History of Literature






The Ring of the Nibelung


Richard Wagner



The attempt has been made in the following to give an idea of the charm and interest of the original text of the Wagner operas, of Wagner's extraordinary power and fertility as a dramatist. It is not critique or commentary, it is presentation, picture, narrative; it offers nothing that is not derived directly and exclusively from the Wagner libretti and scores.

The stories of the operas are widely known already, of course. As literature, however, one may almost say they are not known at all, unless by students of German. The translators had before them a task so tremendous, in the necessity to fit their verse-rendering of the master's poetry to extremely difficult music, that we respect them for achieving it at all. None the less must the translations included in our libretti be pronounced painfully inadequate. To give a better, more complete knowledge of the original poems is the object of these essays. The poems form, even apart from the music, a whole beautiful, luminous, romantic world. One would not lose more by dropping out of literature the Idylls of the King than the Wagnerian romances.


Parsifal  (libretto by Richard Wagner)
Illustrated by Franz Stassen

The Ring of the Nibelung-
The Rhine-Gold
The Valkyrie
The Twilight of the Gods
The Master-Singers of Nuremberg

Tristan and Isolde (libretto by Richard Wagner)

Lohengrin  (libretto by Richard Wagner)

 (libretto by Richard Wagner)
The Flying Dutchman



The Ring of the Nibelung


In the beginning was the Gold,—beautiful, resplendent, its obvious and simple part to reflect sunlight and be a joy to the eyes; containing, however, apparently of its very nature, the following mysterious quality: a ring fashioned from it would endow its possessor with what is vaunted as immeasurable power, and make him master of the world. This power shows itself afterwards undefined in some directions and circumscribed in others, one never fully grasps its law; one plain point of it, however, was to subject to the owner of the ring certain inferior peoples and reveal to him the treasures hidden in the earth, which he could force his thralls to mine and forge and so shape that they might be used to buy and subject the superior peoples, thus making him actually, if successful in corruption, master of the world.

But this ring could by no possibility be fashioned except by one who should have utterly renounced love.

For these things no reason is given: they were, like the Word.

One feels an allegory. As the poem unfolds, one is often conscious of it. It is well to hold the thread of it lightly and let it slip as soon as it becomes puzzling, settling down contentedly in the joy of simple story. The author himself, very much a poet, must be supposed to have done something of the sort. He does not follow to any trite conclusion the thought he has started, he has small care for minor consistencies. Large-mindedly he drops what has become inconvenient, and  prefers simply beauty, interest, the story. Thus his personages have a body, and awaken sympathies which would hardly attach to purely allegorical figures; a charm of livingness invests the world he has created.

The Gold's home was in the Rhine, at the summit of a high, pointed rock, where it caught the beams of the sun and shed them down through the waves, brightening the dim water-world, gladdening the water-folk. That was its sole use, but for thus making golden daylight in the deep it was worshipped, besung, called adoring names, by nixies swimming around it in a sort of joyous rite.

The mysterious potentiality of the gold was known to the Rhine-god; three of his daughters had been instructed by him, and detailed to guard the treasure. Some faculty of divination warned him of danger to it, and of the quarter from whence this danger threatened. But nixies—even when burdened by cares of state—are just nixies; those three seem to have lived to laugh before all else—to laugh and chase one another and play in the cool green element, singing all the while a fluent, cradling song whose sweetness might well allure boatmen and bathers.

Below the Rhine lay Nibelheim, the kingdom of mists and night, the home of the Nibelungs,—dark gnomes, dwarfs, living in the bowels of the earth, digging its metals, excelling in cunning as smiths.

The Rhine did not continue flowing water quite down to its bed; the boundary-line of Nibelheim seems to have been just above it; the water there turned to fine mist; among the rough rocks of the river-bed were passages down into the Under-world.

Up through one of these, one day before sunrise, while the Rhine was melodiously thundering in its majestic course—they  are the Rhine-motifs which open the piece,—came clambering, by some chance, the Nibelung Alberich. His night-accustomed eyes, as he blinked upward into the green light, were caught by a silvery glinting of scales, flashes of flesh-pink and floating hair. The Rhine-maidens, guardians of the gold, were frolicking around it; but this did not appear, for the sun had not yet risen to wake it into radiance. The dwarf saw just a shimmering of young forms, was touched with a natural desire, and called to them, asking them to come down to him, and let him join in their play.

At the sound of the strange voice and the sight of the strange figure, Flosshilde, a shade more sensible than her sisters, cries out to them: "Look to the gold! Father warned us of an enemy of the sort!" and the three rally quickly around the treasure. But it soon appears that the stranger is but a dark, small, hairy, ugly, harmless-seeming, amorous creature, uttering his wishes very simply. The watch over the gold is relinquished, and a little amusement sought in tantalizing and befooling the clumsy wooer.

Alberich, later a figure touched with terror and followed with dislike, is likeable in this scene, almost gentle, one's sympathies come near being with him. The music describes him awkward and heavy, slipping on the rocks, sneezing in the wet; a note of protest is frequent in his voice. All the music relating to him, now or later, is joyless, whatever beside it may be.

The sisters have their fun with the poor gnome, whose innocence of nixies' ways is apparent in the long time it is before all reliance in their good faith leaves him. Woglinde invites him nearer. With difficulty he climbs the slippery rocks to reach her. When he can nearly touch her—he is saying, "Be my sweetheart, womanly child!"—she darts from him. And the sisters laugh their delicious inhuman laugh.  Woglinde then plunges to the river-bed, calling to Alberich, "Come down! Here you surely can grasp me!" He owns it will be easier for him down there, and lets himself down, when the sprite rises, light as a bubble, to the surface. He is calling her an impudent fish and a deceitful young lady, when Wellgunde sighs, "Thou beautiful one!" He turns quickly, inquiring naïvely, "Do you mean me?" She says, "Have nothing to do with Woglinde. Turn sooner to me!" He is but too willing, vows that he thinks her much the more beautiful and gleaming, and prays she will come further down. She stops short of arm's-length. He pours forth his elementary passion. She feigns a wish to see her handsome gallant more closely. After a brief comedy of scanning his face, with insulting promptness she appears to change her mind, and with the unkindest descriptive terms slipping from his grasp swims away. And again rings the chorus of malicious musical laughter. Then the cruellest of the three, Flosshilde, takes the poor swain in hand. She not only comes down, she allows herself to be held, she wreathes her slender arms around him, presses him tenderly and flatters him in music well calculated to daze with delight. He is not warned by her words, as, while they sit embraced, she says, "Thy piercing glance, thy stubborn beard, might I see the one, feel the other, forever! The rough locks of thy prickly hair, might they forever flow around Flosshilde! Thy toad's shape, thy croaking voice, oh, might I, wondering and mute, see and hear them exclusively for ever!" It is the sudden mocking laughter of the two listening sisters which draws him from his dream—when Flosshilde slips from his hold, and the three again swim merrily around, and laugh, and when his angry wail rises call down to him to be ashamed of himself! But not even then do they let him rest; they hold forth new hopes, inviting and exciting him to chase them, till fairly aflame with  love and wrath he begins a mad pursuit, climbing, slipping, falling to the foot of the rocks, starting upwards again, clutching at this one and that, still eluded with ironical laughter, until, realizing his impotence, breathless and quaking with rage, he shakes his clenched hand at them, foaming, "Let me catch one with this fist!"

He is glaring upward at them, speechless with fury, when his eyes become fixed upon a brilliant point, growing in size and radiance until the whole flood is illumined. There is an exquisite hush of a moment. The sun has risen and kindled its reflection in the gold. The music describes better than words the spreading of tremulous light down through the deep. Through the wavering ripples of water and light cuts the bright call of the gold, the call to wake up and behold. Again and again it rings, regularly a golden voice. The Rhine-daughters have quickly forgotten their victim. They begin their blissful circumswimming of their idol, with a song in ecstatic celebration of it, so penetratingly, joyously sweet, that you readily forgive them their naughtiness: "Rhine-gold! Rhine-gold! Luminous joy! How laugh'st thou so bright and clear!"...

Alberich cannot detach his eyes from the vision. "What is it, you sleek ones," he asks in awed curiosity, "glancing and gleaming up there?"

"Now where have you barbarian lived," they reply, "never to have heard of the Rhine-gold?" They mock his ignorance; returning to their teasing mood, they invite him to come and revel with them in the streaming light.

"If it is no good save for you to swim around, it is of small use to me!" is Alberich's dejected observation. As if their treasure had been disparaged, Woglinde informs him that he would hardly despise the gold if he knew all of its wonder! And Wellgunde follows this part-revelation with the whole secret:  The whole world would be his inheritance who should fashion out of the Rhine-gold a magic ring. Vainly Flosshilde tries to silence her sisters. Wellgunde and Woglinde laugh at her prudence, reminding her of the gold's assured safety in view of the condition attached to the creation of the ring. This is described in a solemn phrase, serious as the pronouncing of a vow: "Only he who forswears the power of love, only he who casts from him the joys of love, can learn the spell by which the gold may be forced into a ring."—Wherefore, they hold, the gold is safe, "for all that lives wishes to love, no one will give up love," least of all this Nibelung, the heat of whose sentiments had come near scorching them! And they laugh and swim around the gold with their light-hearted Wallalaleia, diversified with mocking personalities to the gnome down in the gloom.

But they have miscalculated. Without suspecting it, they have gone too far. The dwarf stands staring at the gold, dreaming what it would be to own the world. He is hardly at that moment, thanks to them, in love with love. His resolution is suddenly taken. He springs to the rock, shouting: "Mock on! Mock on! The Nibelung is coming!" With fearful activity, hate-inspired strength, he rapidly climbs the rock on which he had so slipped and floundered before. The foolish nymphs, though they see his approach, are still far from understanding. They still believe it is themselves he seeks to seize. They now not only laugh—they laugh, as the stage-directions have it, "im tollsten Uebermuth," the craziest towering insolence of high spirits. "Save yourselves, the gnome is raving! He has gone mad with love!"

He has reached the summit of the rock, he has laid hands on the gold. He cries, "You shall make love in the dark!... I quench your light, I tear your gold from the reef. I shall  forge me the ring of vengeance, for, let the flood hear me declare it: I here curse love!" Tearing from its socket their splendid lamp, which utters just once its golden cry, all distorted and lamentable, he plunges with it into the depths, leaving sudden night over the scene in which the wild sisters, shocked at last into sobriety, with cries of Help and Woe start in pursuit of the robber. His harsh laugh of triumph drifts back from the caves of Nibelheim.

Then occurs a gradual transformation-scene both to the eye and the ear. The rocks disappear, black waves flow past, the whole all the while appearing to sink. Clouds succeed the water, mist the clouds. This finally clears, revealing a calm and lovely scene on the mountain-heights. The music has during this been painting the change, too: Sounds of running water, above which hovers a moment, a memory of the scene just past and a foreboding of its sorrowful consequences, the strain signifying the renunciation of love; when this dies away, the motif of the ring, to be heard so many times after, its fateful character plainly conveyed by the notes, which also literally describe its circular form. By what magic of modulation the uninitiated cannot discern, the ring-motif, as the water by degrees is translated into mist, slides by subtle changes into a motif which seems, when it is reached, conspicuously different from it, the motif of the Gods' Abode.

There in the distance it stands, when the mists have perfectly cleared, bathed in fresh morning light, the tall just-completed castle, with shimmering battlements, crowning a high rocky mountain, at whose base, far down out of sight, flows the Rhine. For the Rhine is the centre of the world we are occupied with: under it, the Nibelungs; above it, the Gods; beside it, the giants and the insignificant human race. The music itself here, while the dwelling of the gods is coming into  sight, seems to build a castle: story above story it rises, topped with gleaming pinnacles, one, lighter and taller than all the rest, piercing the clouds.

In the foreground lie sleeping side by side, on a flowery bank, the god and goddess Wotan and Fricka.

He lies dreaming happily of the abode from which the world is to be commanded by him, to the display of immeasurable power and his eternal honour. His wife's sleep is less easy. For the situation is not as free from complications as his untroubled slumbers might lead one to suppose. Wotan has employed to build him this stronghold the giants Fasolt and Fafner, formerly his enemies, but bound to peace by treaties, and has promised them the reward stipulated for, Freia, goddess of beauty and youth, sister of Fricka. And this he has done without any serious thought of keeping his word. "Nie sann es ernstlich mein Sinn," he assures Fricka, when, starting in dismay from her sleep and beholding the completed burg, she reminds him that the time is come for payment, and asks what shall they do. Loge, he enlightens her, counselled the compact and promised to find the means of evading it. He relies upon him to do so. This calm frankness in the god, with its effect of personal clearness from all sense of guilt, suggests the measure of Wotan's distinguishing simplicity. Referring later to the dubious act which so effectually laid the foundation of sorrows, he says, "Unknowingly deceitful, I practised untruth. Loge artfully tempted me." He explains himself to Fricka, when she asks why he continues to trust the crafty Loge, who has often already brought them into straits: "Where frank courage is sufficient, I ask counsel of no one. But slyness and cunning are needed to turn to advantage the ill-will of adversaries, and that is the talent of Loge."

Strong and calm is Wotan; music of might and august beauty,  large music, supports everyone of his utterances. There is no departure from this, even when his signal fallibility is in question. Waftures of Walhalla most commonly accompany his steps; the close of his speech is frequently marked by the sturdy motif of his spear, the spear inseparable from him, cut by him from the World-Ash, carved with runes establishing the bindingness of compacts, by aid of which he had conquered the world, subdued the giants, the Nibelungs, and Loge, the Spirit of Fire.

Athirst for power he is, before all: in this trait lie the original seeds of his destruction; it is for the sake of the tokens of power, the castle and later the ring, that he commits the injustices which bring about ruin. Athirst, too, for wisdom: he has given one of his eyes for Wisdom, in the person of Fricka, who combines in herself law and order and domestic virtue. And athirst for love,—something of a grievance to Fricka. "Ehr ich die Frauen doch mehr als dich freut," "I honour women more than pleases you," he retorts to her reproach of contempt for woman's love and worth, evidenced in his light ceding of Freia.

He calls himself and all call him a god, adding "eternal" even when the gods' end is glaringly at hand. The other gods look to him as chief among them. But he is ever acknowledging the existence of something outside and above himself, a law, a moral necessity, which it is no use to contend against; through which, do what he may, disaster finally overtakes him for having tried to disregard it. There is a stray hint from him that the world is his very possession and that he could at will destroy it; but this which so many facts contradict we may regard as a dream. Yet he feels toward the world most certainly a responsibility, such as a sovereign's toward his people; a duty, part of which is that for its sake he must not allow his spear  to be dishonoured. Compacts it must sacredly guard. All his personal troubles come from this necessity, this constant check to him: he must respect covenants, his spear stands for their integrity. Alberich in a bitter discussion declares his knowledge of where the god is weak, and reminds him that if he should break a covenant sanctioned by the spear in his hand, this, the symbol of his power, would split into spray!

He is perhaps best understood, on the whole, with his remorse and despair, the tortures of his heart and his struggle with his soul, if one can conceive him as a sort of sublimated aristocrat; a resplendent great personage—just imaginable in the dawn of history, when there were giants upon earth—lifted far above the ordinary of the race by superior gifts, "reigning through beauty," as Fasolt describes; possessing faculties not shared by common mortals, but these rudimentary or else in their decline: the power of divination, not always accurate or clear; the power of miracle, not altogether to be relied upon; remaining young indefinitely, yet not wholly enfranchised from time and circumstance; living indefinitely, but recognising himself as perishable, and passing at last, swallowed in twilight.

A great warrior and leader of heroes, inciter of men to bold actions and novel flights; some of his titles: Father of Hosts, Father of Battles, Father of Victory; riding in the storm-clouds on his Luft-ross, his air-horse, whose hoof-beats and neigh fill us with excited delight. But his air-horse cannot overtake Brünnhilde's air-horse, in his pursuit of her, and Grane reaching the goal falls exhausted....

A great reveller: reference is repeatedly made to the light-minded, light-hearted, careless humour of the gods, their glorious feasts and joyous life in the light up there. Their tribe is qualified as "laughing." Wotan's unshakable dignity indeed  does not prevent a quick easy laugh. And he shows the true aristocratic temper in being little moved by the sorrows of those beneath and unrelated to him: one of his laughs, which we witness, is for the howls of a poor wee dwarf who had been savagely beaten.

And so this powerful clan-chief had had a fancy for a house to live in worthy of their greatness. Fricka had fallen in with his desire, but for reasons of her own. To him the citadel was a fresh addition to his power. But Fricka had been "um des Gatten Treu' besorgt," "ill at ease with regard to her consort's fidelity," and had thought the beautiful dwelling might keep him at home. With her words, "Herrliche Wohnung, wonniger Hausrath," "Beautiful dwelling, delectable household order," first occurs the winning strain which afterward stands for Fricka in her love of domesticity, or, separate from her, for the pure charm of home.

When the giants, however, had been subsidised for the great work of building the house, the narrow-conscienced women had been kept out of the way while an agreement was reached with the builders; a grievance which Fricka remembers, and does not let her spouse forget, when the evil consequences of his act are upon them. Fricka constitutes something of a living reproach to her husband, though a certain tender regard still exists between them through the introductory Opera. A thankless part is Fricka's, like that of Reason in opposition to Feeling and Genius.

Now Loge, who had been tamed by the conquering spear, hated his tamer. He craved back his liberty, and, as the Norn tells us later in Goetterdaemmerung, "tried to free himself by gnawing at the runes on the shaft of the spear." He gave counsel to Wotan which followed must create difficulties from which the god could deliver himself only by an injustice; and  this injustice Loge seems clearly to have recognised from the first as the beginning of the end of the strength of the gods. The subtle Loge is more widely awake than Wotan to the "power not ourselves which makes for righteousness." He counselled him to buy the giants' labor by the promise of Freia, knowing that the gods could never endure to let the amiable goddess go. He led them to believe that when the time came he would give them further counsel by which to retain her. And his word Wotan chose to trust, and gave his heart over to the untroubled enjoyment of his plans' completion.

And now Freia comes running to him in terror, crying that one of the giants has told her he is come to fetch her. With her entrance we first hear the slender sweet phrase, delicately wandering upward, which after for a time denoting Freia, comes to mean for us just beauty. Wotan calms the maiden in distress, and asks, as one fancies, a little uneasily, "Have you seen nothing of Loge?"

The arrival of the giants is one of the great comedy moments of the play. Their colossally heavy tread, musically rendered, never fails to call forth laughter from some corner in us of left-over childhood. It is like the ogre's Fee-faw-fum. Fasolt is a good giant, his shaggy hair is blond, his fur-tunic white, and his soft big heart all given over to the touchingly lovely Freia. Fafner is a bad giant and his hair and furs are black. He is much cleverer than his brother. They carry as walking-sticks the trunks of trees.

They make it known that they have come for their wages. Wotan bids them, with a sturdy aplomb worthy of his godhead, state their wishes. What shall the wages be? Fasolt, a shade astonished, replies, "That, of course, which we settled upon. Haye you forgotten so soon? Freia.... It is in the bond that she shall follow us home."

 "Have you taken leave of your senses... with you bond?" asks Wotan, with a quick flash. "You must think of a different recompense. Freia is far too precious to me."

The giant is for a moment still, unable to speak for indignation; but recovering his voice he makes to the "son of light" a series of observations eminently to the point. Wotan to these makes no more retort than as if the words had not been spoken; but—to gain time till Loge shall arrive—when the giant has quite finished, he inquires, "What, after all, can the charm of the amiable goddess signify to you clumsy boors?" Fasolt enlarges, "You, reigning through beauty, shimmering lightsome race, lightly you offer to barter for stone towers woman's loveliness. We simpletons labour with toil-hardened hands to earn a sweet woman who shall dwell with us poor devils.... And you mean to call the bargain naught?..."

