The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
by Elsa D'Esterre-Keeling.
V. Germany's "Minnesanger." The Times in Which They Lived, Who They Were, And the Kind of Songs They Sang.
In face of Germany's "Minnesanger," the honest critic of to-day can hardly do other than echo Longfellow's cry in that poem called "Children"--
In your hearts are the birds and the sunshine
They are the children of song.
What means the word "Minne"? It is thought to be a form of "meine" (mine, my love). A lover would call his lass die meine, and die meine easily passed into "die Minne," used where now would be use die Liebe--love.
Most of the "Minnesanger," we learn, were of knightly rank, but ther were some notable exceptions to this rule, among them Walter von der Vogelweide. Some of them travelled about from town to town, or perhaps it would be more correct to say from Court to Court, hence the name of "fahrende Sanger" given to them. Others stayed at Courts. The Austrian dukes were renowned for assembling "Minnesanger" about them; so was Landgraf Hermann of Thuringia. Among the many "Minneganger" whose names have come down to us (and the number of them is nearly two hundred!) four are especially famous--De Kurenberger, Hartmann von Aue, Wolfram von Eschenbach, and Walther von der Voldelweide. To these may be added an Emperor and a reigning Prince--Henry VI. of Germany and Henry of Meissen. De Kurenberger, often called Kurenberg simply, was one of the earliest of the "Minnesanger." A particular interest attaches to him as thought by the German critic Pfeiffer to have been the compiler of the "Nibelungenlied." His birthplace is unknown, Austria and Baden both claiming him. Hartmann von Aue, the author of "der arme Heinrich," a Suabian and a Crusader, sang many a "Minnelied," and his thoughts, it is pleasant for us to know, took their colour from study of the Arthurian legends. Wolfram von Eschenbach, best know as the author of "Parzival" in "Minnegesang," is second only to Walther von de Vogelweide, and Walther on der Vogelwiede is second to none. Wolfram was born in the village of Eschenbach, not very far from Nurnberg, and was of gentle parentage, but very poor. Walther von der Vogelweide is claimed by Austria and Switzerland. He lived mostly in Germany and took part in a Crusade. His tomb may be seen in Bavaria, in the city of Wurzburg. An empty dish is sculptured over it, but birdseed grew at its foot when I last visited it, and a bit of that birdseed is before me as I write.
Love is the theme of all these singers, but it is love of a threefold kind--love of woman (that must be put first, as the theme most often occurring), love of county, love of God. They are quite wrong who think that the so-called "Minnegesang" is one continuous lover's song in the sense in which the word "lover" is commonly used; it is, as pointed out, a song of three kinds--sentimental, patriotic, and religious. Sometimes, indeed, the "Minnelieder" are frivolous, but very rarely immoral, and some which are of haunting beauty preach most eloquent sermons. Of these, I think, is Walther von der Vogelweide's song beginning "Pure women are all sweetness and all flowers." The mere use of the word "pure" (German "rein") in place of the conventional "beautiful," lifts this poem high above the level of familiar love-song. Of course there is much sameness in "Minnegesang," as in erotic poetry in every language. Joy wears ever the same smile, sorrow makes ever the same complaint; for besides many glad songs there are many sad songs, this reminding us that "lied" (song) lies very near to "leid" (sorrow).
