The Hostage by Friedrich Schiller (1798)

The tyrant Dionys to seek,
Stern Moerus with his poniard crept;
The watchful guard upon him swept;
The grim king marked his changeless cheek:
“What wouldst thou with thy poinard? Speak!”
“The city from the tyrant free!”
“The death-cross shall thy guerdon be.”

“I am prepared for death, nor pray,”
Replied that haughty man, “to live;
Enough, if thou one grace wilt give
For three brief suns the death delay
To wed my sister – leagues away;
I boast one friend whose life for mine,
If I should fail the cross, is thine.”

The tyrant mused, – and smiled, – and said
With gloomy craft, “So let it be;
Three days I will vouchsafe to thee.
But mark – if, when the time be sped,
Thou fail’st – thy surety dies instead.
His life shall buy shine own release;
Thy guilt atoned, my wrath shall cease.”

He sought his friend – “The king’s decree
Ordains my life the cross upon
Shall pay the deed I would have done;
Yet grants three days’ delay to me,
My sister’s marriage-rites to see;
If thou, the hostage, wilt remain
Till I – set free – return again!”

His friend embraced – No word he said.,
But silent to the tyrant strode –
The other went upon his road.
Ere the third sun in heaven was red,
The rite was o’er, the sister wed;
And back, with anxious heart unquailing,
He hastes to hold the pledge unfailing.

Down the great rains unending bore,
Down from the hills the torrents rushed,
In one broad stream the brooklets gushed
The wanderer halts beside the shore,
The bridge was swept the tides before –
The shattered arches o’er and under
Went the tumultuous waves in thunder.

Dismayed he takes his idle stand –
Dismayed, he strays and shouts around,
His voice awakes no answering sound.
No boat will leave the sheltering strand,
To bear him to the wished-for land;
No boatman will Death’s pilot be,
The wild stream gathers to a sea!

Sunk by the banks, awhile he weeps,
Then raised his arms to Jove, and cried,
“Stay thou, oh stay the maddening tide,
Midway behold the swift sun sweeps,
And, ere he sinks adown the deeps,
If I should fail, his beams will see
My friend’s last anguish – slain for me!

More fierce it runs, more broad it flows,
And wave on wave succeeds and dies
And hour on hour remorseless tries,
Despair at last to daring grows –
Amidst the flood his form he throws,
With vigorous arms the roaring waves
Cleaves – and a God that pities, saves.

He wins the bank – he scours the strand?
He thanks the God in breathless prayer;
When from the forest’s gloomy lair,
With ragged club in ruthless hand,
And breathing murder – rushed the band
That find, in woods, their savage den,
And savage prey in wandering men.

“What,” cried he, pale with generous fear;
“What think to gain ye by the strife?
All I bear with me is my life –
I take it to the king!” – and here
He snatched the club from him most near:
And thrice he smote, and thrice his blows
Dealt death – before him fly the foes!

The sun is glowing as a brand;
And faint before the parching heat,
The strength forsakes the feeble feet:
“Thou hast saved me from the robbers’ hand,
Through wild floods given the blessed land;
And shall the weak limbs fail me now?
And he! – Divine one, nerve me, thou!

Hark! like some gracious murmur by,
Babbles low music, silver-clear –
The wanderer holds his breath to hear;
And from the rock, before his eye,
Laughs forth the spring delightedly;
Now the sweet waves he bends him o’er,
And the sweet waves his strength restore.

Through the green boughs the sun gleams dying,
O’er fields that drink the rosy beam,
The trees’ huge shadows giant seem.
Two strangers on the road are hieing;
And as they fleet beside him are flying
These muttered words his ear dismay:
“Now – now the cross has claimed its prey!”

Despair his winged path pursues,
The anxious terrors hound him on –
There, reddening in the evening sun,
From far, the domes of Syracuse! –
When towards him comes Philostratus
(His leaf and trusty herdsman he),
And to the master bends his knee.

“Back – thou canst aid thy friend no more.
The niggard time already down –
His life is forfeit – save shine own!
Hour after hour in hope he bore,
Nor might his soul its faith give o’er;
Nor could the tyrant’s scorn deriding,
Steal from that faith one thought confiding!”

“Too late! what horror hast thou spoken!
Vain life, since it cannot requite him!
But death with me can yet unite him;
No boast the tyrant’s scorn shall make –
How friend to friend can faith forsake.
But from the double death shall know,
That truth and love yet live below!”

The sun sinks down – the gate’s in view,
The cross looms dismal on the ground –
The eager crowd gape murmuring round.
His friend is bound the cross unto….
Crowd – guards – all bursts he breathless through:
“Me! Doomsman, me!” he shouts, “alone!
His life is rescued – lo, mine own!”

Amazement seized the circling ring!
Linked in each other’s arms the pair –
Weeping for joy – yet anguish there!
Moist every eye that gazed; – they bring
The wondrous tidings to the king –
His breast man’s heart at last hath known,
And the friends stand before his throne.

Long silent, he, and wondering long,
Gazed on the pair – “In peace depart,
Victors, ye have subdued my heart!
Truth is no dream! – its power is strong.
Give grace to him who owns his wrong!
‘Tis mine your suppliant now to be,
Ah, let the band of love – be three!”

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