The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
by Elsa D'Esterre-Keeling.
II. German Literature of The Early Crusading Period.
Legends and traditions are what we should expect to meet with most often during the early Crusading period--The time between 1150 and 1180, and it is these which indeed are prominent during that time. Under this heading come Wernher's 'Maria', the well-known Annolied, and the Kaiserchronik.
Wernher was a priest whose home was in that German land, Tergensee. May still be seen Benedictine cloister aged a thousand years and more of it was Wernher. His theme in Maria "Daz reine magadin" Literally translated as "Ye clene mayde"* The Virgin Mother.
The note is the same as that struck in the Helia, and the poet, as there, treats his subjects in a manner which is at once familiar and reverential. The mother is holy above all women as having born him who is most-wonderful and is little and big who is simple and wise who is dew-drop and flower (What a quaint fancies here!)
English readers will learn with surprise that this same Wernher gave to Germany one of her loveliest stanzas; a stanza well known in its modern guise (There is a scare a German girl that has it not in her album), and which a good number of English folk believe to be--Heine's!
Du bist min, ich bin din,
[*See contemporary English poetry.]
The Annolied, or song of Anno, is so misnamed after Hanno, a mighty Archbishop of Cologne.
In the poem not only his life's story is told, but History from the Creation is described.
Famous are the opening lines of the Annolied, in which the old singer, hinting, it is thought, at the favor in which stood the mundane "Heldenlied," says that we hear only too much singing of old things, how quickly (that is boldly) heroes fought, breaking down strongholds, dear friend parting from friend, rich ( that is, mighty) kings setting forth [to war]. Now it is time, he says, for us to take thought how we ourselves shall end.
Here is the passage in Hanno's time-old German:--
Wir horten ie dicke singen voa alten dingen, wie smelie helide vuhten, wie sie veste burge brrechen,
Many a fine and typical thought is contained in the Annolied. In one place the feudal singer bids us remember that "We in baptism became Christ's vassals, and should love our liege-lord."
As for Hanno, the bishop, the poet overflows with his praise. "This was he who sate among princes as a lion, and among the poor went as a lamb . . . Happy was the city of Cologne to be deemed worthy of such a bishop. When at night the folk were sleeping all, up would rise the much good man, and of his holiness would visit many a minster. Alms he took with him, and many poor he found, that had no shelter, and that waited for him . . . Far-off men spake of him; from Greece and England kings sent gifts to him."
"[This is a man whom England of to-day should not forget.]
The Kaiserchronik, or "Chronicle of Emperors," is a poem the subject matter of which is mostly derived from Latin works.
It tells the story of the Roman and German emperors from the time of Caesar to that of the Hohenstaufen, Konrad III. With the historical is mingled a most strange tissue of tradition. Motley was the only wear with olden chroniclers all Europe over. Here is the full title of the "Chronicle of Emperors,"--Der Kaiser und der kunige buoch (The Emperors' and the Kings' book).*
[*The student should notice that the large use of capital initails in nineteenth century German has nothing analogous in olden German.]
Poems like these,--the Maria, Annolied, and Kaiserchronick, though they were favorites with the people, have not the popular tone which is charming in such contemporary work as the rimed stories of Rinehart der Fuchs* und Konig Rother.
[*I intend to deal with "Reignhart der Fucs" later on in connection with Fable.]
King Rother is described as having his capital at Barri, in southern Italy. It will be remembered that in the crusading days and prior to them teutorns had made their home in many a fair Italian regions. Apulia was again and again devastated by Norse warriors and in the middle of the eleventh century had reigning over it a king with the Teutonic name of Rudiger.
Having resolved to marry no less a woman than the daughter of the emperor Constantine, Rother went in disguise to Constantinople and carried away the princess. Wrathful, as well he might be the emperor took steps to win back his child and succeeded in doing so with the aid of a minstrel, but Rother, whose wife she was, returning at the head of an army, took her again.
The story is German of the German-esque, full of old German names, Dietrich, Berchtold, and the like, of German tears and German laughter, of German warriors and German women, for "Frauen" and "manche schone Maid" are--need it be said?--not absent.
