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Walther von der Vogelweide
Walther von der Vogelweide was the most gifted of the German minnesingers (singers of love) who, like the troubadours of other lands, wandered from court to court, singing their songs of veneration and adoration to the fair noblewomen, both single and married, of twelfth and thirteenth-century Europe. Lauded as the "leader of a choir of nightingales" in the Tristan and Isolde of his contemporary Gottfried von Strassburg, Walther wrote minnesongs which are distinguished by a delightful blending of love and nature, a remarkable euphony, and a sincerity transcending that of the convential courtier. He was the first minnesinger to break with the poetic convention imposed by the feudal code of courtly love: Walther not only celebrates his patronesses or other noblewomen, but also extols the charms and beauty of lower-born girls. Indeed, in Unter der Linde he even allows his beloved to admit, though blushingly, that she enjoyed the caresses of her lover. Walther's range as a poet is further demonstrated by his scathing political poems directed against papal interference in German affairs.
Walther wrote the poem Unter der Linde in the language of his time, Middle High German. For comparison, the first stanza is given here in the original as well as in modern German.
UNDER DER LINDEN
(In Middle High German)
Under der linden
an der heide
dâ unser zweier bette was,
dâ muget ir vinden
gebrochen bluomen unde gras.
Vor dem walde in einem tal
schône sanc diu nahtegal.
UNTER DER LINDE
Unter der Linden
Auf der Heide,
Wo mein Liebster bei mir sass,
Da könnt ihr finden
Bunte Blumen und das Gras.
Im nahen Wald mit hellem Schall,
Sang so süss die Nachtigall.
Ich kam gegangen
Hin zur Aue,
Da harrte schon mein Liebster dort
Und hat mich empfangen —
Hehre Fraue —
Dass ich bin selig immerfort.
Küsst' er mich wohl auch zur Stund'?
Seht, wie rot mir ist der Mund.
Da hat er gemachet
Hurtig voll Freude
Ein Ruheplätzchen fur uns zwei.
Darob wird gelachet
Sicher noch heute,
Kommt jemand dort des Wegs vorbei.
An den Rosen er wohl mag —
Merken, wo das Haupt mir lag.
UNDER THE LINDEN
Under the linden
On the heath,
Where my sweetheart sat with me,
There you can find
Colorful flowers and grass.
In the nearby woods, with ringing sound
So sweetly sang the nightingale.
I came walking
Up to the meadow,
My sweetheart waited there already
And he received me —
Noble Lady —
So that I'm blissful forevermore.
Did he also kiss me then?
Look, how red my mouth is.
Then he made,
Nimble with joy,
A small resting-place for the two of us.
They laugh about this
Surely still today
If someone should pass by that way.
From the roses he probably can
Tell where my head was lying.
Dass er mich herzte,
Wüsste es einer,
Behüte Gott! so schämte ich mich;
Und wie er scherzte.
Erfahre das als er und ich,
Und das kleine Vögelein —
Das wird wohl verschwiegen sein.
That he caressed me,
If someone should know it,
God forbid! I would be ashamed;
And how he joked.
May no one, no one
Learn this but him and me
And that little bird —
That will surely be discreet.
German poetry of the seventeenth century, often misunderstood, received scant attention during the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century it was rediscovered, largely through the efforts of the members of the Stefan George circle. (A poem by George also appears in this anthology.) By including many Baroque poems in their collections of poetry and discussing many of the Baroque writers in belletristic magazines and books, these modern poets described and demonstrated the beauty in the poems of their predecessors.
Andreas Gryphius, while never entirely forgotten, also enjoyed a renascence at that time. In many respects he typified the poetry of his age. His choice of the sonnet form for the poem Menschliches Elende is characteristic of a period which sought its models in the poets of antiquity and of the Italian Renaissance. But Gryphius and many of his contemporaries poured into the classic forms a content at once so weighty, metaphysical, and anxiety-ridden that it all but burst the measured art form they had chosen.
Gryphius lived in the era of the Thirty Years' War, a time in which in Gryphius' own words:
The towers stand in flames; the church is toppled down;
The city hall is rubble. The strong have been cut down,
The virgins have been despoiled. And wherever we may look
Are fire, pestilence, and death, which pierce through heart and mind.
The human misery which Gryphius describes is, of course, timeless and immanent. But it is equally true that the sentiment of "all is vanity," discernible in such phrases as "vain dream," and "we perish like smoke," reflected a state of mind peculiar to the emotional climate of the Thirty Years' War.
Another development of the age which had a shattering effect on Western man was the quick progress of the natural sciences. It was now felt that man was but matter, an organism at best. In the poetry of the age man is often compared with concrete physical things; in Gryphius' poem with a residence, a candle, melted snow, etc. These concrete images are not startling in themselves, but coupled as they are with abstract metaphysics, they create tensions within the poem, tensions which are further compounded by the poet's skillful and repeated exploitation of one of the hexameter's inherent characteristics: its proclivity for antithesis. Note how Gryphius loves to use the first six syllables of a line to state a suspense-building premise which, after a tension-filled pause marked by the hexameter's caesura, is then resolved by a foreboding and ominous conclusion contained in the next six syllables.