Before entering upon the famous story of the "Sangerkrieg" (the Minstrel's Tournament) upon the Wartburg it may be well to say little about that noble castle in Thuringia. It dates from 1100, or thereabouts, and legend has it that it took its name from the fact that "Landgraf" Hermann the Springer (so called from having once made his escape from cptivity by means of a daring spring) one morning dashed up the mountain's side on horseback, and, filled with delight by the beautiful scene which presented itself to his eyes, as he paused on the hilltop, exclaimed, "Wart', Berg, du sollst mir cine Burg werden" (Wait, Berg [mountain], I will make a Burg [castle] of you). Having, I think we may say, sprung to this resolution, the dauntless Thuringian "Graf" at once took steps to see it carried out. Three of the Wartburg's inmates were destined in later times to give high fame to it, first Hermann II., whom we may perhaps call "the Singer" to distinguish him from "the Springer," who allowed the Minstrel's Tournament to take place at the castle; secondly, Saint Elizabeth, the lady who told the fib that the angels contenanced; thirdly, Martin Luther, who in days of storm and stress found calm and shelter at the Wartburg, and there worked at his translation of the Bible, disturbed only once by a visit from the Devil. The leading scenes in the lives of these and other inmates of the Wartburg are chronicled in glowing colours (this is to be taken very literally, for the chronicler is a painter--Moritz von Schwindt) in the state-room of the castle (the "Landgrafenzimmer") and in the so-called "Elisabethen-Gallerie," which is the hall where the much-tried Elizabeth sank down for the moment paralysed by grief on hearing of the death of her husband. In the first picture in this gallery is represented the arrival of the four-year-old Hungarian Princess (Elizabeth) who is betrothed to the young Landgrave, with whom she is to be educated. The legend of the second picture is "Rosen, lieber Bruder" (Roses, dear brother). A famine is ravaging Thuringia, and the famished people crowd about the castle crying for food. The Landgravine to help them sells her jewels and pawns her lands--nay, her husband's lands. She carries food to them in her own gracious hands. Ludwig first remonstrates with her; then rebukes her; finally he forbids her sternly to give further alms. Alas, the Landgravine is led to disobey him by the cries of the children. She is met by him one morning holding up her apron. Her face is rosy red with guilt. "What have you there?" says the lord of the Wartburg. Elizabeth drops her eyes, and answers: "Roses, dear brother." "Open your apron," says the Landgrave. The rosy face turns very white as the Landgravine opens her apron. Joy! joy! the roses that left her cheeks are there.
In the third picture we see the parting between Ludwig the Saint (for the saintly Elizabeth was married to a saint) and his wife. He is about to leave Thuringia for the Holy Land, whence he is destined never to return.
"Hunted Away" tells the story of the fourth picture. Her husband's cruel, shameless kinsfolk banish the widowed Landgravine from the Wartburg. In the next picture she lies dead, and in the last we are shown how--rather late--the world found out that the Lady of Wartburg was a saint. Her body is taken from its resting-place, enshrined magnificently, and she is canonized.
Besides these pictures, which record the leading events in the story of Elizabeth, there are seven pictures (in the "Landgrafenzimmer") which record the leading events of interest in the lives of the different Landgraves of Thuringia. The story told above in connection with the naming of the castle forms the subject of the first of these. "Landgraf, werd hart" (Landgrave, grow hard) is the name generally given to the second picture. It appears that a certain Landgrave of Thuringia, who had given himself up to folly and recklessness, allowing his nobles to do whatever pleased them, to the sore grief of his meaner subjects, once, having lost his way out hunting, was fain to seek a night's shelter in the hut of a smith. At dawn of day he was waked by the ring of the hammer upon the anvil, and at every blow that the smith gave with his hammer he sang out lustily, "Landgraf, werde hart" (Landgrave, grow hard). The Landgrave took the lesson thus daringly given, and was a firm and wise ruler of his land from that day forth.
"Walls About the Ladies' Chambers" is the pretty name given to the next picture. The German Emperor, once honouring the Warburg by a visit, said to the Thuringian Landgrave--
"Your castle is very strong, cousin, but I should like to see more walls about the ladies' chambers."
"That your Majesty shall see by to-morrow's morning," replied the Landgrave. Whearat the Emperor laughed.
At once messages were sent east and west and north and south throughout Thuringia, and next morning early the Landgrave begged that the Emperor would survey the walls about the ladies' chambers. Wall behind wall was there, and the walls were men ringing armour with flashing swords and flashing eyes.
"You have indeed good walls," said the Emperor, and he laughed no more.
The fourth picture is based on the story which tells how Louis the Saint played with lions, and the same good Landgrave is the hero of the next picture, the legend of which is "I see my donkey." Coming one day across a poor little booth in Eisenach, Ludwig asked of the owner of it how he could live on the sale of such trash? The man replied that he lived ill enough on it, and yet might prosper if in addition to it he had but ten marks and a free passport from town to town. Ludwig gave him the ten marks and the passport, and moreover gave him a donkey. Thus furnished, the man set out on his commercial travels, and soon amassed so much money as to attract to himself the attention of some robber-noblemen of Wurzburg, who waylaid him, took from him all he had, and left him in sorriest plight. The poor man was just able to drag himself to the castle and tell his story to his good patron. Not a word said Ludwig, but set out with an army for Wurzburg, which city he took after much bloodshed.