Important among works belonging to this early Crusading period are some German versions of Oriental tales and traditions, among them Herzog Ernst and Das Alexanderlied. In Herzog Ernst, are told the adventures of Duke Ernest and his faithful companion Wernher,* in the Holy Land.
[*A German poet, well known to English people, Uhland, has dramatized the story of Duke Ernest.]
Enchanted castles, magnetic rocks, princesses in distress, cranes [No common cranes] and griffons, a people with huge flat feet, which in rainy weather they held up over their heads as umbrellas ; another with long soft ears which the wrapt about them when cold;--these are a few of the things which Herzog Ernst saw. One must read Mandeville's Travels to find anything like in English. They who have read and re-read "Sinbad the Sailor" will understand how the book of Duke Ernest was read and re-read in Germany.
The Alexanderlied or "Song of Alexander" is thought to have been the work of a priest called Lamprecht. Here again the mythical rather than the historical is dealt with, the bright coloring is Oriental, and the reader, unlike the old poet, who tells his story with never a smile, often breaks into a laugh. About this time the French tales of Roland found their way to Germany, and in 1175 or thereabouts the Rolandslied was the song of all.
The death of Roland,* bravest of Charlemagne's brave paladins, at Roncevalles in the Pyrenees, at the hands of Saracens in a crushing majority, was a theme of which the old singers never grew weary. It underlies some of the earliest songs, both of Northern and Southern France, and these songs underlie the Rolandslied, which a German priest, Konrad, gave to his country.
[*Hruodland is his name in old German song.]
Time passed, and, in Italy, Roland supplied Ariosto with a theme for an epic; in England he supplied Greene with a theme for a play. The rude old German "Lied"--For it is rude, in spite of certain lines, nay, paragraphs, here and there, of exquisite beauty--is superior in spirit to both the Italian epic and the English play, which are alike marred by latter-day sentimentalism. Here is an outline of the German:--
[*Better known to English people by the French name of Aix la Chapelle.]
In the event of the Emperor's doing this, the Saracen offers to embrace Christianity. Charlemagne holds a council with his trusted friends, Roland, Oliver, brave Bishop Turpin, Genelon (The step-father of Roland), and others. All but Genelon entreats him to return to France, leaving Roland to guard Spain.
The advice prevails, and Roland falls a victim to the Saracens, with whom his treacherous stepfather is in league.
In the following passages, translated almost literally, I have endeavored to give some notion of the style of the "Lied," which is now and again very tender, if now and again very rude:--
Ten white mules did Marsilies let bring to Charlemagne . . . And they who bore the message sate upon them, and bore palm-twigs in their hands . . . In proud and happy state they found the Emperor, for he had broken the walls of Cordova . . . There was no heathen in the town but he was slain, or was become a Christian.
The Emperor was in a wide garden, and about him were Roland and Oliver and [here follows a long list] . . . On white carpets sate these knights, and some sate at a table, and here played; at chess there played the wisest and the old . . . Nearby a black-thorn, underneath a fir, there was a seat of pure gold made, and on it sate the ruler of fair France. White was his beard, and daisy-white* his head; noble his body was, and his face knightly; there needed none to point to him.
[I pass on to Roland in his distress.]
[*I adapt from Chaucer; "like white blossom" is the cumbrous translation of the German.]
All with blood running was Lord Roland's mouth; the veins upon his brow stood out; in his sore need he blew on Oilfant* . . .
[*His magic horn.]
The king let seize then Genelon, and gave him into keeping of his cooks, and called Besgun, who was of these the chief, and spake to him: "Have thou good heed to him, and do by him as villains are done by. He has been false to me and to my knights."
Besgun then gave him to his underlings; these were some hundred, good and bad. They tare the beard of him, and tare the hair upon his lip; each gave him four hard blows with fists; they hit at him with sticks and cudgels; they fettered him, as men do bears; they threw him, for more shame, upon a beast of burden. Right so they took good heed of him.
[How terrible is not all this! Upon the other hand, how true a picture of the times!]
Now Roland feels that he is near to death, his brains ooze through his ears, he prays to God for his brave comrades,* and for himself prays to the angel Gabriel. He took** his horn, that none might blame him, and with the other hand he took his sword. As far as one would shoot an arrow from his bow, he went toward Spain, and stood upon a fallow field, near to a tree upon a hill, where lay four blocks of marble on the ground. He fell brow forward down in the green grass, and there lay senseless, like to die. High are the hill-tops and the trees are high; four rocks here stand, and shine as marble. Roland in the green grass lies senseless.
