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Though doubtless unfamiliar to English ears, the name of the greatest of the Minnesingers, Walter von der Vogelweide, should yet not be altogether unknown. Longfellow has retold the charming legend of the poet leaving money for the birds, his masters in song, to be fed daily at his tomb for ever; and lovers of Wagner will remember that among the singers who take part in the poetic contest at the Wartburg, in the second act of Tannhäuser, Walter von der Vogelweide plays a prominent part. But, indeed, no excuse should be needed for the endeavour to interest English readers in a name which, after an oblivion of centuries, has once more become almost a household word in Germany, and in the works of a man who has exercised no small influence on the development of modern German poetry. This revived interest in Walter von der Vogelweide and his works was due, not only to the fact that the awakened national consciousness of the German people has been glad to gather up the threads of connection with its brighter past, but also to the new enthusiasm aroused by the great events of 1870, which produced once again a taste for that patriotic poetry of which Walter was so admirable a master. For, of the two greatest names of modern German literature, Goethe had from the first been accused of a lack of national sentiment, while Heine's French sympathies have placed him, so to speak, under the ban of the new empire. Walter's stirring rhymes then, often singularly applicable to the conditions of modern German politics, have served in a measure, whether read in the original Middle High German or in Simrock's excellent translation, to fill a void, and to inspire, in the nineteenth as in the thirteenth century, a certain number of imitators.

It is not, however, as a patriot or a politician that Walter von der Vogelweide would specially appeal to us, but as a character of rare charm and many-sidedness, and a genius which not only reflects and illustrates the movements of an age of deep historical interest, but is also able to express, in a singular degree for so early a period, those

human emotions and feelings which are neither mediæval nor modern, German nor English, but transcend the limitations of time or locality.

Born about the year 1170, of poor but not ignoble parentage, Walter von der Vogelweide lived his long and eventful life in an age of great men and great ideas. It was the period of Innocent the Third, in whose person the power and pretensions of the papacy reached their zenith; of Frederick Barbarossa, whose dream was the restoration of the empire of Charlemagne and of the Roman Cæsars; of Henry the Sixth and Frederick the Second, under whom the dream was, once and again, all but realised. And in the great worldtragedy of which these were the central figures Walter von der Vogelweide played a distinguished part, exercising, by reason of his clear and patriotic insight into the great issues of the age, as well as by his brilliant poetic genius, no small influence upon the development of the plot.

Of Walter's birthplace and parentage nothing certain is known. His father appears to have belonged to that numerous class of petty nobles (Dienstadel) who swelled the train of the great feudal lords ; and it is only with some appearance of probability that the obscure hamlet, or rather homestead, from which he derived his name, has in recent times been identified, in a remote valley in the Tyrol, with a spot in the forest whence all traces of human occupation have long since vanished. Forced, as it would seem, by the poverty of his parents, Walter had early to leave his home in search of fame and fortune; and, with the consciousness of his peculiar powers already awake within him, time and opportunity alike pointed the path he should take. For it was now the 'Springtime of the poetry of Love, and to be a singer or the patron of singers was the part of every gentleman, since, in 1184, Frederick the First had called together the great gathering at Mayence, to witness the knighting of his two

There, not from Germany only, but from France, Italy, and the Low Countries, minstrels had assembled to celebrate the occasion in song; there the future Emperor had himself condescended to enter the lists with the poets, and so brought into fashion that chivalrous poetry which the French had learned from the Troubadours of Provence, and had taught the Germans.

Of all the princes who posed as the patrons of art by far the most splendid and liberal was the Duke Leopold the Sixth of Austria, under whose auspices the Court of Vienna had become a brilliant centre of refinement and culture. Thither accordingly, as at once the nearest and most promising field in which to push his fortunes, Walter turned his steps; and there, his genius finding speedy recognition, he remained, profiting by the example, if not the actual tuition, of the poet Reinmar, until some eight years later, when his fame had become already established, the death of Duke Leopold's son and

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successor, Frederick the First (A.D. 1198), broke up the circle of artists and poets who had lived upon his patronage.

To this period, when the poet was still young and full of hope, surrounded by the congenial atmosphere of an art and pleasure-loving Court, and free as yet from those cares and embarrassments which afterwards oppressed him, belong the best of those love lyrics whose charm and spontaneity earned for him the title of the greatest of Minnesingers. And in after years, when age, poverty, and the miseries of the times had all but broken his spirit, he looked back to his early days at Vienna as to a golden age, of which the outward joyousness was but the natural expression of inner excellence.

