Thursday, October 21, 2010

''Lachin y Gair''

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Lord Byron

"Lachin y Gair, or, as it is pronounced in the Erse, Loch na Garr, towers proudly pre-eminent in the northern highlands, near Invercauld. One of our modern tourists mentions it as the highest mountain, perhaps, in Great Britain. Be this as it may, it is certainly one of the most sublime and picturesque amongst our ‘Caledonian Alps.’ Its appearance is of a dusky hue, but the summit is the seat of eternal snows. Near Lachin y Gair I spent some of the early part of my life, the recollection of which has given birth to these stanzas." [Byron's note]

- - - -

Away, ye gay landscapes, ye garden of roses!
In you let the minions of luxury rove;
Restore me the rocks, where the snow-flake reposes,
Though still they are sacred to freedom and love:
Yet, Caledonia, beloved are thy mountains,
Round their white summits though elements war;
Though cataracts foam ’stead of smooth-flowing fountains,
I sigh for the valley of dark Loch na Garr.

Ah! there my young footsteps in infancy wander’d;
My cap was the bonnet, my cloak was the plaid;
On chieftains long perish’d my memory pondered,
As daily I strode through the pine-cover’d glade;
I sought not my home till the day’s dying glory
Gave place to the rays of the bright polar star;
For fancy was cheered by traditional story,
Disclosed by the natives of dark Loch na Garr.

“Shades of the dead! have I not heard your voices
Rise on the night-rolling breath of the gale?”
Surely the soul of the hero rejoices,
And rides on the wind, o’er his own Highland vale.
Round Loch na Garr while the stormy mist gathers,
Winter presides in his cold icy car:
Clouds there encircle the forms of my fathers;
They dwell in the tempests of dark Loch na Garr.

“Ill-starred, though brave, did no visions foreboding
Tell you that fate had forsaken your cause?”
Ah! were you destined to die at Culloden,
Victory crown’d not your fall with applause:
Still were you happy in death’s earthy slumber,
You rest with your clan in the caves of Braemar;
The pibroch resounds, to the piper’s loud number,
Your deeds on the echoes of dark Loch na Garr.

Years have roll’d on, Loch na Garr, since I left you,
Years must elapse ere I tread you again:
Nature of verdure and flow’rs has bereft you,
Yet still are you dearer than Albion’s plain.
England! thy beauties are tame and domestic
To one who has roved o’er the mountains afar:
Oh for the crags that are wild and majestic!
The steep frowning glories of dark Loch na Garr!


(Illustration is Albert Bierstadt, Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, 1868.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

''Elver's Hoh''

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"The original is to be found in the Kiampe-Viiser, Copenhagen, 1739. My version of this ballad (as also of most of the Danish ballads in this collection) was made from a German translation to be found in Herder’s Volkslieder." [Lewis's note]

- - - -

The knight laid his head upon Elver’s Hoh,
    Soft slumbers his senses beguiling;
Fatigue press’d its seal on his eyelids, when lo!
    Two maidens drew near to him, smiling;
The one she kiss’d softly Sir Algamore’s eyes;
    The other she whisper’d him sweetly,
“Arise! thou gallant young warrior, arise,
    For the dance it goes gaily and featly!

“Arise, thou gallant young warrior, arise,
    And dance with us now and for ever!
My damsels with music thine ear shall surprise,
    And sweeter a mortal heard never—”
Then straight of young maidens appear’d a fair throng,
    Who their voices in harmony raising,
The winds they were still as the sounds flew along,
    By silence their melody praising.

The winds they were still as the sounds flew along,
    The wolf howl’d no more from the mountains;
The rivers were mute upon hearing the song,
    And calm’d the loud rush of their fountains:
The fish, as they swam in the waters so clear,
    To the soft sounds delighted attended,
And nightingales, charm’d the sweet accents to hear,
    Their notes with the melody blended.

“Now hear me, thou gallant young warrior, now hear!
    If thou wilt partake of our pleasure,
We’ll teach thee to draw the pale moon from her sphere,
    We’ll show thee the sorcerer’s treasure!
We’ll teach thee the Runic rhyme, teach thee to hold
    The wild bear in magical fetters,
To charm the red dragon, who broods over gold,
    And tame him by mystical letters.”

Now hither, now thither, then danced the gay band,
    By witchcraft the hero surprising,
Who ever sat silent, his sword in his hand,
    Their sports and their pleasures despising.
“Now hear me, thou gallant young warrior, now hear!
    If still thou disdain’st what we proffer,
With dagger and knife from thy breast will we tear
    Thine heart, which refuses our offer!”