[*Those who have preceded him to death.]
Now will I* overcome King Charlemange's nephew, and bear his sword to Araby." He pulled, and Roland came to life. When Roland felt that one would rob the sword, he opened wide his eyes, and said "Methinks thou art not any friend of mine." And Olifant, which never he let drop, he grasped then strongly and with it strake the helmet of that other, and clave through steel and head and bone; and there shot from the head both eyes.**
[*The speaker is a Saracen, who has kept on the track of the hero, and who now steals forward to grasp his sword, that matchless sword, Durendal.]
[**These are the touches some regret. Are they not typical, while rude, and, being typical, are they not in their place?]
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Now Roland feels his sight is waning, and gathers all his strength and stands; and there is no blood in his cheeks. Before him is a brown rock; ten blows he strikes upon it, grimly, with grief. The steel groans, but no cleft is made of it "Now," says Lord Roland, "Mary, help me thou! Ah, good Durendal, it looks ill for thee. If I must come to die, I cannot shield thee . . .
Lord Roland once more strake upon the rock ('Twas sardonyx) and the steel groaned, but no cleft was made in it . . .
"O, Durendal, how fair thou art and holy! How many relics in thy hilts are hid,--St. Peter's tooth, the blood of St. Basilies, with hair of my Saint Denis, and of the robe of Mary part. It were not right that thou shouldst fall into an heathen's hand . . . How many a land have I not with thee won for Charlemagne, my king of the snowy beard! . . .
Then Roland feels that death is like to slay him his head he strake first and now strikes his heart. Beneath the tree Lord Roland haste's him, and stretches upon the grass and lays beneath him sword and Olifant, and turns to the heathen land his face. And this he does, because he wills that Charlemagne and all the Franks shall say:--
"Our noble count a conqueror died."
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Then Roland feels his time is spent welnigh; he sits, his face toward Spain, on that high hill; and with one hand he smote his breast . . . And up to God he lifted his right gauntlet, and from the heavens there came angels down.
Lord Roland lies beneat a fir tree with his face toward Spain, and memory comes to him, our hero, of the lands he won and of fair France, and of his kinsfolk there, and of his liege-lord Charlemagne . . . And Roland needs must weep . . . And yet he though of his soul's weal withal, and lifted up to God his gauntlet; Saint Gabriel took it from his hand. Upond his arm his head was bowed . . . and God sent down his angel Cherubin [?] and sent Saint Michael, named Del Peril, and Saint Gabriel; and these to heaven bore Lord Roland's soul.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
The Emperor from Spain came back, and came to Aachen, fairest town of France, and at his palace-gates dismounted, and strode into the hall. Then came there to him Alda, that fair damsel, and to the King she said, "Where is Lord Roland whom you swore to give to me to be my lord?"
Then Charlemagne fell into pain and heavy grief, and wept and tore his snowy beard.
"Child, ask not for a man that is dead. See, I will give thee amply what I can, will give thee for him Ludwig; more I cannot. This is my song and will have all my lands." But Alda said, "I am astonied, sir; God never grant, God's angels never grant, that I should live when my lord Roland lives not." And, turned pale, she fell there at the feet of Charlemagne, and died for sorrow. Heaven rest her soul! The Franks, the many heroes, wept aloud.
Ah, those old Franks, the strength of the, the weakness of them (To-day men call it weakness when men weep), the rudeness and the tenderness of them! Such songs as these songs well might inspire Crusaders.
Paper to be Answered by Students of the Foregoing:--
(Only Three of the questions are to be attempted.)
Books of Interest
*Der Bucherbund and the Fésole Clubs (page 133).--Members may join these classes at any time.
These classes are intended for the subscribers of the Parent's Review, and the Coupons should be sent in with each month's work; The Bucherbund coupons to Miss D'Esterre-Keeling, 41, Holland Road, Kensington; and the Fésole Club Coupons to Mr. W. G. Collingwood, Gill Head, Windermere (with fee in each case).
Typed by Willow Skyrider, Mar 2013