THE WAGNERIAN ROMANCES
NEW YORK: JOHN LANE COMPANY, MCMVII
LONDON: JOHN LANE, THE BODLEY HEAD
JOHN SANBURN PHILLIPS
The attempt has been made in the following to give an idea of the charm and interest of the original text of the Wagner operas, of Wagner's extraordinary power and fertility as a dramatist. It is not critique or commentary, it is presentation, picture, narrative; it offers nothing that is not derived directly and exclusively from the Wagner libretti and scores.
The stories of the operas are widely known already, of course. As literature, however, one may almost say they are not known at all, unless by students of German. The translators had before them a task so tremendous, in the necessity to fit their verse-rendering of the master's poetry to extremely difficult music, that we respect them for achieving it at all. None the less must the translations included in our libretti be pronounced painfully inadequate. To give a better, more complete knowledge of the original poems is the object of these essays. The poems form, even apart from the music, a whole beautiful, luminous, romantic world. One would not lose more by dropping out of literature the Idylls of the King than the Wagnerian romances.
PARSIFAL THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG THE RHINE-GOLD THE VALKYRIE SIEGFRIED THE TWILIGHT OF THE GODS THE MASTER-SINGERS OF NUREMBERG TRISTAN AND ISOLDE LOHENGRIN TANNHAEUSER THE FLYING DUTCHMAN
The story of the Holy Grail and its guardians up to the moment of Parsifal's appearance upon the scene, is—we gather it from Gurnemanz's rehearsal of his memories to the youthful esquires,—as follows: At a time when the pure faith of Christ was in danger from the power and craft of His enemies, there came to its defender, Titurel, angelic messengers of the Saviour's, and gave into his keeping the Chalice from which He had drunk at the Last Supper and into which the blood had been gathered from His wounds as He hung upon the Cross; likewise the Spear with which His side had been pierced. Around these relics Titurel built a temple, and an order of knighthood grew. The temple, Monsalvat, stood upon the Northern slope of mountains overlooking Gothic Spain. No road led to its doors, and those only could find their way to it whom the Holy Spirit guided; and those only could hope to be so guided, and could belong to the brotherhood, who were pure in heart and clean of the sins of the flesh. The knights were mystically fed and strengthened by the vision of the Chalice—which is called the Grail; the duties of the Order were "high deeds of salvation," comprehending warfare upon Christ's enemies, at home and in distant lands.
On the southern slope of the mountain, facing Moorish or heathen Spain. Klingsor had gone into hermitage, in an attempted expiation of evil committed down in the heathen world. What his sin had been, Gurnemanz says, he knows not; but he aspired to become a holy man, he wished to join the brotherhood of the Grail. Finding it impossible to subdue sin in himself by the spirit, he sought, as it were, a mechanical substitute for virtue, by which, however, he failed to attain his object, for his sacrifice called forth from Titurel only contempt, and he was rejected from the Order. He turned all the strength of his rage then to acquiring black arts by which to ruin the detested brotherhood. On the southward mountainside, he created by sorcery a wonderful pleasure-palace and garden, in which uncannily beautiful women grew. This lay in the path of the knights of the Grail, a temptation and a trap, and one so effectual that he who permitted himself to be lured into it was lost; there had been no exception, safety lay singly in avoidance. Titurel having reached so great an age that he had no longer strength to perform the service of the Grail, invested with the kingly office Amfortas, his son. The latter undertook at once the removal of the standing danger to his knights, the destruction of Klingsor. Armed with the Sacred Spear, he fared forth.... Alas! even before the walls of the enchanted castle had been reached, his followers, among whom Gurnemanz, missed him. A woman of dreadful beauty had ensnared him. In her arms he forgot everything, he let the Spear drop from his hand.... A great cry, as of one mortally hurt, Gurnemanz relates, was suddenly heard. He rushed to the rescue, and caught sight of Klingsor, laughing as he disappeared carrying the Spear, with which he had wounded Amfortas. And now, possessed of the Spear, it was Klingsor's boast that he should soon be in possession of the Chalice likewise, the Holy Grail itself. And the wound of Amfortas would not heal, and an apprehension was that never could it heal, save at the touch of the Spear which made it. And this, who could conquer it back? Yet the knights were not wholly without hope, for, Amfortas once praying before the despoiled sanctuary, and imploring a sign of pardon, a holy dream-face had appeared to him and delivered the dim but comforting oracle: "Wise through compassion.... The immaculate Fool.... Await him.... My appointed one...."
Thus matters stand when the curtain rises for us upon the forest surrounding the Castle of the Grail. The introductory music is wholly religious, composed principally of the so moving phrase of the Last Communion, the Grail-motif and the Faith-music. The latter opens with what has the effect of a grand declaration, as if it might be understood to say: "I believe in God the Father! I believe in God the Son! I believe in God the Holy Ghost!" and fell to worshipping prayer.
The grey-haired Gurnemanz and two young boys of the Order are discovered sleeping. At the clarion-call from the Castle, they start awake and kneel at their morning devotions. The lake is near where the sick King is carried daily for the bath. Forerunners of his cortege pass, and are questioned by Gurnemanz concerning his condition. No, the healing herb, obtained at such price of courage and cunning, has not helped him. (For, though their drugs prove still and ever useless, the devoted followers will not give up the search for earthly relief.) This discouraged answer is hardly given, when another appears who has been ranging afar in search of a remedy—Kundry, arriving like the whirlwind, on a mare that staggers reaching the goal. Spent with speed, the strange wild woman totters to Gurnemanz and presses on him a crystal phial: Balsam! If this does not help, Arabia holds nothing more from which health can be hoped! Felled by fatigue, she drops on the ground, refusing any further speech. When the king is now brought in upon a litter and halts on his way to the lake for a moment's rest, receiving from Gurnemanz the balsam, he thanks the woman, as one who has often before done him such service. She rejects his thanks roughly, as if almost they hurt: "No thanks! No thanks! What good will it do? Away! Away! To the bath!"
The young esquires, lingering after the king has been borne onward, eye her as she lies on the ground like a wild beast, and voice their suspicion of her, founded, after the fashion of youth's judgements, upon her looks. They believe those potions of hers will finally destroy the king altogether. Gurnemanz checks them, reminding them heatedly of her services, beyond all that any other could perform. "Who, when we are at loss how to send tidings to brethren warring in distant lands, we scarcely even know where,—who, before we have come to any resolve, flies to them and returns, having acquitted herself of the task aptly and faithfully?..." "But," they object, "she hates us! See how malignantly she glowers at us! She is a heathen, a sorceress!" "One she may be, perhaps, labouring under a curse," Gurnemanz goes thus far with them; "she lives here, it may be, a penitent, to expiate some unforgiven sin of her earlier life." He tells how, so long ago as at the time of the building of the temple, Titurel first found her among the tangled growth of the forest, rigid in death-like sleep. "I myself," he continues, "discovered her but recently in the like condition. It was soon after the calamity had befallen, brought upon us by the evil one over the mountain." And turning to Kundry, as if the thought had but just occurred: "Hey! Tell me, you! Where were you roaming when our master lost the Spear?" The woman gazes gloomily, and preserves a silence which we afterwards see to be significant. "Why did you not help us at that time?" "I never help!" she exclaims darkly, and turns away. "If she is as faithful as you say, and as daring, and full of resource," suggests ironically one of the young esquires, "why not send her after the lost Spear?" "That!" Gurnemanz replies sadly, "is another matter. That nobody can achieve!" And, the memory of the past rising strong within him, he relates to the questioning young fellows, new in the brotherhood and ignorant of its history, the events set down in their order a little way back. He has repeated to them the mysterious promise of help: "Wise through compassion.... The immaculate Fool.... Await him.... My appointed one...." And they, impressed, are saying it after him, when, at the words "Der reine Thor," the pure—the clean-lived—the immaculate Fool, a commotion develops in the direction of the lake-side, cries of "Woe! A pity! A shame! Who did it?" A great wild swan flies in sight, sinks to earth hurt to death by an arrow, and the king's esquires bring in, chiding and accusing him, a tall, innocent-eyed, fresh-cheeked boy, armed with bow and arrows,—Parsifal. Rustic enough is his outfit, but his bearing unmistakably that of the high-born, as Gurnemanz does not fail to remark. A sturdy, brave, gay-hearted strain has ushered him in, and for just a moment he stands quite like a brother of Siegfried's, fearless, unconscious of himself, as ignorant of the world as he is unspotted by it, but engagingly wide-awake, serene in watching its mysterious actions. "Are you the one who killed the swan?" Gurnemanz asks him sternly. And he answers, unabashed, quite as Siegfried might have done: "Certainly! Whatever flies I shoot on the wing!" But at once after this the difference between the two is manifest. To both whole regions of emotion are unknown, but certain emotions which are outside the nature of one, are potentially the very strongest in the other. Siegfried is not pitiful. The strong, radiant being is incomplete on that side, so that the Christian heart winces a little, here and there, at the bright resoluteness with which he pursues his course when it involves, for instance, death to the little foster-father, unrighteous imp though he be, or horror to Bruennhilde, captured by violence and offered to his friend. Whereas Parsifal, when Gurnemanz now makes plain to him the cruelty of his thoughtless action, when he points out the glazing eye, the blood dabbling the snowy plumage of the noble swan, faithful familiar of the lake, killed as he circled in quest of his mate, is seized with a passion of realizing pity, impulsively breaks and