Oh! glad was the knight when he heard the cock crow!
    His enemies trembled, and left him:
Else must he have stayed upon Elver’s Hoh,
    And the witches of life had bereft him.
Beware then, ye warriors, returning by night
    From court, dress’d in gold and in silver;
Beware how you slumber on Elver’s rough height,
    Beware of the witches of Elver!


-from M.G. Lewis, Tales of Wonder (1801).
-originally published as Elvers Hoh in J.G. Herder, Volkslieder (1778).

(Illustration is Lawrence Koe, Venus and Tannhäuser, 1896)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

''Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came''

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Robert Browning


My first thought was, he lied in every word,
    That hoary cripple, with malicious eye
    Askance to watch the working of his lie
On mine, and mouth scarce able to afford
Suppression of the glee, that pursed and scored
    Its edge, at one more victim gained thereby.


What else should he be set for, with his staff?
    What, save to waylay with his lies, ensnare
    All travellers who might find him posted there,
And ask the road? I guessed what skull-like laugh
Would break, what crutch 'gin write my epitaph
    For pastime in the dusty thoroughfare,


If at his counsel I should turn aside
    Into that ominous tract which, all agree,
    Hides the Dark Tower. Yet acquiescingly
I did turn as he pointed: neither pride
Nor hope rekindling at the end descried,
    So much as gladness that some end might be.


For, what with my whole world-wide wandering,
    What with my search drawn out thro' years, my hope
    Dwindled into a ghost not fit to cope
With that obstreperous joy success would bring,
I hardly tried now to rebuke the spring
    My heart made, finding failure in its scope.


As when a sick man very near to death
    Seems dead indeed, and feels begin and end
    The tears and takes the farewell of each friend,
And hears one bid the other go, draw breath
Freelier outside, ("since all is o'er," he saith,
    "And the blow falIen no grieving can amend;")


While some discuss if near the other graves
    Be room enough for this, and when a day
    Suits best for carrying the corpse away,
With care about the banners, scarves and staves:
And still the man hears all, and only craves
    He may not shame such tender love and stay.


Thus, I had so long suffered in this quest,
    Heard failure prophesied so oft, been writ
    So many times among "The Band"—to wit,
The knights who to the Dark Tower's search addressed
Their steps—that just to fail as they, seemed best,
    And all the doubt was now—should I be fit?


So, quiet as despair, I turned from him,
    That hateful cripple, out of his highway
    Into the path he pointed. All the day
Had been a dreary one at best, and dim
Was settling to its close, yet shot one grim
    Red leer to see the plain catch its estray.


For mark! no sooner was I fairly found
    Pledged to the plain, after a pace or two,
    Than, pausing to throw backward a last view
O'er the safe road, 'twas gone; grey plain all round:
Nothing but plain to the horizon's bound.
    I might go on; nought else remained to do.


So, on I went. I think I never saw
    Such starved ignoble nature; nothing throve:
    For flowers—as well expect a cedar grove!
But cockle, spurge, according to their law
Might propagate their kind, with none to awe,
    You'd think; a burr had been a treasure-trove.


No! penury, inertness and grimace,
    In some strange sort, were the land's portion. "See
    "Or shut your eyes," said nature peevishly,
"It nothing skills: I cannot help my case:
"'Tis the Last judgment's fire must cure this place,
    "Calcine its clods and set my prisoners free."


If there pushed any ragged thistle-stalk
    Above its mates, the head was chopped; the bents
    Were jealous else. What made those holes and rents
In the dock's harsh swarth leaves, bruised as to baulk
All hope of greenness?'tis a brute must walk
    Pashing their life out, with a brute's intents.


As for the grass, it grew as scant as hair
    In leprosy; thin dry blades pricked the mud
    Which underneath looked kneaded up with blood.
One stiff blind horse, his every bone a-stare,
Stood stupefied, however he came there:
    Thrust out past service from the devil's stud!


Alive? he might be dead for aught I know,
    With that red gaunt and colloped neck a-strain,
    And shut eyes underneath the rusty mane;
Seldom went such grotesqueness with such woe;
I never saw a brute I hated so;
    He must be wicked to deserve such pain.


I shut my eyes and turned them on my heart.
    As a man calls for wine before he fights,
    I asked one draught of earlier, happier sights,
Ere fitly I could hope to play my part.
Think first, fight afterwards—the soldier's art:
    One taste of the old time sets all to rights.


Not it! I fancied Cuthbert's reddening face
    Beneath its garniture of curly gold,
    Dear fellow, till I almost felt him fold
An arm in mine to fix me to the place,
That way he used. Alas, one night's disgrace!
    Out went my heart's new fire and left it cold.