Fafner gloomily checks him: Words will not help them. And the possession of Freia in itself is to his mind of little account. But of great account to take her from the gods. In her garden grow golden apples, she alone has the art of tending these. Eating this fruit maintains her kinsmen in unwaning youth. Were Freia removed, they must age and fade. Wherefore let Freia be seized!

Wotan frets underbreath, "Loge is long acoming!"

Freia's cries, as the giants lay hands upon her, bring her brothers Donner and Froh—the god of Thunder and the god of the Fields—quickly to her side. A combat between them and the giants is imminent, when Wotan parts the antagonists with his spear, "Nothing by violence!" and he adds, what it might be thought he had lost sight of, "My spear is the protector of bargains!"

And then finally, finally, comes in sight Loge. Wotan lets out his breath in relief: "Loge at last!"

 The music has introduced Loge by a note-painting as of fire climbing up swiftly through airiest fuel. There is a quick flash or two, like darting tongues of flame. A combination of swirling and bickering and pulsating composes the commonest Loge-motif, but the variety is endless of the fire's caprices. Fantastical, cheery, and light it is mostly, sinister sometimes, suggestive of treachery, but terrible never; its beauty rather than its terror is reproduced. So characteristic are the fire-motifs that after a single hearing a person instinctively when one occurs looks for some sign or suggestion of Loge.

He stands now upon the rock, a vivid, charming, disquieting apparition, with his wild red hair and fluttering scarlet cloak. The arch-hypocrite wears always a consummately artless air. He comes near winning us by a bright perfect good-humour, which is as of the quality of an intelligence without a heart. The love of mischief for its own sake, which is one of his chief traits, might be thought to account easily for his many enemies.

He is related to the gods, a half-god, but is regarded coldly by his kin. Wotan is his single friend in the family, and with Wotan he preserves the attitude of a self-acknowledged underling. He stands in fear of his immediate strength, while nourishing a hardly disguised contempt for his wit, as well as that of his cousins collectively. A secret hater of them all, and clear-minded in estimating them. A touch of Mephistophelian there is in the pleasure which he seems to find in the contemplation of the canker-spot in Wotan's nature, drawing from the god over and over again, as if the admission refreshed him, that he has no intention of dealing justly toward the Rhine-maidens.

"Is this your manner of hastening to set aright the evil bargain concluded by you?" Wotan chides, as he appears from the valley.

 "How? What bargain concluded by me?..."

Pinned down to accounting for himself, "I promised," he says, "to think over the matter, and try to find means of loosing you from the bargain.... But how should I have promised to perform the impossible?" Under the pressure of all their angers, he finally airily delivers himself: "Having at heart to help you, I travelled the world over, visiting its most recondite corners, in search of such a substitute for Freia as might be found acceptable to the giants. Vainly I sought, and now at last I plainly see that nothing upon this earth is so precious that it can take the place in man's affection of the loveliness and worth of woman."

Struck and uplifted by this thought, the gods, moved, look in one another's faces, and the music expresses the sweet expansion of the heart overflowing with thoughts of beauty and love. It is one of the memorable moments of the Prologue.

"Everywhere," proceeds Loge, "far as life reaches, in water, earth, and air, wherever is quickening of germs and stirring of nature's forces, I investigated and inquired what there might be in existence that a man should hold dearer than woman's beauty and worth? Everywhere my inquiry was met with derision. No creature, in water, earth, or air, is willing to renounce love and woman."

As he pauses, the gods again gaze at one another, with tender tearful smiles, in an exalted emotion over the recognition of this touching truth; and the music reexpresses that blissful expansion of the heart.

"Only one did I see," Loge says further—the light fading out of the music—"who had renounced love; for red gold he had forsworn the favor of woman." He relates Alberich's theft of the gold, as it had been told him by the Rhine-daughters,  who had made him their advocate with Wotan, to procure its restitution.

But their plea meets with a deaf ear. "You are stupid, indeed, if not perverse," the god answers Loge, when he delivers their appeal. "You find me in straits myself, how should I help others?"

The giants have been listening to this talk about Alberich, an ancient enemy of theirs. The cleverer brother asks Loge, "What great advantage is involved in the possession of the gold, that the Nibelung should find it all-sufficient?" Loge explains. There drift back to Wotan's memory runes of the Ring, and the thought readily arises that it would be well he possessed the ring himself.

"But how, Loge, should I learn the art to shape it?" At the reply that he who would practise the magic by which it could be shaped must renounce love, the god turns away in conclusive disrelish. Loge informs him that he would in any case have been too late: Alberich has already successfully forged the ring.

This alters the face of things.

"But if he possesses a ring of such power," says simple Donner, "it must be taken from him, lest he bring us all under its compulsion!"

Wotan hesitates no more. "The ring I must have!"

"Yes, now, as long as love need not be renounced, it will be easy to obtain it," says simple Froh.

"Easy as mocking—child's-play!" sneers Loge.

"Then do you tell us, how?..." Wotan's fine majestic simplicity has no false pride.

The Serpent gleefully replies, "By theft! What a thief stole, you steal from the thief! Could anything be easier? Only, Alberich is on his guard, you will have to proceed craftily  if you would overreach the robber... in order to return their treasure to the Rhine-daughters, who earnestly entreat you."

"The Rhine-daughters?" chafes Wotan. "What do you trouble me with them?"

And the goddess of Wisdom,—more sympathetic on the whole in this exhibition of weakness than in her hard justice later—exposing the core of her feminine being, breaks in: "I wish to hear nothing whatever of that watery brood. Many a man, greatly to my vexation, have they lured under while he was bathing, with promises of love."

The giants have been listening and have taken counsel together. Fafner now approaches Wotan. "Hear, Wotan.... Keep Freia.... We have fixed upon a lesser reward. We will take in her stead the Nibelung's gold."

Wotan comes near losing his temper. "What I do not own, I shall bestow upon you shameless louts?"

Fafner expresses a perfect confidence in Wotan's equipment for obtaining the gold.

"For you I shall go to this trouble?" rails the irritated god, "For you I shall circumvent this enemy? Out of all measure impudent and rapacious my gratitude has made you clowns!..."

Fasolt who has only half-heartedly accepted his brother's decision in favor of the gold, stays to hear no more, but seizes Freia. With a warning that she shall be regarded as a hostage till evening, but that if when they return the Rhinegold is not on the spot as her ransom, they will keep her forever, the giants hurry her off.

Her cry for help rings back. Her brothers, in the act of rushing to the rescue, look at Wotan for his sanction. No encouragement is to be gathered from his face. He stands motionless, steeped in perplexity, in conflict with himself.

 Loge has now a few moments' pure enjoyment in safely tormenting his superiors. He stands, with his fresh, ingenuous air, on a point overlooking the valley, and describes the giants' progress, as does the music, too. "Not happy is Freia, hanging on the back of the rough ones as they wade through the Rhine...." Her dejected kindred wince.

The heavy footsteps die away. Loge returning his attention to the gods, voices his amazement at the sight which meets him: "Am I deceived by a mist? Am I misled by a dream? How wan and fearful and faded you do look! The glow is dead in your cheeks, the lightening quenched in your glances. Froh, it is still early morning! Donner, you are dropping your hammer! What ails Fricka? Is it chagrin to see the greyness of age creeping over Wotan?" Sounds of woe burst from all, save Wotan, who with his eyes on the ground still stands absorbed in gloomy musing.

The solution of the puzzle suddenly, as he feigns, flashes upon Loge: This is the result of Freia's leaving them! They had not yet that morning tasted her apples. Now, of necessity, those golden apples of youth in her garden, which she alone could cultivate, will decay and drop. "Myself," he says, "I shall be less inconvenienced than you, because she was ever grudging to me of the exquisite fruit, for I am only half of as good lineage as you, Resplendent Ones. On the other hand, you depended wholly upon the rejuvenating apples; the giants knew that and are plainly practising against your lives. Now bethink yourselves how to provide against this. Without the apples, old and grey, a mock to the whole world, the dynasty of the gods must perish!"

With sudden resolution, Wotan starts from his dark study. "Up, Loge! Down with me to Nibelheim! I will conquer the gold!"

 "The Rhine-daughters, then," speaks wicked Loge, "may look to have their prayer granted?"

Wotan harshly silences him. "Be still, chatterer!... Freia the good, Freia must be ransomed!"

Loge drops the subject and offers his services as guide. "Shall we descend through the Rhine?"

The Rhine, with its infesting nymphs?...

"Not through the Rhine!" says Wotan.

"Then through the sulphur-cleft slip down with me!" And Loge vanishes down a cleft in the rock, through which Wotan, after bidding his family wait for him where they are until evening, follows.

Thick vapour pours forth from the sulphur-cleft, dimming and shortly blotting out the scene. We are travelling downward into the earth. A dull red glow gradually tinges the vapour. Sounds of diminutive hammers upon anvils become distinct. The orchestra takes up their suggestion and turns it into a simple monotonous strongly rhythmical air—never long silent in this scene—which comes to mean for us the little toiling Nibelungs, the cunning smiths. A great rocky subterranean cave running off on every side into rough shafts, is at last clearly visible, lighted by the ruddy reflection of forge-fires.

This is where Alberich reigns and by the power of the ring compels his enslaved brothers to labour for him. Renouncing love has not been good for the disposition of Alberich. It is not only the insatiable lust of gold and power now darkening the soul-face of the earlier fairly gentle-natured Nibelung, it is a savage gloating cruelty, bespeaking one unnaturally loveless; it is a sanguinary hatred, too, of all who still can love, of love itself, a thirst and determination to see it completely done away with in the world, exterminated—a sort of fallen angel's  sin against the Holy Ghost. A state, beneath the incessant excitement of slave-driving and treasure-amassing, of inexpressible unhappiness, lightened by moments of huge exaltation in the sense of his new power.

We find him, when the cavern glimmers into sight, brutally handling his crumb of a gnome brother. Mime, like Alberich, wins some part of our heart on first acquaintance, which he later ceases to deserve; but in the case of Mime I think it is never wholly withdrawn, even when he is shown to be an unmitigated wretch; he is, to begin with, so little, and he has a funny, fetching twist or quaver in his voice, indicated by the notes themselves of his rather mean little sing-song melodies. Alberich's nominal reason for indulging his present passion for hurting—he is haling Mime by the ear—is that the latter is overslow with certain piece of work which, with minute instructions, he has been ordered to do. Mime, under pressure, produces the article, which he had in truth been trying to keep for his own, suspecting in it some mysterious value. It is the Tarnhelm, a curious cap of linked metal. Its uncanny character is confided to us even before we see it at work, by the motif which first appears with its appearance: a motif preparing for some unearthly manifestation the mind pricked to disquieted attention by the weirdness of the air. Alberich places it upon his head, utters a brief incantation, and disappears from sight. A column of vapour stands in his place.

"Do you see me?" asks Alberich's disembodied voice. Mime looks around, astonished. "Where are you? I see you not!" "Then feel me!" cries the power-drunken tyrant, and Mime winces and cowers under blows from an unseen scourge, while Alberich's voice laughs. Out of measure exhilarated by his successful new device for ensuring diligence and inspiring fear, he storms out of hearing with the terrible  words, "Nibelungs all, bow to Alberich!... He can now be everywhere at once, keeping watch over you. Rest and leisure are done and over with for you! For him you must labour.... His conquered slaves are you forever!" The moment of his overtaking the Nibelungs is indicated by their sudden distant outcry.

Mime has been left crouching and whimpering on the rocky floor. Thus Wotan and Loge find him.

Loge is in all the following scene Wotan's very active vizier, furnishing the invention and carrying out the stratagems. Wotan, except to the eye, takes the background and has little to say; but as the blue of his mantle and the fresh chaplet on his locks strike the eye refreshingly in the fire-reddened cave, so his voice, with echoes in it of the noble upper world, comes like gusts of sweet air.

Loge sets the cowering dwarf on his feet and by artful questions gets the whole story from him of the ring and the Nibelungs' woe. About the Tarnhelm, too, Mime tells Loge. At the recollection of the stripes he has suffered, he rubs his back howling. The gods laugh. That gives Mime the idea that these strangers must be of the great. He is in his turn questioning them, when he hears Alberich's bullying voice approaching. He runs hither and thither in terror and calls to the strangers to look to themselves, Alberich is coming! Wotan quietly seats himself on a stone to await him.

Alberich enters driving before him with his scourge a whole army of little huddling, hurrying Nibelungs, groaning under the weight of great pieces of gold and silver smithwork, which, while he threatens and urges them, they heap in a duskily glimmering mound. In the fancy that they are not obeying fast or humbly enough, he takes the magic ring from his finger, kisses and lifts it commandingly over them, whereupon with  cries of dismay they scramble away, scattering down the shafts, in feverish haste to be digging and delving.

Heavy groans are in the music when it refers to the oppression of the Nibelungs; groans so tragic and seriously presented that they bring up the thought of other oppressions and killing labours than those of the Nibelungs. The music which later depicts the amassing of riches, indicates such horror of strain, such fatigue, such hopeless weariness of heart and soul, that the hearer must think with sharpened sympathy of all that part of humanity which represents the shoulder placed against the wheel.

Alberich turns an angry eye upon the intruders: "What do you want?"

It is then most especially that the calm notes of Wotan fall healingly upon the sense: They have heard tales of novel events in Nibelheim, of mighty wonders worked there by Alberich, and are come from curiosity to witness these.

After this simple introduction from the greater personage, his light-foot, volatile, graceful minister takes Alberich in hand and practising confidently upon his intoxicated conceit of power, his pride in the cleverness which had contrived ring and wishing-cap, uses him like a puppet of which all the strings should be in his hand.

Alberich recognises in Loge an old enemy. Loge's reply to Alberich's, "I know you well enough, you and your kind!" is perhaps, with its cheerful dancing flicker, his prettiest bit of self-description. "You know me, childish elf? Then, say, who am I, that you should be surly? In the cold hollow where you lay shivering, how would you have had light and cheering warmth, if Loge had never laughed for you?..."

But Alberich seems to remember too many reasons for distrusting him. "I can now, however," he boasts, "defy you  all!" and he calls to their notice the heaped riches,—the Hort.

"But," remarks Wotan, "of what use is all that wealth in cheerless Nibelheim, where there is nothing to buy?"

"Nibelheim," replies Alberich, "is good to furnish treasures and to keep them safe. But when they form a sufficient heap, I shall use them to make myself master of the world!"

"And how, my good fellow, shall you accomplish this?"

Alberich has apprehended in this guest one of the immortals,—which, taken into consideration a speech suggestive every time it resounds of calm heights and stately circumstances, is not strange. Alberich hates him, hates them all. This is his exposition of his plan: "You who, lapped in balmy airs, live, laugh, and love up there, with a golden fist I shall catch you all! Even as I renounced love, all that lives shall renounce it! Ensnared and netted in gold, you shall care for gold only! You immortal revellers, cradling yourselves on blissful heights in exquisite pastimes, you despise the black elf! Have a care!... For when you men have come to be the servants of my power, your sweetly adorned women, who would despise the dwarf's love, since he cannot hope for love, shall be forced to serve his pleasure. Ha ha! Do you hear? Have a care, have a care, I say, of the army of the night, when the riches of the Nibelungs once climb into the light!"

Wotan, whose Olympian self-sufficiency is usually untroubled by what any mean other-person may say, at this cannot contain himself, but starting to his feet cries out a command for the blasphemous fool's annihilation! Before Alberich, however, has caught the words—his deafness perhaps it is which saves his life—Loge has called Wotan back to his reason. Practising on Alberich's not completely outlived simplicity, he by the ruse of feigning himself very stupid and greatly impressed  by his cleverness, now induces him to show off for their greater amazement the power of the Tarnhelm, which it appears has not only the trick of making the wearer at will invisible, but of lending him whatever shape he may choose. Later we find that it has also the power to transport the wearer at pleasure to the ends of the earth in a moment of time.

To put Loge's incredulity to shame, Alberich, Tarnhelm on head, turns himself into a dragon, drawing its cumbersome length across the stage to a fearsome tune which gives all of its uncouthness, and never fails to call forth laughter, like the giants' tread. As a further exhibition of his power, after full measure of flattery in Loge's pretended fright, he at the prompting of the same changes himself into a toad, which has but time for a hop or two, before Wotan places his calm foot upon it. Loge snatches the Tarnhelm off its head and Alberich is seen in his own person writhing under Wotan. Loge binds him fast, and the gods, with their struggling prey between them, hurry off through the pass by which they came.

Then reoccurs, but reversed, the transformation between Nibelheim and the upper world. The region of the stithies is passed, the little hammers are heard. At last Wotan and Loge with Alberich reappear through the sulphur-cleft.

"Look, beloved," says Loge to the unhappy captive, "there lies the world which you think of conquering for your own. Tell me now, what little corner in it do you intend as a kennel for me?" And he dances around him, snapping his fingers to the prettiest, heartlessly merry fire-music.

Alberich replies with raving insult. Wotan's cool voice reminds him of the vanity of this and calls him to the consideration of his ransom. When Alberich, after a time, grumblingly inquires what they will have, he says, largely and frankly, "The treasure, your shining gold."

 If he can only retain the ring, reflects Alberich, the loss of the treasure may be quickly repaired. At his request they free his right hand; he touches the ring with his lips and murmurs the spell by which after a moment the swarm of little smoke-grimed Nibelungs arrives groaning and straining under the weight of the Hort; again they pile it in a heap, and at Alberich's command scurry home.

"Now I have paid, now let me go," says the humbled Nibelung-lord, "and that helmet-like ornament which Loge is holding, have the kindness to give it me back." But Loge flings the Tarnhelm on the heap as part of the ransom. Hard to bear is this, but Mime can after all forge another. "Now you have gotten everything; now, you cruel ones, loose the thongs." But Wotan remarks, "You have a gold ring upon your finger; that, I think, belongs with the rest." At this, a madness of terror seizes Alberich. "The ring?..." "You must leave it for ransom." "My life—but not the ring!" With that bitter coldness of the aristocrat which in time brings about revolutions, Wotan replies, "It is the ring I ask for—with your life do what you please!" The dull Nibelung pleads still after that, and his words contain thorns which he might reasonably expect to tell: "The thing which I, anguish-harried and curse-crowned, earned through a horrible renunciation, you are to have for your own as a pleasant princely toy?... If I sinned, I sinned solely against myself, but against all that has been, is, or shall be, do you, Immortal, sin, if you wrest this ring from me...."

Wotan without further discussion stretches out his hand and tears from Alberich's finger the ring, which gives once more, under this violence, the golden call, saddened and distorted. "Here, the ring!—Your chattering does not establish your right to it!" Alberich drops to earth, felled. Wotan places  the ring on his hand and stands in gratified contemplation of it. "I hold here what makes me the mightiest lord of the mighty!"

Loge unties Alberich and bids him slip home. But the Nibelung is past care or fear, and rising to insane heights of hatred lays upon the ring such a curse as might well shake its owner's complacency. "As it came to me through a curse, accursed be this ring! As it lent me power without bounds, let its magic now draw death upon the wearer! Let no possessor of it be happy.... Let him who owns it be gnawed by care and him who owns it not be gnawed by envy! Let every one covet, no one enjoy it!... Appointed to death, fear-ridden let its craven master be! While he lives, let his living be as dying! The ring's master be the ring's slave,—until my stolen good return to me!... Now keep it! Guard it well! My curse you shall not escape!"