flings from him his bow, and hides his eyes from the work of his hands. "How—how could you commit such a wrong?" Gurnemanz pursues unrelenting, even after these expressions of contrition. "I did not know," Parsifal answers. Then to the amazement of all are revealed the most extravagant ignorance and simplicity ever met. "Where do you come from?" "I do not know." "Who is your father?" "I do not know." "Who directed you here?" "I do not know." "What is your name?" "I have had many, but no longer remember any of them." "Truly," grumbles Gurnemanz, "I have so far never in my life met with any one so stupid—except Kundry." Very sagely, he leaves off questioning the fool; but when the others, after reverently taking up the dead swan, have departed with it for burial, he addresses him: "Of all I have asked you, you know nothing. Now tell me what you do know! For it can hardly be but that you know something." Whereupon very simply and obediently the boy begins: "I have a mother. Her name is Herzeleide. (Heart's-sorrow.) We lived in the woods and on the wild moor...." And it appears from his own ingenuous narrative and the additions of Kundry, who in her rangings has seemingly had opportunities to watch him, that he is the son of the hero Gamuret, slain in battle before his birth, and that, in terror of a like early death for him, his mother has reared him in solitude, far from arms and reports of war, in absolute ignorance of the world. One day, he tells in joyous excitement, bright-gleaming men passed along the forest's edge, seated upon splendid animals; his instant wish was to be like them, but they laughed and galloped away. He ran after them, but could not overtake them. Up hill and down dale he travelled, for days and nights. With his bow he was compelled to defend himself against wild beasts and huge men.... "Yes!" throws in Kundry eagerly, as if at the recollection of splendid fights witnessed, "he made his strength felt upon miscreants and giants. They were all afraid of the truculent boy!" He turns upon her a vaguely pleased wonder: "Who is afraid of me? ... Tell me!" "The wicked!" He seems trying to grasp a wholly new idea presented to him. "Those who threatened me were wicked? Who is good?" Gurnemanz in reply reminds him of his mother, who is good, and from whom he has run away; she no doubt is seeking him in sorrow. Kundry brusquely interrupts: "Her sorrow is ended. His mother is dead!" And, at his incredulous cry of horror: "I was riding past and saw her die. She bade me take to you, fool, her last blessing." Parsifal springs upon this bearer of evil tidings with the instinctive attempt to shut off the breath that could frame such terrible words. Gurnemanz forcibly disengages her, and, overpowered by the shock and weight of his pain, Parsifal sinks in a swoon. Tenderly at once both servants of the Grail care for him. Kundry hastens for water with which to wet his temples, and, as he revives, offers him drink. Gurnemanz is struck by the magnanimity of her action. "That is right," he nods his approval, "that is in accordance with the gracious spirit of the Grail. We banish evil when we return good for it." Kundry turns sadly away: "I never do good! ... All I desire is rest!... Rest!" And while Gurnemanz is still occupied with restoring Parsifal, she slowly walks, as if powerfully drawn and intensely resisting, toward a tangled copse. She appears struggling with inexpressible weariness; the music gives a hint of something unnatural and evil in the spell of sleep falling leadenly upon her, expressing at the same time an irresistible element in it of attraction. The dark, wild-haired messenger of the Grail, the despised subordinate, suddenly assumes to our sense a much greater importance than up to this moment. Her personality looms large with an unexplained effect of tragedy. "Only rest! Rest for the weary one!" she murmurs yearningly; "sleep! Oh, let nobody wake me!" Terror checks her for a moment: "No! No! I must not sleep!" she shudders, "I am afraid!" She falls to violent trembling. But whatever it is compelling her is too strong at last. Her arms fall unnerved, her head bows languidly, and she moves feebly whither she is drawn. "Useless resistance! ... The hour is come. Sleep.... Sleep.... I must!" Having reached the thicket she drops on the earth among the bushes.
The sun is now high, the king is borne homeward from the bath. The thought has struck Gurnemanz that here under his hands is surely as exquisite a Thor as could well be, and the experiment suggests itself of taking him to the temple, where, as he tells him, if he be pure, the Grail will be to him meat and drink. He places the arm of the still strengthless youth about his neck, and gently upholds him as they start on their way. "Who is the Grail?" asks Parsifal, as they walk. "That may not be put into words," replies Gurnemanz, "but, if you are of the chosen, you cannot fail to learn. And, see now! I believe I know who you are. No road leads through the land to the Grail, and no one could find the way except Itself guided him...." "I am scarcely moving," says the wondering boy, "yet it seems to me we have already gone a long way...."
And, indeed, the forest has been miraculously gliding past. It ends before a granite wall in which a great portal stands open. This gives entrance into ascending rocky galleries; sounds of clarions come stealing to the ear; church-bells are heard—and we are presently translated into the interior of the Castle of the Grail, the great domed hall.
Parsifal entering with Gurnemanz stops still beside the threshold, spell-bound in presence of all the lofty beauty: "Now watch with attention," his guide instructs him, before leaving him where he stands, "and let us see, if you are a simple soul and pure, what light shall be vouchsafed you."
The scene now enacting itself before him is well calculated to strike the imagination of the boy from the lonely moors. The knights of the Grail, beautiful in their clear robes, enter in procession, chanting. When they cease, the singing is taken up by younger voices, of personages unseen up in the dome, and, after them, by children's voices from the airy summit of the dome, floating, angelic. The wounded king is brought in on his litter, and laid upon the high canopied seat before the altar, upon which the shrine is placed enclosing the Grail. The knights have ranged themselves along tables prepared with silver goblets. In the silence of recollection which falls upon all, a voice is heard, as if from the grave: "My son Amfortas, are you at your post?" It is the aged Titurel, whose resting-place is a recess behind the altar and the raised seat. There he is kept alive solely by the contemplation of the Grail, mystical means of life and strength. "Are you at your post? Shall I look upon the Grail once more and live?" But long-gathering despair to-day reaches its climax in Amfortas, at the necessity to perform the rite required. The torture to him cannot be measured of the vision which creates ecstasy in the others. "Woeful inheritance fallen to me!" he complains, in his passion of revolt against this divine infliction, "that I, the only sinner among all, should be condemned to be keeper of holiest holies, and call down blessings upon those purer than I!" But the worst of his anguish is still that when the holy blood glows in the Cup, and, in sympathy, the blood gushes forth anew from the wound in his side—the wound made by the same Spear—the consciousness ever returns to burning life that, whereas those holy drops were shed in a heavenly compassion for the misery of man, these are unregenerate blood, hot with sinful human passion and longing, which no chastening has availed to drive out. The wretched king is praying for the mercy of deliverance through death, when, from the high dome, the words rain softly of the promise of redemption—through the Fool. Recovering courage, Amfortas proceeds with the rite. While he kneels in prayer before the Chalice, which young acolytes have taken from the shrine and reverently uncovered, a mysterious darkness gathers over all. A ray of light suddenly falls through this, upon the Chalice, which begins softly to glow, and brightens to a deep luminous purple-red. Amfortas lifts it and waves it over the kneeling people. The words of the Last Communion are heard, sung by the soaring voices in the dome: "Take my body—Take my blood—For the sake of our love! Take my blood—Take my body—And remember me!"
The ceremony accomplished, Amfortas sets down the Cup, which begins to pale; as it fades, the twilight lightens. When the common light of day has completely returned, the knights sit down to the repast of consecrated Bread placed for them, and Wine poured, by the acolytes. At the end of it, they earnestly grasp one another's hands in renewal of their bond of brotherhood.
Amfortas is perceived to be suffering from the renewed bleeding of his wound. He is laid upon the litter once more and borne away. The knights depart in orderly procession, the hall is gradually deserted.
Parsifal remains standing on the same spot. He has hardly moved, except, when Amfortas's anguished cry rang out, to clutch at his heart. Gurnemanz, when he sat down at the table with the other knights, signed to him to come and share in the holy feast, but he did not stir. The impression can be apprehended of the solemn scene upon the white page of the boy's mind. A spirit of religion has breathed through it all, so exalted, so warm, so personal; the passionate mediaeval Christianity which expressed itself in crusades and religious orders and knight-errantry. The cry of the Saviour (Erloesung's Held, Hero of Redemption, the poet characteristically calls him) has rung so piercingly, there seems but one answer from a humanly constituted simple heart: "Did you indeed suffer so much and die for love of me and my brothers? How then can I the most quickly spend and scatter all my strength and blood in gratitude to you?" Parsifal has brought to these things a consciousness not blurred and overscored by worldly knowledge and desires, a native capacity for love of others uninterfered with by the developed consideration of self. His fresh instinct has gathered the meaning of what he sees, novel to him as it is; "wise through compassion," he has gotten the measure and character perfectly of Amfortas's sufferings, foreign as they are to his experience; he has gotten the spirit of the facts of Christ. One especial message, over and above the rest, he has received to himself, shot into his heart upon a ray from the glowing Grail held before his gaze by Amfortas: that the Saviour embodied in the Grail must be delivered from the sin-sullied hands now holding it. He has seemed to hear the appeal of the Saviour, poignant, to be so delivered. He is left, when the vision fades, with the sense of this necessity—involving for himself, though he knows not how, a duty and a quest: Amfortas must be healed, the Sacred Treasure must be taken into keeping by purer hands.