Giles then, the soul of honour—there he stands
    Frank as ten years ago when knighted first.
    What honest man should dare (he said) he durst.
Good—but the scene shifts—faugh! what hangman hands
Pin to his breast a parchment? His own bands
    Read it. Poor traitor, spit upon and curst!


Better this present than a past like that;
    Back therefore to my darkening path again!
    No sound, no sight as far as eye could strain.
Will the night send a howlet or a bat?
I asked: when something on the dismal flat
    Came to arrest my thoughts and change their train.


A sudden little river crossed my path
    As unexpected as a serpent comes.
    No sluggish tide congenial to the glooms;
This, as it frothed by, might have been a bath
For the fiend's glowing hoof—to see the wrath
    Of its black eddy bespate with flakes and spumes.


So petty yet so spiteful! All along,
    Low scrubby alders kneeled down over it;
    Drenched willows flung them headlong in a fit
Of route despair, a suicidal throng:
The river which had done them all the wrong,
    Whate'er that was, rolled by, deterred no whit.


Which, while I forded,—good saints, how I feared
    To set my foot upon a dead man's cheek,
    Each step, or feel the spear I thrust to seek
For hollows, tangled in his hair or beard!
—It may have been a water-rat I speared,
    But, ugh! it sounded like a baby's shriek.


Glad was I when I reached the other bank.
    Now for a better country. Vain presage!
    Who were the strugglers, what war did they wage,
Whose savage trample thus could pad the dank
Soil to a plash? Toads in a poisoned tank,
    Or wild cats in a red-hot iron cage—


The fight must so have seemed in that fell cirque.
    What penned them there, with all the plain to choose?
    No foot-print leading to that horrid mews,
None out of it. Mad brewage set to work
Their brains, no doubt, like galley-slaves the Turk
    Pits for his pastime, Christians against Jews.


And more than that—a furlong on—why, there!
    What bad use was that engine for, that wheel,
    Or brake, not wheel—that harrow fit to reel
Men's bodies out like silk? with all the air
Of Tophet's tool, on earth left unaware,
    Or brought to sharpen its rusty teeth of steel.


Then came a bit of stubbed ground, once a wood,
    Next a marsh, it would seem, and now mere earth
    Desperate and done with; (so a fool finds mirth,
Makes a thing and then mars it, till his mood
Changes and off he goes!) within a rood—
    Bog, clay and rubble, sand and stark black dearth.


Now blotches rankling, coloured gay and grim,
    Now patches where some leanness of the soil's
    Broke into moss or substances like boils;
Then came some palsied oak, a cleft in him
Like a distorted mouth that splits its rim
    Gaping at death, and dies while it recoils.


And just as far as ever from the end!
    Nought in the distance but the evening, nought
    To point my footstep further! At the thought,
great black bird, Apollyon's bosom-friend,
Sailed past, nor beat his wide wing dragon-penned
    That brushed my cap—perchance the guide I sought.


For, looking up, aware I somehow grew,
    'Spite of the dusk, the plain had given place
    All round to mountains—with such name to grace
Mere ugly heights and heaps now stolen in view.
How thus they had surprised me,—solve it, you!
    How to get from them was no clearer case.


Yet half I seemed to recognize some trick
    Of mischief happened to me, God knows when—
    In a bad dream perhaps. Here ended, then,
Progress this way. When, in the very nick
Of giving up, one time more, came a click
    As when a trap shuts—you're inside the den!


Burningly it came on me all at once,
    This was the place! those two hills on the right,
    Crouched like two bulls locked horn in horn in fight;
While to the left, a tall scalped mountain... Dunce,
Dotard, a-dozing at the very nonce,
    After a life spent training for the sight!


What in the midst lay but the Tower itself?
    The round squat turret, blind as the fool's heart,
    Built of brown stone, without a counter-part
In the whole world. The tempest's mocking elf
Points to the shipman thus the unseen shelf
    He strikes on, only when the timbers start.


Not see? because of night perhaps?—why, day
    Came back again for that! before it left,
    The dying sunset kindled through a cleft:
The hills, like giants at a hunting, lay,
Chin upon hand, to see the game at bay,—
    "Now stab and end the creature—to the heft!"


Not hear? when noise was everywhere! it tolled
    Increasing like a bell. Names in my ears
    Of all the lost adventurers my peers,—
How such a one was strong, and such was bold,
And such was fortunate, yet, each of old
    Lost, lost! one moment knelled the woe of years.