The earlier poems of Walter von der Vogelweide are almost exclusively devoted to the service of woman and the theme of love; and their character will be best illustrated by quoting a few examples, though no translation, as will be readily understood, can quite reproduce the spirit and form of the original. The following poem displays, perhaps as well as any, the charming spirit and imagination of the poet :

Lady, accept this wreath


(Thus spake I to a maiden debonair), And thy sweet face beneath

The lovely flowers will make the dance more fair. If precious stones were mine, They should adorn thy head ; This is not idly saidAll that I have, and all I am, is thine.

So fair and sweet art thou,

My gayest chaplet gladly I bestow
To place upon thy brow.

Rich store of flowers white and red I know,
In fields afar. In the May weather,
Now that the buds are springing,
And the wild birds singing,

forth to gather them together.

Let us go

She took my offering,

Like a young child to whom a gift is made;
Her fair cheeks colouring

Like a red rose beside a lily laid ;
Yet though, as if asbamed, her eyelids fell,
She made a courtesy :
That was her gift to me-
lf she gave more,

be sure I will not tell.

To me it seemed that never

Cɔuld any joy the joy of that surpass; From the branches ever

Blossoms fell thick beside us on the grass.

Lo, and I laughed for very gladness' sake.
Such, in my dream, of pleasure
Store had I beyond measure-
Then the day dawned, and I must needs awake.

From her then, in this wise,

It comes that, when I see a maid this year,

into her eyes.
Can this be she ? Could I but find her here
Among the dancers, all my care were dead !
Lady, be so good
And lift me up your

Could I but see my chaplet on her head !

To the same class belong the two following short poems, both, as in the case of that last quoted, intended to be sung


What gave thee thy strange empire, Love,

That thou art so exceeding strong ?
Both young and old thy puissance prove,

And no one may resist thee long.
Praise God then, since I must be bound
With thy firm bonds, that I betimes have found
Where service best may offered be.
That will I ne'er renounce. Be gracious, Queen!

Let me henceforward give my life to thee.


Blame me not if, when I meet you,
Lady, I so coldly greet you,
Love with love may angry be,
So it be but lovingly.
Softly chide, and quick forgive;
Sorrow, and grow glad again :

That is Love's prerogative.

But of all Walter's poems that which is most justly celebrated, both for its lyrical charm and the wonderful delicacy with which a dangerous theme is handled, is the following :


Under the tree
Beside the meadow,
Where we two trysted yestere'en,
There may ye see,
Hid in the shadow,
Scattered flowers and fresh green,
By the forest in a vale.
Sweetly sang the nightingale.

I came to where
My love should meet me,
And found him waiting there for me.
And oh, when there
He first did greet me!
That will a joy for ever be!
Did he kiss me? Yes, indeed !
Tandaraday !
Look, my lips are rosy red !

And there meanwhile
He'd fashioned fair
A couch of leaves and blossoms gay:
The folk will smile
To see it there,

chance to pass that way.
By the roses they may guess,
Tandaraday !

head did


That he lay beside me,
Should it ever
Be known, for shame of it I'd die !
What did there betide me,
Never, never

any know save he and I,
And a little bird as well-
Tandaraday !
That, I know, will never tell.

The joyous spirit which pervades those earlier poems becomes in time clouded, as the shadow of evil days falls over the poet's spirit:

What use in tender rhyming? what in singing ?

What use in wealth ? in woman's loveliness ?
Since all delight the world aside is flinging,

And wrong is wrought, and suffered sans redress;
Since honour, kindness, faith, and self-respect
Are fallen in neglect,

Hearts, joyous once, are turned to heaviness.

And in the oft-repeated complaints of the corruption and decadence of the times, which are so characteristic of his later poems, Walter, though undoubtedly embittered by a sense of personal wrong, was no mere laudator temporis acti; for, in the turmoil of the great civil and religious storm which had meanwhile broken over Germany, manners and morals had alike suffered, and, not least, that artistic refinement of social intercourse, and especially of the relation of the sexes, which it had been the peculiar mission of the chivalrous poets to cultivate.

This chivalrous ideal of the claims and obligations of womanhood, though, with the poetic forms in which it was clothed, it had

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