Gurnemanz approaches him hopefully: "Well, did you understand what you saw?" But Parsifal, still in his trance of wonder, only shakes his head. It is too deep for words, what he has felt.
To Gurnemanz he now seems a hopeless and unprofitable fool, who has no place in the noble company. "You are a fool, it is a fact, and you are nothing else!" he declares. Opening a side-door, he without further ceremony pushes him out by the shoulders, with a sour little joke: "Take my advice: Let the swans alone hereafter, and, gander that you are, find yourself a goose!" As he turns from the door, there falls from above, as if some echo of it had clung to the high dome after all the singers had left, the strain: "Wise through compassion.... The immaculate fool...."
The next change of scene shows the interior of the tower where Klingsor practises his dark arts. A strain already known catches our attention (the Sorcery-motif), and we become aware what influences were at work in Kundry when her weariness succumbed to the lure of sleep, what mesmeric call from Klingsor's hotly blooming, godless pleasure-seat. The Klingsor-music introducing the second act stands in picturesque contrast to the tender and thoughtful music opening the first; curiously suggesting, as it does, lawlessness, cold evil passions riding the soul hideously at a gallop. It has something vaguely in common with portions of the Venus-music in Tannhaeuser,—perhaps its effect at once unbridled and joyless.
The sorcerer has from the battlements seen Parsifal approaching, who, thrust out from the Castle of the Grail, had, by the peculiar magic of the place, found the path to it obliterated. He had come forth with the exalted but undefined sense of a great task to perform. But, even as the road to the Castle of the Grail was difficult to find, the road to Klingsor's castle was easy and overeasy; it would seem that for the feet of a votary of the Grail all roads led to it. Parsifal had seen it shining afar, and with childish shouts of delight is drawing near. Klingsor, divining in him an enemy more than usual dangerous, resorts, to make his ruin altogether sure, to what are his supreme methods. He calls to his assistance once more the ally by whose help the great Amfortas had been vanquished. With mysterious passes and burning of gums, he summons that Formidable Feminine: "Nameless one!... Most ancient of Devils!... Rose of Hell!... Herodias!..." and amid the blue smoke-wreathes, uttering the wail of a slave haled to the market-place, rises the form of Kundry. She appears like one but half roused from the torpour of sleep, and struggling with a terrible dream, or resisting some terrible reality. All the answer she can give to his first words of ironical congratulation, is in broken exclamations: "Oh! Oh! Deep night.... Madness... Oh, wrath! Oh, misery!... Sleep! Sleep! Deep sleep!... Death!..." and, in a subsequent outburst: "The curse!... Oh, yearning!... Yearning!..."
Her history and hints of her extraordinarily complex personality are to be gathered from the scene following and the scene later, with Parsifal. The mysterious messenger of the Grail was anciently Herodias, and meeting with the Man of Sorrows, she laughed. "Then," she herself relates, "He turned His eyes upon me...." Under the curse involved in her action and the remorse generated by that divine look, she cannot die, but goes, as she describes it, seeking Him from world to world, to meet His eyes again. She tries in every manner to expiate her sin, by service to others, by subjugation of self, but the old nature is still not well out of her, the nature of Herodias, and, at intervals, an infinite weariness of welldoing overtakes her, a revival of the passions of her old life, and with the cessation of struggle against them she falls into a death-like sleep. In this condition, as if it represented a laying-off of the armour of righteousness, her spirit is at the mercy of the powers of evil. The necromancer Klingsor can conjure it up and force it to his own uses.
In the centuries she has lived, she has borne many names. She has but recently been the temptress of Amfortas, and at the reassumption of the higher half of her dual nature, has, as the servant and messenger of the Grail, striven to make amends, as far as she might, for the mischief done by her in her other state. The curse under which she lives has peculiar laws of its own, of which we just vaguely feel the moral basis. In her character of temptress, while desiring with intensity, in her Herodias part, the surrender of the man to whose seduction she applies herself, yet with the other side of her, the side of the penitent, which never quite slumbers, she even more ardently and fundamentally desires his victory over her arts, for, with her own frustration, she would be delivered from her curse, she could die; from the enormous fatigue of centuries of tormented earthly existence, find rest. Which is to say, perhaps, that if once more she could meet and look into the eyes of complete strength and purity, see an adequate approach to the Christ-spirit shining out of whatsoever eyes, her redemption, so painfully worked toward through centuries of alternate effort and relapse, would be consummated; at that encounter, renewing, or confirming, faith in the existence of perfect goodness, the evil within her, so long vainly fought, would die, and her long trial be at end. So she approaches every new adventure with, under her determined wiles, the hope of failure; and when her subject is still and ever found weak in her hands, experiences despair. And when a hero such as Amfortas, undertaken with the undercurrent sense that he perhaps is the unconquerable, whose resistance shall make him her deliverer, vulgarly falls in her arms, the triumph of one side of her nature, and the despair of the other, express themselves in terrible laughter. The fruit of her experience with man is, as it affects the two sides of her, a mixture of sinister cynicism and ineffable pity. "Woe! Woe!" she laments, at Klingsor's mocking mention of Amfortas. "Weak, he too! Weak—all of them! Through me, to my curse, all lost as I am lost! Oh, eternal sleep, only balm, how, how shall I win you?"
One can suppose in this Kundry, setting aside all details of personal history, an intended personification of the abstraction—(Namenlose,—Nameless One,) Eternal Feminine, with, set in the high light, two of her broad traits, the best perhaps and the worst: the passion for serving, tending, protecting, mothering, and the passion for subduing man, proving herself more powerful than the stronger, by remorseless practice upon his point of least strength. This inveterate spirit of seduction it must be which Klingsor apostrophises as "Most Ancient of Devils," and "Rose of Hell."
The character of Kundry has many aspects, exhibited here and there by a flash, but, when all is said, and before all else, what we are watching is an upward-struggling human soul, whose storm-beaten progress could never move us as it does did we not feel in her simply our sister.
We saw her, forspent, crawl into the thicket to sleep. Now, Klingsor who can command her while in that state, has compelled her to him to accomplish the undoing of Parsifal. The idea is to her, all heavy and clogged with sleep, the personality of the Gralsbotin still in the ascendant, one of horror only. With wails of protest at having been waked, and lamentation over what is proposed, she refuses to obey, rejecting Klingsor's claim to be her master. Even when he puts his request in the form of the suggestion: "He who should defy you would set you free. Try it then with the boy at hand!" she stubbornly refuses. "He is even now climbing the rampart!" Klingsor persists. Kundry wrings her hands. "Woe! Woe! Have I waked for this? Must I, indeed?... Must I?" At which first intimation of weakening, Klingsor ceases to press his authority, and adopts a different method of persuasion. Climbing to the battlement, he describes the approaching figure: "Ha! He is beautiful, the boy!" "Oh! Oh!" moans Kundry, "woe is me!"
Klingsor blows his horn, to warn the garrison of the palace—the host of the victims of folly, the lost knights—of the approaching enemy. A commotion is heard of arms caught up in haste and of fighting; Klingsor from his post follows the contest, with glee in the daring of the beautiful boy, who has snatched the sword from one of his assailants and with it, one against the swarm, is cutting his way through them. Kundry, ceasing from her moans, has begun to laugh, and as Klingsor continues his report of the skirmish laughs more and more uncontrollably. "They yield, they flee, each of them carries home his wound! Ha! How proudly he stands upon the rampart! How the roses bloom and smile in his cheeks, as, in childlike amazement, he gazes down upon the solitary garden! ... Hey! Kundry!" But with her laughter ending in a scream, Kundry has abruptly vanished. "What? Already at work?" muses Klingsor. "Ha ha! I knew the charm which will always bring you back into my service!" Then turning his attention once more to the youthful intruder filling his eyes with the unimagined glories of the garden: "You there, fledgling! Whatever prophecy may have had to say concerning you, too young and green you have fallen into my power. Purity wrested from you, you will become my willing subject!"