"Did you hear his affectionate greeting?" asks Loge, when Alberich has vanished down the rocky cleft.

Wotan, absorbed in the contemplation of the ring, has heard the curse with the same degree of interest he might have bestowed upon the trickle of a brook. He replies magnanimously, "Grudge him not the luxury of railing!"

Fricka, Donner, and Froh hasten to welcome the returning gods. The approach of Freia, whom the giants are bringing between them, is felt before she appears, in a subtle sweetening of the air, a simultaneous lightening of all the hearts and return of youth to the faces, which Froh's daintily expansive greeting describes.

Fricka is hurrying toward her. Fasolt interposes: Not to be touched! She still belongs to them until the ransom have been paid. Fasolt does not fall in willingly with the arrangement which shall give them the gold in place of the  woman; he has been overpersuaded by the black brother; his regret at losing Freia is so great, he tells the gods, that the treasure, if she is to be relinquished, will have to be piled so high as completely to hide the blooming maid.

"Let it be measured according to Freia's stature!" decrees Wotan, and the giants drive their great staves into the earth so that they roughly frame the figure of Freia. Helped by Loge and Froh, they begin stopping the space between with the treasure. Wotan's fastidiousness cannot endure the visible sordid details of his bargain; he turns from the sight of the incarnate rose, as she stands drooping in a noble shame, to be valued against so much gold. "Hasten with the work!" he bids them, "it sorely goes against me!" When Fafner's rough greed orders the measure to be more solidly pressed down, and he ducks spying for crevices still to be stopped with gold, Wotan turns away, soul-sick: "Humiliation burns deep in my breast!"

The Hort is exhausted, when Fafner looking for crannies exclaims, "I can still see the shining of her hair," and demands, to shut it from view, the Tarnhelm which Loge has attempted to retain. "Let it go!" commands Wotan, when Loge hesitates.

The affair, it now would seem, must be closed; but Fasolt, in his grief over the loss of the Fair one, still hovers about, peering if perchance he may still see her, and so he catches through the screen of gold the gleam of her eye, and declares that so long as the lovely glance is visible he will not renounce the woman.

"But can you not see, there is no more gold?" remonstrates Loge. Fafner, who has not failed to store in his brain what he earlier overheard, replies, "Nothing of the kind. There is a gold ring still on Wotan's finger. Give us that to stop the cranny."

 "This ring?..." cries Wotan, like Alberich before him.

"Be advised," Loge says to the giants, as if in confidence. "That ring belongs to the Rhine-maidens. Wotan intends to return it to them."

But Wotan has no subterfuges or indirections of his own—not conscious ones; when he needs their aid, he uses another, as he had told Fricka. "What are you prating?" he corrects Loge; "what I have obtained with such difficulty, I shall keep without compunction for myself." Loge amuses himself with probing further the grained spot in his superior. "My promise then stands in bad case, which I made to the Rhine-daughters when they turned to me in their trouble." Wotan, with the coldness of the Pharisee's "Look thou to that," replies, "Your promise does not bind me. The ring, my capture, I shall keep."

"But you will have to lay it down with the ransom," Fafner insists.

"Ask what else you please, you shall have it; but not for the whole world will I give up the ring."

Fasolt instantly lays hands again upon Freia and draws her from behind the Hort. "Everything then stands as it stood before. Freia shall come with us now for good and all." An outcry of appeal goes up from all the gods to Wotan. He turns from them unmoved. "Trouble me not. The ring I will not give up." And the idleness of further appeal, howsoever eloquent, cannot be doubted.

But now unaccountable darkness invades the scene; from the hollow alcove in the rocks, letting down to the interior earth, breaks a bluish light; while all, breathless, watch the strange phenomenon, the upper half of a woman becomes discernible in it, wrapped in smoke-coloured veils and long black locks. It is the Spirit of the Earth, the all-knowing Erda,  whose motif describes the stately progression of natural things, and is the same as the Rhine-motif, which describes a natural thing in stately progression. She lifts a warning hand to Wotan. "Desist, Wotan, desist! Avoid the curse on the ring... The possession of it will doom you to dark ruin...."

Wotan, struck, inquires in awe, "Who are you, warning woman?"

The one who knows all that was, is, and shall be, she tells him; the ancestress of the everlasting world, older than time; the mother of the Norns who speak with Wotan nightly. Gravest danger has brought her to seek him in person. Let him hear and heed! The present order is passing away. There is dawning for the gods a dark day.... At this prophesied ruin, the music reverses the motif of ascending progression, and paints melancholy disintegration and crumbling downfall, a strain to be heard many times in the closing opera of the trilogy, when the prophecy comes to pass and the gods enter their twilight. The apparition is sinking back into the earth. Wotan beseeches it to tarry and tell him more. But with the words, "You are warned.... Meditate in sorrow and fear!" it vanishes. The masterful god attempts to follow, to wrest from the weird woman further knowledge. His wife and her brothers hold him back. He stands for a time still hesitating, uncertain, wrapped in thought. With sudden resolve at last he tosses the ring with the rest of the treasure, and turns heart-wholly to greet Freia returning among them, bringing back their lost youth.

While the gods are expressing tender rapture over the restoration of Freia, and she goes from one to the other receiving their caresses, Fafner spreads open a gigantic sack and in this is briskly stuffing the gold. Fasolt, otherwise preoccupied,  had not thought to bring a sack. He attempts to stay Fafner's too active hand. "Hold on, you grasping one, leave something for me! An honest division will be best for us both!" Fafner objects, "You, amorous fool, cared more for the maid than the gold. With difficulty I persuaded you to the exchange. You would haved wooed Freia without thought of division, wherefore in the division of the spoil I shall still be generous if I keep the larger half for myself." Fasolt's anger waxes great. He calls upon the gods to judge between them and divide the treasure justly. Wotan turns from his appeal with characteristic contempt. Loge, the mischief-lover, whispers to Fasolt, "Let him take the treasure, do you but reserve the ring!" Fafner has during this not been idle, but has sturdily filled his sack; the ring is on his hand. Fasolt demands it in exchange for Freia's glance. He snatches at it, Fafner defends it, and when in the wrestling which ensues Fasolt has forced it from his brother, the latter lifts his tree-trunk and strikes him dead. Having taken the ring from his hand, he leisurely proceeds to finish his packing, while the gods stand around appalled, and the air shudderingly resounds with the notes of the curse. A long, solemn silence follows. Fafner is seen, after a time, shouldering the sack, into which the whole of the glimmering Hort has disappeared, and, bowed under its weight, leaving for home.

"Dreadful," says Wotan, deeply shaken; "I now perceive to be the power of the curse!" Sorrow and fear lie crushingly upon his spirit. Erda, who warned him of the power of the curse, now proven before his eyes, warned him likewise of worse things, of old order changing, a dark day dawning for the gods. He must seek Erda, learn more, have counsel what to do. He is revolving such thoughts when Fricka, who believes all their trouble now ended, approaches him with sweet  words, and directs his eyes to the beautiful dwelling hospitably awaiting its masters. "An evil price I paid for the building!" Wotan replies heavily.

Mists are still hanging over the valley, clinging to the heights; nor have the clouds yet wholly lifted from their spirits. Donner, to clear the atmosphere, conjures a magnificent storm, by the blow of his hammer bringing about thunder and lightning. When the black cloud disperses which for a moment enveloped him and Froh on the high rock from which he directs this festival of the elements, a bright rainbow appears, forming a bridge between the rock and the castle now shining in sunset light. A bridge of music is here built, too; the tremulous weaving of it in tender and gorgeous colours is seen through the ear, and its vaulting the valley with an easy overarching spring. Froh, architect of the bridge, bids the gods walk over it fearlessly: It is light but will prove solid under their feet.

Wotan stands sunk in contemplation of the castle; his reflections, still upon the shameful circumstances of his bargain, are not happy. In the midst of them he is struck by a great thought, and recovers his courage and hardihood. The sharp, bright, resolute motif which represents his inspiration is afterward indissolubly connected with the Sword,—a sword aptly embodying his idea, which is one of defence for his castle and clan. A suggestion of his idea is contained, too, in the word which he gives to Fricka as the castle's name, when he now invites her to accompany him thither: Walhalla, Hall of the Slain in Battle, or, Hall of Heroes.

Headed by Wotan and Fricka, the gods ascend toward the bridge. Loge looks after them in mingled irony and contempt. "There they hasten to their end, who fancy themselves so firmly established in being. I am almost ashamed to have anything to do with them...." And he revolves in his mind a Page 68 scheme for turning into elemental fire again and burning them all up, those blind gods. He is nonchalantly adding himself to their train, when from the Rhine below rises the lament of the Rhine-daughters, begging that their gold may be given back to them. Wotan pauses with his foot on the bridge: "What wail is that?" Loge enlightens him, and, at Wotan's annoyed, "Accursed nixies! Stop their importunity!" calls down to them, "You, down there in the water, what are you complaining about? Hear what Wotan bids: No longer having the gold to shine for you, make yourselves happy basking in the sunshine of this new pomp of the gods!" Loud laughter from the gods greets this sally, and they pass over the bridge, Walhalla-ward, followed by the water-nymphs' wail for their lost gold, closing with the reproach, "Only in the pleasant water-depths is truth; false and cowardly are those making merry up there!" With Walhalla and rainbow shedding a radiance around them of which we are made conscious through the delighted sense of hearing, the curtain falls.

So we lose sight of them, moving into their new house; in spite of their glory a little like the first family of the county. But while to triumphant strains they seek their serene stronghold, we know that the lines have been laid for disaster. The Ring is in the world, with its terrific power; and there is in the world one whom wrong has turned into a deadly enemy, whose soul is undividedly bent upon getting possession of the Ring, which Wotan may not himself attempt to get—stopped, if not by Erda's warning or by terror of the curse, by the fact that he finally gave it to the giants in payment of an acknowledged debt, and that his spear stands precisely for honor in relations of the sort.





It was in 1848, after the completion of Tannhäuser, that Wagner looked about for a subject for a new opera. Then ‘for the last time the conflicting claims of History and Legend presented themselves.’ He had studied the story of Barbarossa, intending to make use of it, but discarded it in favour of the Nibelungen Myths, which he decided to dramatise. 1  His first effort was an alliterative poem entitled ‘The Death of Siegfried,’ which, however, was soon set aside, a part of it only being incorporated in ‘The Twilight [or Dusk] of the Gods.’

Wagner was then dwelling in Dresden, and planning the organisation of a national theatre; but the political troubles of 1849, which resulted in his banishment, soon defeated all these hopes. After a short sojourn in Paris, Wagner took up his abode in Zurich, where he became a naturalised citizen, and where he first turned all his attention to the principal work of his life,—‘The Nibelungen Ring.’ In connection with this work Wagner himself wrote: ‘When I tried to dramatise the most important moment of the mythos of the Nibelungen in Siegfried's Tod, I found it necessary to indicate a vast number of antecedent facts, so as to put the main incidents in the proper light. But I could only narrate these subordinate matters, whereas I felt it imperative that they should be embodied in the action. Thus I came to write Siegfried. But here again the same difficulty troubled me. Finally I wrote “Die Walküre” and “Das Rheingold,” and thus contrived to incorporate all that was needful to make the action tell its own tale.’ The completed poem was privately printed in 1853, and published ‘as a literary product’ ten years later, when the author was in his fiftieth year.

As for the score, it was begun in 1853, and Wagner says: ‘During a sleepless night at an inn at Spezzia, the music of “Das Rheingold” occurred to me; straightway I turned homeward and set to work.’ Such was the energy with which he laboured that the complete score of the Rheingold was finished in 1854. Two years later the music to the Walkyrie was all done, and Siegfried begun. But pecuniary difficulties now forced the master to undertake more immediately remunerative work, and, ‘tired of heaping one silent score upon another,’ he undertook and finished ‘Tristan and Ysolde.’ He then thought he would never be able to finish his grand work, and wrote: ‘I can hardly expect to find leisure to complete the music, and I have dismissed all hope that I may live to see it performed.’

Fortunately for him, however, Ludwig II. of Bavaria had heard ‘Lohengrin’ when only sixteen, and, a passionate lover of music and art, he had become an enthusiastic admirer of the great composer. One of the very first acts of his reign was, therefore, to despatch his own private secretary to Wagner with the message, ‘Come here and finish your work.’

As this message was backed by a small pension which would enable the musician to keep the wolf from the door, he hopefully went to Munich. But, in spite of the sovereign's continued favour, Wagner found so many enemies that the sojourn there became very unpleasant. It was then that the architect Semper made the first plans for a theatre, in which the king intended that ‘The Nibelungen Ring’ should be played, as he had formally commissioned Wagner to complete the work.

Driven away from his native land once more by the bitterness of his enemies, Wagner, who still enjoyed Ludwig's entire favour, withdrew in 1865 to Triebschen, where the ‘Ring’ progressed steadily. It was there, in 1869, that he completed the Siegfried score, and began that of ‘The Twilight of the Gods,’ which was finished only some time later. As the King's plan for building a national theatre for the representation of ‘The Nibelungen Ring’ had to be abandoned, the scheme was taken up by the municipality of the little town of Bayreuth. Wagner was cordially invited to take up his residence there, and settled in his new home in 1872, when he was already sixty years of age.

Thanks to munificent private subscriptions secured in great part by the Wagner societies in various parts of the world, the long planned theatre was finally begun. It was finished in 1876, and the entire ‘Nibelungen Ring’ was performed there in the month of August, the very best singers of the day taking all the principal parts, which they rendered to the best of their abilities. The result was a magnificent performance, a musical triumph; but as the venture was not a financial success, the performances were not repeated in the following summer. Several new ventures, however, were made, and another Wagner festival has just taken place, of which the real result is yet unknown, although the attendance was very large, the audience being composed of people from all parts of the world. Thus Wagner completed and rendered the series of operas, which include plays ‘for three days and a fore evening,’ whence the series is generally called a ‘trilogy,’ although it is really composed of four whole operas.

Away down in the translucent depths of the Rhine, three beautiful nymphs, Woglinde, Wellgunde, and Flosshilde, daughters of the river-god, dart in and out among the jagged rocks. They have been stationed there to guard the Rhinegold, the priceless treasure of the deep, whence comes all the warm golden light which illumines the utmost recesses of their dark and damp abode.

The nymphs suddenly pause in their merry game, for the wily dwarf Alberich has emerged from one of the sombre chasms. He is a Nibelung, a spirit of night and darkness, and slowly gropes his way to one of the upper ridges, whence he can see the graceful forms of the nymphs, watch their merry evolutions, and overhear them repeatedly admonish each other to keep watch over the gleaming treasure, which their father, the Rhinegod, has intrusted to their keeping, warning them that just such a dark and misshapen creature as the dwarf would try to wrest it from their grasp:—

‘Guard the gold!
Father said
That such was the foe.’

But all Alberich's senses are fascinated by the water-nymphs' beauty, and he soon falls madly in love with them, and makes almost superhuman efforts to overtake the mocking fair. Hotly he pursues them from ridge to ridge, yielding to the blandishments of one after another, and is beside himself with rage as they deftly escape from his clasp just as he fancies he has at last caught them. The fair nymphs, who know they have nothing to fear from so infatuated a lover, swim hither and thither, tantalising him by their nearness, and lure him up and down the rocky river-bed.

They have just exhausted his patience, and driven him wild with impotent rage, when the green waters are suddenly illumined by the phosphorescent glow of the Rhinegold, the treasure whose presence they hail with a rapturous outburst of song, and whose secret power they extol:—

‘The realm of the world
By him shall be won
Who from the Rhinegold
Hath wrought the ring
Imparting measureless power.’ 2 

The dwarf, attracted by the brilliant light, hears their words at first without paying any attention to them; but when they repeat that he who is willing to forego love can fashion a ring from this gold which will make him master of all the world, he starts with surprise. Fascinated at last by the glow of the treasure, and forgetting all thoughts of love in greed, he suddenly grasps the carelessly guarded gold and plunges with it down into the depths, leaving the three nymphs to bewail its loss in utter darkness.

Little by little the gloom lightens, however, and instead of the river bed the scene represents the green valley through which the Rhine is flowing. In the gray dawn one can descry the high hills on either side, and as the light increases Wotan and Fricka, the principal deities of Northern mythology, are seen lying on the flowery slopes.

As they gently awaken from their peaceful slumbers, the morning mists entirely disappear, revealing in the background the fairy-like beauty of a wondrous palace which has just been completed for their abode. This sight startles Fricka, for she knows that the assembled gods have promised that Fasolt and Fafnir, the gigantic builders, should have sun and moon and the fair Freya as fee. To lose the bright luminaries of the world were bad enough, but Fricka's dismay is still greater at the prospect of parting forever with the fair goddess of beauty and youth. In her sorrow she bitterly regrets that the promise has been made and rendered inviolable by being inscribed on her husband's spear, and reproves him for the joy he shows in viewing the completion of his future abode:—

‘In delight thou revel'st
When I am alarmed?
Thou 'rt glad of the fortress,
For Freya I fear.
Bethink thee, thou thoughtless god,
Of the guerdon now to be given!
The castle is finished,
And forfeit the pledge.
Forgettest thou what is engaged?’

Thus suddenly brought to his senses, Wotan, king of the Northern gods, protests that he never really intended to part with the beauty, light, and sweetness of life, and seeks to excuse himself by urging that Loge, the god of fire and the arch-deceiver, overpersuaded him by promising to find some way of escape from the fatal bargain:—

‘He whom I hearkened to swore
To find a safety for Freya;
On him my hope have I set.’

They are still discussing the matter, and eagerly wondering why Loge does not appear, when Freya comes rushing wildly upon the stage, with fear-blanched face and trembling limbs, breathlessly imploring the father of the gods to save her from the two huge giants in close pursuit. In her terror she also summons her devoted brothers, Donner and Fro. But, in spite of the strength of these potent gods of the sunshine and thunder, the giants boldly advance, boasting aloud of their achievement, and demanding the fulfilment of the stipulated contract.

The gods are almost at their wits' end with anxiety, when Loge, god of fire, appears. They loudly clamour to him to keep his word and release them from the consequences of their rash bargain. In reply to this summons, Loge declares he has wandered everywhere in search of something more precious than youth and love, and that he has utterly failed to find it. No one, he says, is ready to relinquish these blessed gifts,—no one except Alberich, who has bartered love for the gleaming treasure which he has just stolen from the Rhine nymphs. Loge concludes his speech by delivering to Wotan an imploring message from the defrauded maidens, who summon him to avenge their wrongs and help them to recover the stolen gold. The description of the gleaming treasure, of the power of the ring which Alberich has fashioned out of it, and especially of the immense hoard which he has amassed by the unlimited sway which the ring enables him to wield over all the underground folk, has so greatly fascinated the giants, that, after a few moments' consultation, they step forward, offering to relinquish all claim to the previously promised reward, providing the hoard is theirs ere nightfall. This said, they bear the shrieking and reluctant Freya away as a hostage, and vanish in the distance.

As they depart, the light suddenly grows wan and dim. The goddess who has just departed is the dispenser of the golden apples of perennial youth according to Wagner, and, as she vanishes, the gods, deprived of the substance which keeps them ever young, suddenly lose all their vigour and bloom, and grow visibly old and gray, to their openly expressed dismay:—

‘Without the apples,
Old and hoar—
Hoarse and helpless—
Worth not a dread to the world,
The dying gods must grow.’

This sudden change, especially in his beloved wife Fricka, determines Wotan to secure the gold at any price, and he bids Loge lead the way to Alberich's realm, following him bravely down through a deep cleft in the rock, whence rises a dense mist, which soon blots the whole scene from view.

