The Northern Way

Song and Legend From the Middle Ages

German Literature

Page 2

The two most important of all the epics based upon these cycles are the Gudrun and the Niebelungenlied. The latter is the more comprehensive, national, and famous. It includes and unifies all the tales from the first four cycles of heroic legends. (3) The whole of German art, literature, and tradition is full of reflections of this poem.

The best scholarship has concluded that the poem is not the work of a single author, but, like other folk epics, an edited collection of songs. The work was finished about 1190-1210. It consists of two greater parts, [1] the Death of Siegfried and [2] the Vengeance of Kriemhild.

From the Niebelungenlied

The first song in the poem gives us Kriemhild's foreboding dream.


Stanzas 1-19

In stories of our fathers high marvels we are told

Of champions well approved in perils manifold.

Of feasts and merry meetings, of weeping and of wail,

And deeds of gallant daring I'll tell you in my tale.

In Burgundy there flourish'd a maid so fair to see,

That in all the world together a fairer could not be.

This maiden's name was Kriemhild; through her in dismal strife

Full many a proudest warrior thereafter lost his life.

Many a fearles champion, as such well became,

Woo'd the lovely lady; she from none had blame.

Matchless was her person, matchless was her mind.

This one maiden's virtue grac'd all womankind.

Three puissant Kings her guarded with all the care they might,

Gunther and eke Gernot, each a redoubted knight,

And Giselher the youthful, a chosen champion he;

This lady was their sister, well lov'd of all the three.

They were high of lineage, thereto mild of mood,

But in field and foray champions fierce and rude.

They rul'd a mighty kingdom, Burgundy by name;

They wrought in Etzel's country deeds of deathless fame.

At Worms was their proud dwelling, the fair Rhine flowing by,

There had they suit and service from haughtiest chivalry

For broad lands and lordships, and glorious was their state,

Till wretchedly they perish'd by two noble ladies' hate.

Dame Uta was their mother, a queen both rich and sage;

Their father hight Dancrat, who the fair heritage

Left to his noble children whom he his course had run;

He too by deeds of knighthood in youth had worship won.

Each of these three princes, as you have heard me say,

Were men of mighty puissance. They had beneath their sway

The noblest knights for liegemen that ever dwelt on ground;

For hardihood and prowess were none so high renown'd.

There was Hagan of Trony of a noble line,

His brother nimble Dankwart, and the knight of Metz, Ortwine,

Eckewart and Gary, the margraves stout in fight,

Folker of Alzeia, full of manly might.

Rumolt the steward (a chosen knight was he),

Sindolt, and Hunolt; these serv'd the brethren three,

At their court discharging their several duties well;

Besides, knights had they many whom now I cannot tell.

Dankwart was marshal to the king his lord,

Ortwine of Metz, his nephew, was carver at the board,

Sindolt he was a butler, a champion choice and true,

The chamberlain was Hunolt; they well their duties knew.

The gorgeous pomp and splendour, wherein these brethren reign'd,

How well they tended knighthood, what worship they attain'd,

How they thro' life were merry, and mock'd at woe and bale----

Who'd seek all this to tell you, would never end his tale.

A dream was dreamt by Kriemhild the virtuous and the gay,

How a wild young falcon she train'd for many a day,

Till two fierce eagles tore it; to her there could not be

In all the world such sorrow at this perforce to see.

To her mother Uta at once the dream she told,

But shethe threatening future could only thus unfold;

"The falcon that thou traindst is sure a noble mate;

God shield him in his mercy, or thou must lose him straight."

"A mate for me? what say'st thou, dearest mother mine?

Ne'er to love, assure thee, my heart will I resign.

I'll live and die a maiden, and end as I began,

Nor (let what else befall me) will suffer woe for man."

"Nay," said her anxious mother, "renounce not marriage so;

Wouldst thou true heartfelt pleasure taste ever here below,

Man's love alone can give it. Thou 'rt fair as eye can see,

A fitting mate God send thee, and nought will wanting be."

"No more," the maiden answer'd, "no more, dear mother, say;

From many a woman's fortune this truth is clear as day,

That falsely smiling Pleasure with Pain requites us ever.

I from both will keep me, and thus will sorrow never."

So in her lofty virtues, fancy-free and gay,

Liv'd the noble maiden many a happy day,

Nor one more than another found favour in her sight;

Still at the last she wedded a far-renowned knight.

He was the self-same falcon she in her dream had seen,

Foretold by her wise mother. What vengeance took the queen

On her nearest kinsmen who him to death had done!

That single death atoning died many a mother's son.

In his home in the Netherlands the hero Siegfried hears of the beauty of

Kriemhild and after magnificent preparations comes to Worms to win

her, if possible, for his bride. After a long stay at the court of her

brother, he finally sees her at a feast. They love each other at their

first meeting.


3. See Kluge, "Geschichte der Deutschen National-Literature," p. 33.  (back)

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