The tower, with Klingsor, vanishes from sight; there lies outspread before us the enchanted garden, glowing, tropical, displaying the last luxuriance of flowers; and we see for ourselves Parsifal standing upon the wall, calmly gazing. A swarm of beautiful young creatures, waked by the clash of arms have, even as their lovers turned and fled to cover, rushed forth to discover what is the matter. With confused cries they pour from the palace and, recognising in Parsifal the whole of the enemy, assail him with abuse scarcely more unendurable than a pelting with thorny rose-buds. "You there! You there! Why did you do us this injury? A curse upon you! A curse upon you!" As Parsifal undismayed leaps down into the garden, they fall to twittering like angry sparrows: "Ha! You bold thing! Do you dare to brave us? Why did you beat our beloved?" And the raw boy, acquitting himself rather neatly for such a beginner: "Ought I not to have beaten them? They were barring my passage to you!" "You wanted to come to us? Had you ever seen us before?" "Never had I seen anything so pretty. I speak rightly, do I not, in calling you lovely?" A rapid change takes place in the attitude toward him of the exceedingly pretty persons. They adorn themselves in haste, fantastically, to charm him, with the flowers of the garden; singing a wooing song, of the most melting, persuasive, irresistible, they weave around him, circling as in a child's game of ring-a-rosy, sweeping the heady perfumes of their garlands under his nostrils. They do not appear wholly human, but rather like strange tall-stemmed animated flowers, swaying and jostling in the wind, and whose odor should have turned into music; or, better still, like incarnate emanations from the intoxicating flower-beds of this magical Garden of the Senses. Parsifal stands in their midst, pleased and watchful, fleetingly again like Siegfried, with his cheerful calm and poise. "How sweet you smell! ... Are you flowers?" They close around him more and more smotheringly, with caresses more and more pressing. He gently pushes them away. "You wild, lovely, crowding flowers! If I am to play with you, let me have room!" As they do not obey, and in addition fall to quarrelling among themselves over him, half-vexed, he repels them and is turning for retreat, when a voice is heard from a blossoming thicket near-by: "Parsifal! Stay!..." The flowers, startled, at once hold still. The youth stands still, too, struck. Parsifal.... He remembers that as one of the names his mother had called him by, once, as she lay asleep and dreaming. The voice continues: "Here remain, Parsifal.... You simple light-o'-loves, depart from him. Early withering flowers, he is destined to other things than dalliance with you!" The flock of flowers, reluctantly, lingering as long as they dare, withdraw, their last word one of derision: "You beautiful one! You proud one! You... fool!" With whispered laughter they vanish into the house, and Parsifal, in the once more solitary garden, asks himself: "Was it all a dream?"
For the first time touched with timidity, he turns towards the blossoming bower from which the voice had come. The branches part, and reveal Kundry, youthful, gorgeously apparelled and superlatively beautiful, lying upon a flowery bank. "Did you mean the name you spoke for me, who have no name?" Parsifal asks, standing shyly apart.
"I called you, guileless Innocent, Parsifal.... By this name your father Gamuret, expiring in Arabian land, called his unborn son. I have sought you here to tell you this...."
"Never had I seen," sighs Parsifal, "never dreamed, such a thing as I now see and am filled with awe!... Are you, too, a flower in this garden of flowers?" "No, Parsifal. Far, far away is my home. I came here only that you might find me. I came from distant lands where I witnessed many things...." With the calm notes of the Arch-enchantress, perfectly sure of her power, she unfolds to him the story of his own past further back than he can remember, which is of the things she professes to have ocularly witnessed,—his life with Herzeleide; she relates the death of the latter from grief over his loss. She takes him in hand with easy masterliness in the art of reducing a youthful heart. She does not stint to appear to one so boyish much older and very wise. Not one discomposing word does she utter about love,—but she brings his heart to a state of fusion by the picture of his mother's sorrowful end, and when, overcome by anguish and remorse, he sinks at her feet with the cry: "What have I done?... Sweetest, loveliest mother! Your son, your son must bring about your death!..." she gently places her arm about his neck and administers needed comfort: "Never before had you known sorrow, and so have not known either the sweetness of consolation. Let sorrow and regret be washed away in the consolation proffered to you by Love!" But Parsifal, the compassionate, cannot so soon be diverted from the rending thought of his mother, and continues despite the fair arm on his neck and the balmy breath in his hair, with his passionate self-reproach: "My mother! I could forget my mother! Ha! What else have I forgotten? What, indeed, have I ever remembered? Naught but utter folly dwells in me!" Kundry again attempts setting him right with himself and offers the cheer: "Acknowledgment of your fault will place a term to remorse. Consciousness of folly will turn folly into sense...." Then, not quite relevantly, "Learn to know the love which enfolded Gamuret when Herzeleide's affection burningly overflowed,..." With the assurance that she who gave him life now sends him as a mother's last blessing the First Kiss of Love, she bends over him and places her lips upon his in a prolonged Wagnerian kiss. The sorcery-motif is heard weaving its unholy snare. Of a sudden, with an abruptness as unexpected as it is disconcerting, Parsifal tears himself from her embrace, leaps to his feet, and pressing his hands to his heart, as if there were the seat of an intolerable pain, "Amfortas!" he cries, staring like one who sees ghosts, "the wound! the wound!..." That has been the effect of her kiss upon his innocence, to give him sudden clairvoyance into her nature, to cast a lightning flash upon the past. He feels himself for a moment identified with Amfortas, whom the woman had kissed as she kissed him. Amfortas's wound burns in his own side. Not only that: the sinful, disorderly, unsubduable passion torturing Amfortas, for a moment tortures equally Parsifal, whose nature is thrown by it into a horror of self-hatred, and casts itself upon frenzied prayer for deliverance and pardon. Pardon, for although this experience can be thought an effect of mysterious insight, Parsifal recognises as a crime that he should be in these circumstances at all. He remembers that he had known himself as one marked for a sacred mission. He remembers the vision of the Grail, and that the Saviour had seemed to speak from it to his inmost soul: "Deliver me! Save me from sin-polluted hands!" "And I," he groans, "the fool! the coward! I could rush to the insensate exploits of a boy!"
Kundry has been amazed and somewhat alarmed, but for a moment still, as it appears, has not understood. She leaves her flowery couch and approaches Parsifal, where he is kneeling in supplication to the Lord of Mercy; with soft arts she attempts to reconquer his attention, but with an effect wide of her expectation, for, while she plies him with caresses, he is thinking, and we hear him think: "Yes, that voice, even thus it fell upon his ear.... And that glance, I recognise it clearly, which smiled away his peace.... So the lip trembled for him. ... So the throat arched.... So the tresses laughingly gleamed!... So the soft cheek pressed close against his own,... and so, in league with all the sorrows, so her mouth kissed away his soul's salvation!" As if the reinforcements from Heaven, which he prayed, had suddenly reached him, he rises in inspired strength, frees himself and thrusts her resolutely from him: "Destroyer, away from me! Forever and ever away!"
From this onward he is a different Parsifal, not in the least a boy any more. It is as if in the storm which swept him he had found himself, his anchorage and his strength. And now we gather that Kundry really has had an inkling of what is at work in him. She drops at once the fairly simple methods she has up to this used, and, it is not quite clear at first whether still as a mighty Huntress, discarding one weapon and taking another better adapted to bring down the quarry, or at last in true earnest, she invokes—pressing, not to be denied—his pity. She reveals—and it is as if beauty and splendour should lift the veil from a hidden ulcer—her strange history, the ancient sin, the curse upon her, the despair that is denied tears and can only voice itself in laughter. "Since your heart is capable only of feeling the sorrows of others," she pleads, "feel mine!" In him, as he has become within the hour, she recognises a deliverer, but, illogically, thirsts the more for his love. From this figure with the firm, compassionate eyes and the exalted self-possession, something breathes which associates him to her sense with the figure, sought by her through the centuries, of the derided Victim. She feels herself face to face once more with the Christ-spirit. But the blind desire of her dual personality is that pardon should wear the form of love. Parsifal, with every moment more firmly established in his strength and purpose, replies to her madness with a calm homily,—his theme, how from the springs of passion flow waters of thirst. Words of wisdom, eternal truths, drop from the so young lips of the fool. Kundry, who has listened in wonder, exclaims: "So it was my kiss which gave you universal vision! The full cup of my love then would make you to a god!" and coming back eagerly to her point: "Deliver the world, if such is your mission. If an hour can make you to a god, let me, for that hour, suffer damnation...." "For you, too, sinner, I will find salvation," is Parsifal's mild reply. "Let me love you in your godlikeness, that shall be salvation for me!" "Love and salvation both shall reward you, if you will show me the way to Amfortas!"
It will have been remarked that Kundry in her singular role has been playing fair; that, though life for her (which paradoxically is death) depends upon failure, she has put forth her whole strength in the temptation. But it is not at this juncture the penitent who is in the ascendant, it is the evil side of Kundry, and at that last request of Parsifal's, proving the vanity of her effort, a great anger seizes her: "Never!" she cries, "never shall you find him! The fallen king, let him perish! The wretch whom I laughed and laughed and laughed at! Ha ha! Why—he was wounded with his own spear.... And against yourself," she follows this, "I will call to aid that weapon, if you give that sinner the honour of your pity!" But, at the sound of her own words, her anger dropping: "Ah, madness!... Pity! On me, do you have pity! One single hour mine... and you shall be shown on your way!" With a renewal of tenderness she attempts to clasp him; but at his abhorrent, "Unhappy woman, away!" furious beside all bounds, she falls to shouting for help against him, help to prevent his going. "Help! Here! Hold the audacious one! Bar the roads against him! Bar the paths!..." Then, addressing him in the blaze of her revengeful wrath: "And though you should escape from here—and though you should find all the roads in the world, the road which you seek you shall not find! For all roads and paths which lead you away from me, I place a curse upon them. Hopelessly—hopelessly shall you wander and stray!..."
