The Horseman and the Lake of Constance

Gustav Schwab

O’er brambles and stones he gains the mead.

The mountains quitted he sees the land

Extend like a snow-white sheet of sand,

Behind him town and hamlet wane,

And smooth is the path of the level plain.

Not a hill around, not a house he sees,

The rocks have vanished, no shrubs nor trees;

A league hath he won, a second, a third,

Aloft is the cry of the solan-goose heard,

The water-hen soars on rustling wing,

No other sounds through the stillness ring;

No wanderer can his eye behold

To point out the path his steps should hold.

On, on, as on velvet, o’er yielding snow!

“O, when will the murmuring waters glow?”

The day hath waned, through the gloom of night

In the distance glimmers a taper’s light.

Mid the fog peers tree upon tree anew,

Dark mountains limit the distant view.

Again over stone and thorn he rides,

Then digs his spurs in the horse’s sides,

The dogs at the steed and his rider bay,

The village hearth glows with inviting ray.

“O, welcome, fair maid, at the window; say,

To the lake, to the lake, how far, I pray?”

The maiden gazed with wondering eye,

“Both ferry and lake behind thee lie.

And were it not bound by its icy crust,

I should say thou hadst quitted the boat but just.”

The stranger shuddered in dread suspense,

“Yon plain behind, I have ridden thence!”

The maiden uplifted her arms and spake,

“Great God! thou hast ridden across the lake:

The hoofs of thy steed have knocked at the grave,

In the gulf of death, the fathomless wave;

Did the billows beneath thee not vent their wrath?

Broke not with a crash thy icy path?

Thou wert not the prey of the silent brood,

Of the ravenous pike, in the chilly flood?”

She calls forth the village the tale to hear,

The gathering groups of boys draw near;

The dames and the sires crowd round the spot:

“Rejoice, O fortunate man, at thy lot!

Come in to the stove, to the steaming dish,

Break bread at our board and eat of our fish!”

The rider transfixed upon his steed,

Unto the first word alone gave heed.

His heart stood still, and on end his hair,

The horrors behind him still grimly stare;

His eye sees naught but the gulf profound,

His mind sinks down to the deep, deep ground;

Like rending ice in his ear it roars,

From his brow in torrents the cold sweat pours.

He sighs, falls from his steed to the ground;

A grave on the shore of the lake he found.