There they stood, ranged along the hill-sides, met
    To view the last of me, a living frame
    For one more picture! in a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all. And yet
Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,
    And blew. "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came."


(Illustration is Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov, The Knight at the Crossroads, 1882.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Visions of Germany: Along the Rhine

Following Visions of Germany: Bavaria, the PBS network produced a second German-oriented episode in its Vision series, this one titled Visions of Germany: Along the Rhine. Among the fantastic sights that the show highlighted was Burg Hohenzollern, the ancestral castle of the dynasty that ruled Prussia throughout its history:

It also featured the Niederwalddenkmal, topped by the statue of Germania, as well as Burg Eltz, Germany's most magnificent authentic medieval castle.

Visions of Germany: Along the Rhine

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Manfred and the Witch of the Alps

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Lord Byron

Act II Scene II

A lower Valley in the Alps.— A Cataract.

MANFRED takes some of the water into the palm of his hand, and flings it in the air, muttering the adjuration. After a pause, the WITCH OF THE ALPS rises beneath the arch of the sunbow of the torrent.

MANFRED: From my youth upwards
My spirit walk'd not with the souls of men,
Nor look'd upon the earth with human eyes;
The thirst of their ambition was not mine;
The aim of their existence was not mine;
My joys, my griefs, my passions, and my powers,
Made me a stranger; though I wore the form,
I had no sympathy with breathing flesh,
Nor midst the creatures of clay that girded me
Was there but one who— but of her anon.
I said with men, and with the thoughts of men,
I held but slight communion; but instead,
My joy was in the Wilderness, to breathe
The difficult air of the iced mountain's top,
Where the birds dare not build, nor insect's wing
Flit o'er the herbless granite; or to plunge
Into the torrent, and to roll along
On the swift whirl of the new breaking wave
Of river-stream, or ocean, in their flow.
In these my early strength exulted; or
To follow through the night the moving moon,
The stars and their development, or catch
The dazzling lightnings till my eyes grew dim;
Or to look, list'ning, on the scatter'd leaves,
While Autumn winds were at their evening song.
These were my pastimes, and to be alone;
For if the beings, of whom I was one,—
Hating to be so,— cross'd me in my path,
I felt myself degraded back to them,
And was all clay again. And then I dived,
In my lone wanderings, to the caves of death,
Searching its cause in its effect, and drew
From wither'd bones, and skulls, and heap'd up dust,
Conclusions most forbidden. Then I pass'd
The nights of years in sciences, untaught
Save in the old-time; and with time and toil,
And terrible ordeal, and such penance
As in itself hath power upon the air
And spirits that do compass air and earth,
Space, and the peopled infinite, I made
Mine eyes familiar with Eternity,


(Illustration is John Martin, Manfred and the Witch of the Alps, 1837.)

Friday, October 8, 2010



Nikolaus Lenau

Gaze on me, thou eye of darkness,
Fill me, boundlessness of might—
Solemn, tender, dream-pervaded,
Sweet, unfathomable night!

With dark magic all else banish;
Take the world away from me
So that over life thou only
Henceforth brood unendingly.


-German title: Bitte.

(Illustration is Willy Kriegel, Die Nacht, 1943.)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

''The age of chivalry is gone''

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From Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France:
It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in,—glittering like the morning-star, full of life and splendor and joy.

Oh! what a revolution! and what an heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream, when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom! little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honour, and of cavaliers! I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.

Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom! The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise, is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil by losing all its grossness!


In this passage, Burke recalls his meeting with the beautiful Marie Antoinette, who was so tragically murdered by the criminal rabble who incited the French Revolution.

(Illustration is Edmund Blair Leighton, The Accolade, 1901. Please see the learned comment below for a possible identification of the knight's coat of arms, originally thought to be the insignia of Silesia.)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

''Lohengrin in Brabant''


Jakob & Wilhelm Grimm

The Duke of Brabant and Limburg died, without leaving other heirs than a young daughter, Els, or Elsa by name; her he recommended on his deathbed to one of his retainers, Friedrich von Telramund. Friedrich, the intrepid warrior, became emboldened to demand the youthful duchess’ hand and lands, under the false claim that she had promised to marry him. She steadfastly refused to do so. Friedrich complained to Emperor Henry I ("the Fowler"), and the verdict was that she must defend herself against him, through some hero, in a so-called divine judgment, in which God would accord the victory to the innocent, and defeat the guilty. As none were ready to take her part, the young duchess prayed ardently to God to save her; and far away in distant Montsalvatsch, in the Council of the Grail, the sound of the bell was heard, showing that there was someone in urgent need of help. The Grail therefore resolved to despatch as a rescuer, Lohengrin, the son of Parsifal. Just as he was about to place his foot in the stirrup a swan came floating down the water drawing a skiff behind him. As soon as Lohengrin set eyes upon the swan, he exclaimed: "Take the steed back to the manger; I shall follow this bird wherever he may lead me."