At her wild summoning the women have come running into the garden; Klingsor has appeared on the threshold, armed with the Spear. This, with the words: "The Fool shall be transfixed with his Master's Spear!" he hurls at Parsifal. But the Spear stands miraculously poised above the youth's head. He grasps it, with a face of ecstasy, and draws in the air a great figure of the Cross. "By this sign I dispel your sorceries! As this Spear shall close the wound it made, let this lying splendour fall to wreck and desolation!" As if shaken by an earthquake, the palace crumbles to ruin; the garden withers away and turns to a barren waste; like broken and wilted flowers the women are seen bestrewing the ground; Kundry falls to earth with a great cry. And Parsifal, departing, turns on the ruined wall for a last word to her,—painfully she lifts her head for a last look—"You know where, only, you may see me again!" meaning, we are left to feel, a plane sooner than a place.
Again the Domain of the Grail, where, on the outskirts of the forest, beside a spring, the old-grown Gurnemanz has built himself a hermit's cell. It is long after and much is changed. There is sadness in the air, but it is of an unfretful gentle sort, almost sweet; the sadness of a solitude visited by high thoughts, memories of calamity softened in retrospect, present crosses made supportable by faith and the light cast on the path already of an approaching event which is to mark a new epoch in the life of the Order. A sadness in the air and a something holy. It is Spring-time and it is Good-Friday; the trees are in blossom and the meadow at the forest's edge is spotted with new flowers. We are never, through the first part of the act, left unconscious for long of the sweetness of surrounding nature and the hour; it comes like whiffs of perfume, every now and then, reminding us that the earth has renewed herself and the day is holy, until at last these stray intimations have led to a clear and rounded statement in the Good-Friday Charm.
Forth from his cell comes Gurnemanz, to be recognized as a knight of the Grail only by the straight under-tunic of the Order. He has heard a groan, not to be mistaken for the cry of a hurt animal. As it is repeated, it strikes his ear as a sound known to him of old. Anxiously searching among the matted thorn-trees, he discovers Kundry, as once before, rigid and to all appearance dead. He chafes and calls and brings her back to consciousness. She is the Kundry of the first act, but so changed,—pale with the strained pallor of one lately exorcised; the wildness and roughness all gone out of her face, and in its place a strange rapt fixity; in her bearing an unknown humility. In silence she recovers remembrance of the facts of her existence; mechanically orders her hair and garments, and without a word leaves Gurnemanz to set about the work of a servant. As she is moving towards the hut, he asks: "Have you no word for me? Is this my thanks for having waked you once more out of the sleep of death?" And she brings forth brokenly the last words she is heard to utter: "To serve!... To serve!..." the only need now of her being. "How different her bearing is," Gurnemanz muses, "from what it used to be! Is it the influence of the holy day?" She brings from the cell a water-jar, and, gazing off into the distance while it fills, sees among the trees some one approaching, to which, by a sign, she calls Gurnemanz's attention. He marvels at the figure in sable armour; but we, saddened and slowed as it is, have recognized the Parsifal-motif heralding it. The sable knight is faring slowly on his way, with closed helmet, bowed head and lowered spear, unconscious of his observers, until, when he drops on a grassy knoll to rest, Gurnemanz greets and addresses him: "Have you lost your way? Shall I guide you?" Receiving no answer to this or the questions which follow, save by signs of the head, he with the bluffness we remember offers a reprimand: "If your vow binds you not to speak to me, my vow obliges me to tell you what is befitting. You are upon a consecrated spot, it is improper here to go in armour, with closed helmet, with shield and spear. And of all days upon this one! Do you not know what holy day it is?" The knight gently shakes his head. "Among what heathen have you lived, not to be aware that this is the most holy Good-Friday? Lay down, forthwith, your arms! Do not offend the Lord, who on this day, unarmed in very truth, offered His sacred blood in atonement for the sins of the world!" The knight upon this, still without a word, drives the haft of his spear into the ground, lays down his arms and sinks upon his knees in prayer before the Spear. The removal of his helmet has revealed the face of Parsifal, but another Parsifal, even as Kundry is another. The stage-directions have no word concerning it, but it must be in accordance with the custom of Bayreuth that the latter Parsifal presents a resemblance to the traditional representations of the Saviour; the idea being, we must think, to indicate, stamped on the exterior man, this soul's aspiration towards likeness with the Divine Pattern; or, perhaps, visibly to state that here, too, is a gentle and selfless lover of men, all of whose forces bent on a mission of deliverance.
Gurnemanz, watching him attentively, recognises the slayer, long ago, of the swan, the stupid boy whom he had turned out of the temple. Then he recognises, too, the Spear.
Parsifal, rising from his prayer, gazes quietly around him and recognises Gurnemanz. To the question of the latter, how and whence he comes, he replies: "I am come by ways of wandering and pain. Can I believe myself at last delivered from them, since I hear once more the rustle of this forest, and behold you, worthy elder? Or am I still baffled in my search for the right road? Everything looks changed...." "What road is it you seek?" Gurnemanz inquires. "The road to him whose profound wail I heard of yore in wondering stupidity, and the instrument of whose healing I now dare believe myself elected to be...." All this long time he has vainly sought the road back to the Grail, whether hindered by Kundry's curse, or cut off by some stain left upon his nature from his brief hour in the deadly garden, which must be cleansed by such prolonged ordeal. He relates the desperate battle in all his wanderings to keep safe the Sacred Spear,—which, behold, he is now bringing home! Gurnemanz's joy bursts forth unbounded. Then he, too, makes his friend even over the past. Since the day of his presence among them, the trouble then revealed to him has increased to the last point of distress. Amfortas, revolting against the torments of his soul, and desiring naught but death, refuses to perform the office of the Grail, by which his life would be prolonged. The knights, deprived of their heavenly nourishment, deprived of a leader, have lost their old strength and courage. They seek their sustenance of herbs and roots, like the animals, in the forest. No longer are they called to holy warfare in distant lands. Titurel, unrenewed by the vision of the Grail, is dead.... At the relation of these mournful events, grief assails Parsifal, who holds himself responsible for all this wretchedness, by reason of his long-delayed return, which he must regard as a consequence of sins and folly of his own,—grief beyond what the human frame is fitted to endure, and he is again swooning, as at the evil news in the first act. Kundry hurries with water from the cell, but Gurnemanz stops her; he has in thought larger purifications for the pilgrim in whom his prophetic mind discerns one ordained to fulfill this very day a sacred office. "So let him be made clean of all stain, let the dust be washed from him of his long wandering." They ease him upon the moss beside the consecrated spring, remove his greaves and coat of mail. As he revives a little, he asks faintly: "Shall I be taken to-day to Amfortas?" Gurnemanz assures him that he shall, for on this day the burial of Titurel takes place, which Gurnemanz must attend, and Amfortas has pledged himself, in honour of his father, to uncover once more the Grail. Kundry during this, on her knees, has been bathing the pilgrim's feet. He watches her, at her devoted lowly task, in wonder: "You have washed my feet," he speaks; "let now the friend pour water on my head!" Gurnemanz obeys, besprinkling him with a baptismal intention. Kundry takes from her bosom a golden phial, and, having poured ointment on his feet, dries them, in the custom of the day when she was Herodias, with her long hair; by this repetition of a famous act intending perhaps to signify that she is a sinner and that he has raised her from sin. "You have anointed my feet," speaks Parsifal again; "let now the brother-at-arms of Titurel anoint my head, for on this day he shall hail me as king." Whereupon Gurnemanz anoints him as king. Kundry has been gazing with a devout hushed face. There is no sign that he recognises her, but, as if his soul recognised some quality of her soul, as if some need in her called to him, he dips water from the sacred well and sprinkles her head: "My first ministration shall be this: I baptize thee! Have faith in the Redeemer!" And Kundry, the curse being lifted which had dried up in her the fountain of tears, bows to the earth abundantly weeping.
At this point it is that the vague waftures of sweetness which have been fitfully soliciting us all through these scenes, concentrate themselves and make their call irresistible. Parsifal becomes aware of it. With his sense of the absolution from sin for both of them, in baptism, invaded by deep peace, he gazes around him in soft enchantment: "How more than usual lovely the meadows appear to me to-day! True, I have known wonder-flowers, clasping me with eager tendrils so high as my head; but never had I seen blades, blossoms, flowers, so mild and tender, nor ever did, to my sense, all nature give forth a fragrance so innocently sweet, or speak to me with such amiable confidence!" "That," explains Gurnemanz, "is Good-Friday's Charm...." "Alas!" wails Parsifal, "that day of supreme agony! Ought not on this day everything which blooms and breathes to be steeped in mourning and tears?" "You see," replies Gurnemanz, "that it is not so. They are the sinners' tears of repentance which today bathe meadow and plain with a holy dew; that is why they look so fresh and fair. To-day all created things rejoice upon the earth once trodden by the Saviour's feet, and wish to offer Him their prayers. Beyond them it is to see Him upon the Cross, wherefore they turn their eyes to redeemed man. Man feels himself delivered from the burden and terror of sin, through God's sacrifice of love made clean and whole. The grasses and flowers become aware of this, they mark that on this day the foot of man spares to trample them, that, even as God with a heavenly patience bears with man and once suffered for his sake, man in pious tribute treads softly to avoid crushing them. All creation gives thanks for this, all the short-lived things that bloom; for to-day all Nature, absolved from sin, regains her day of Innocence." The exquisiteness of this passage, the Good-Friday Spell (Charfreitag's Zauber), can hardly be conveyed; if one says the music is worthy of the theme, one has but given a hint of the overearthly quality of its sweetness.
