The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
By Elsa D'Esterre-Keeling
That branch of literature which the Germans call Kunstepos* flourished between the years 1180 and 1300, the time of the so-called hofische Epik.+ The Arthurian romances were a favourite theme with the writers of Kunstepos. Wolfram von Eschenback immortalised in loveliest verse the stories of Percival and Titurel, Gottfried von Strassburg sang of Tristan and Isolt, Hartmann von der Aue of Ewaine and Eric. The lesser minstrels followed in the footsteps of this mighty trio; Ulrich von Zazichoven made Lancelot his theme, and Wirndt von Gravenberg sang of Wigalois. But through Arthurian romances inspired the finest court-epics, other subjects were attempted. Veldeke, who is considered the founder of Kunstepos, made his fame by the poem of Eneit,++ and Konrad von Wurzburg wrote an epic on the Trojan War. Ecclesiastic legends were treated by Hartmann von der Aue in his poems Gregor auf dem Steine and Der arms Heinrich, and Konrad von Fleck turned a French story into German in Flore ind Blancheflur. All these works are marked by great beauty of style. In the Volksepos the story was almost everything; in the Kunstepos the manner of telling the story was almost everything.
Only a short account can be given here of each of the poets named above. Veldeke, the father of court-poetry, who was at the height of his fame about 1184, was a native of the Netherlands, and lived chiefly at the court of Cleves. Let no one imagine that Veldeke's Aenid is the least like Virgil's. Here is a scrap of it. A mother and daughter talk together on the subject of love, the mother wishing her daughter to "minnen" a hero.
"Wherewith shall I love him?" asks the maiden. "With heart and senses," replies the mother. "Shall I give him my heart?"--"Aye." "Wherewith shall I then live?"--In Veldeke's German:--
"Wo mite sal ich in minnen?
The mother solves this mystery, and the maiden continues: "How could I turn my mind (mood) to a man?"--"Love shall teach thee." "Mother, o'God's name, what is love?"
Impossible, the Queen says, to explain what love is to one whose heart it has never entered, who has lived so stonily (so steineliche). Apparently the princess is for the time being satisfied with living stonily, but the wise mother can see into futurity, and exclaims triumphantly, "I know thou needs must love, how unwilling soever thou be!"
This poem of Eneit is interesting as the first mittelhochdeutsch classic, a work learned in subject and polished in style (notice the exquisite footing and musical rimes), furthermore as containing a discourse on love (the one above quoted), which all German asking, like the Princess Lavinia, "Waz ist mine?" a question which every poet of the day undertook to answer, till all poetry was merged in love-song (Minnegesang).
Veldeke was followed by Hartmann von der Aue, a Swabian poet, said to have taken part in the Crusade of 1197. Hartmann wrote the poems of Iwein and Erec, based on Arthurian romances, and the poems of Gregory and Poor Henry, based on legends. While Veldeke is somewhat of a sentimentalist, Hartmann is inclined to moralize. Here is the motto, and a very good one it is:--
Swer an rehte guete
In the poem of Gregory on the Stone the famous Pope who christianized Britain is represented as having been a willing Prometheus. To atone for a sin committed unwittingly, he, we are told, before being raised to the papal seat, caused himself to be chained to a lonely rock in the sea, and there stayed for fifteen years.
*Minne is love between the sexes.
The story of poor Henry turns on leprosy, and the strange sacrifice of a young girl, indeed a child. A rich man is wasted with this terrible disease, and bitterness fills his heart. Then a little girl of lowly birth offers up her life to save his. The knife is whetted and flashes in the child's eyes, but she does not flinch, whereat the leper with the wrath at his heart is touched, and bids the doctor stay his hand, declaring that he will not accept the sacrifice. God rewards him; he is healed, body and soul of him, and, when some years have passed, wedding-bells ring out in honour of his marriage with the "Magdelein" whose loving sacrifice had healed him.
The story of "Erec and Enite" as told by Hartmann is one with which English readers are familiar under another name.*
Iweine is the Knight of the Lion, so called because on one occasion he rescued a lion from a dragon. Having left his wife, Laudine, with the promise to return to her in a year, and having broken that promise, Iwein falls into disfavour with Laudine and becomes distraught with grief.