Simultaneously, the wealth of his imagery sustains interest and the weight of repetition convinces the listener of the poet's utter sincerity. Throughout, we admire Gryphius' facility in inventing new metaphors for human misery. Despite Baroque overstatement and occasional bombast, we are still convinced that the poet is stating the truth of an inner vision. Rent by the disharmony of what is and what ought to be, Gryphius' vision mirrors the age of the Thirty Years' War when civilization and culture almost came to a standstill in Germany. But because of a few such men, ethics and aesthetics continued to live amidst the unleashed forces of bloodshed and violence, disease and destruction.
Was sind wir Menschen doch? Ein Wohnhaus grimmer Schmerzen,
Ein Ball des falschen Glücks, ein Irrlicht dieser Zeit,
Ein Schauplatz herber Angst, besetzt mit scharfem Leid,
Ein bald verschmelzter Schnee und abgebrannte Kerzen.
Dies Leben fleucht davon wie ein Geschwätz und Scherzen.
Die vor uns abgelegt des schwachen Leibes Kleid
Und in das Totenbuch der grossen Sterblichkeit
Längst eingeschrieben sind, sind uns aus Sinn und Herzen.
Gleich wie ein eitel Traum leicht aus der Acht hinfällt
Und wie ein Strom verscheusst, den keine Macht aufhält,
So muss auch unser Nam, Lob, Ehr und Ruhm verschwinden.
Was itzund Atem holt, muss mit der Luft entfliehn,
Was nach uns kommen wird, wird uns ins Grab nachziehn.
Was sag ich? Wir vergehn wie Rauch von starken Winden.
What, after all, is Man! A dwelling for grim pain,
A mere toy of false fortune, a will-o'-the-wisp of these times,
A stage for bitter fear, replete with cutting grief
A quickly melted snow and a candle soon burned down.
This life flies off like idle talk and jest.
Those who cast off before us the weak body's dress
And into the book of death of great mortality
Have long been inscribed, have vanished from our mind and heart.
Just as a vain dream will lightly be forgotten
And as a stream flows on, which no force can arrest,
So too must disappear our name, praise, honor, fame.
What now is drawing breath, must vanish with the air.
What comes after us, will follow us to the grave.
What say I? We vanish like smoke before strong winds.
Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock
Klopstock's poetry breaks through the playful rococo verses, dry rational poems, and the didactic fables of his predecessors like a fresh spring of genuine feeling. In the decades immediately preceding Klopstock's arrival upon the literary scene, most poets considered poetry a trade, a chore of versifying, in which they "manufactured" Gelegenheitsgedichte (poems for the occasion) to gain the favor of the local prince; a trade in which their own emotions were rarely involved. But with the first line of Klopstock's Miltonesque epic, Der Messias, the German public of the eighteenth century heard something entirely new; a poet convinced of the dignity of his calling, who introduced daring new images, a more pliant language shorn of artificiality, a free unrhymed rhythmic scheme which liberated German poetry from the shackles of the previous narrow and rigid "rules" about metrics. Equally important, Klopstock reintroduced human passion and religious fervor into its rightful place — lyric poetry. In the simple, serious, soulful and yet non-sensual love-poem Das Rosenband, Klopstock also displays his technical ability and inventiveness. The three-line stanza, rather unconventional in itself, is always capped by a climactic third line; the poem enriches the language by such new word formations as Frühlingsschatten, and introduces surprising turns of phrase as doch lispelt ich ihr sprachlos zu. These and other innovations paved the way for many of Klopstock's successors.
Im Frühlingsschatten fand ich sie,
da band ich sie mit Rosenbändern:
sie fühlt es nicht und schlummerte.
lch sah sie an: mein Leben hing
mit diesem Blick an ihrem Leben:
ich fühlt es wohl und wusst es nicht.
Doch lispelt ich ihr sprachlos zu
und rauschte mit den Rosenbändern:
da wachte sie vom Schlummer auf.
Sie sah mich an, ihr Leben hing
mit diesem Blick an meinem Leben
und um uns wards Elysium.
GARLAND OF ROSES
In the shade of spring I found her,
then with garlands of roses bound her:
she did not feel it and slumbered on.
I looked at her, my life depended
with this one glance upon her life:
I truly felt it, but did not know it.
But speechlessly I whispered to her
and rustled with the rosy garlands:
then she awakened from her slumber.
She looked at me; her life depended
with this one glance upon my life
and around us rose Elysium.
