« AnteriorContinuar »
same breath that the first period of German literature was “richer in inventive genius than any that followed it,” and that “nothing but fragments of a single song" remain to us” from this first period— fragments, it may be added, which, though interesting enough, can, in no possible judgment that can be called judgment, rank as in any way first-rate poetry. So, too, the habit of comparing the Nibelungenlied to the Iliad and Kudrun to the Odyssey (parallels not far removed from the Thucydides-and-Tennyson order) may excite resentment. But the Middle High German verse of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries is in itself of such interest, such variety, such charm, that if only it be approached in itself, and not through the medium of its too officious ushers, its effect on any real taste for poetry is undoubted. The three divisions above sketched may very well be taken in the order given. The great folk-epics just mentioned, with some smaller poems, such as Rönig Rother, are almost invariably anonymous; the translators or adaptors from the French–Gottfried von Strasburg, Hartmann von Aue, Wolfram von Eschenbach, and others—are at least known by name, if we do not know much else about them; and this is also the case with the Lyric poets, especially the best of them, the exquisite singer known as Walter of the Bird-Meadow. It was inevitable that the whole literary energy of a nation which is commentatorial or nothing, should be flung on such a subject as the Nibelung* Hildebrand and Hadubrand.
enlied ; * the amount of work expended on the subject Follonies The by Germans during the century in which * the poem has been known is enormous, and might cause despair, if happily it were not for the most part negligible. The poem served as a principal ground in the battle—not yet at an end, but now in a more or less languid condition—between the believers in conglomerate epic, the upholders of the theory that long early poems are always a congeries of still earlier ballads or shorter chants, and the advocates of their integral condition. The authorship of the poem, its date, and its relation to previous work or tradition, with all possible excursions and alarums as to sunmyths and so forth, have been discussed ad nauseam. Literary history, as here understood, need not concern itself much about such things. It is sufficient to say that the authorship of the Lied in its present condition is quite unknown; that its date would appear to be about the centre of our period, or, in other words, not earlier than the middle of the twelfth century or later than the middle of the thirteenth, and that, as far as the subject goes, we undoubtedly have handlings of it novo, in Icelandic (the so-called Volsunga Saga), Saga. and still earlier verse-dealings in the Elder Edda, which are older, and probably much older, than the German poem.” They are not only older, but they * Ed. Bartsch. 6th ed. Leipzig, 1886. * For the verse originals see Wigfusson and Powell's Corpus Poeticum Boreale (Oxford, 1883), vol. i. The verse and prose alike will be found are different. As a Völsung story, the interest is centred on the ancestor of Sigurd (Sigfried in the later poem), on his acquisition of the hoard of the dwarf Andvari by slaying the dragon Fafnir, its guardian, and on the tale of his love for the Amazon Brynhild; how by witchcraft he is beguiled to wed instead Gudrun the daughter of Giuki, while Gunnar, Gudrun's brother, marries Brynhild by the assistance of Sigurd himself; how the sisters-in-law quarrel, with the result that Gudrun's brothers slay Sigurd, on whose funeral-pyre Brynhild (having never ceased to love him and wounded herself mortally), is by her own will burnt; and how Gudrun, having married King Atli, Brynhild's brother, achieves vengeance on her own brethren by his means. A sort of coda of the story tells of the third marriage of Gudrun to King Jonakr, of the cruel fate of Swanhild, her daughter by Sigurd (who was so fair that when she gazed on the wild horses that were to tread her to death they would not harm her; and her head had to be covered ere they would do their work), of the further fate of Swanhild's half-brothers in their effort to avenge her, and of the final threnos and death of Gudrun herself. The author of the Nibelungenlied (or rather the “Nibelungen-Noth,” for this is the older title of the poem, which has a very inferior sequel called Die Klage) has dealt with the story very differently. He pays no attention to the ancestry of Sifrit (Sigurd), and little to his acquisition of the hoard, diminishes the part of Brynhild, stripping it of all romantic interest as regards Sifrit, and very largely increases the importance of the revenge of Gudrun, now called Kriemhild. Only sixteen of the thirty-nine “aventiuren’’ or “fyttes” (into which the poem in the edition here used is divided) are allotted to the part up to and including the murder of Sifrit; the remaining twenty-three deal with the vengeance of Kriemhild, who is herself slain just when this vengeance is complete, the after-piece of her third marriage and the fate of Swanhild being thus rendered impossible. Among the idler parts of Nibelungen discussions perhaps the idlest are the attempts made by partisans of Icelandic and German literature respectively to exalt or depress these two handlings, each in comparison with the other. There is no real question of superiority or inferiority, but only one of difference. The older handling, in the Volsunga Saga to some extent, but still more in the Eddaic songs, has perhaps the finer touches of pure clear poetry in single passages and phrases; the story of Sigurd and Brynhild has a passion which is not found in the German version; the defeat of Fafnir and the treacherous Regin is excellent; and the wild and ferocious story of Sinfiótli, with which the saga opens, has unmatched intensity, well brought out in Mr Morris's splendid verse-rendering, The Story of Sigurd the Volsung." But every poet has a perfect right to deal with any story as he chooses, if he makes good poetry of it; and The German the poet of the Nibelungenlied is more than * justified in this respect. By curtailing the beginning, cutting off the coda above mentioned alto* 4th edition. London, 1887.
conveniently translated in a cheap little volume of the “Camelot
Library,” The Volsunga Saga, by W. Morris and E. Magnusson (London, 1888).