Kundry has slowly raised her head and fixed upon Parsifal her prayerful wet eyes. Either from his recent contemplation of the flowery lea, or some occult association of her personality with the past, the flowers of Klingsor's garden come into his mind. "I saw them wither who had smiled on me. May they not also be hungering for redemption now?... Your tears, too, are turned to blessed dew.... You weep, and see, the meadow blooms in joy!" He stoops and kisses her gently upon the forehead.
Bells are heard summoning the knights to the Castle. Gurnemanz brings from the cell the mantle of a knight of the Grail, and places it upon Parsifal's shoulders. Parsifal grasps the Spear, and the three vanish from sight among the trees. Again, but from the opposite direction, we approach the Castle; the sound of bells increases as we pass through the granite portal and the vaulted corridors. We are once more in the domed hall. All is as we left it, save for the tables, which, become useless, are no longer there. Again the doors open at the back and from each issues forth a company of knights, the one bearing the bier of Titurel, the other carrying the litter of Amfortas and the shrine of the Grail, while they chant, in question and response, a song of reproachful tenor. "Whom do you bring, with tokens of mourning, in the dark casket?" "The funereal casket holds the hero into whose charge the very God entrusted Himself. Titurel we bring." "Who slew him, whom God Himself held in His care?" "The killing burden of age slew him, when he no longer might behold the Grail." "Who prevented him from beholding the glory of the Grail?" "He whom you carry, the sinful Keeper." The latter they now urge to fulfill his promise of exposing the Grail, and, deeply moved by the sight of his father's face and the outburst of lamentation which follows the folding back of the pall from it, he appears on the point of satisfying them; but, as in their eagerness they hem him around with injunctions almost threatening, he is seized with a revulsion once more against the task imposed on him. He springs from his high seat and stands among them begging that rather they will kill him. "Already I feel the night of death closing around me, and must I be forced back into life? You demented! Who shall compel me to live? Death alone it is in your power to give!" He tears open his garment and offers his breast. "Forward, heroes! Slay the sinner with his affliction! The Grail perchance will glow for you then of Itself!"
But the knights shrink away. Then it is that Parsifal, who with Gurnemanz and Kundry has entered unnoticed, advances and with the point of the Sacred Spear touches Amfortas's wound. "One weapon alone avails. The wound can be closed only by the Spear which made it. Be whole, pardoned and absolved, for I now hold the office in your stead!" Amfortas's countenance of holy ecstasy proclaims the instant virtue of the remedy. As Parsifal holds up to the enraptured gaze of the knights the Spear which he has brought back to them, the Parsifal-motif is heard again, for the last time, triumphant, broad, and glorious. He proceeds to perform the rite which had been the duty of Amfortas. A glory rains upon the altar. At the glowing of the Grail, Titurel, returning for a moment to life, lifts himself on his bier with a gesture of benediction. As Parsifal moves the Chalice softly above the kneeling assembly, a white dove descends from on high and floats above his head. Kundry, with her eyes turned toward all these luminous things, sinks softly upon the altar-steps, the life-giving Grail having given her life too, in the form of desired death. With the interwoven Grail and Faith and Spear music letting down as if a curtain of silver and azure and gold, the poem closes.
One has heard it objected, as at least strange, that when the search after knowledge is so unquestionably meritorious, and study, as we count it, one of the conditions of progress, and learning a lamp to our feet, an ideal should be made of total ignorance, such as Parsifal's. But surely the point is a different one. The point is not Parsifal's ignorance—except, perhaps, in so far as it made for innocence—but the qualities which he possessed, and which one may possess, in spite of ignorance. It is a comparison of values which is established. Through the object-lesson of Parsifal, Wagner is saying, after his fashion and inversely, what Saint Paul says: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels,... though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge,... and have not charity, I am nothing;... it availeth me nothing." The supremacy of charity, love of others, is the point illustrated.
One tributary to the mighty stream of our interest in the opera of Parsifal has its spring in the date of its appearance. It comes as the poet's last word. What a procession of heroes has passed before us—beautiful, brave, romantic,—how fit, every one, to capture the imagination! Towering a little above the rest, Siegfried, the Uebermensch, the Overman. But finally, with the effect of a conclusion reached, a judgement, the hero whose heroism differs in quality from that of the others, the lowly of heart, whose dominant trait is Mitleid, compassion, sympathy with the woes of others, who pities swans and women and the sinful and the suffering, and gives his strength to helping them, and sanctifies himself for their sake.
In the beginning was the Gold,—beautiful, resplendent, its obvious and simple part to reflect sunlight and be a joy to the eyes; containing, however, apparently of its very nature, the following mysterious quality: a ring fashioned from it would endow its possessor with what is vaunted as immeasurable power, and make him master of the world. This power shows itself afterwards undefined in some directions and circumscribed in others, one never fully grasps its law; one plain point of it, however, was to subject to the owner of the ring certain inferior peoples and reveal to him the treasures hidden in the earth, which he could force his thralls to mine and forge and so shape that they might be used to buy and subject the superior peoples, thus making him actually, if successful in corruption, master of the world.
But this ring could by no possibility be fashioned except by one who should have utterly renounced love.
For these things no reason is given: they were, like the Word.
One feels an allegory. As the poem unfolds, one is often conscious of it. It is well to hold the thread of it lightly and let it slip as soon as it becomes puzzling, settling down contentedly in the joy of simple story. The author himself, very much a poet, must be supposed to have done something of the sort. He does not follow to any trite conclusion the thought he has started, he has small care for minor consistencies. Large-mindedly he drops what has become inconvenient, and prefers simply beauty, interest, the story. Thus his personages have a body, and awaken sympathies which would hardly attach to purely allegorical figures; a charm of livingness invests the world he has created.
The Gold's home was in the Rhine, at the summit of a high, pointed rock, where it caught the beams of the sun and shed them down through the waves, brightening the dim water-world, gladdening the water-folk. That was its sole use, but for thus making golden daylight in the deep it was worshipped, besung, called adoring names, by nixies swimming around it in a sort of joyous rite.
The mysterious potentiality of the gold was known to the Rhine-god; three of his daughters had been instructed by him, and detailed to guard the treasure. Some faculty of divination warned him of danger to it, and of the quarter from whence this danger threatened. But nixies—even when burdened by cares of state—are just nixies; those three seem to have lived to laugh before all else—to laugh and chase one another and play in the cool green element, singing all the while a fluent, cradling song whose sweetness might well allure boatmen and bathers.
Below the Rhine lay Nibelheim, the kingdom of mists and night, the home of the Nibelungs,—dark gnomes, dwarfs, living in the bowels of the earth, digging its metals, excelling in cunning as smiths.
The Rhine did not continue flowing water quite down to its bed; the boundary-line of Nibelheim seems to have been just above it; the water there turned to fine mist; among the rough rocks of the river-bed were passages down into the Under-world.
Up through one of these, one day before sunrise, while the Rhine was melodiously thundering in its majestic course—they are the Rhine-motifs which open the piece,—came clambering, by some chance, the Nibelung Alberich. His night-accustomed eyes, as he blinked upward into the green light, were caught by a silvery glinting of scales, flashes of flesh-pink and floating hair. The Rhine-maidens, guardians of the gold, were frolicking around it; but this did not appear, for the sun had not yet risen to wake it into radiance. The dwarf saw just a shimmering of young forms, was touched with a natural desire, and called to them, asking them to come down to him, and let him join in their play.
At the sound of the strange voice and the sight of the strange figure, Flosshilde, a shade more sensible than her sisters, cries out to them: "Look to the gold! Father warned us of an enemy of the sort!" and the three rally quickly around the treasure. But it soon appears that the stranger is but a dark, small, hairy, ugly, harmless-seeming, amorous creature, uttering his wishes very simply. The watch over the gold is relinquished, and a little amusement sought in tantalizing and befooling the clumsy wooer.
Alberich, later a figure touched with terror and followed with dislike, is likeable in this scene, almost gentle, one's sympathies come near being with him. The music describes him awkward and heavy, slipping on the rocks, sneezing in the wet; a note of protest is frequent in his voice. All the music relating to him, now or later, is joyless, whatever beside it may be.