In the mean while, the dwarf Alberich has conveyed the gleaming Rhinegold to his underground dwelling, where, mindful of the nymphs' words, he has forced his brother and slave, the smith Mime, to fashion a ring. No sooner has Alberich put on this trinket than he finds himself endowed with unlimited power, which he uses to oppress all his race, and to pile up a mighty hoard, for the greed of gold has now filled all his thoughts. Fearful lest any one should wrest the precious ring from him, he next directs Mime to make a helmet of gold, the magic tarn-helm, which will render the wearer invisible. Mime is at work at his underground forge, and has just finished the helmet which he intends to appropriate to his own use to escape thraldom, when Alberich suddenly appears, snatches it from his trembling hand, and, placing it upon his head, becomes invisible to all. The malicious dwarf misuses this power to torture Mime with his whip, and rushes off to lash the dwarfs in the rear of the cave as Wotan and Loge suddenly appear. Of course their first impulse is to inquire the cause of Mime's writhing and bitter cries, and from him they hear how Alberich has become lord of the Nibelungs by the might of his ring and magic helmet. In corroboration of this statement, the gods soon behold a long train of dwarfs toiling across the cave, bending beneath their burdens of gold and precious stones, and driven incessantly onward by Alberich's whip, which he plies with merciless vigour. He is visible now, for he has hung the magic helmet to his belt; but he no sooner becomes aware of the gods' presence than he strides up to them, and haughtily demands their name and business. Disarmed a little by Wotan's answer, that they have heard of his new might and have come to ascertain whether the accounts were true, Alberich boasts of his power to compel all to bow before his will, and says he can even change his form, thanks to his magic helmet. At Loge's urgent request, the dwarf then gives them an exhibition of his power by changing himself first into a huge loathsome dragon, and next into a repulsive toad. While in this shape he is made captive by the gods, deprived of his tarn-helm, and compelled to surrender his hoard as the price of his liberty. Before departing, Wotan even wrests from his grasp the golden ring, to which he desperately clings, for he knows that as long as it remains in his possession he will have the power to collect more gold. In his rage at being deprived of it, Alberich hurls his curse after the gods, declaring the ring will ever bring death and destruction to the possessor:—

‘As by curse I found it first,
A curse rest on the ring!
Gave its gold
To me measureless might,
Now deal its wonder
Death where it is worn!’

This curse uttered, he disappears, and while mist invades the place the scene changes, and Loge and Wotan stand once more on the grassy slopes, where Fricka, Donner, and Fro hasten to welcome them, and to inquire concerning the success of their enterprise. Almost at the same moment, the giants Fasolt and Fafnir also appear, leading Freya, whom Fricka would fain embrace, but who is withheld from her longing arms. The grim giants vow that no one shall even touch their fair captive until they have received a pile of gold as high as their staffs, which they drive into the ground, and wide enough to screen the goddess entirely. Thus admonished, Loge and Fro pile up the gleaming treasure, which is surmounted by the glittering helmet, whose power the giants do not know. Freya is entirely hidden, and only a chink remains through which the giants can catch a glimpse of her golden hair. They insist upon having this chink closed up ere they will relinquish Freya, so Wotan is forced to give up the magic ring. But he draws it from his finger only when Erda, the shadowy earth goddess, half rises out of the ground to command the sacrifice of the treasure which Alberich stole from the Rhine maidens.

As the stipulated ransom has all been paid, the giants release Freya. She joyfully embraces her kin, and under her caresses they recover all their former youth and bloom. In the mean while the giants produce their bags, but soon begin quarrelling together about the division of the hoard, and appeal to the gods to decide their dispute. The gods are all too busy to pay any heed to this request, all except the malicious Loge, who slyly advises Fafnir to seize the ring and pay no heed to the rest. As the ring is accursed, Fafnir remorselessly slays his brother to obtain it; then, packing up all the treasure in his great bag, he triumphantly departs. To disperse the shadow hovering over Wotan's brow ever since he has been obliged to sacrifice the ring, Thor now beats the rocks with his magic hammer, and conjures a brief storm. The long roll of thunder soon dies away, and when the fitful play of the lightning is ended Thor shows the assembled gods a glittering rainbow bridge of quivering, changing hues, which stretches from the valley where they are standing to the beautiful portals of the wondrous palace Walhalla, the home of the gods!

Fascinated by this sight, Wotan invites the gods to follow him over its lightly swung arch, and as they trip over the rainbow bridge, the lament of the Rhine-maidens mourning their treasure falls in slow, pitiful cadences upon their ears:—

Purest gold!
O would that thy light
Waved in the waters below!
Unfailing faith
Is found in the deep,
While above, in delight,
Faintness and falsehood abide!’




by Emil Doepler





Wotan's idea, from which the abode of the gods received its name of Walhalla, had been to people his halls with hordes of heroes who should defend it from Alberich and his "army of the night."

Erda's prophecy of a dark day dawning for the gods had destroyed Wotan's peace. The craving to know more of this drove him to seek her in the depths of the earth. He cast upon her the spell of love and constrained her to speak. It does not appear that he gained from her any clear knowledge of the future; he learned chiefly, as we gather, what were the dangers besetting him. The end threatened through Alberich's forces, which, however, could not prevail against the heroic garrison of Walhalla unless Alberich should recover the Ring; through the power of the Ring he would be able to estrange the heroes from Wotan and, turning their arms against him, overcome him. "When the dark enemy of love (Alberich) in wrath shall beget a son," so ran Erda's warning, "the end of the Blessed shall not be long delayed!"

From Erda was born to Wotan a daughter, so near to her father's heart that she seemed an incarnation of his most intimate wish, his very will embodied; so part of himself she knew his unspoken thought. This was Brünnhilde (from Brünne,  corslet). With eight other daughters,—born to Wotan from "the tie of lawless love," as we learn from Fricka in her tale of wrongs—Brünnhilde, the dearest to him of all, followed her father to battle, serving him as Valkyrie. These warlike maidens hovered over the battle-field, directing the fortune of the day according to Wotan's determination, protecting this combatant and seeing his death-doom executed upon the other; they seized the heroes as they fell, and bore them to Walhalla to form part of Wotan's guard. From these "Slain in Battle" it was that Walhalla had its name. To make great their number, Wotan, who earlier had by laws and compacts tried to bind men to peace, now breathed into them a rough, bellicose spirit, goaded them on to quarrel and revolt.

That the end of the gods, if prophecy must fulfill itself, should not be a contemptible or pitiful one, that was Wotan's preoccupation,—to save, if nothing more, the dignity of the Eternals; with this in view, to keep Alberich from recovering the Ring, by which he might work such really disgusting havoc. The Ring was in the possession of Fafner, who had turned himself into a dragon, and in a lonely forest-girt cave guarded it and the rest of the treasure of the Nibelungen, for the sake of which he had killed Fasolt, his brother. Wotan, as we have seen, could not wrest from him the Ring which he himself had given in payment for the building of Walhalla: for the honour of his spear he must not attempt it. Alberich, not bound as he was to keep his hands off it, must infallibly and indefatigably be devising means to regain possession of it. It was plain to Wotan that he must find some one to do that which he himself could not, some one, who, unprompted by him, should yet accomplish his purposes, some one free as he was not. This tool who was yet not to be his tool, since a god's good faith demanded that neither directly nor indirectly he  should meddle with the Ring, Wotan supposed he had created for himself in Siegmund, born to him, with a twin sister, Sieglinde, of a human mother. This boy with whom, in human disguise, under the names of Wälse and Wolf,—Wolf for his enemies, Wälse for his kindred,—he lived in the wild woods, he reared in a spirit of lawlessness, wild courage, disregard of the gods. We must suppose it to have been for the sake of preventing association with women from softening his disposition that, while Siegmund was a child, Wotan, sacrificing to the hardness of fibre it was his object to produce, permitted the catastrophe which deprived the boy of mother and sister. Returning home from a day's wild chase,—hunters and hunted alike human,—father and son found their dwelling burned to the ground, the mother slain, the sister gone. They lived for years together after that, in the woods, always in conflict with enemies, of whom their peculiar daring and strength raised them an infinite number. In time, when the son was well grown, Wotan forsook him, left him to complete his development alone, under the harsh training of the calamities and sorrows fatally incident to the temper and manner of viewing things which that father had bred in him. The lad received the usage of a sword in the forging, extremes of furnace and ice-brook. So he stood at last, Wotan's pupil and finished instrument, an embodied defiance of the law and the gods, proper to do the work which the law of the gods forbade. Some defence against the wrath which he must inevitably rouse, his father could not but feel impelled to provide, yet could he not, without violating the honour which in his simple-minded way he was striving to preserve intact, give it to him directly. He could not bestow upon him outright a Sieges-schwert—magical sword which ensured victory. But he placed one where the young man should find it.

 The piece opens with the blustering music of a storm, whose violence is rapidly dying down.

The curtain rises upon the interior of Hunding's very primitive dwelling, built about a great ash-tree whose trunk stands in view. Siegmund, predestined to be ever at strife with his fellow-man, in circumstances of peculiar distress seeks the shelter of Hunding's roof. We see him burst into the empty hall, staggering and panting. His spear and shield have splintered beneath the enemies' strokes; deprived of arms, he has been forced to flee; he has been so hotly pursued, so beaten by the storm, that upon reaching this refuge he can no more than drop beside the hearth and lie there, exhausted.

It is his sister's house to which fate has led him, where, ill-starred and unhappy like himself, this other child of Wälse's lives, in subjection to Hunding, her lord, who has come by her through some obscure commerce, and to whom she is no more than part of the household baggage.

Hearing the rustle of Siegmund's entrance, Sieglinde hurries in, and, beholding a stranger outstretched upon the ground, stops short to observe him. The strength of the prostrate body cannot fail to strike her. At his gasped call for water, she hurries to fetch it from the spring out of doors. His perishing need is shown in the devotion with which he drains the horn she hands him. His eyes, as he returns it, are arrested by her face, and dwell upon it with fearless lingering scrutiny—while the strain for the first time trembles upon the air which, singing the love of Siegmund and Sieglinde, is to caress our hearing so many times more. His fatigue has magically vanished. He asks to whom he owes the refreshment afforded him. When, at her reply and request that he shall await Hunding's return, he refers to himself as an unarmed and wounded guest, she eagerly inquires of his wounds. But he jumps up, shaking  off all thought of wounds or weariness. His succinct narrative of the circumstances which have brought him to her hearth, he brings to a close: "But faster than I vanished from the mob of my pursuers, my weariness has vanished from me. Night lay across my eyelids,—the sun now smiles upon me anew!" She offers the guest mead to drink, at his prayer tasting it before him. As he returns the emptied horn, again his eyes dwell upon her face, with an emotion ever increasing. Both gaze in simple undisguised intensity of interest. There is a long moment's silence between them. Then, at the love he feels surging in his bosom, remembrance comes to Siegmund of what he is,—a man so ill-fated that it may well be feared his ill-fortune shall infect those with whom he comes into contact. "You have relieved an ill-fated man," he warns her, his voice unsteady with the pang of this recognition, "may his wish turn ill-fortune from you! Sweetly have I rested.... I will now fare further on my way!" As he turns to the door she detains him with the quick cry: "What pursues you, that you should thus flee?" He answers, slowly and sadly: "Misfortune pursues me wherever I flee. Misfortune meets me wherever I go. From you, woman, may it remain afar! I turn from you my footsteps and my glance." His hand is on the latch, when her sharp involuntary exclamation stops him: "Stay, then! You cannot bring sorrow into a house where sorrow is already at home!" Deeply shaken by her words, he fixes his eyes questioningly upon her. She meets them for a moment, then drops her own, sad and half-ashamed. The motif of the Wälsungen well expresses the nobility in misfortune of these poor children of Wälse. Siegmund returns quietly to the hearth: "Wehwalt is my name for myself. I will await Hunding." (Weh: woe, sorrow, calamity, pain; wallen: to govern. Wehwalt: lord of sorrows.) There is no  further exchange of words while they wait, but in complete unashamed absorption they gaze at each other, and the music tells beautifully how it is within their hearts. Hunding's horn is heard. (Hund: hound. It was, as we learn later, this amiable personage's custom to hunt his enemies with a pack of dogs.) Startled from her trance, Sieglinde listens, and hastens to open. Hunding appears in the doorway, a dark figure, in helmet, shield and spear. At sight of the stranger, he questions his wife with a look. "I found the man on the hearth, spent with weariness. Necessity brings him to our house," she explains. There is some sternness apparently in Hunding's tone as he inquires: "Have you offered him refreshment?" for Siegmund, rash and instantaneous in the woman's defence, speaks, hard on the heels of her answer: "I have to thank her for shelter and drink. Will you therefor chide your wife?" But Hunding, at his best in this moment, without retort welcomes the guest: "Sacred is my hearth, sacred to you be my house!" and orders his wife to set forth food for them. Catching Sieglinde's eyes unconsciously fixed upon Siegmund, he glances quickly from one to the other, and is struck by the resemblance between them; but the luminous look they have in common he defines, with the constitutional dislike of his kind to that freer, more generous type: "The selfsame glittering serpent shines out of his eyes!" He inquires of the circumstances which have brought this stranger to his house, and finding that Siegmund has no idea whither his wild flight has led him, introduces himself with a dignity which commends to us, while he is doing it, the narrow-natured, unimaginative man: "He whose roof covers you and whose house shelters you,—Hunding your host is called. If you should from here turn your footsteps eastward, there, in rich courts, dwell kinsmen, protectors of Hunding's honour!"  They seat themselves at table; the host asks for this guest's name, and as Siegmund, plunged in thought, does not at once reply, Hunding, remarking the interest with which his wife waits for the stranger's words, sardonically encourages him: "If you are in doubt about trusting me, yet give the information to the lady here. See how eagerly she questions you!" And Sieglinde, too deeply interested, verily, to mind the thrust, proceeds further to give it point: "Guest, I should be glad to know who you are!" Whereupon Siegmund, as little constrained by the husband's presence as the wife herself, with his eyes upon hers, addressing her directly, tells his story: of Wolf, his father, of the twin sister lost to him in infancy, the enmity of the Neidingen clan, who in the absence of the men burned down their house, slew the mother, abducted the sister; of his life in the forest with Wolf, their numberless foes and perpetual warfare. Hunding recalls vaguely wild dark tales he has heard of the mighty pair, the Wölfingen. The disappearance of his father, Siegmund further relates, from whom he had been separated in a fight, and whom he could never, long though he sought, find again, nor any trace of him save an empty wolf-skin. "Then,—" follow the strange cruel fortunes this father had arranged for him, "then I was impelled to forsake the woods, I was impelled to seek men and women. As many as I found, and wherever I found them,—whether I sought for friend, or wooed for woman, always I met with denial, ill-fortune lay upon me!" With ingenuous wonder he describes the natural fruits of the education bestowed on him by Wotan: "What I thought right, others held to be wrong; what had ever seemed to me abominable, others considered with favour. I fell into feud wherever I was, anger fell upon me wherever I went. If I reached out toward happiness, I never failed to bring about calamity!  For that reason it is I named myself Wehwalt, I command calamity alone!"

Hunding has listened attentively. His small superstitious heart has taken alarm. "Fortune was not fond of you, who appointed for you so miserable a lot. The man can hardly welcome you with gladness, whom, a stranger to him, you approach as a guest." With a vivacity which cannot have been the common habit of her intercourse with her husband, Sieglinde pronounces judgment aloud and at once upon this ungenerous speech and speaker, whose prudence must certainly, in contrast with the Wälsung's frank magnificence of courage, seem to her unspeakably bourgeois: "Only cowards fear one going his way unarmed and alone!" And turning again eagerly to the guest: "Tell further, guest, how you lately lost your arms in battle!" Siegmund as eagerly satisfies her. The circumstances which he describes further exemplify the disposition fostered in him by his father, his non-recognition or acceptance of established law and custom, however sacred, his pursuit of an ideal unattached to any convention: He had lost his arms in the attempt to defend a damsel against her own immediate family, bent upon marrying her against her inclination. He had slain her brothers, whereupon the maiden, as another perhaps would have foreseen, had cast herself upon their bodies, sorrow annulling her resentment. He had stood over her, shielding her from the vengeance of her kindred pressing around. His armour had been shattered; the girl lay dead on her dead brothers. Wounded and weaponless, he had been chased by the infuriate horde. "Now you know, inquiring woman," he closes his narrative, "why I do not bear the name of Friedmund!" (Frieden: peace.) With this simple sally, whose bitterness is not enough to crumple the serene forehead, he rises and walks to the hearth, striding to  the noble march-measure we know as the motif of the heroism of the Wälsungen,—proud in its first bars, with Siegmund's pride, tender in the last, with Sieglinde's tenderness, loftily mournful throughout.

"I know a wild race of men," now speaks Hunding, "to whom nothing is holy of all that is revered by others; hated are they of all men—and of me!" He then reveals how he himself had that day been called out for vengeance with his clan against this officious champion of damsels. He had arrived too late for action, and returning home, behold, discovers the fugitive miscreant in his own house! As he granted the stranger hospitality for the night, his house shall shelter him for that length of time; but "with strong weapons arm yourself to-morrow," he grimly warns him; "it is the day I choose for combat; you shall pay me a price for the dead!" When Sieglinde in alarm places herself between the two men, Hunding orders her roughly: "Out of the room! Loiter not here! Prepare my night-drink and wait for me to go to rest!" Siegmund, smothering his anger, stands in contemptuous composure beside the hearth; his eyes frankly follow every movement of the woman as she prepares Hunding's drink. On her way out of the room, she pauses at the threshold of the inner chamber, and seeking Siegmund's eyes with her own, tries by a long significant glance to direct his glance to a spot in the ash-tree. The sword-motif, distinct and sharp, accompanies her look. Hunding, becoming aware of her lingering, with a peremptory gesture orders her again to be gone; and gathering up his own armour, with a warning to the Wölfing that on the morrow he will strike home,—let him have a care!—withdraws, audibly bolting the door behind him.

Left alone, Siegmund lies down beside the dying fire. To remove himself during the night as far as possible from Hunding's  reach is not the solution suggesting itself naturally to him. Yet there he stands, pledged to meet an enemy, and not a weapon to his hand of offence or defence. The difficulty of his position is certainly as great as could be, and, reaching the full consciousness of it, he recalls to mind that his father had promised him a sword, which he should find in the hour of his greatest need. "Unarmed I am fallen in the house of the enemy; here I rest, devoted to his vengeance. A woman I have seen, gloriously fair.... She to whom my longing draws me, who with a rapturous charm constrains me, is held in thraldom by the man who mocks my unarmed condition...." Could need, indeed, be greater? With the whole strength of that need, in a cry, long, urgent, fit to pierce the walls of Walhalla, he calls upon his father for the promised sword: "Wälse! Wälse! Where is your sword?..."

A flame leaps from the embers and illuminates the ash-tree, bringing into view, at the spot Sieglinde had indicated to him with her eyes, a sword-hilt. But though his eyes are caught by the glitter, he does not recognise it for what it is; he watches it, without moving, as it shines in the firelight, and, lover-like, soon lapsing into undivided dreaming of the "flower-fair woman," plays tenderly with the conceit of the gleam on the ash-tree being the trace of her last bright glance. Forgetting his swordlessness and altogether unpromising plight, he goes on weaving poetry about her until the fire is quite out and he so nearly dozes that when a white form comes gliding through the door bolted by Hunding, he does not stir until addressed: "Guest, are you asleep?"