"Why this treatment of us? What seeks your Highness?" asked the Bishop of Wurzburg of the Landgrave.
"I seek my donkey," replied Ludwig.
The answer was understood, the stolen goods were restored and the robber-noblemen were yielded up.
Kunigunde is the subject of the next picture. One Landgrave, Albrecht of Thuringia, though wedded to a lovely and good lady, succumbed to the charms of a maid in waiting, Kunigunde, whose face indeed was beautiful, as may be seen by any who will go to the Wartburg. By them also may be seen how cleverly the painter tells of the Kunigunde's wickedness. "This is a traitress," says the bracelet in form of a serpent round the lady's arm; "she shall cause tears to be shed," say the pearls that bedeck her, while the sea-green belt about her waist shows her sisterhood with that lovely person who was born of sea-foam and was light as sea-foam.
In the last picture dealing with the Landgraves, Friedrich "der Gebissene" (Frederick the Bitten) is the hero. This name he bore from the circumstance that his mother--the unhappy Landgravine Margaret, whom Kunigunde had ousted--had, in an access of maternal love and grief, bitten his cheek when kissing him, prior to leaving the castle, whence she was banished by her faithless husband. The son of this tender mother (for she was a very tender mother) is represented as one of the most devoted of fathers. A daughter having been born to him at a time when his castle wa in a state of siege, he resolved to take the child himself to the nearest priest to be baptized. Accompanied by a few brave followers, the child, and its nurse, he left the castle by stealth, and set out for a hamlet, where lived a good man of religion, whom he loved. But the besiegers got wind of thse doings, and some of them went off in pursuit of the little band. They were close upon it when the little child began to cry with thirst. "We can't stop now," said the impatient riders. "We can and will," replied the Landgrave; "though all Thuringia suffer for it, my daughter shall not thirst." And he made the party halt, and, fighting manfully with his few friends against the foe, kept them at bay until the child's thirst was stilled. Then, having put the pursuers to the rout, the party with the little child proceeded to the christening. Many another brave deed besides this did the dauntless Frederick, and yet died not in war but as spectator at a play--one of the so-called miracle plays, in which the subject was the story of the virgins, wise and foolish. The sight of the foolish virgins cast out into the darkness, which they themselves had made, so affected the hero of Lucka,* that he sank back in his seat robbed of all power to speak and move, dying a little after. A brave and pitiful man.
*Site of a famous Suabian victory which gave rise to the proverb "Es wird dir glucka wie den Schwaben bei Lucka."
Such are some of the scenes which were enacted within the walls of the Wartburg, and are now painted on the walls within it. A fit place for the most wonderful tournament that ever was fought--the Tournament of Song. 1207 is the year commonly assigned to this event. "Landgraf" Hermann the Second then held sway in Thuringia, and resided in the Wartburg. The contending minstrels, on the one hand Wolfram von Eschenbach, Walther von der Vogelweide, Reinmar von Zweter, Biterolf, and Heinrich "der tugendhafte Schreiber" (Henry, the virtuous writer); on the other hand, Ofterdingen, aided by Klingsor. The few facts which have been handed down to us concerning Wolfram von Eschenbach and Walther von der Vogelweide I have given above. Reinmar von Zweter was a Rhinelander who lived chiefly in Bohemia, and is more famed for his "spruche" (wise saws) than for his "lieder" (songs). Of Biterolf and Heinrich "der tugendhafte Schrieber" nothing is known beyond their names and writings. Austria claims Ofterdingen, but of his life nothing is know, and there is a rather widespread opinion that he never lived at all. Klingsor would seem to be Hungaria's Merlin. The task which was set to these men was not only to sing beautifully, but to vie in singing the praises of their patrons. Ofterdingen singing the praise of the Duke of Austria in words which surpassed in eloquence all those in which had been sung the praise of Hermann of Thuringia, an angry outcry arose, and it was agreed that all should sing again, the one who failed in vanquishing Ofterdingen to be hanged. The first four singers were quite successful in overcoming the Austrian minstrel, but when it came to the fifth, victory threatening to side with Ofterdingen, frauds were made use of by his opponents, this leading the singer to retire from the combat and seek shelter behind the Landgravine's mantle. the lady took his part, and consented that he should leave Thurningia and return within a year, bringing with him as umpire the world-famed master of song, Klingsor. This Ofterdingen agreed to do. A year all but a day passed, however, and he and Klingsor were far from the Wartburg. The minstrel was in the greatest distress at this, but Klingsor bade him have no fear, and, opening out his mantle, made the journey with Ofterdingen in the space of a single night. They took up their abode in Eisenach, in the house of a simple townsman, and next night Klingsor, being found before the house-door, and being asked what he read in the stars, replied, "This I read: that there will be born this night to King Andrew of Hungary, my land, a daughter, and she will be named Elizabeth, and will lead a saintly life, and will be wedded to the young prince of this land, Thuringia."