Still more thoughtful and still more mystical than Hartmann von der Aue is Wolfram von Eschenbach, who flourished about 1210. Of gentle birth but extreme poverty was Wolfram, whose birthplace was the little Bavarian town of Eschenbach, not far from Ansbach, the home of George the Second's queen. In "Parzival" the mystical story of the Holy Grail plays a prominent part. Parzival, we are told, having lost his father in early childhood, is brought up by his mother, in a state of absolute tumpheit (innocence), but, escaping once from his mother and seeing some armed knights, his ambition is aroused, he goes forth in search of adventure, and is admitted to Arthur's Round Table. In course of time he comes to the castle of the Holy Grail, where his kinsman, Amfortas, lies sick in death. Only when some strange knight enquires into the mysteries of the Holy Grail can Amfortas recover. Alas, Parzival has been advised by a shrewd courtier, Gurnemanz, never to ask questions, and in his tumpheit he preserves silence. Men begin to feel contempt for him, and, filled with anger against God and man, the friendless knight becomes a victim to zwifel (doubt). From this sad state he is recovered by Trevrizant, who tells him that he is destined to succeed in the pursuit of the Holy Grail. Thus heartened, Parzival resolved to battle once more manfully against his foes, is readmitted to the Round Table, heals Amfortas, and is elected King of the Castle of the Grail, thus, after many a weary struggle, attaining to pure and perfect happiness--saelde.
*See Tennyson's poem on Geraint and Enid.
The following stanza gives a picture of the child Parzival, who is cruel in his tumpheit, and who, in his tumpheit, weeps for having done what next moment, drying his eyes, he will do again.
Man liess ihm nach mit seiner Hand*
They let him play his little hand
It will be noticed that the metre is four-footed iambic verse, rimes weak and strong+ alternating with charming effect in the first quatrain, while in the second quatrain the use of only weak rimes produces a lingering cadence which adds pathos to the theme.
Besides this complete poem of Parzival, Wolfram von Eschenbach, the Coleridge of olden Germany, has left his country an exquisite fragment call Titurel. Titurel, the son of a King of Anjou, was the first Grail-King, and was so called because he built a Castle for the holy vessel out of which Christ
*The words are modernized
To Wolfram von Eschenback is sometimes attributed a poem on the subject of Lohengrin, the Knight who was wed to a too inquisitive lady, and whose sad story was set to sweet music by Wagner, when Wagner was young.
About 1215, Gottfried von Strasburg, who gave to Germany her last great Kunstepos--Tristan und Isolt--was in his prime. Unlike Wolfram and Hartmann--indeed, unlike most of the poets of his time--Gottfried is thought to have been of humble origin, and some have suggested that he was a priest. His masterpiece, the poem of Tristan and Isolt, which he gave to Germany about the year 1210, has been traced to France. It is a veritable last rose of summer, heart-full of sweetness. The story of which Gottfried tells, a dangerous one, has met with superb treatment from a well-known living English poet, so it need not be detailed here. Such a passage as the following makes it seem improbably that Gottfried was a priest. He is speaking of Eve's transgression and woman's love of opposition,
diu brach das erste verbot
ir erloubete unser herre got
obez und bluomen unde gras
swaz in dem paradise was
daz sie da mite taete
swie so si willen haete,
wan einez, daz er ir verbot
an ir leben und an ir tot
(die phaffen sagent uns maere
daz ez diu vige waere)
daz brech sie und brach gotes gebot
und verios sich selben unde got
ez ist ouch noch min fester wan,*
Eve enbaete ez nie getan,
und enwaerez ir verboten nie.
The story of Lancelot, as told by Ulrich von Zazichoven, is but a sorry performance. Lancelot, we are told, has slain the father of Iblis, notwithstanding which fact Iblis is filled with love for him. One is reminded of Ximene in the Spanish story, who is filled with love for Roderick, the Cid, who slew her father.
The tale of Flore und Blancheflur or Flos un Blankflos,+ which appeared about 1230, is, like Tristand un Isolt, of French origin, and its theme, like that of Gottfried's tale, is love.
The pretty names of Flos and Blankflos are given to two children born on the same day in Spain. Flos is the son of a heathen king, and Blankflos is the daughter of a Christian lady, the king's captive. The boy and girl are brought up together, and read of Minne, until, like two of whom we are told in an Italian story, they fall in love with Love, and then with one another. The father of Flos, enraged at this, has Blankflos sent to Babylon. Here, after many adventures, she is found by Flos, who bribes a warder to carry him into her presence in a basket of flowers. Blankflos is with her maidens, and all of them are overjoyed at sight of the piled-up lilies and roses. Not so the love-lorn Blankflos, who gazes sorrowfully at the flowers, until from among them there steps forth her own loved Flos; then straightway her dim eyes become bright.
Then Blankflos went to him, the maid,
Of course. It really makes one quite blissful to read of these human flowers, and to know that the world was once young enough to love the poets who sang of them.
*Wan, ep. our "ween," to think.
Questions to be answered by students of the above:--*
Second Class Paper:--
Books of Interest in connection with "Kunstepos":--
Writers of Honour Papers:--Miss Maud Lloyd, Miss Violet Picton-Warlow.
Der Bucherbund and the Fesole Club.--Members may join theses classes at any time.
Typed October 2013