Sieglinde has mixed narcotic herbs in her husband's drink, and bids the stranger make use of the night to provide for his safety. "Let me advise you of a weapon.... Oh, might you obtain it! The most splendid of heroes I must call you,  for it is destined to the strongest alone." And she relates how at the marriage-feast of Hunding, while the men drank, and the woman who "unconsulted had been offered him for wife by ignoble traffickers" sat sadly apart, a stranger appeared, an elderly man in grey garb, whose hat-brim concealed one of his eyes. But the brilliant beam of the other eye created terror in the bystanders,—all save herself, in whom it aroused an aching longing, sorrow and comfort in equal measure. The sword in his hand he swung, and drove into the ash-tree up to the hilt, leaving it there, a prize to whomsoever should be able to draw it out. The men present had all made the essay in vain; guests coming and going since then had tried, equally without success. "There in silence waits the sword." There in the ash-tree. "Then I knew," Sieglinde concludes, "who it was had come to me in my sorrow. I know, too, who it is alone can conquer the sword. Oh, might I find him here and now, that friend; might he, from the unknown, come to me, most wretched of women! All I have ever suffered of cruel woe, all the shame and indignity under which I have bowed,—sweetest amends would be made for it all! All I ever lost, all I ever mourned, I should have recovered it all,—if I might find that supreme friend, if my arm might clasp that hero!" Siegmund, to whom it could not occur for the fraction of a second to doubt his strength to draw any sword from any tree, at these words catches her impetuously to his breast: "The friend now clasps you, fairest of women, for whom weapon and woman were meant! Hot in my breast burns the oath which, noble one, weds me to you!" and, in her very strain: "All I ever yearned for, I met in you! In you I found all I ever lacked. If you suffered ignominy and I endured pain, if I was outlawed and you were dishonoured, a joyful revenge now calls to us happy ones! I laugh aloud in a holy elation, as I hold you,  radiant one, embraced, as I feel the throbbing of your heart!"

The great door of the hall, silently, without apparent reason, swings wide open, like a great curious eye unclosing to watch this beautiful marvel of their love, expanded so suddenly, like a huge aloe-flower. It lets in a flood of moonlight, and the glimmering vision of the vapourous green-lit nocturnal Spring-world. "Who went out?... Who came in?" cries Sieglinde, starting in alarm. "No one went," Siegmund reassures her, "but some one came: See, the Spring laughing in the room!" And he pours forth poetry of adorable inspiration, in explanation of the singular action of the door: Spring was outside, and Love, his sister, inside; Spring burst open the severing door, and now, brother and sister, Love and the Spring, are met!

It is touching, the capacity for happiness the two have accumulated in the long, thwarted years. An ecstatic joy marks this hour of forgetting all the world outside themselves; the love-music is all of a fine free sustained rapture. One poignant and subtle and profound thing she says to him: "Foreign and unrelated to me seemed until now everything I saw, hostile everything which approached me. As if I had never known them were always the things that came to me.... But you I knew at once, clearly and distinctly; my eye no sooner beheld you, than you belonged to me; and all that lay concealed within my breast, the thing which I verily am, bright as the day it rose to the surface; like a ringing sound it smote my ear, when in the cold lonesome strange world for the first time I beheld my Friend!"

Seated in the light of the full moon, they have freedom at last each to pore over the other's winning beauty. She is struck, fondly peering into his features, with the sense of having  seen him before; and trying to think when and where reaches the assurance that it was on the surface of the pool which reflected her own image. Again, when he speaks, she is struck by the assurance that she has heard his voice before. She thinks, for a moment, that it was in childhood,... but corrects the impression by a second: she has heard it recently, when the echo in the woods gave back her own voice. His luminous eyes she has seen before: thus shone the glance of the grey guest at the wedding-feast, whom his daughter recognised by that token. Earnestly she asks this other guest: "Is your name in very truth Wehwalt?" "That is no longer my name since you love me!" he replies exuberantly, "I command now the sublimest joys!... Do you call me as you wish me to be called: I will take my name from you!" "And was your father indeed Wolf?" "A Wolf he was to cowardly foxes. But he whose eye shone with as proud an effulgence as, Glorious One, does yours, Wälse was his name!" Beside herself with joy, Sieglinde springs up: "If Wälse was your father—if you are a Wälsung, for you it was he drove his sword into the tree-trunk. Let me give you the name by which I love you: Siegmund shall you be called!" Siegmund leaps to seize the sword-handle: "Siegmund is my name, and Siegmund am I! (Sieg: victory.) Let this sword bear witness, which fearlessly I seize! Wälse promised me that I should find it in my greatest need. I grasp it now...." Very characteristically, this greatest need, as he feels it, is not the need of a weapon with which to defend his life against Hunding; it is, in his soaring words: "Highest need of a holiest love, devouring need of a love full of longing, burns bright in my breast, drives me onward to deeds and to death.... Nothung! Nothung! So do I name you, sword! (Noth: need. Nothung: sword-in-need.) Nothung! Nothung! Out of the  scabbard, to me!" With a mighty tug he draws it forth and holds it before the marvelling eyes of Sieglinde: "Siegmund the Wälsung stands before you, woman! As a wedding-gift he brings you this sword. Thus he wooes the fairest of women; from the enemy's house thus he leads you forth. Far from here follow him now, out in the laughing house of the Spring. There Nothung, the sword, shall protect you, when Siegmund lies overthrown, in the power of love!" "If your are Siegmund," cries the woman, "I am Sieglinde, who have so longed for you! Your own sister you have won at the same time as the sword!" Siegmund is given no pause by this revelation. At the realisation of this double dearness, the joy flares all the higher of the lawless pupil of Wotan. "Bride and sister are you to your brother. Let the blood of the Wälsungen flourish!" And with arms entertwined, forth they take their madly exulting hearts out into the "laughing house of the Spring."


The rising of the curtain for the second act reveals a wild mountain-pass where Wotan, in a vast good-humour, is giving instructions to Brünnhilde with regard to the impending meeting between the injured husband and the abductor of his wife. Victory is allotted to Siegmund; Hunding, "let them choose him to whom he belongs; he is not wanted in Walhalla!" In Wotan's complacency the satisfaction speaks of this thought: At last, at last, a change of fortune,—victory to the Wälsung, after a trial of his mettle so severe and prolonged it must have broken a spirit less admirably tempered. The Valkyrie, in delight over the charge to her, breaks into her jubilant war-cry, checking herself as she perceives Fricka approaching in the chariot drawn by rams, and judges from the goddess's merciless  urging of the panting beasts that she comes for a Zank, a "scold," with her husband. "The old storm!" murmurs Wotan, at sight of his liege lady dismounting and coming toward him with ultramajestic gait, "the old trouble! But I must stand and face her!" The scene following has a touch of comical in its resemblance to domestic scenes among less high-born characters, as, for instance, when Fricka says, "Look me in the eye! Do not think to deceive me!" or "Do you imagine that you can deceive me, who night and day have been hard upon your heels?" Fricka, the guardian of marriage, has come to demand justice for Hunding, vengeance upon the "insolently criminal couple." "What," asks Wotan, an unguarded and tender indulgence in his tone, "what have they done that is so evil, the couple brought into loving union by the Spring?..." "Do you feign not to understand me?" is in effect Fricka's return; "for the holy vow of marriage, the deeply insulted, I raise my voice in complaint...." "I regard that vow as unholy," says Wotan,—and the source is flagrant from which Siegmund has drawn his unpopular rules of conduct,—"which binds together those who do not love each other." But the case in question, Fricka protests, is not one simply of broken marriage-vow, "When—when was it ever known that brother and sister might stand toward each other in the nuptial relation?" "This day you have known it!" the worthy teacher of Siegmund meets her; and, all his paternal affection finding its imprudent way into his accents: "That those two love each other is clear to you. Wherefore, take honest advice: if blessed comfort is to reward your blessing, do you bless, laughing with love, the union of Siegmund and Sieglinde!" Upon this, as is hardly unnatural, the furious storm breaks over the indiscreet god; a storm of reproach, in part for personal wrongs, which the outraged goddess details, in part for his failure as  ruler of the earth to maintain law and right, to observe the boundaries established by himself. At the end of it, rather feebly, he tells her, in defence of his position, the thing which he had not confided to her before, plain enough indication that the goddess, to win whom he had given an eye, is not of his bosom's counsel any more. "This know! There is need of a hero who without aid from the gods should cast off the law of the gods. Such a one alone can compass the act which, however much the gods may need it done, no god can himself do." "And what may the great thing be," the dull august shrew inquires, "that a hero can do which the gods cannot, through whose grace alone a hero acts?... What makes men brave? Through your inspiration alone they are strong. With new falsehoods you are trying to elude me, but this Wälsung you shall not be able to save. Through him I strike at you, for it is through you alone he defies me!" "In wild sorrows," Wotan ventures, with deep emotion, "he grew up, by himself. My protection never helped him!" "Then do not protect him to-day!" she pursues, hatefully righteous, "take away from him the sword you gave him." "The sword?..." Her suggestion is a very sword for Wotan's heart. "Yes, the sword, strong with a charm, which you bestowed on your son." "Siegmund conquered it for himself in his need." The deep strain here shudders out its passion of repressed resentment and grief, which after this darkly underlines Wotan's misery. "You created the need, as you created the sword," she follows him up with clear-sighted accusation, almost voluble. "For him you drove it into the tree-trunk. You promised him the goodly weapon. Will you deny that it was your own stratagem which guided him to the spot where he should find it?" The effect of her words upon Wotan—to whom this mirror held up to him reveals the weakness of his scheme to create a hero who  should act for himself, unprompted, against the gods, yet in the very manner the case of the gods demanded—still increases his wife's assurance. "What do you require?" asks Wotan at last, in gloom, heart-struck. "That you should sever from the Wälsung!" "Let him go his way!" Wotan acquiesces, smothered by this horrible, yet so clear, necessity. "But you, protect him not, when the avenger calls him out to fight!" "I—protect him not!" "Turn from him the Valkyrie!" "Let the Valkyrie determine as she will!" "Nay, she solely carries out your wishes.... Forbid her the victory of Siegmund!" "I cannot deal him defeat!" protests Wotan, in anguish, "he found my sword!" "Withdraw the charm from the sword. Let it snap in the knave's hand. Let the adversary behold him without defence!... Here comes your warlike maid.... This day must her shield protect the sacred honour of your wife. My honour demands the fall of the Wälsung. Have I Wotan's oath?" The unhappy god casts himself upon a rocky seat, in helpless loathing, and the terrible consent falls forced from his lips: "Take the oath!" Fricka, with proud tread turning from him to remount her chariot, stops to address Brünnhilde: "The Father of Armies is waiting for you. Let him tell you how he has appointed the fortune of battle."

Wotan sits with his head in his hands, like any humblest mortal hard put to it. It has been brought home to him sharply enough that the thing is not to be done, on the accomplishment of which he had so fondly built. It is not that an angry wife has interfered; it is that her argument has been sound, and that for the sake of his world a god cannot trespass against the laws he has himself made for it. It is, in fact, that kings less than others can do as they choose; that if in this he should follow his desire, it would, as Fricka has pointed out,  "be all over with the everlasting gods!" But, to sacrifice the Wälsung, "brought up in wild sorrows" for this very purpose which is to be relinquished; the Wälsung who in his young life has had but one draught at the cup of joy!... It is no wonder that Wotan utters his lamentation: "Oh, divine ignominy! Oh, woful disgrace! Distress of the gods! Distress of the gods! Immeasurable wrath! Eternal regret! The saddest am I among all!"

The darling of his heart, Brünnhilde, torn by his cry, casts from her all her Valkyrie accoutrements, and, woman merely and daughter, kneels at his feet, presses her cheek against him, begging to be trusted: "Confide in me! I am true to you. See, Brünnhilde pleads!"

He hesitates, while sorely yearning for the comfort. "If I utter it aloud, shall I not be loosing the grasp of my will?" "To Wotan's will you speak in speaking to me. Who am I, if not your will?"

With the assurance to himself: "With myself solely I take counsel, in talking to you,..." he relates to Brünnhilde all the events which have brought about this intolerable position, a long story: the first mistake in trusting Loge; the mistake in possessing himself of the Ring; what he has since done to obviate the effect of his mistakes, and done, as is now shown, in vain. "How did I cunningly seek to deceive myself! So easily Fricka exposed my fallacies! To my deepest shame she looked through me. I must yield to her will." "You will take away then the victory from Siegmund?" "I touched Alberich's Ring," Wotan replies, "covetously I held the gold. The curse which I fled from, flees not from me! What I love I must desert, murder what from all time I have held dear, treacherously betray him who trusts me!..." Again, it is no wonder his tormented soul breaks forth in lamentation.  The mighty groan of Wotan has, if ever groan had, adequate cause, and his longing for "the end! the end!" With grim comfort he recalls at this moment that the end cannot be far,—not if there be truth in the prophecy of Erda: "When the dark enemy of love shall in wrath beget a son, the end of the Immortals will not be long delayed." For the loveless Alberich, as Wotan knows, has by means of gold won the favour of a woman, and the "fruit of hatred" is on its way toward the light. "Take my blessing, son of the Nibelung!" cries Wotan in his dark mood; "the thing which sickens me with loathing, I bestow it upon you for an inheritance: the empty splendour of the gods!"

"Oh, tell me, what shall your child do?" entreats the daughter, shaken by the sight of her father's passion. "Fight straightforwardly for Fricka," he orders her, in the excess of bitterness; "what she has chosen I choose likewise; of what good to me is a will of my own?" "Oh, retract that word!" she beseeches, "you love Siegmund.... Never shall your discordant dual directions enlist me against him. For your own sake, I know it, I will protect the Wälsung!" At this first intimation of rebellion in his child,—this incipient treachery of his own will,—Wotan becomes stern, lays down his command irrevocably, with threats of crushing retribution if this child of his shall dare to palter with his expressed will. "Keep a watch over yourself! Hold yourself in strong constraint! Put forth all your valour in the fight!... Have well in mind what I command: Siegmund is to fall! This be the Valkyrie's task!"

Brünnhilde gazes after him in wonder and fear as he storms up over the rocky ascent out of sight: "I never saw Sieg-vater like that!" Sadly she resumes her armour, woe-begone at the thought of the Wälsung, given over to death. Becoming aware  of the approach of Siegmund and Sieglinde, she hastens from sight.

Sieglinde enters, fleeing in distraction from Siegmund, anxious in pursuit. The presumption of those seeing her action without understanding her words, is commonly, I suppose, that remorse has overtaken her for her breach of the moral law. Remorse, indeed, has assailed her, but not for having followed the "luminous brother." It is for having ever belonged to Hunding, whom she neither loved nor was loved by. The new sentiment of love so completely possessing her places her former union in the light of unspeakable pollution, and she adjures the "noble one" to depart from the accursed who brings him such a dowry of shame. Siegmund with sturdy tenderness assures her that whatever shame there is shall be washed away in the blood of him who is responsible for it, whose heart Nothung shall cleave. An insanity of terror seizes Sieglinde at the thought of the meeting between the two men, the vision besetting her of Siegmund torn by Hunding's dogs, against the multitude of which his sword is of no use. At the picture painted by her delirium of Siegmund's fall, shocked as if at the actual sight of it, she sinks unconscious in his arms.

Having ascertained that she has not ceased to breathe, almost glad perhaps for her of this respite from self-torment, he lets her gently down on to the ground, and seats himself so as to make an easy resting-place for her head.

Thus the Valkyrie finds them. At her approach, three solemn notes are heard which intimate as if something awful and not to be escaped—whose solemn awfulness consists in great part of the fact that it cannot be escaped,—like Fate. "Siegmund!" she calls him, with firm voice, "look upon me! I am that one whom in short space you must follow!" Siegmund lifts his eyes from the sleeping face upon which they have  been fondly brooding, and beholds the shining apparition. "Who are you, tell me, appearing to me, so beautiful and grave?" "Only those about to die can see my face. He who beholds me must depart from the light of life. On the field of battle I appear to the noble alone. He who becomes aware of me, has been singled out for my capture!" Siegmund gazes quietly and long and inquiringly into her eyes, and: "The hero who must follow you, whither do you take him?" "To the Father of Battles who has elected you, I shall lead you. To Walhalla you shall follow me." "In the hall of Walhalla shall I find none but the Father of Battles?" "The glorious assemblage of departed heroes shall gather around you companionably, with high and holy salutation." "Shall I in Walhalla find Wälse, my own father?" "The Wälsung shall find his father there." "Shall I in Walhalla be greeted gladsomely by a woman?" "Divine wish-maidens there hold sway; the daughter of Wotan shall trustily proffer you drink." "Unearthly fair are you; I recognise the holy child of Wotan; but one thing tell me, you Immortal! Shall the bride and sister accompany the brother? Shall Siegmund clasp Sieglinde there?" "The air of earth she still must breathe. Siegmund shall not find Sieglinde there!" The hero bends over the unconscious woman, kisses her softly on the brow, and turns quietly again to Brünnhilde: "Then bear my greeting to Walhalla! Greet for me Wotan, greet for me Wälse and all the heroes; greet for me likewise the benign wish-maidens: I will not follow you to them!"

In this strangely impressive and moving dialogue, the Brünnhilde-part is upborne on the stately, high and cold Walhalla theme; the Siegmund-part gives over and over one urgent heartful questioning phrase, filled with human yearning and sorrow: the motif of love and death. "Where Sieglinde lives  in joy or sorrow, there will Siegmund likewise abide,..." he pronounces. When he is informed that he has no choice but to follow, that he is to fall through Hunding, that its virtue has been withdrawn from his sword, justly incensed, he declares that if this be true,—if he, shame to him! who forged for him the sword, allotted him ignominy in place of victory, he will not go to Walhalla, Hella shall hold him fast!

"So little do you care for eternal joy?" the Valkyrie asks wistfully; "all in all to you is the poor woman who, tired and full of trouble, lies strengthless in your lap? Nothing beside do you deem of high value?" Inexpressibly moved at the manifestation before her of the warmth and depth of this human affection, she begs him to place his wife under her protection. He replies passionately that no one while he lives shall touch the Stainless One, that if he must indeed die, he will first slay her in her sleep. Brünnhilde, in great emotion, begs still more urgently, "Entrust her to me, for the sake of the pledge of love which she took from you in joy!" But Siegmund, all the more firmly fixed in his resolve, lifts his sword, and grimly offering Nothung two lives at one blow, swings it above the sleeping woman. The Valkyrie at this can no longer keep in bounds the surging flood of her compassion: "Hold, Wälsung!" she restrains his arm, "Sieglinde shall live, and with her Siegmund!... I change about the doom of battle. To you, Siegmund, I apportion blessed victory...." With injunctions to place his trust in the sword and the Valkyrie, bidding him farewell till they shall meet on the field, she disappears. Siegmund, with heart restored to gladness, bends over Sieglinde again; listens to her breathing and studies her face, now smiling, as he sees, in quiet sleep. "Sleep on!" he speaks to her, "till the battle has been fought and peace shall rejoice you!"

 Hunding's horn has already been heard, calling out the adversary. Siegmund lays Sieglinde gently down, and, Nothung in hand, rushes to the encounter. A storm has been gathering, a cloud has settled over the mountain-tops. Sieglinde, left alone, murmurs in her sleep. Her broken sentences reveal her dream: She is a child again and the scene is reenacted to her of the conflagration which ended her life in the forest with father and mother and twin. She starts awake in affright, calling Siegmund, and finds herself alone. She hears her husband's horn and his call to Wehwalt to stand and meet him. She hears Siegmund's arrogant reply. She cannot see them for the black storm-scud, but calls on them to stop, to kill her first. A flash of lightning shows Hunding and Siegmund fighting on a high point of the rocky pass. Sieglinde is rushing toward them, when a sudden glare blinds her. In the light, Brünnhilde is seen hard at Siegmund's side, defending him with her shield. "Strike home, Siegmund! Trust to the victorious sword!" Siegmund raises his sword for a deathblow to Hunding, when a fiery beam drops through the storm-cloud; in the red glow of it is distinguished the form of Wotan at Hunding's side, holding his spear between the combatants. His voice is heard, terrible: "Back from the spear! To pieces, the sword!" Nothung snaps against the spear, and, run through the body by his adversary, Siegmund falls. Sieglinde hears his dying sigh—the strong heart stops on a brief snatch, pathetic, of the motif of the heroism of the Wälsungen—She drops to earth, stunned. In the gloom, Brünnhilde, who has retreated before the angry father's spear, is seen lifting Sieglinde and hurrying off: "To horse! that I may save you!"

