,
The minstrel owns a loftier power;
A mightier king inspires the lay,
As spring the storm winds to the skies,
And none can guess from which they rise,
As streams from founts unseen,
Song gushes from within – – revealing,
The while it wakes, the realm of Feeling,
Hushed in the souls of men!”
Swift with the Fire the minstrel glow’d,
And loud the music swept the ear:
“Forth to the chase a Hero rode,
To hunt the bounding chamois-deer;
With shaft and horn the squire behind; –
Through greenwards meads the riders wind —
A tinkling bell they hear.
Lo, with the Host, a holy man,
Before him strides the sacristan,
And the bell sounds near and near.
“The noble hunter bared his head,
And humbly to the earth inclin’d,
Revering, as becomes our creed,
The meek Redeemer of Mankind!
Loud through the plain a brooklet raves,
And checks the path with swollen waves,
Down rushing from the hill.
His sandle shoon the priest unbound,
And laid the Host upon the ground,
To ford the angry rill!
“‘What wouldst thou, priest?’ the Count began,
His gazing, wondering, halted there:
‘Sir Count, I seek a dying man,
Who hungers for the heavenly fare.
The bridge o’er which my journey lay,
By the strong current swept away,
Drifts down the tide below.
That the sick soul of health may taste
Now barefoot through the stream I haste,
God’s healing to bestow.’
“The Count has placed him on the steed,
And given the priest the lordly reins,
That he might serve the sick man’s need,
And speed the task that heaven ordains.
He took the horse the squire bestrode,
On to the chase the hunter rode,
While the priest on his journey was speeding
And the following morning, with thankful look,
And back the steed, when morn was red,
All meekly by the bridle led,
With thankful looks he brought.
“Now Heaven forefend!” the Hero cried,
“That o’er to chase or battle more,
These limbs the sacred steed bestride
That once my Maker’s image bore!
If not a boon allowed to thee,
Thy Lord and mine its master be.
To him in tribute given,
From whom I hold, as fiefs since birth,
Have received in fee, and my body and blood,
Honor and life, the goods of earth,
Soul – and the hopes of Heaven!’
“‘Then may the Lord of Hosts, who bears,
His lowliest servant’s supplication,
Accord the man whom him reveres –
Honor on earth, in Heaven salvation.
Far-famed even now through Swisserland,
Thy kingly rule and knightly hand;
Six daughters thine; and they,’
Inspired he cries, ‘Shall crown thy stem,
Each with a royal diadem,
Bright till the Judgment day.”
The mighty Kaiser heard amazed!
His heart was in the days of old;
Into the minstrel’s eyes he gazed,
That tale the Kaiser’s own had told.
Yes, in the Bard the priest he knew,
And in the purple veiled from view,
The gush of holy tears!
All on the Kaiser fix their sight,
Each in the Kaiser sees the Knight;
And God’s elect reveres!
The office, at the coronation feast, of the Count Palatine of the Rhine (Grand Sewer of the Empire, and one of the Seven Electors) was to bear the Imperial Globe and set the dishes on the board; that of the King of Bohemia was cup-bearer. The latter was not, however, present. as Schiller himself observed in a note (omitted in the editions of his works), at the coronation of Rudolf. At the coronation of Rudolf was celebrated the marriage-feast of three of his daughters: to Ludwig of Bavaria, Otto of Brandenburg, and Albrecht of Saxony.
His other three daughters married afterward Otto, nephew of Ludwig of Bavaria, Charles Martel, son of Charles of Anjou, and Wenceslaus, son of Ottocar of Bohemia. The royal house of England numbers Rudolf of Hapsburg among its ancestors.