Imagens das páginas

gether, and lessening the part and interest of Brynhild, he has lifted Kriemhild to a higher, a more thoroughly expounded, and a more poetical position, and has made her one of the greatest heroines of epic, if not the greatest in all literature. The Gudrun of the Norse story is found supplying the loss of one husband with the gain of another to an extent perfectly consonant with Icelandic ideas, but according to less insular standards distinctly damaging to her interest as a heroine; and in revenging her brothers on Atli, after revenging Sigurd on her brothers by means of Atli, she completely alienates all sympathy except on a ferocious and pedantic theory of blood-revenge. The Rriemhild of the German is quite free from this drawback; and her own death comes just when and as it should—not so much a punishment for the undue bloodthirstiness of her revenge as an artistic close to the situation. There may be too many episodic personages — Dietrich of Bern, for instance, has extremely little to do in this galley. But the strength, thoroughness, and in its own savage way charm of Kriemhild's character, and the incomparable series of battles between the Burgundian princes and Etzel's men in the later cantos—cantos which contain the very best poetical fighting in the history of the world —far more than redeem this. The Nibelungenlied is a very great poem ; and with Beowulf (the oldest, but the least interesting on the whole), Roland (the most artistically finished in form), and the Poem of the Cid (the cheerfullest and perhaps the fullest of character), composes a quartette of epic with which the literary story of the great European literary nations most appropriately begins. In bulk, dramatic completeness, and a certain furia, the Nibelungenlied, though the youngest and probably the least original, is the greatest of the four. The form, though not finished with the perfection of the French decasyllable, is by no means of a very uncouth description. The poem is written in quatrains, rhymed couplet and couplet, not alternately, but evidently intended for quatrains, inas. much as the sense frequently runs on at the second line, but regularly stops at the fourth. The normal line of which these quatrains are composed is a thirteen-syllabled one divided by a central pause, so that the first half is an iambic dimeter catalectic, and the second an iambic dimeter hypercatalectic.


“Won einer isenstangen : des gie dem helde not.”

The first half sometimes varies from this norm, though not very often, the alteration usually taking the form of the loss of the first syllable, so that the half-line consists of three trochees. The second half is much more variable. Sometimes, in the same way as with the first, a syllable is dropped at the opening, and the half-line becomes similarly trochaic. Sometimes there is a double rhyme instead of a single, making seven syllables, though not altering the rhythm ; and sometimes this is extended to a full octosyllable. But this variety by no means results in cacophony or confusion; the general swing of the metre is well maintained, and maintains itself in turn on the ear.

In the rhymes, as in those of all early rhymed poems, there is a certain monotony. Just as in the Rim, and probably contemporary Layamon the poet * is tempted into rhyme chiefly by such easy opportunities as “other” and “brother,” “king” and “thing,” so here, though rhyme is the rule, and not, as there, the exception, certain pairs, especially “wip” and “lip” (“wife” and “body”), “sach” and “sprach,” “geben" and “geleben,” “tot” and “not” recur perhaps a little too often for the ear's perfect comfort. But this is natural and extremely pardonable. The language is exceedingly clear and easy—far nearer to German of the present day than Layamon's own verse, or the prose of the Ancren Riwle, is to English prose and verse of the nineteenth century; the differences being, as a rule, rather matters of spelling or phrase than of actual vocabulary. It is very well suited both to the poet's needs and to the subject; there being little or nothing of that stammer—as it may be called —which is not uncommon in mediaeval work, as if the writer were trying to find words that he cannot find for a thought which he cannot fully shape even to himself. In short, there is in the particular kind, stage, and degree that accomplishment which distinguishes the greater from the lesser achievements of literature. Kudrun * or Gudrum — it is a little curious that this should be the name of the original joint-heroine of the Nibelungenlied, of the heroine of one of the finest and most varied of the Icelandic Sagas, the Lawdala, and of the present poem—is far less known to general students of literature than its companion. Nor can it be said that this comparative neglect is wholly undeserved. It is an interesting oem enough ; but neither in story nor in characterinterest, in arrangement nor in execution, can it vie with the Nibelungen, of which in formal points it has been thought to be a direct imitation. The stanza is much the same, except that there is a much more general tendency to arrange the first couplet in single masculine rhyme and the second in feminine, while the second half of the fourth line is curiously proed to either ten or eleven syllables. The first long ement may be an improvement: the second cero is not, and makes it very difficult to a modern tainly get a satisfactory swing on the verse. The


* Ed. Bartsch. 4th ed. Leipzig, 1880.

O ear * moreoVer (though this is a point on which * o: with some diffidence), has a slightly more sp

haic cast, aS of intended archaism, than is the o with the Nibelungen. atter, the poem has the interest, always

As for . to English readers, of dealing with the considerable hores of the sea; and, like the NibelungSea, and the S s to have had older forms, of which enlied, it .*.sist in the Norse. But there is less some remains story : and the most striking incident coincidence of unending battle, where the combatin the Norse—" night, come alive again every day— ants, killed every a merely ordinary “battle of Wulis in the Germ" Ine side has the worst, and cloisters pensand,” where e repose of the dead. On the other

are founded for " 1 mile rationalised in some respects hand, Kudrun,

and Christianised in others, has the extravagance, not so much primitive as carelessly artificial, of the later romances. Romance has a special charter to neglect chronology; but the chronology here is exceptionally wanton. After the above-mentioned Battle of Wulpensand, the beaten side resigns itself quite comfortably to wait till the sons of the slain grow up: and to suit this arrangement the heroine remains in illtreated captivity—washing clothes by the sea-shore— for fifteen years or so. And even thus the climax is not reached; for Gudrun's companion in this unpleasant task, and apparently (since they are married at the same time) her equal, or nearly so, in age, has in the exordium of the poem also been the companion of Gudrun's grandmother in durance to some griffins, from whom they were rescued by Gudrun's grandfather. One does not make peddling criticisms of this kind on any legend that has the true poetic character of power — of sweeping the reader along with it ; but this I, at least, can hardly find in Kudrun. It consists of three or perhaps four parts: the initial adventures of Child Hagen of Ireland with the griffins who carry him off; the wooing of his daughter Hilde by King Hetel, whose ambassadors, Wate, Morunc, and Horant, play a great part throughout the poem ; the subsequent wooing of her daughter Gudrun, and her imprisonment and ill-usage by Gerlind, her wooer’s mother; her rescue by her lover Herwig after many years, and the slaughter of her tyrants, especially Gerlind, which “Wate der alte ’’ makes. There is also a generally happy ending, which, rather contrary

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