Long and mournfully Wotan gazes upon the fallen Siegmund—best-beloved perhaps of all the Wagner heroes. Taking account suddenly of the presence of Hunding, "Begone, slave!"  he orders, "kneel before Fricka, inform her that Wotan's spear has taken vengeance of that which brought mockery upon her!... Begone!... Begone!..." But at the gesture with which the command is emphasised, Hunding drops dead, crushed out of life by the god's contempt.

Abruptly recalled to the thought of his child's contumacy, Wotan starts up in terrific wrath: "But Brünnhilde! Woe to that offender! Dreadful shall be the punishment meted to her audacity, when my horse overtakes her in her flight!" Amid lightning and thunder, aptly symbolising the state of his temper, the god vanishes from sight.


The third act shows the scene, a high rocky peak rising from among great pine-trees, where the Valkyries assemble for their return together to the hall of Wotan. On the clouds they come riding, each with a dead warrior laid across her steed. Over the neighing and hoof-beats, the music develops of a lightly thundering cavalry-charge, suggestive of the rocking in the saddle of horsemen borne over billowing expanses—glorious with the glory of the hosts which fancy sees among the crimson and gold banners of the sunset. The eight are at last arrived; their war-cries, their hard laughter, and the shrill neighing of the battle-steeds mingle in harsh harmony. The shrieks of an autumn gale, exulting in its freedom to drive the waves mountain-high and scatter all the leaves of the forest, have the same quality of wildness and force and glee. The steel-corseleted figures clustered on the peak make one think a little of gleaming dragon-flies seen in summer, swarming as they do around some point of mysterious interest. The laughter of the Valkyries is for grim jests they exchange over the conduct  of their horses, who fall to fighting with one another, because the dead warriors on their backs were enemies in life. Brünnhilde only is wanting, to complete their number, but they dare not start for Walhalla without her, lest Walvater, not seeing his favourite, should receive them with a frown. They are amazed, when they finally see her coming, to descry on the back of her horse no warrior, but a woman—amazed, likewise, at the wild speed of Grane's flight, and to see him stagger and drop on reaching the goal. They hurry to Brünnhilde's assistance. She comes in, breathless with terror and haste, supporting Sieglinde. Wotan, she informs the wondering sisters, is hot in pursuit of her. She begs one of them to keep lookout for him from the top of the peak. The black storm-cloud on which he rides is perceived sweeping toward them from the north. To the questioning Valkyries Brünnhilde gives in quick outline the story of her disobedience, and implores their help to save Sieglinde,—for the Wälsungen all Wotan has threatened with destruction. She conjures them, too, to conceal herself, who has not the hardihood to face her father in the extremity of his indignation. But the sisters are appalled at the revelation of her misdeed, and no less at the suggestion that they should join in her act of rebellion. Her prayer for the loan of one of their horses on which the woman may escape, meets with obtuse looks, headshakes, uncompromising denial. She is appealing urgently, hurriedly, to one after the other, when Sieglinde who, stony, death-struck, dazed with grief, has appeared unconscious, up to this moment, of all taking place around her, stops her, stating dully that there is no need to trouble about her, since her only wish is to die. She indeed reproaches Brünnhilde for her care, and bids her now, if she is not to curse her for their flight, to end her life by a thrust of the sword. In the next moment the face of this same  woman sheds the very radiance of joy: the Valkyrie has revealed to her that of her a Wälsung shall be born. Then, oh, "Save me, you valiant one!" she cries. "Save my child! Protect me, you maidens, with your mightiest protection! Save me! Save the mother!" She kneels to them. The cool-blooded spinsters are moved by this, but not to the point of braving Wotan's ire. "Then fly in haste, and fly alone!" Brünnhilde with sudden resolve bids Sieglinde: "I will remain behind and draw upon me, delaying him, Wotan's anger." "In what direction shall I go?" asks the woman eagerly. Eastward, one of the sisters tells her, lies a forest. Fafner there, in the shape of a dragon, guards the treasure of the Nibelungen. An unsuitable place for a helpless woman, yet one where she will be safe from Wotan, for the god, it has been observed, shuns it. "Away then to eastward," Brünnhilde instructs Sieglinde; "with undaunted courage bear every trial. Hunger and thirst, thorns and stony roads—do you laugh at want and sorrow, for one thing know, and keep it ever in mind: the most exalted hero in the world, O woman, shall be born of you!" A great melodious phrase describes him, the future Siegfried, as if with one magnificent stroke outlining a form of heroic beauty and valour. Brünnhilde gives Sieglinde the pieces of Siegmund's sword, gathered up from the field after the ill-fated encounter. "He who one day shall swing this sword newly welded together, let him take his name from me: As Siegfried let him rejoice in victory!" From the soul of Sieglinde rises a soaring song of gratitude and praise, a song of purest, highest joy. Her last words to Brünnhilde, as clasping to her breast the broken sword she hastens away, are, interpreted: "My gratitude shall one day reward you, smiling at you in human form!... Farewell! Sieglinde in her woe calls down blessings upon you!"

 The storm-cloud has reached the rock, Wotan's voice is heard: "Brünnhilde, stand!" At the sound of it, Brünnhilde's heart fails her; the hearts of the sisters, too, soften. Crowding together on the rocky peak, they let the culprit cower out of sight among them. But Wotan is not deceived; he addresses to the hidden daughter such sharp and searching reproaches that, her fear for herself losing all importance as these strike her heart, she steps forth from among the sister-Valkyries and meekly stands before her father, awaiting condemnation.

"Not I," he speaks, "punish you. Yourself you have framed your punishment!" And he exposes how by forgetting the whole duty of a Valkyrie—to deal victory or defeat according to Wotan's decree—she had made herself in effect no longer a Valkyrie. "No more shall I send you from Walhalla.... No longer shall you bring warriors to my hall.... From the tribe of the gods you are cut off, rejected from the eternal line.... Our tie is severed.... You are banished from my face!" The sisters break into lamentation. "Upon this mountain I banish you. In undefended sleep I shall seal you. Let the man then capture the maid who finds her upon his road and wakes her." The sisters endeavour to restrain him, pointing out that their own honour will suffer from such a scandal. He rejects this on the ground that they have nothing more whatever to do with the faithless sister. "A husband is to win her feminine favor; masterful man is henceforth to have her duty. By the fireside she shall sit and spin, an object of scorn to all beholders!" Brünnhilde drops at his feet, overwhelmed. Cries of horror and protest break from the others; he drives them from his presence with the threat of a similar fate to Brünnhilde's if they do not forthwith depart from her, and keep afar from the rock where she suffers her sentence. In a confusion of terror, which is not without the slightest point of  humour, the strong girls flee like leaves in the blast before Wotan's menace,—and Brünnhilde is left alone to plead her poor cause with the stern incensed father.

She conjures him first to silence his anger, and define to her the dark fault which has impelled him to reject the most loyal of his children. "I carried out your order," she protests. "Did I order you to fight for the Wälsung?" he inquires. "You did," she reminds him. "But I took back my instructions." "When Fricka had estranged you from your own mind.... Not wise am I, but this one thing I knew, that the Wälsung was dear to you. I was aware of the conflict which compelled you to turn from the remembrance of this.... I kept in sight for you that which, painfully divided in feeling, you must turn your back upon. Thus it was that I saw what you could not see. I saw Siegmund. I stood before him announcing death. I met his eye, I heard his voice, I apprehended the hero's ineffable distress.... I witnessed that which struck the heart in my bosom with awe and trembling. Timid and wondering I stood before him, in shame. I could think only how I might serve him.... And confidently counting upon an intimate understanding of him who had bred that love in my heart,—of that will which had attached me to the Wälsung,—I disobeyed your command!"

Wotan, in meeting this, shows how he is not merely a father dealing with a disobedient child, but a man in strife with himself, with his own will which has betrayed him into following affection, inclination, when duty called for an opposite course. "If thy right hand offend thee, cut if off and cast it from thee." Brünnhilde is to Wotan that offending flesh and blood, and the safety of the future depends, it seems, upon his breaking his own heart by cutting her off from himself. She has done what his heart would have had him do; but for interests whose claim  upon him is in his estimation greater than that of affection (einer Welt zu Liebe: for the sake of a world), he had elected not to follow his heart's impulse. And this delinquent, daughter at once and his own will, must not only be punished for the example of all the disobedient, but cut off from himself, to provide absolutely against any possible repetition of the so lovable and forgivable offence.

Brünnhilde, when she has heard him out, has no word further of argument or defence, but acquiesces with sad submissiveness. "Certainly the foolish maiden is no fit helpmate for you, who, confused by your amazing counsel, did not understand your mind, when her own mind prompted one thing only: to love that which you loved!" She accepts the punishment as just, only: "If you are to sever that which was bound together," she pleads, "to keep apart from yourself the very half of yourself, that I was once completely one with you, O god, forget it not! Your immortal part you cannot wish to dishonour. You cannot intend an ignominy which involves you.... Yourself you would be degraded, if you gave me over to insult!" "You followed, light of heart, the call of love," Wotan replies unconcedingly: "follow now him whom you must love!" "If I must depart from Walhalla, if I am to be your companion and servant no more," Brünnhilde pressingly continues, "if my obedience is to be given to masterful man, not of a coward and braggart let me be the prize! Let him not be worthless who shall win me!" "You cut yourself off from Walvater," he repulses her; "he cannot choose for you!" "A noble generation there is, having its origin in you—" Brünnhilde suggests, still unquelled, the point is so vital to her; "the most admirable of heroes, I know it, is to spring from the line of the Wälsungen...." "Not a word of the Wälsungen!" Wotan fiercely interrupts. "When I severed from you, I severed from  them. Doomed to destruction is that line!" Sieglinde has been saved, Brünnhilde informs him, who shall give birth to the Wälsung of whom she speaks. Wotan sternly silences her: let her not seek to shake his firmness. He cannot choose for her! He has loitered too long already. He cannot stop to consider what her wishes are, nothing further has he to do with her but to see his sentence executed.

What has he devised for her punishment, she asks.

He repeats his earlier sentence: "In deep sleep I shall seal you. He who awakes the defenceless sleeper, shall have her to wife." Brünnhilde falls on her knees to him. "If I am to be bound in fast sleep, an easy prey to the most ignoble of men, this one prayer you shall grant which a noble terror lifts to you: Let the sleeper be protected by a barrier of fright-inspiring things, that only a fearless and great-hearted hero may be able to reach me on my mountain-peak!" "Too much you demand! Too much of favour!" She clasps his knees, and with the wildest inspiration of terror: "This one prayer you must—must listen to! At your command let a great fire spring up. Let the summit be surrounded by fierce flames, whose tongues shall lick up and whose teeth shall devour any caitiff venturing near to the formidable place!" So is her whole soul heard to cry aloud in this prayer, as she pleads for so much more than her life, that all by which Wotan had fortified himself against her, and which had been subjected to an assault so prolonged, suddenly gives way, his weary heart is pierced. Overcome by emotion, he lifts her to her feet; he gazes long into her eyes, reading her soul there,—then amply, fully, with the whole of his overflowing heart, grants her prayer: "Farewell, O dauntless, glorious child! Holy pride of my heart, farewell! Farewell! Farewell! If I must shun you, if I am never more fondly to greet you, if you are no more to  ride at my side, or reach me the cup of mead; if I am to lose you whom I so have loved, O laughing joy of my eyes—a bridal bonfire shall blaze for you such as never yet blazed for a bride! A flaming barrier shall girdle the rock; with burning terror-signals it shall frighten away the coward. The fainthearted shall keep afar from Brünnhilde's rock. That one alone shall win the bride, who is freer than I—the god!" In a speechless ecstasy of gratitude, Brünnhilde sinks on his breast, and he holds her long silently clasped, while there floats heavenward as if the very voice of their relieved, pacified, uplifted hearts. Supporting her in his arms, gazing tenderly in her upturned face, he takes his last leave of her. There is a passage in Wotan's farewell which seems to contain, compressed into it, all the yearning ache of all farewells, with all the sweetness of the love which makes parting bitter. "For the last time.... Farewell.... The last kiss...." These words occur upon it. The motif it seems of the tragedy of last times; one wonders could custom ever so harden him to it that he should feel no clutch at the heart in hearing it. "For the last time I appease myself with the last kiss of farewell.... Upon a happier mortal the star of your eye shall beam. Upon the unhappy Immortal it must, in parting, close. For thus does the god turn away from you, thus does he kiss away your divinity!" He presses a long kiss upon each of her eyes, and the first languor of sleep falling at once upon her, she leans, without strength, against him. He supports her to a mossy knoll beneath a spreading pine-tree, and lays her gently upon it; after a long brooding look at her face, closes her helmet; after a long look at her sleeping form, covers it with the great Valkyrie shield; places her spear beside her, and with a last long sad look at the slumbering motionless figure, turns away,—having effectually desolated himself of the three dearest of his children.

 Resolutely striding from the sleeper, he summons Loge, and commands him in his original form of elemental fire to surround the mountain-summit. At the shock of his spear against the rock, a flame flashes and rapidly spreads. With his spear Wotan traces the course the fire is to follow, girdling the peak. Nimbly it leaps from point to point, till the whole background is fringed with flame. At Wotan's words, "Let no one who is afraid of my spear ever break through the fiery barrier!" there falls, prophetic, across the dream of Brünnhilde's charmed sleep, the great shadow of the Deliverer, so distant yet in time, Siegfried, who when the hour came of test was found to fear Wotan's spear as little as he feared anything else.

With that firm spell placed upon his magnificent and adequate fence, Wotan departs; and, guarded by the singing flames, which weave into the rhythm of their bright dance the tenderest of lullabies, Brünnhilde is left to her long rest.






Wotan—made secretly uneasy by Erda's dark prediction that

‘Nothing that is ends not;
A day of gloom
Dawns for the gods;—
Be ruled and waive from the ring’—

relinquishes the ring which he had wrested from Alberich, as has been seen. His restlessness however daily increases, until at last he penetrates in disguise into the dark underground world and woos the fair earth goddess. So successfully does he plead his cause, that she receives him as her spouse and bears him eight lovely daughters. She also reveals to him the secrets of the future, when Walhalla's strong walls shall fall, and the gods shall perish, because they have resorted to fraud and lent a willing ear to Loge, prince of evil.

Notwithstanding this fatal prediction Wotan remains undismayed. Instead of yielding passively to whatever fate may befall him, he resolves to prepare for a future conflict, and to defend Walhalla against every foe. As the gods are few in number, he soon decides to summon mortals to his abode, and in order to have men trained to every hardship and accustomed to war, he flings his spear over the world, and kindles unending strife between all the nations. His eight daughters, the Walkyries, are next deputed to ride down to earth every day and bear away the bravest among the slain. These warriors are entertained at his table with heavenly mead, and encouraged to keep up their strength and skill by cutting and hewing each other, their wounds healing magically as soon as made.

But, in spite of these preparations, Wotan is not yet satisfied. He still remembers the all-powerful ring which he has given to the giants, and which is still in the keeping of Fafnir. In case this ring again falls into the hands of the revengeful Alberich, he knows the gods cannot hope to escape from his wrath. He himself cannot snatch back a gift once given, so he decides to beget a son, who will unconsciously be his emissary, and who will, moreover, oppose the offspring which Erda has predicted that Alberich will raise merely to help him avenge his wrongs. Disguised as a mortal named Wälse, or Volsung, Wotan takes up his abode upon earth, and marries a mortal woman, who bears him twin children, Siegmund and Sieglinde. These children are still very young when Hunding, a hunter and lover of strife, comes upon their hut in the woods, and burns it to the ground, after slaying the elder woman and carrying off the younger as his captive.

On their return from the forest, Wälse and Siegmund behold with dismay the destruction of their dwelling, and vow constant warfare against their foes. This vow they faithfully keep until Siegmund grows up and his father suddenly and mysteriously disappears, leaving behind him nothing but the wolf-skin garment to which he owes his name.

Hunding, in the mean while, has carried Sieglinde off to his dwelling, which is built around the stem of a mighty oak, and when she attains a marriageable age he compels her to become his wife, although she very reluctantly submits to his wish. The opening scene of this opera represents Hunding's hall,—in the midst of which stands the mighty oak whose branches overshadow the whole house,—which is dimly illumined by the fire burning on the hearth. Suddenly the door is flung wide open, and a stranger rushes in. He is dusty and dishevelled, and examines the apartment with a wild glance. When he has ascertained that it is quite empty, he comes in, closes the door behind him, and sinks exhausted in front of the fire, where he soon falls asleep. A moment later Sieglinde, Hunding's forced wife, appears. When she sees a stranger in front of the fire, instead of her expected lord and master, she starts back in sudden fear. But, reassured by the motionless attitude of the stranger, she soon draws near, and, bending over him, discovers that he has fallen asleep:—

‘His heart still heaves,
Though his lids be lowered,
Warlike and manful I deem him
Though wearied down he sunk.’

As she has only a very dim recollection of her past, she fails to recognise her brother in the sleeper. He soon stirs uneasily, and, wakening, tries to utter a few words, which his parched lips almost refuse to articulate, until she compassionately gives him a drink.

Gazing at Sieglinde as if fascinated by some celestial vision, Siegmund, in answer to her questions, informs her that he is an unhappy wight, whose footsteps misfortune constantly dogs. He then goes on to inform her that even now he has escaped from his enemies with nothing but his life, and makes a movement to leave her for fear lest he should bring ill-luck upon her too. Sieglinde, however, implores him to remain and await the return of her husband. Almost as she speaks Hunding enters the house, and, allowing her to divest him of his weapons, seems dumbly to inquire the reason of the stranger's presence at his hearth.

Sieglinde rapidly explains how she found him faint and weary before the fire, and Hunding, mindful of the laws of hospitality, bids the stranger welcome, and invites him to partake of the food which Sieglinde now sets before them. As Siegmund takes his place at the rude board, Hunding first becomes aware of the strange resemblance he bears to his wife, and after commenting upon it sotto voce, he inquires his guest's name and antecedents. Siegmund then mournfully relates his happy youth, the tragic loss of his mother and sister, his roaming life with his father, and the latter's mysterious disappearance. Only then does Hunding recognize in him the foe whom he has long been seeking to slay.

Unconscious of all this, Siegmund goes on to relate how on that very day he had fought single-handed against countless foes to defend a helpless maiden, running away only when his weapons had failed him and the maiden had been slain at his feet. Sieglinde listens breathless to the story of his sad life and of his brave defence of helpless virtue, while Hunding suddenly declares that, were it not that the sacred rights of hospitality restrained him, he would then and there slay the man who had made so many of his kinsmen bite the dust. He however contents himself with making an appointment for a hostile encounter early on the morrow, promising to supply Siegmund with a good sword, since he has no weapons of his own:—

‘My doors ward thee,
Wölfing, to-day;
Till the dawn shelter they show;
A flawless sword
Will befit thee at sunrise,
By day be ready for fight,
And pay thy debt for the dead.’

