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''

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[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