Gentle Matthias Claudius, son of a clergyman, planned for several years to follow the calling of his father. Though he never became a pastor, he communicated his deeply felt religious convictions through his essays and poetry. Many of his poems contain the admonitions of a sermon, express Christian compassion, and, like the poem Mondnacht, resemble well-known church hymns. This evocation of a literary form with which almost everyone is familiar and the child-like piety which his poems communicate have caused his poems to be included in countless German school readers, beginning with those for the earliest grades.
Editor of various journals and country newspapers, he lived the greater part of his life in small towns and villages where he became deeply rooted in the life around him, so much so that his contemporaries frequently referred to Claudius simply by the name of one of his newspapers, Der Wandsbecker Bote. It is therefore scarcely surprising that in his poetry Claudius draws from rural scenes for his metaphors and imagery. In the poem Abendlied, as well as in many other of his lyric works, the nature around the poet testifies to God's wisdom and goodness. In this world there is no room for the medieval concept of death, the grim reaper. Claudius sees death as a friend, a belief which was not shaken but fortified by the premature death of his brother and his own critical illness. He calls death Freund Hein, a euphemism which has since entered the German language. In the poem Der Tod und das Mädchen he states his view of death in the simplest terms, drawing directly upon the language of the common people with words like Knochenmann and phrases like sei gutes Muts. The contrast between the frantic outcry of the girl and the soothing speech of death, artistically expressed by the short lines of the first stanza and the long-voweled lines of the second, respectively, has been underlined by the musical setting which Schubert created for this poem.
DER TOD UND DAS MÄDCHEN
Vorüber, ach vorüber
geh, wilder Knochenmann!
Ich bin noch jung! Geh, Lieber,
und rühre mich nicht an!
Gib deine Hand, du schön und zart Gebildl
Bin Freund und komme nicht zu strafen.
Sei gutes Muts! Ich bin nicht wild!
Sollst sanft in meinen Armen schlafen!
Der Mond ist aufgegangen,
die goldnen Sternlein prangen
am Himmel hell und klar;
der Wald steht schwarz und schweiget,
und aus den Wiesen steiget der weisse Nebel wunderbar.
Wie ist die Welt so stille
und in der Dämmrung Hülle
so traulich und so hold!
Als eine stille Kammer,
wo ihr des Tages Jammer
verschlafen und vergessen sollt.
DEATH AND THE MAIDEN
Go past, oh, go past,
you wild skeleton!
I am still young! Go, dear one,
and do not touch me!
Give me your hand, you beautiful and tender shape!
I am a friend and do not come to punish.
Be of good cheer! I am not wild!
You shall sleep softly in my arms!
The moon has risen,
the golden starlets sparkle
brightly and clearly in the heavens;
the wood stands black and silent
and from the meadows rises
the white fog wondrously.
Oh, how quiet is the world
and in the veil of twilight
so cozy and so lovely!
Just like a peaceful chamber
where the sorrow of the day
you shall forget and sleep away.
Seht ihr den Mond dort stehen?
Er ist nur halb zu sehen,
und ist doch rund und schön!
So sind wohl manche Sachen,
die wir getrost belachen,
weil unsre Augen sie nicht sehn.
Wir stolze Menschenkinder
sind eitel arme Sunder,
und wissen gar nicht viel;
wir spinnen Luftgespinste
und suchen viele Künste
und kommen weiter von dem Ziel.
Gott, lass uns dein Heil schauen,
auf nichts Verganglichs trauen,
nicht Eitelkeit uns freunl
Lass uns einfältig werden,
und vor dir hier auf Erden
wie Kinder fromm und fröhlich sein!
Wollst endlich sonder Grämen
aus dieser Welt uns nehmen
durch einen sanften Tod,
und, wenn du uns genommen,
lass uns in Himmel kommen,
du unser Herr und unser Gottl
So legt euch denn, ihr Brüder,
in Gottes Namen nieder!
Kalt ist der Abendhauch.
Verschon uns, Gottl mit Strafen,
und lass uns ruhig schlafen,
und unsern kranken Nachbar auch!
The moon, you see it stand there?
You can see but half of it
and yet it's round and beautiful.
So are so many things,
which we presume to laugh at,
because our eyes don't see them.
We proud sons of men
are nothing but poor sinners
and know not much at all;
we are spinning idle daydreams
and search for many arts
and get but farther from our goal.
God, let us perceive your grace,
not trust in passing things,
not glory in conceit!
Allow us to grow guileless,
and before Thee here on earth
be like children, devout and gay.
And, last, without affliction,
Take us from this earth
by means of gentle death,
And when Thou hast removed us,
let us get into heaven,
Thou our Lord and God.
So lie down then, brothers,
in the name of God!
The breath of eve is cool.
Spare us, oh Lord, from punishment
and let us sleep in peace
and our sick neighbor, too.
Excerpted from Introduction to German Poetry by Gustave Mathieu, Guy Stern. Copyright © 1987 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Posted June 25, 2012
Posted July 20, 2009
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