The sisters have their fun with the poor gnome, whose innocence of nixies' ways is apparent in the long time it is before all reliance in their good faith leaves him. Woglinde invites him nearer. With difficulty he climbs the slippery rocks to reach her. When he can nearly touch her—he is saying, "Be my sweetheart, womanly child!"—she darts from him. And the sisters laugh their delicious inhuman laugh. Woglinde then plunges to the river-bed, calling to Alberich, "Come down! Here you surely can grasp me!" He owns it will be easier for him down there, and lets himself down, when the sprite rises, light as a bubble, to the surface. He is calling her an impudent fish and a deceitful young lady, when Wellgunde sighs, "Thou beautiful one!" He turns quickly, inquiring naively, "Do you mean me?" She says, "Have nothing to do with Woglinde. Turn sooner to me!" He is but too willing, vows that he thinks her much the more beautiful and gleaming, and prays she will come further down. She stops short of arm's-length. He pours forth his elementary passion. She feigns a wish to see her handsome gallant more closely. After a brief comedy of scanning his face, with insulting promptness she appears to change her mind, and with the unkindest descriptive terms slipping from his grasp swims away. And again rings the chorus of malicious musical laughter. Then the cruellest of the three, Flosshilde, takes the poor swain in hand. She not only comes down, she allows herself to be held, she wreathes her slender arms around him, presses him tenderly and flatters him in music well calculated to daze with delight. He is not warned by her words, as, while they sit embraced, she says, "Thy piercing glance, thy stubborn beard, might I see the one, feel the other, forever! The rough locks of thy prickly hair, might they forever flow around Flosshilde! Thy toad's shape, thy croaking voice, oh, might I, wondering and mute, see and hear them exclusively for ever!" It is the sudden mocking laughter of the two listening sisters which draws him from his dream—when Flosshilde slips from his hold, and the three again swim merrily around, and laugh, and when his angry wail rises call down to him to be ashamed of himself! But not even then do they let him rest; they hold forth new hopes, inviting and exciting him to chase them, till fairly aflame with love and wrath he begins a mad pursuit, climbing, slipping, falling to the foot of the rocks, starting upwards again, clutching at this one and that, still eluded with ironical laughter, until, realizing his impotence, breathless and quaking with rage, he shakes his clenched hand at them, foaming, "Let me catch one with this fist!"
He is glaring upward at them, speechless with fury, when his eyes become fixed upon a brilliant point, growing in size and radiance until the whole flood is illumined. There is an exquisite hush of a moment. The sun has risen and kindled its reflection in the gold. The music describes better than words the spreading of tremulous light down through the deep. Through the wavering ripples of water and light cuts the bright call of the gold, the call to wake up and behold. Again and again it rings, regularly a golden voice. The Rhine-daughters have quickly forgotten their victim. They begin their blissful circumswimming of their idol, with a song in ecstatic celebration of it, so penetratingly, joyously sweet, that you readily forgive them their naughtiness: "Rhine-gold! Rhine-gold! Luminous joy! How laugh'st thou so bright and clear!"...
Alberich cannot detach his eyes from the vision. "What is it, you sleek ones," he asks in awed curiosity, "glancing and gleaming up there?"
"Now where have you barbarian lived," they reply, "never to have heard of the Rhine-gold?" They mock his ignorance; returning to their teasing mood, they invite him to come and revel with them in the streaming light.
"If it is no good save for you to swim around, it is of small use to me!" is Alberich's dejected observation. As if their treasure had been disparaged, Woglinde informs him that he would hardly despise the gold if he knew all of its wonder! And Wellgunde follows this part-revelation with the whole secret: The whole world would be his inheritance who should fashion out of the Rhine-gold a magic ring. Vainly Flosshilde tries to silence her sisters. Wellgunde and Woglinde laugh at her prudence, reminding her of the gold's assured safety in view of the condition attached to the creation of the ring. This is described in a solemn phrase, serious as the pronouncing of a vow: "Only he who forswears the power of love, only he who casts from him the joys of love, can learn the spell by which the gold may be forced into a ring."—Wherefore, they hold, the gold is safe, "for all that lives wishes to love, no one will give up love," least of all this Nibelung, the heat of whose sentiments had come near scorching them! And they laugh and swim around the gold with their light-hearted Wallalaleia, diversified with mocking personalities to the gnome down in the gloom.
But they have miscalculated. Without suspecting it, they have gone too far. The dwarf stands staring at the gold, dreaming what it would be to own the world. He is hardly at that moment, thanks to them, in love with love. His resolution is suddenly taken. He springs to the rock, shouting: "Mock on! Mock on! The Nibelung is coming!" With fearful activity, hate-inspired strength, he rapidly climbs the rock on which he had so slipped and floundered before. The foolish nymphs, though they see his approach, are still far from understanding. They still believe it is themselves he seeks to seize. They now not only laugh—they laugh, as the stage-directions have it, "im tollsten Uebermuth," the craziest towering insolence of high spirits. "Save yourselves, the gnome is raving! He has gone mad with love!"
He has reached the summit of the rock, he has laid hands on the gold. He cries, "You shall make love in the dark!... I quench your light, I tear your gold from the reef. I shall forge me the ring of vengeance, for, let the flood hear me declare it: I here curse love!" Tearing from its socket their splendid lamp, which utters just once its golden cry, all distorted and lamentable, he plunges with it into the depths, leaving sudden night over the scene in which the wild sisters, shocked at last into sobriety, with cries of Help and Woe start in pursuit of the robber. His harsh laugh of triumph drifts back from the caves of Nibelheim.
Then occurs a gradual transformation-scene both to the eye and the ear. The rocks disappear, black waves flow past, the whole all the while appearing to sink. Clouds succeed the water, mist the clouds. This finally clears, revealing a calm and lovely scene on the mountain-heights. The music has during this been painting the change, too: Sounds of running water, above which hovers a moment, a memory of the scene just past and a foreboding of its sorrowful consequences, the strain signifying the renunciation of love; when this dies away, the motif of the ring, to be heard so many times after, its fateful character plainly conveyed by the notes, which also literally describe its circular form. By what magic of modulation the uninitiated cannot discern, the ring-motif, as the water by degrees is translated into mist, slides by subtle changes into a motif which seems, when it is reached, conspicuously different from it, the motif of the Gods' Abode.
There in the distance it stands, when the mists have perfectly cleared, bathed in fresh morning light, the tall just-completed castle, with shimmering battlements, crowning a high rocky mountain, at whose base, far down out of sight, flows the Rhine. For the Rhine is the centre of the world we are occupied with: under it, the Nibelungs; above it, the Gods; beside it, the giants and the insignificant human race. The music itself here, while the dwelling of the gods is coming into sight, seems to build a castle: story above story it rises, topped with gleaming pinnacles, one, lighter and taller than all the rest, piercing the clouds.
In the foreground lie sleeping side by side, on a flowery bank, the god and goddess Wotan and Fricka.
He lies dreaming happily of the abode from which the world is to be commanded by him, to the display of immeasurable power and his eternal honour. His wife's sleep is less easy. For the situation is not as free from complications as his untroubled slumbers might lead one to suppose. Wotan has employed to build him this stronghold the giants Fasolt and Fafner, formerly his enemies, but bound to peace by treaties, and has promised them the reward stipulated for, Freia, goddess of beauty and youth, sister of Fricka. And this he has done without any serious thought of keeping his word. "Nie sann es ernstlich mein Sinn," he assures Fricka, when, starting in dismay from her sleep and beholding the completed burg, she reminds him that the time is come for payment, and asks what shall they do. Loge, he enlightens her, counselled the compact and promised to find the means of evading it. He relies upon him to do so. This calm frankness in the god, with its effect of personal clearness from all sense of guilt, suggests the measure of Wotan's distinguishing simplicity. Referring later to the dubious act which so effectually laid the foundation of sorrows, he says, "Unknowingly deceitful, I practised untruth. Loge artfully tempted me." He explains himself to Fricka, when she asks why he continues to trust the crafty Loge, who has often already brought them into straits: "Where frank courage is sufficient, I ask counsel of no one. But slyness and cunning are needed to turn to advantage the ill-will of adversaries, and that is the talent of Loge."
Strong and calm is Wotan; music of might and august beauty, large music, supports everyone of his utterances. There is no departure from this, even when his signal fallibility is in question. Waftures of Walhalla most commonly accompany his steps; the close of his speech is frequently marked by the sturdy motif of his spear, the spear inseparable from him, cut by him from the World-Ash, carved with runes establishing the bindingness of compacts, by aid of which he had conquered the world, subdued the giants, the Nibelungs, and Loge, the Spirit of Fire.
Athirst for power he is, before all: in this trait lie the original seeds of his destruction; it is for the sake of the tokens of power, the castle and later the ring, that he commits the injustices which bring about ruin. Athirst, too, for wisdom: he has given one of his eyes for Wisdom, in the person of Fricka, who combines in herself law and order and domestic virtue. And athirst for love,—something of a grievance to Fricka. "Ehr ich die Frauen doch mehr als dich freut," "I honour women more than pleases you," he retorts to her reproach of contempt for woman's love and worth, evidenced in his light ceding of Freia.
He calls himself and all call him a god, adding "eternal" even when the gods' end is glaringly at hand. The other gods look to him as chief among them. But he is ever acknowledging the existence of something outside and above himself, a law, a moral necessity, which it is no use to contend against; through which, do what he may, disaster finally overtakes him for having tried to disregard it. There is a stray hint from him that the world is his very possession and that he could at will destroy it; but this which so many facts contradict we may regard as a dream. Yet he feels toward the world most certainly a responsibility, such as a sovereign's toward his people; a duty, part of which is that for its sake he must not allow his spear to be dishonoured. Compacts it must sacredly guard. All his personal troubles come from this necessity, this constant check to him: he must respect covenants, his spear stands for their integrity. Alberich in a bitter discussion declares his knowledge of where the god is weak, and reminds him that if he should break a covenant sanctioned by the spear in his hand, this, the symbol of his power, would split into spray!