Then Hunding angrily withdraws with his wife, taking his weapons with him, and muttering dark threats, which fill his guest's heart with nameless fear. Left alone, Siegmund bitterly mourns his lack of weapons, for he fears lest he may be treacherously attacked by his foe, and in his sorrow he reproaches his father, who had repeatedly told him that he would find a sword ready to his hand in case of direst need.

‘A sword,—so promised my father—
In sorest need I should find—
Weaponless falling
In the house of the foe,
Here in pledge
To his wrath I am held.’

While he is brooding thus over his misfortunes, the flames on the hearth flicker and burn brighter. Suddenly their light glints upon the hilt of a sword driven deep in the bole of the mighty oak, and, reassured by the thought that he has a weapon within reach, Siegmund disposes himself to sleep.

The night wears on. The fire flickers and dies out. The deep silence is broken only by Siegmund's peaceful breathing, when the door noiselessly opens, and Sieglinde, all dressed in white, steals into the room. She glides up to the sleeping guest and gently rouses him, bidding him escape while her husband is still sound asleep under the influence of an opiate which she has secretly administered:—

‘It is I; behold what I say!
In heedless sleep is Hunding,
I set him a drink for his dreams,
The night for thy safety thou needest.’

Leading him to the oak, she then points out the sword, telling him it was driven into the very heart of the tree by a one-eyed stranger. He had come into the hall on her wedding day, and had declared that none but the mortal for whom the gods intended the weapon would ever be able to pull it out. She then goes on to describe how many strong men have tried to withdraw it, and warmly declares it must have been intended for him who had so generously striven to protect a helpless maiden. Her tender solicitude fills the poor outcast's famished heart with such love and joy that he clasps her to his breast, and, the door swinging noiselessly open to admit a flood of silvery moonbeams, they join in the marvellous duet known as the ‘Spring Song.’

As they gaze enraptured upon each other, they too perceive the strong resemblance which has so struck Hunding, but still fail to recognize each other as near of kin. To save Sieglinde from her distasteful compulsory marriage, Siegmund now consents to fly, providing she will accompany him, vowing to protect her till death with the sword which he easily draws from the oak, and which he declares he knows his father must have placed there, as he recognizes him in the description which Sieglinde had given of the stranger:—

‘Siegmund the Volsung,
Seest thou beside thee!
For bridal gift
He brings thee this sword.
He woos with the blade
The blissfullest wife.
From the house of the foe
He hies with thee.
Forth from here
Follow him far,
Hence to the laughing
House of the Spring,
Where Nothung the sword defends thee,
Where Siegmund infolds thee in love!’

This passionate appeal entirely sweeps away Sieglinde's last scruples; she yields rapturously to his wooing, and they steal away softly, hand in hand, to go and seek their happiness out in the wide world. Hunding, upon awaking on the morrow, discovers the treachery of his guest and the desertion of his wife. Almost beside himself with fury, he prepares to overtake and punish the guilty pair.

As a fight is now imminent between Siegmund, his mortal son, and Hunding, Wotan, who is up on a rocky mountain overlooking the earth, summons Brunhilde the Walkyrie to his side, bidding her saddle her steed and so direct the battle that Siegmund may remain victor and Hunding only fall. Chanting her Walkyrie war-cry, Brunhilde departs, laughingly calling out to Wotan that he had best be prepared for a call from his wife, who is hastening toward him as fast as her rams can draw her brazen chariot. Brunhilde has scarcely passed out of sight when Fricka comes upon the scene. After upbraiding Wotan for forsaking her to woo the goddess Erda and a mortal maiden, she says that, as father of the gods and ruler of the world, he is bound to uphold religion and morality. She then dwells angrily upon the immorality of the just consummated union between Siegmund and Sieglinde, who are brother and sister, and finally forces her husband, much against his will, to promise he will revoke his decree, give the victory to the injured husband, Hunding, and punish Siegmund, the seducer, by immediate death.

Wotan therefore summons Brunhilde once more, and sadly bids her to shield Hunding in the coming fight. Brunhilde, who realizes that the second command has been dictated by Fricka, implores him to confide his troubles to her. She then hears with dismay an account of the way in which Wotan has been beguiled into wrongdoing by Loge, of his attempts to gather an army large enough to oppose to his foes when the last day should come, and of his long cherished hope that Siegmund would recover the fatal ring which he feared would again fall into the revengeful Alberich's hands. Finally, however, Wotan repeats his order to her to befriend Hunding, and Brunhilde, awed by his despair, slowly departs to fulfil his commands.

The god has just vanished amid the mutterings of thunder, expressive of his wrath if any one dare to disobey his behests, when Siegmund and Sieglinde suddenly appear upon the mountain side. They are fleeing from Hunding, and Sieglinde, who has discovered when too late that Siegmund is her brother, is so torn by remorse, love, and fear that she soon sinks fainting to the ground. Siegmund, alarmed, bends over her, but, having ascertained that she has only fainted, makes no effort to revive her, deeming it better that she should remain unconscious during the encounter which must soon take place, for the horn of the pursuing Hunding is already heard in the distance.

Siegmund has just pressed a tender kiss upon Sieglinde's fair forehead, when Brunhilde, the Walkyrie, suddenly appears before him, and solemnly warns him of his coming defeat and death. He proudly tells her of his matchless sword, but she informs him that his reliance upon it is quite misplaced, for it will be wrenched from his grasp when his need is greatest. Then she tries to comfort him by describing the glory which awaits him in Walhalla, whither she will convey him after death.

Siegmund eagerly questions her, but, learning that Sieglinde can never be admitted within its shining portals, passionately declares he cannot leave her. He next proposes to kill her and himself, so that they may be together in Hela's dark abode, for he will accept no joys which she cannot share:—

‘Then greet for me Valhall,
Greet for me Wotan;
Hail unto Wälse,
And all the heroes!
Greet, too, the graceful
Warlike mist-maidens:
For now I follow thee not.’

Brunhilde's heart is so touched by his love for and utter devotion to Sieglinde, and she is so anxious at the same time to fulfil Wotan's real wish, in defiance of his orders, that she finally allows compassion to get the better of her reason, and impulsively promises Siegmund that she will protect him in the coming fray. At the same moment Hunding's horn is heard, and Brunhilde disappears, while the scene darkens with the rapid approach of a thunderstorm. Such is the darkness that Siegmund, who has sprung down the path in his eagerness to meet his foe, misses his way, while Sieglinde slowly rouses from her swoon, muttering of the days of her happy childhood when she dwelt with her family in the great wood. Suddenly, the lightning flashes, and Hunding and Siegmund, meeting upon a ridge, begin fighting, in spite of Sieglinde's frantic cries.

As the struggle begins, Brunhilde, true to her promise, hovers over the combatants, holding her shield over Siegmund and warding off every dangerous blow, while Sieglinde gazes in speechless terror upon the combatants.

But in the very midst of the fray, when Siegmund is about to pierce Hunding's heart with his glittering sword, Wotan suddenly appears, and, extending his sacred spear to parry the blow, he shivers the sword Nothung to pieces. Hunding basely takes advantage of this accident to slay his defenceless foe, while Brunhilde, fearing Wotan's wrath and Hunding's cruelty, catches up the fainting Sieglinde and bears her rapidly away upon her fleet-footed steed.

After gazing for a moment in speechless sorrow at his lifeless favourite, Wotan turns a wrathful glance upon the treacherous Hunding, who, unable to endure the divine accusation of his unflinching gaze, falls lifeless to the ground. Then the god mounts his steed, and rides off on the wings of the storm in pursuit of the disobedient Walkyrie, whom he is obliged to punish severely for his oath's sake.

The next scene represents an elevated plateau, the trysting spot of the eight Walkyries, on Hindarfiall, or Walkürenfels, whither they all come hastening, bearing the bodies of the slain across their fleet steeds. Brunhilde appears last of all, carrying Sieglinde. She breathlessly pours out the story of the day's adventures, and implores her sisters to devise some means of hiding Sieglinde, and to protect her from Wotan's dreaded wrath:—

‘The raging hunter
Behind me who rides,
He nears, he nears from the North!
Save me, sisters!
Ward this woman.’

The sound of the tempest has been growing louder and louder while she is speaking, and as she ends her narrative Sieglinde recovers consciousness, but only to upbraid her for having saved her life. She wildly proposes suicide, until Brunhilde bids her live for the sake of Siegmund's son whom she will bring into the world, and tells her to treasure the fragments of the sword Nothung, which she had carried away. Sieglinde, anxious now to live for her child's sake, hides the broken fragments in her bosom, and, in obedience to Brunhilde's advice, speeds into the dense forest where Fafnir has his lair, and where Wotan will never venture lest the curse of the ring should fall upon him.

‘Save for thy son
The broken sword!
Where his father fell
On the field I found it.
Who welds it anew
And waves it again,
His name he gains from me now—
“Siegfried” the hero be hailed.’

The noise of the storm and rushing wind has become greater and greater, the Walkyries have anxiously been noting Wotan's approach. As Sieglinde vanishes in the dim recesses of the primeval forest, the wrathful god comes striding upon the stage in search of Brunhilde, who cowers tremblingly behind her sisters. After a scathing rebuke to the Walkyries, who would fain shelter a culprit from his all-seeing eye, Wotan bids Brunhilde step forth. Solemnly he then pronounces her sentence, declaring she shall serve him as Walkyrie no longer, but shall be banished to earth, where she will have to live as a mere mortal, and, marrying, to know naught beyond the joys and sorrows of other women:—

‘Heard you not how
Her fate I have fixed?
Far from your side
Shall the faithless sister be sundered;
Her horse no more
In your midst through the breezes shall haste her;
Her flower of maidenhood
Will falter and fade;
A husband will win
Her womanly heart,
She meekly will bend
To the mastering man
The hearth she'll heed, as she spins,
And to laughers is left for their sport.’

Brunhilde, hearing this terrible decree, which degrades her from the rank of a goddess to that of a mere mortal, sinks to her knees and utters a great cry of despair. This is echoed by the Walkyries, who, however, depart at Wotan's command, leaving their unhappy sister alone with him.

Passionately now Brunhilde pleads with her father, declaring she had meant to serve him best by disobeying his commands, and imploring him not to banish her forever from his beloved presence. But, although Wotan still loves her dearly, he cannot revoke his decree, and repeats to her that he will leave her on the mountain, bound in the fetters of sleep, a prey to the first man who comes to awaken her and claim her as his bride.

All Brunhilde's tears and passionate pleadings only wring from him a promise that she will be hedged in by a barrier of living flames, so that none but the very bravest among men can ever come near her to claim her as his own.

Wotan, holding his beloved daughter in a close embrace, then gently seals her eyes in slumber with tender kisses, lays her softly down upon the green mound, and draws down the visor of her helmet. Then, after covering her with her shield to protect her from all harm, he begins a powerful incantation, summoning Loge to surround her with an impassable barrier of flames. As this incantation proceeds, small flickering tongues of fire start forth on every side; they soon rise higher and higher, roaring and crackling until, as Wotan disappears, they form a fiery barrier all around the sleeping Walkyrie:—

‘Loge, hear!
Hitherward listen!
As I found thee at first—
In arrowy flame
As thereafter thou fleddest—
In fluttering fire;
As I dealt with thee once,
I wield thee to-day!
Arise, billowing blaze,
And fold in thy fire the rock!
Loge! Loge! Aloft!
Who fears the spike
Of my spear to face,
He will pierce not the planted fire.’


Siegfried und Luedegast by Otto von Leixner




Fafner, when he had become possessor of the Nibelungen treasure, conveyed it, as we have seen, to a cave in a lonesome forest, and there in the shape of a dragon mounted guard over it. Mime, the dwarf, in order to keep the same treasure under some sort of oversight, took up his abode in the forest, at a respectful distance from the flame-breathing monster. Alberich haunted the immediate neighbourhood of the cave.

Thus it happened that Sieglinde, directed by the Valkyries to that region, where she should be safest from Wotan's anger, was overheard by Mime, out in the lonesome wood, moaning in her trouble. He assisted her into his cave. There Siegfried was born, and there Sieglinde died. Mime reared the "Wälsungen-shoot" with solicitous care, in the ulterior view that this scion of a strong race when grown to man's size should kill Fafner for him and get him the Ring.

At the rise of the curtain we see Mime at his anvil, struggling with a heavy difficulty. He is fashioning a sword for Siegfried,—still another sword, after ever so many,—realising even as he works that no sword he can forge but will break in the lad's strong hands. "The best sword I ever forged, which in the hands of a giant would stand stiff, the insignificant stripling for whom it was shaped he whacks and snaps it in two, as if I had made him a child's plaything!" It is sober fact to Mime that he cannot use Siegfried for his purposes until he have  equipped him with a sword. "A sword there is," he continues his meditation, "which he could not break. The fragments of Nothung he never could shatter, could I weld the strong pieces together, which all my art cannot compass! Nothung alone could be of use,... and I cannot weld it, Nothung, the sword!"

Half-heartedly he has resumed his toil, when a joyous shout is heard from the forest, of which a sun-shot patch glimmers through the cave's mouth, and there storms in, driving before him a tethered bear, a magnificent youth, clad in skins, a silver horn at his side. The splendour of Siegfried's appearance is constantly referred to, the qualifications applied to him suggesting most frequently an effect he shed of light. This child of the unhappy Wälsungen seems to have been indelibly stamped with the joy of their one golden hour. Of Siegmund's tragic consciousness of frustration, of Sieglinde's sufferings, there is no trace in their vigorous offspring; but the superabundant vitality of joy which lifted them to the lovers' seventh heaven for one triumphant hour is all in his young blood. He is big, strong, sane, comely, fearless, simple, ignorant of all mean passions and interests; pensive for moments, gay for hours-nearly boisterous; frank and outspoken to the point of brutality; unmannerly at times to the point of ruffianism; but the dice are loaded to secure our cherishing him right through his bright course, by that irresistible, ingrain joyousness of his, born of strength, balance, fearlessness.

Laughing immoderately, he urges the bear against Mime, who flees hither and thither to elude the fearful pair. "I am come in double force, the better to corner you.... Brownie, ask for the sword!" When assured by the trembling Mime that the sword is in readiness, he releases and sends home his shaggy ally. But when Mime hands him the newly finished  sword, and he strikes it on the anvil, it flies to bits. The angry boy expresses his wish that he had smashed the sword on the disgraceful bungler's skull. "Shall such a braggart go on bragging? He prates me of giants and lusty fighting; of gallant deeds and solid armour; he will forge weapons for me, provide me with swords; he vaunts his art as if he could do something of account; but let me take hold of the thing he has hammered, with a single grip I crush flat the idle rubbish! If the creature were not so utterly mean, I would drop him into the forge-fire with all the stuff of his forging, the old imbecile hobgoblin! There might be an end then to vexation!" He casts himself fuming on a stone seat and turns his face toward the wall. The dwarf, who has kept his distance from the storming youth, tries to quiet him, reminds him of his benefits, of his teachings on the subject of gratitude. Ingratiatingly he brings him food. Siegfried without turning dashes spit and pipkin from his hands. The little man affects a deeply hurt sensibility. He rehearses at length all Siegfried has to thank him for, material necessities, education,—"With clever counsel I made you clever, with subtle wisdom I taught you wit...." This tale of benefactions has been gone over so often that the dwarf has reached a fine glibness in it; the smooth air on which he enumerates the instances of his kindness has a peculiar cast of hypocrisy. He is so touched by the contemplation finally of his own goodness and Siegfried's hardness of heart that he falls to weeping. "And for all I have borne this is now the reward, that the hot-tempered boy torments and hates me!"

Siegfried has been calmly gazing into Mime's eyes; trying through these to get at the truth of him. Mime expresses surprise that after so many unquestionable services the boy should hate him; and the boy is not himself without a touch of wonder at the invincible antipathy with which this creature  inspires him, to whom yet he is actually indebted for many good offices. "Much you have taught me, Mime, and many a thing have I learned of you; but that which you have most cared to teach me, never have I succeeded in learning: how I could bear the sight of you! If you bring me food and drink, disgust takes the place of dinner; if you spread an easy couch for me, sleep on it becomes difficult; if you endeavour to teach me wise conversation, I prefer to be dumb and dull. Whenever I set eyes on you, I recognise as ill-done everything you do; whether I watch you stand, or waggle and walk, ducking, nidnodding, blinking with your eyes, my impulse is to catch the nidnodder by the scruff of the neck, to hurl out of the way for good and all the odious blinker! That is my manner, Mime, of being fond of you. Now, if you are wise, help me to know a thing which I have vainly reflected upon: I run into the woods to be rid of you; how does it happen that I come back? All animals are dearer to me than you, trees and birds, the fish in the stream, I am fonder of them all than I am of you; then how does it happen that I still come back? If you are wise, make clear to me this thing!" "My child," replies Mime, "you are informed by that circumstance how near I lie to your heart!" "I tell you I cannot bear you! Forget it not so soon!" Mime argues that such a thing is impossible, is out of nature; that what to the young bird is the old bird, which feeds it in the nest until it is fledged, that is to Siegfried, inevitably, Mime! This simile of Mime's suggests to Siegfried a further question. In asking it he has one of those brief accesses of pensiveness which endear him, disclosing the existence of a common human tenderness, after all, under that sturdy wrapping of joy befitting the child of demigods. "Now, since you are so wise, tell me still another thing: When the birds were singing so blithely in Spring, the one luring the other, you told me, as I wished to  know, that they were male and female. They billed and cooed so engagingly, and would not leave each other; they built a nest and brooded in it; there was a fluttering presently of young wings, and the two cared for the young. I saw how, in the same way, the deer rested in the forest, in pairs; how even wild faxes and wolves did this. The male brought food to the lair, the female nursed the cubs. I learned from seeing this what love is—I never robbed the mother of her young...." The music has been heaving and falling, as if with the warm palpitation of a vast breast, Nature's own, blissful with love and happy creative force. "Now, where, Mime, is your loving mate, that I may call her mother?" Mime becomes cross: "What has come over you, mad boy? Now, what a numbskull it is! Are you a bird or a fox?" And at Siegfried's next question he chafes: "You are to believe what I tell you: I am your father and mother at the same time!" But Siegfried vigorously objects: "There you lie, unspeakable gawk! How the young resemble their parents I have luckily observed for myself. More than once I have come to a clear stream: I have seen the trees and animals mirrored in it; the sun and clouds, exactly as they are, appear repeated on the shining surface. My own image, too, I have seen. Altogether different from you I seemed to myself: there is as much likeness between a toad and a gleaming fish, but never yet did a fish crawl out of a toad!" This latter bit in its short extent gives an amusing, characteristic illustration of Wagner's method of painting with notes. With the first phrase, Siegfried's impatient exclamation, comes the motif of Siegfried's impetuosity; then, as he is describing it, a representation of the clear stream; upon this is sketched the image of Siegfried, in the notes of his proper motif, to which is added a bar of the heroism-of-the-Wälsungen motif, indicating his resemblance to the father before  him. At his mention of the toad, his metaphor for Mime, we hear the hammer of the Nibelung; and at his mention of the gleaming fish, the swimming phrase that accompanies the watery evolutions of the Rhine-maidens. The ingeniousness of all this would not perhaps of itself especially recommend the piece, were it not that the scheme is worked out to such beautiful purpose that the whole thing is lovely, and that, though one should know nothing whatever of the motifs, his ear must be charmed.