The Landgrave was well pleased on being told of this prophecy, and Klingsor was treated with all respect. He offered to sing in Ofterdingen's stead, and vanquished all the German minstrels but Wolfram von Eschenbach. Then he feigned that he was weary, left the hall, and returned with a youth who, he said, would vanquish Wolfram. This youth he called Nasian. But he was an evil spirit.
The song began anew. The theme was no longer the praise of princes but the praise of God, and Nasian could not sing the praise of God. So the German "Minnesanger," the favoured poet of the lord of the Wartburg, won the day.
And what sang all these singers?
In place of the original songs in obsolete German I will give some of them in English versions. Here is Vogelweide's praise of woman, beginning--
"Durchsuezet unt geblumet sind die reinen frowen."*
*I have tried to reproduce to some extent the very irregular "footing" of the original, and have used the same rime-arrangement.
Pure women are all sweetness and all flowers;
† The "Minnesanger" carefully distinguishes between "erden" and "grunen ouwen."
I can only say of this matchless song that I never read it by "right down to my heart it slips."
Here is a bit of Wolfram's praise of God--that praise that silenced the evil spirit conjured up by Klingsor, and which begins--
"Den sic hat Gott in siner hant."
If only God with any be,
‡Long lines like this after a short line are of common occurrence.
Here is a sample of Ofterdingen's rather pompous song, opening--
"Das erste singen hie nu tuot Heinrich von Ofterdingen."
The first this day to sing am I,
"The Duke"--not the Landgrave; notice, Klingsor, true wizard that he is, propounds a riddle; and rud and daring is his song, which opens--
"Ich han gevlohten einen stranc."
A string I woven have most strong;
Biterolf has to sing, and deals in a bit of satire, which begins--
"Ein kater duhte sich so zart
Grimalkin though herself a match
Owing to the fact that "sun" in German is feminine, and in English masculine, a change of roles has to take place here: the impertinence, however, remains. Most quaint and lovely are some lines by Heinrich, "the virtuous writer." They begin--
"Noch weiz ich wol, wa triuwe lebet."*
*The metre, but not the rime-arrangement, is altered in my translation.
Well know I now where lovely Faith doth stay--
But perhaps Reinmar has the most truly mediaeval notion of them all--
"Dem Cral ich wol gelichen wil ein reines wip...."
A woman that is pure, I'll dare
* * * *
Ye who this new Grail would win you,
This was the man so famed for his "wise saws." Of these the following are a few:--
Who never had sorrow of love
A strange notion. It occurs again in the line--
The rose of love has ever a thorn.
And what is love? Reinmar is ready to tell us--
Love is two hearts' happiness.
He has the strangest fancies, and puts no check on them. "Check," indeed! He sings with a laugh--
No one, I wis, can find
Such were Germany's famed "Minnesanger."
Papers to be answered by students of above:--
1. Turn into German paragraph 2 above from "Most of the 'Minnesanger'" to "the compiler of the Niebelungenlied."
2. Wart', Berg, du sollst mir eine Burg werden.--Elisabethan-Gallerie. Es wird dir glucka, wie den Schwaben bei Lucka. (Comment on the words in italics.)
Typed by Whitney Townsend, April 2015
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