He is perhaps best understood, on the whole, with his remorse and despair, the tortures of his heart and his struggle with his soul, if one can conceive him as a sort of sublimated aristocrat; a resplendent great personage—just imaginable in the dawn of history, when there were giants upon earth—lifted far above the ordinary of the race by superior gifts, "reigning through beauty," as Fasolt describes; possessing faculties not shared by common mortals, but these rudimentary or else in their decline: the power of divination, not always accurate or clear; the power of miracle, not altogether to be relied upon; remaining young indefinitely, yet not wholly enfranchised from time and circumstance; living indefinitely, but recognising himself as perishable, and passing at last, swallowed in twilight.
A great warrior and leader of heroes, inciter of men to bold actions and novel flights; some of his titles: Father of Hosts, Father of Battles, Father of Victory; riding in the storm-clouds on his Luft-ross, his air-horse, whose hoof-beats and neigh fill us with excited delight. But his air-horse cannot overtake Bruennhilde's air-horse, in his pursuit of her, and Grane reaching the goal falls exhausted....
A great reveller: reference is repeatedly made to the light-minded, light-hearted, careless humour of the gods, their glorious feasts and joyous life in the light up there. Their tribe is qualified as "laughing." Wotan's unshakable dignity indeed does not prevent a quick easy laugh. And he shows the true aristocratic temper in being little moved by the sorrows of those beneath and unrelated to him: one of his laughs, which we witness, is for the howls of a poor wee dwarf who had been savagely beaten.
And so this powerful clan-chief had had a fancy for a house to live in worthy of their greatness. Fricka had fallen in with his desire, but for reasons of her own. To him the citadel was a fresh addition to his power. But Fricka had been "um des Gatten Treu' besorgt," "ill at ease with regard to her consort's fidelity," and had thought the beautiful dwelling might keep him at home. With her words, "Herrliche Wohnung, wonniger Hausrath," "Beautiful dwelling, delectable household order," first occurs the winning strain which afterward stands for Fricka in her love of domesticity, or, separate from her, for the pure charm of home.
When the giants, however, had been subsidised for the great work of building the house, the narrow-conscienced women had been kept out of the way while an agreement was reached with the builders; a grievance which Fricka remembers, and does not let her spouse forget, when the evil consequences of his act are upon them. Fricka constitutes something of a living reproach to her husband, though a certain tender regard still exists between them through the introductory Opera. A thankless part is Fricka's, like that of Reason in opposition to Feeling and Genius.
Now Loge, who had been tamed by the conquering spear, hated his tamer. He craved back his liberty, and, as the Norn tells us later in Goetterdaemmerung, "tried to free himself by gnawing at the runes on the shaft of the spear." He gave counsel to Wotan which followed must create difficulties from which the god could deliver himself only by an injustice; and this injustice Loge seems clearly to have recognised from the first as the beginning of the end of the strength of the gods. The subtle Loge is more widely awake than Wotan to the "power not ourselves which makes for righteousness." He counselled him to buy the giants' labor by the promise of Freia, knowing that the gods could never endure to let the amiable goddess go. He led them to believe that when the time came he would give them further counsel by which to retain her. And his word Wotan chose to trust, and gave his heart over to the untroubled enjoyment of his plans' completion.
And now Freia comes running to him in terror, crying that one of the giants has told her he is come to fetch her. With her entrance we first hear the slender sweet phrase, delicately wandering upward, which after for a time denoting Freia, comes to mean for us just beauty. Wotan calms the maiden in distress, and asks, as one fancies, a little uneasily, "Have you seen nothing of Loge?"
The arrival of the giants is one of the great comedy moments of the play. Their colossally heavy tread, musically rendered, never fails to call forth laughter from some corner in us of left-over childhood. It is like the ogre's Fee-faw-fum. Fasolt is a good giant, his shaggy hair is blond, his fur-tunic white, and his soft big heart all given over to the touchingly lovely Freia. Fafner is a bad giant and his hair and furs are black. He is much cleverer than his brother. They carry as walking-sticks the trunks of trees.
They make it known that they have come for their wages. Wotan bids them, with a sturdy aplomb worthy of his godhead, state their wishes. What shall the wages be? Fasolt, a shade astonished, replies, "That, of course, which we settled upon. Haye you forgotten so soon? Freia.... It is in the bond that she shall follow us home."
"Have you taken leave of your senses... with you bond?" asks Wotan, with a quick flash. "You must think of a different recompense. Freia is far too precious to me."
The giant is for a moment still, unable to speak for indignation; but recovering his voice he makes to the "son of light" a series of observations eminently to the point. Wotan to these makes no more retort than as if the words had not been spoken; but—to gain time till Loge shall arrive—when the giant has quite finished, he inquires, "What, after all, can the charm of the amiable goddess signify to you clumsy boors?" Fasolt enlarges, "You, reigning through beauty, shimmering lightsome race, lightly you offer to barter for stone towers woman's loveliness. We simpletons labour with toil-hardened hands to earn a sweet woman who shall dwell with us poor devils.... And you mean to call the bargain naught?..."
Fafner gloomily checks him: Words will not help them. And the possession of Freia in itself is to his mind of little account. But of great account to take her from the gods. In her garden grow golden apples, she alone has the art of tending these. Eating this fruit maintains her kinsmen in unwaning youth. Were Freia removed, they must age and fade. Wherefore let Freia be seized!
Wotan frets underbreath, "Loge is long acoming!"
Freia's cries, as the giants lay hands upon her, bring her brothers Donner and Froh—the god of Thunder and the god of the Fields—quickly to her side. A combat between them and the giants is imminent, when Wotan parts the antagonists with his spear, "Nothing by violence!" and he adds, what it might be thought he had lost sight of, "My spear is the protector of bargains!"
And then finally, finally, comes in sight Loge. Wotan lets out his breath in relief: "Loge at last!"
The music has introduced Loge by a note-painting as of fire climbing up swiftly through airiest fuel. There is a quick flash or two, like darting tongues of flame. A combination of swirling and bickering and pulsating composes the commonest Loge-motif, but the variety is endless of the fire's caprices. Fantastical, cheery, and light it is mostly, sinister sometimes, suggestive of treachery, but terrible never; its beauty rather than its terror is reproduced. So characteristic are the fire-motifs that after a single hearing a person instinctively when one occurs looks for some sign or suggestion of Loge.
He stands now upon the rock, a vivid, charming, disquieting apparition, with his wild red hair and fluttering scarlet cloak. The arch-hypocrite wears always a consummately artless air. He comes near winning us by a bright perfect good-humour, which is as of the quality of an intelligence without a heart. The love of mischief for its own sake, which is one of his chief traits, might be thought to account easily for his many enemies.
He is related to the gods, a half-god, but is regarded coldly by his kin. Wotan is his single friend in the family, and with Wotan he preserves the attitude of a self-acknowledged underling. He stands in fear of his immediate strength, while nourishing a hardly disguised contempt for his wit, as well as that of his cousins collectively. A secret hater of them all, and clear-minded in estimating them. A touch of Mephistophelian there is in the pleasure which he seems to find in the contemplation of the canker-spot in Wotan's nature, drawing from the god over and over again, as if the admission refreshed him, that he has no intention of dealing justly toward the Rhine-maidens.
"Is this your manner of hastening to set aright the evil bargain concluded by you?" Wotan chides, as he appears from the valley.
"How? What bargain concluded by me?..."
Pinned down to accounting for himself, "I promised," he says, "to think over the matter, and try to find means of loosing you from the bargain.... But how should I have promised to perform the impossible?" Under the pressure of all their angers, he finally airily delivers himself: "Having at heart to help you, I travelled the world over, visiting its most recondite corners, in search of such a substitute for Freia as might be found acceptable to the giants. Vainly I sought, and now at last I plainly see that nothing upon this earth is so precious that it can take the place in man's affection of the loveliness and worth of woman."
Struck and uplifted by this thought, the gods, moved, look in one another's faces, and the music expresses the sweet expansion of the heart overflowing with thoughts of beauty and love. It is one of the memorable moments of the Prologue.
"Everywhere," proceeds Loge, "far as life reaches, in water, earth, and air, wherever is quickening of germs and stirring of nature's forces, I investigated and inquired what there might be in existence that a man should hold dearer than woman's beauty and worth? Everywhere my inquiry was met with derision. No creature, in water, earth, or air, is willing to renounce love and woman."
As he pauses, the gods again gaze at one another, with tender tearful smiles, in an exalted emotion over the recognition of this touching truth; and the music reexpresses that blissful expansion of the heart.
"Only one did I see," Loge says further—the light fading out of the music—"who had renounced love; for red gold he had forsworn the favor of woman." He relates Alberich's theft of the gold, as it had been told him by the Rhine-daughters, who had made him their advocate with Wotan, to procure its restitution.