Meanwhile Elsa had summoned her chieftains and retainers to a meeting in Antwerp. Precisely on the day of the assembly, a swan was sighted swimming upstream (river Scheldt) and drawing behind him a skiff, in which Lohengrin lay asleep on his shield. The swan promptly came to land at the shore, and the prince was joyfully welcomed. Hardly had his helmet, shield, and sword been taken from the skiff, when the swan at once swam away again. Lohengrin heard of the wrong which had been done to the duchess and willingly consented to become her champion. Elsa then summoned all her relatives and subjects. A place was prepared in Mainz for Lohengrin and Friedrich to fight in the emperor's presence. The hero of the Grail defeated Friedrich, who confessed having lied to the duchess, and was executed with the axe. Elsa was awarded to Lohengrin, they having long been lovers; but he secretly insisted upon her avoiding all questions as to his ancestry, or whence he had come, saying that otherwise he would have to leave her instantaneously and she would never see him again.

For some time, the couple lived in peace and happiness. Lohengrin was a wise and mighty ruler over his land, and also served his emperor well in his expeditions against the Huns and the heathen. But it came to pass that one day in throwing the javelin he unhorsed the Duke of Cleve, so that the latter broke an arm. The Duchess of Cleve was angry, and spoke out amongst the women, saying, "Lohengrin may be brave enough, and he seems to be a good Christian; what a pity that his nobility is not of much account for no one knows whence he has come floating to this land." These words pierced the heart of the Duchess of Brabant, and she changed color with emotion. At night, when her spouse was holding her in his arms, she wept, and he said, "What is the matter, Elsa, my own?" She made answer, "The Duchess of Cleve has caused me sore pain." Lohengrin was silent and asked no more. The second night, the same came to pass. But in the third night, Elsa could no longer retain herself, and she spoke: "Lord, do not chide me! I wish to know, for our children's sake, whence you were born; for my heart tells me that you are of high rank." When the day broke, Lohengrin declared in public whence he had come, that Parsifal was his father, and God had sent him from the Grail. He then asked for his two children, which the duchess had borne him, kissed them, told them to take good care of his horn and sword, which he would leave behind, and said: "Now, I must be gone." To the duchess he left a little ring which his mother had given him. Then the swan, his friend, carne swimming swiftly, with the skiff behind him; the prince stepped in and crossed the water, back to the service of the Grail. Elsa sank down in a faint. The empress resolved to keep the younger boy Lohengrin, for his father's sake, and to bring him up as her own child. But the widow wept and mourned the rest of her life for her beloved spouse, who never came back to her.


-from the Bros. Grimm collection Deutsche Sagen (German Legends).
-original title: Lohengrin zu Brabant.
-trans. from Otto Rank, The Myth of the Birth of the Hero (1914).

Illustration is Norman Price (1877-1951), Lohengrin.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

''The Minstrel''

Click to enlarge


[Two excerpts]

James Beattie

    There lived, in Gothic days, as legends tell,
    A shepherd-swain, a man of low degree;
    Whose sires, perchance, in Fairyland might dwell,
    Sicilian groves, or vales of Arcady;
    But he, I ween, was of the North Countrie:
    A nation famed for song, and beauty’s charms;
    Zealous, yet modest; innocent, though free;
    Patient of toil; serene amidst alarms;
Inflexible in faith; invincible in arms.

    And oft the craggy cliff he loved to climb,
    When all in mist the world below was lost.
    What dreadful pleasure! there to stand sublime,
    Like shipwrecked mariner on desert coast,
    And view the enormous waste of vapour, tost
    In billows, lengthening to the horizon round,
    Now scooped in gulfs, with mountains now embossed!
    And hear the voice of mirth and song rebound,
Flocks, herds, and waterfalls, along the hoar profound!


Complete text of The Minstrel.

(Illustration is Caspar David Friedrich, Morning in the Riesengebirge, 1810-11.)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Visions of Germany: Neuschwanstein

The Public Broadcasting Service in the U.S. runs a series titled Visions, which shows aerial views of various destinations around the world. This excerpt, from the installment titled Visions of Germany: Bavaria, shows the magnificent arch-Romantic castle Schloß Neuschwanstein, built by King Ludwig II, as well as Schloß Hohenschwangau, in which the king spent his boyhood years.

Visions of Germany: Bavaria