The Northern Way

Song and Legend From the Middle Ages

German Literature

Page 9


As elsewhere in Europe, the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Germany produced numberless romances. These may be classed under [1] Romances of Arthur, [2] Romances of the Holy Graal, [3] Romances of Antiquity, and [4] Romances of Love and Chivalry. The chief posts of romances were Hartmann von Aue, Gottfried von Strassburg, and Wolfram von Eschenbach.

A good example of the romance of love is Der Arme Heinrich of Hartmann von Aue. "Poor Henry," to quote Scherer, "is a kind of Job, a man of noble birth; rich, handsome, and beloved, who is suddenly visited by God with the terrible affliction of leprosy, and who can be cured only by the lifeblood of a young maiden who is willing to die for him. The daughter of a peasant, to whose house he has retired in his despair, resolves to sacrifice her life for him. Heinrich accepts her offer, and the knife to kill her is already whetted, when a better feeling arises in his breast, and he refuses to take upon himself the guilt of her death, resolving to resign himself to the will of God. This resignation saves him; he recovers and marries the maiden." Our extracts are from the first and last of the poem.


Ll. 1-131.----

Once on a time, rhymeth the rhyme,

In Swabia land once on a time,

There was a nobleman sojourneying,

Unto whose nobleness everything

Of virtue and high-hearted excellence

Worthy his line and his high pretense

With plentiful measure was meted out:

The land rejoiced in him round about.

He was like a prince in his governing---

In his wealth he was like a king;

But most of all by the fame far-flown

Of his great knightliness was he known,

North and south, upon land and sea.

By his name he was Henry of the Lea.

All things whereby the truth grew dim

Were held as hateful foes with him:

By solemn oath was he bounden fast

To shun them while his life should last.

In honour all his days went by:

Therefore his soul might look up high

To honorable authority.

A paragon of all graciousness,

A blossoming branch of youthfulness,

A looking-glass to the world around,

A stainless and priceless diamond,

Of gallant 'haviour a beautiful wreath,

A home when the tyrant menaceth,

A buckler to the breast of his friend,

And courteous without measure or end;

Whose deeds of arms 'twere long to tell;

Of precious wisdom a limpid well,

A singer of ladies every one,

And very lordly to look upon

In feature and hearing and countenance;

Say, failed he in anything, perchance,

The summit of all glory to gain

And the lasting honour of all men.

Alack! the soul that was up so high

Dropped down into pitiful misery;

The lofty courage was stricken low,

The steady triumph stumbled in woe,

And the world-joy was hidden in the dust,

Even as all such shall be and must.

He whose life in the senses centreth

Is already in the shades of death.

The joys, called great, of this under-state

Burn up the bosom early and late;

And their shining is altogether vain,

For it bringeth anuish and trouble and pain,

The torch that flames for men to see

And wasteth to ashes inwardly

Is verily but an imaging

Of man's own life, the piteous thing.

The whole is brittleness and mishap:

We sit and dally in Fortune's lap

Till tears break in our smiles betwixt,

And the shallow honey-draught be mix'd

With sorrow's wormwood fathom-deep.

Oh! rest not therefore, man, nor sleep:

In the blossoming of thy flower-crown

A sword is raised to smite thee down.

It was thus with Earl Henry, upon whom for his pride God sent a leprosy, as He did upon Job. But he did not bear his affliction as did Job.

Its duteousness his heart forgot;

His pride waxed hard, and kept its place,

But the glory departed from his face,

And that which was his strength, grew weak.

The hand that smote him on the cheek

Was all too heavy. It was night,

Now, and his sun withdrew its light.

To the pride of his uplifted thought

Much woe the weary knowledge brought

That the pleasant way his feet did wend

Was all passed o'er and had an end.

The day wherein his years had begun

Went in his mouth with a malison.

As the ill grew stronger and more strong,---

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