Satisfied by his own logic that Mime cannot be his progenitor, Siegfried now himself answers his earlier question: "When I run into the woods in the thought of forsaking you, how does it happen that I still return home? It is because from you I am to learn who are my father and mother!" Mime evades him: "What father! What mother! Idle question!" But Siegfried catches him by the throat, and the terrified dwarf communicates, grudgingly, a scant fact or two of his history. "Oh, ungrateful and wicked child! now hear for what it is you hate me. I am neither your father nor any kin of yours, and yet to me you owe your life...." Making his own part in the story as meritorious as possible, he relates his taking into shelter the woman whom he had found moaning out in the wild woods. Siegfried, for once penetrated with sadness, wonder, and awe, breathes forth softly, when the sorrowful story is ended, "My mother—died then—of me?" He tries by questions to complete the dwarf's bare account: "Whence am I named Siegfried?" "Thus did your mother bid me call you." "What was my mother's name?" Mime feigns to have forgotten, but, roughly pressed, recalls it. "Then, I ask you, what was my father's name?" "Him I never saw!" "But my mother spoke the name?" "She only said that he had been slain." Siegfried is smitten with the suspicion that Mime  may be lying to him, and demands some proof of all this which he has heard. Mime, after a moment's resistance, in terror of the boy's rising wrath, fetches from its hiding and shows him the pieces of a broken sword. "This was given me by your mother. For trouble, cost and care, she left it as paltry remuneration. Behold it! A broken sword! Your father, she said, carried it in the last battle, when he was slain." Siegfried's strong good spirits have already returned. "And these fragments," he cries, with enthusiasm, "you are to weld together for me. Then I shall swing my proper sword! Hurry, Mime! Quick to work!... Cheat me not with trumpery toys! In these fragments alone I place my faith. If I find you idle, if you join them imperfectly, if there are flaws in the hard steel, you shall learn burnishing from me! For this very day, I swear it, I mean to have the sword!" "What do you want this very day of the sword?" Mime inquires in alarm. Siegfried, his heart inexpressibly lightened by the positive knowledge that Mime is neither father nor any kin to him, bursts into merry singing: "To go away, out of the woods into the world. Never shall I come back!... As the fish gaily swims in the flood, as the finch freely flies afar, so shall I fly, so shall I dart... that I may never, Mime, see you more!" Off he storms into the forest, leaving Mime shouting after him, a prey to the utmost anxiety. The dwarf's difficulty is now twofold: "To the old care I have a new one added!" How to retain the wild fellow and guide him to Fafner's nest, and how to mend those pieces of stubborn steel. "No forge is there whose glow can soften the thorough-bred fragments. No dwarf's hammer can compel the hard pieces...." In unmitigated despair, void of counsel, he drops on his seat behind the anvil and weeps.

Ushered by great calm chords, measured and dignified as the gait of a god on his travels, a wayfarer appears at the  entrance of the cave. He wears an ample deep-blue mantle, and for staff carries a spear. On his head is a broad hat, the brim of which dips so as to conceal one of his eyes. It is Wotan. Since parting from Brünnhilde he has had no heart for warfare, no heart to ride to battle without the "laughing joy of his eyes." Alone, unresting, he has wandered all over the wide earth in search of counsel and, very likely, distraction. A spectator he is in these days and not an actor. His spirit has reached a state of philosophic calm. He has learned better certainly than to meddle any more with anything that concerns the accursed Ring. He is brought into the neighbourhood of the still interested actors in that old drama in part by curiosity; in part, no doubt, by the wish to watch the actions of Siegfried, his beloved children's child. But in some faintest degree, at least, it would seem, he is brought here by the invincible need to influence these fortunes just a little, though it be firmly fixed that he is not to try directly or indirectly to divert the Ring into any channel which shall bring it eventually to himself. All else being equal, he had a little rather strengthen Mime's chances of getting the Ring, through Siegfried, than inactively see it fall to the inveterate enemy, Alberich.

At the greeting he speaks from the threshold to the "wise smith," Mime starts up in affright: "Who is it, pursuing me into the forest wilderness?" "Wanderer is the world's name for me. Far have I wandered, much have I bestirred myself on the back of the earth." "Then bestir yourself now! and do not loiter here, if Wanderer is the world's name for you!" Mime, with his head full of his dark little projects, has a deep dread of spies and interference. At every step the Wanderer takes further into his dwelling, he utters a sharper protest; and at every protest the Wanderer calmly advances a step further. "Through much research, much have I learned," speaks  Wanderer, "I could impart to many a one things of importance to him; I could deliver many a one from that which troubles him—from the gnawing care of the heart." And after still another irritated dismissal from Mime: "Many a one has imagined himself to be wise, but the thing which he most needed to know, he knew not. I gave him leave to ask me what should help him, and enlightened him by my word." And after again being nervously shown the door: "Here I sit by the fireside," speaks blandly Wanderer, suiting the action to the word, "and I set my head as stake in a match of wits. My head is yours, you have won it, if you do not, by questioning me, succeed in learning what shall profit you; if I do not, by my instructions, redeem the pledge."

It is plain enough that if Mime would now expose to the Wanderer the source of the gnawing care at his heart, and ask him how Nothung might be welded, he would receive the information. Wotan is clearly eager to give it, yet cannot do so directly, or he would be too crudely meddling again in the Ring affair: he cannot press on him his counsel, but, at his old trick of ingenuous double-dealing, might by means of this guessing-game make shift to convey it to him.

Mime, old and wise as he is, has yet in certain directions a dwarfed understanding; certainly not enough generosity to trust anybody, or conceive of a disinterested desire to do him a good turn. His whole concern now is how to be rid of this large tactless personage. "I must question him in such a manner as to trap him," he says to himself. It is agreed that he shall have three questions. He sits brooding a moment, trying to find something very difficult indeed. The motif of Mime's cogitations, which has already been frequently heard in this act, gives amusingly the unheroic colour of the sordid little mind's workings. He fixes upon questions concerning things which  might be supposed little known to a wanderer of human descent, even such a much-travelled and conceited one. First: What race reigns in the depths of the earth? Second: What race rests upon the back of the earth? Third: What race dwells on the cloudy heights? Wotan readily answers all these, giving bits of the histories of the races in question, the Nibelungen, the Giants, and the Gods. As he describes the spear of Wotan, whose lord all must eternally obey, he with an involuntary gesture of command brings his spear hard down on the stone floor. Faint thunder results. Terror falls upon Mime, who by the light shining for a moment from his countenance, has recognised the god. "You have solved the questions and saved your head," he says hurriedly, without looking Wotan in the face. "Now, Wanderer, go your way!" But the Wanderer declares that according to custom in such contests, it is the dwarf's turn now to answer three questions or lose his head. "It is a long time," Mime ventures timidly, "since I left my native place; a long time since I departed from the bosom of earth, my mother; I once saw the gleam of Wotan's eye as he looked into the cave; my mother-wit dwindles before him...." But the wee fellow has no mean conceit of his wisdom, and is really not as uneasy as might be expected of one in his position. "Perhaps I shall be so lucky," he suggests, not without complacency, "as, under this compulsion, to deliver the dwarf's head!" Wotan asks him, for the first question,—and the pain of the memories oppressing him is translated to us by the motif of parting, the motif of "last times," while the god's tones are infinitely tender—"What race is it to which Wotan shows himself stern, and which yet he loves the best of all living?" Glibly Mime answers, showing a full acquaintance with the circumstances, "The Wälsungen." Wotan passes on to the second question: "A wise Nibelung keeps watch over Siegfried.  He is to kill Fafner for him, that he may get the Ring and become lord of the Hort. What sword now must Siegfried wield, if he is to deal death to Fafner?" Mime, delighted with himself, readily replies: "Nothung is the name of a notable sword.... The fragments of it are preserved by a wise smith, for he knows that with the Wotan-sword alone an intrepid stupid boy, Siegfried, shall destroy the dragon." He rubs his hands in goblin glee. "Am I, dwarf, in the second instance still to retain my head?" Wanderer, with a laugh for his antics, felicitates him: "The most keen-witted are you among the wise; who can equal you in acuteness? But seeing you are so cunning as to use the boyish hero for your dwarf-purposes, with the third question I now make bold: Tell me, wise armourer, who, out of the strong fragments, shall forge Nothung anew?" Consternation falls upon the dwarf. Who, indeed? Was not that question the very hub around which turned all his troubled reflections? Had it not been that which was forcing tears from him at the moment of the Wanderer's arrival? He runs hither and thither distracted, in broken exclamations admitting that he himself cannot forge the sword, and how should he know who can perform the miracle? The Wanderer rises from his seat beside the hearth. "Three questions you were free to ask. Three times I was open to consultation. You inquired of things idle and remote, but that which was closest to you, that which might profit you, did not enter your mind. Now that I have guessed it, you lose your senses with fright. I have won the witty head. Now, brave conqueror of Fafner, hear, doomed dwarf: Only one who has never known fear can forge Nothung anew." On his way to the mouth of the cave, he turns for another word to the chap-fallen Mime: "Look out for your wise head from this day forth: I leave it in forfeit to him who has never learned fear!" With a laugh for the double-horned  dilemma in which he leaves the "honest dwarf," he passes forth into the woods.

As Mime gazes after him, violent trembling seizes the poor little smith. The flashing among the leaves of Wotan's winged horse his terror mistakes for the flaming of Fafner's gaping jaws; and the sound of a rushing approach for the monster crashing toward him through the underbrush. With the cry: "The dragon is upon me! Fafner! Fafner!" he cowers behind the anvil.

The alarming noise proves to have been only Siegfried coming with characteristic impetuosity to ask for his sword. "Hey, there! Lazy-bones! Have you finished? Quick! What success with the sword?" Mime is not in sight. His voice is heard, faint, from his hiding-place: "Is it you, child? Are you alone?" Siegfried for some time can draw no satisfactory answer from him, no matter how roughly pressed. The dwarf is caught between two difficulties, and must first of all things try to think out for himself the safest course of action. Only by one who has never known fear can Nothung, the indispensable, be forged. "Too wise am I for such work!" he soliloquizes. On the other hand, his wise head is forfeit to one who has never learned fear. Of the two difficulties, the latter is obviously the one to be first attended to. Siegfried fills the description dangerously well of the foretold fatal enemy. "How shall I contrive to teach him fear?" is Mime's nearest interest. Siegfried, irritated by his continued hesitation, finally catches hold of him. "Ha? Must I lend a hand? What have you forged and furbished to-day?" "With no care but for your welfare," answers Mime, "I was sunk in thought as to how I should instruct you in a thing of great importance." "You were sunk quite under the seat," laughs Siegfried; "what of great importance did you discover there?" "I there learned fear for your sake, that I might teach it to you,  dunce." "What about fear?" Siegfried asks. "You know nothing about it, and you are thinking of going from the woods out into the world? Of what use to you would be the strongest sword, if you had no knowledge of fear?... Into the crafty world I shall not let you fare before you have learned fear." "If it is an art, why am I unacquainted with it? Out with it! What about fear?" "Have you never felt,"—asks Mime, in a voice which at the suggestion of his own words falls to quaking, "have you never felt, in the dark woods, at twilight,... when there are sounds in the distance of rustling, humming and soughing, when wild muttering gusts sweep past, disorderly fire-wisps flicker around you, a swelling confused sound surges toward you,—have you not felt a shuddering horror seize upon your limbs? A burning chill shakes your frame, your senses swim and fail; the alarmed heart trembling in your breast hammers to the point of bursting? If you have never felt these things, fear is unknown to you!" The music of fear is a darkened and discoloured fire-music through which we recognise, as if under a disguise veiling something of its beauty, the motif of Brünnhilde's sleep. If one looks for reasons, one can suppose the reference to be, as to a type of fearful things, to the terror-inspiring barrier surrounding Brünnhilde; and imagine a jesting intimation that fear, as Siegfried should eventually learn it, is the sensation suspending the heart-beats at sight of a beautiful woman in her sleep.

Siegfried has listened to Mime in amused wonder: "Strange exceedingly must that be! My heart, I feel, stands firm and hard in its place. That creeping and shuddering, glowing and shivering, turning hot and turning dizzy, hammering and trembling, I wish to feel the terror of it, I long for that delight! But how can you, Mime, bring it about?" "Just follow me. I will guide you to some purpose. I have thought it all out.  I know a dreadful dragon; he has slain already and swallowed many; Fafner will teach you fear, if you follow me to his lair." "Where is his lair?" "Neidhöhle it is called. (Neid: envy; Höhle: cavern.) Eastward it lies at the end of the wood." "Then it is not far from the world?" "The world is close by." "You are to take me there, and when I have learned fear, away, into the world! So quick! Give me my sword! I will swing it out in the world!" Mime confesses that he neither has mended, nor ever can mend, the sword in question. "No dwarf's strength is equal to it. More likely," he suggests, "one who knows no fear may discover the art!" Siegfried, heartily weary of Mime's paltering, snatches up the fragments of Nothung: "Here, the pieces! Away with the bungler! My father's steel doubtless will let itself be welded by me. Myself I will forge the sword!" And he falls to work. "If you had taken diligent pains to learn the art, it would now, of a truth, profit you," remarks Mime; "but you were always lazy at the lesson. What proper work can you do now?" "What the master cannot do," Siegfried aptly retorts, "the apprentice might, if he had always minded him? Take yourself off! Meddle not with this, or you may tumble with it into the fire!" He heaps fuel on the hearth, fastens the sword in a vice and starts filing it. Mime watches him, and at this which looks like folly, cannot restrain the exclamation: "What are you doing? Take the solder! You are filing away the file!" But the disposition of the young fellow without fear shows in his method with the sword. With a brave thoroughness he reduces the whole blade to steel filings. Mime follows all his movements. "Now I am as old as this cavern and these woods, but such a thing have I never seen! He will succeed with the sword, that I plainly apprehend. In his fearlessness he will make it whole. The Wanderer knew it well! How, now, shall  I hide my endangered head? It is forfeit to the intrepid boy unless Fafner shall teach him fear—But, woe's me, poor wretch, how will he slay the dragon, if he learns fear from him? How will he obtain the Ring for me? Accursed dilemma! Here am I fast caught, unless I find me wise counsel how to bring under compulsion the fearless one himself...." "Quick, Mime!" Siegfried interrupts Mime's meditations; "what is the name of the sword which I have ground into filings?" "Nothung is the name of the notable sword; your mother gave me the information." Siegfried at work falls to lusty singing, a song of primitive character, of a kind with what one can suppose Tubal-cain singing at his ancient anvil. We see him pumping the forge-bellows while the steel melts, pouring the metal into a mould, cooling the mould in a water-trough, breaking the plaster, heating the sword, hammering the red blade, cooling it again, riveting the handle, polishing the whole,—all of which actions his song celebrates: "Nothung! Nothung! Notable sword! (Neidliches Schwert is literally "covetable sword") Why must you of old be shattered? To powder I have ground your sharp magnificence. I now melt the filings in the crucible. Hoho! Hoho! Hahei! Hahei! Blow, bellows, brighten the glow! Wild in the forest grew a tree. I hewed it down, I burned the brown ash to charcoal. It lies heaped now on the hearth. The coals of the tree, how bravely they burn, how bright and clear they glow! Upward they fly in a spray of sparks and melt the steel-dust. Nothung! Nothung! Notable sword! Your powdered steel is melting, in your own sweat you are swimming, soon I shall swing you as my sword!"

Mime during this has been revolving his own problem, and has hit upon a plan which seems to him to meet all the difficulties of his case: Siegfried, beyond a doubt, will forge the  sword and kill Fafner. While he is tired and heated from the encounter, Mime will offer him a drink brewed from simples of his culling, a few drops of which will plunge the boy into deep sleep, when, with the weapon he is at this moment forging, Mime will clear him out of the way and take possession of Ring and treasure. Enchanted with his inspiration, he sets to work at once preparing the somniferous drink.

Siegfried is singing at the top of his lungs: "In the water flowed the stream of fire, it hissed aloud in anger, but the cold tamed and chilled it; in the water it flows no more, stiff and hard it is become, the lordly steel—but hot blood will bathe it soon. Now sweat again that I may forge you, Nothung, notable sword!" He catches sight of Mime pottering with the cooking utensils. "There is a wise smith come to shame," the old man answers the youth's mocking inquiry; "the teacher receives lessons from his pupil; all is up with art for the old one, he will serve the young one as cook! While the young one makes iron into broth, the old one will prepare a dish of eggs!" With impish relish of the inwardness of the situation, he stirs the mixture in the pot.

"Hoho! Hahei! Hoho!" Siegfried proceeds with his work and his singing; "shape, my hammer, a hard sword! Blood once dyed your pallid blue, its trickling red brightened you, you laughed coldly, you cooled off the hot liquid. Now the fire has made you glow red, your soft hardness yields to the hammer; you dart angry sparks at me, because I have tamed you, stubborn! The merry sparks, how they delight me! Anger adorns the brave. You are gaily laughing at me, though you feign to be angry and sullen. Hoho! Hahei! By means of heat and hammer I have achieved it, with stalwart blows I have shaped you; now let the red shame vanish, become as hard and cold as you can...."

 Mime is meanwhile revelling in dreams of the greatness which is to follow upon his acquisition of the Ring. He fairly skips up and down as he thinks of it all: Brother Alberich himself reduced to subjection, the whole world bowing at the nod of his, Mime's, head. No more toil, others to toil for him.... "Mime is king, Prince of the Nibelungen, lord over all! Hei, Mime! who would have thought it of you?"

"Nothung! Nothung! Notable sword!" harmoniously bellows Siegfried; "now you are fast in your hilt. You were in two, I have forced you into one. No blow after this shall break you. In the dead father's hand the steel snapped, the living son forged it anew; now its bright gleam flashes like laughter, its sharp edge cuts clean. Nothung! Nothung! Young and renewed! I have brought you back to life. You lay dead there, in fragments; now you flash lightning, defiant and brave! Show caitiffs your gleam! Strike the traitor! Fell the villain!" He waves over his head the finished sword: "Look, Mime, you smith—thus cuts Siegfried's sword!" He brings it down upon the anvil, which falls apart, cleft from top to bottom. Mime tumbles over with amazement.


Siegfrieds Tod  by Otto von Leixner


The next scene shows the woods before Fafner's cave. It is night. Alberich is dimly distinguishable, lurking among the rocks, brooding his dark thoughts, as he keeps covert watch over the treasure. He is startled by what seems an untimely break of day, accompanied by a great gust of wind. This defines itself as a galloping gleam—a shining horse rushing through the forest. "Is it already the slayer of the dragon?" he wonders; "is it he, already, who shall kill Fafner?" A moonbeam breaking through the clouds reveals the form of the Wanderer  advancing toward Neidhöhle. The enemies see and recognise each other. Alberich, though greatly alarmed at this inopportune presence, breaks into angry vituperation: "Out of the way, shameless robber.... Your intrigues have done harm enough!" "I am come to look on, not to act," Wotan replies, grandly mild and unruffled; "who shall deny me a wanderer's right of way?" Alberich, as if words of offence were actually missiles, showers them thick upon the unmoved god. He points out, virulently, the strength of his own position compared with Wotan's, in whose hand that spear of his must fly to pieces should he break a covenant established as sacred by the runes carved on its shaft. Wanderer, a shade weary of such a berating, yet losing little of his placidity, retorts: "Not through any runes of truth to covenants did my spear bind you, malignant, to me; you my spear forces to bow before me by its strength; I carefully keep it therefore for purposes of war." "How haughtily do you threaten in your defiant strength," the rabid Alberich continues, "yet how uneasy is all within your breast.... Doomed to death through my curse is Fafner, guardian of the treasure. Who will inherit from him? Will the illustrious Hort come once more into the possession of the Nibelung? The thought gnaws you with unsleeping care. For, let me hold it again in this fist, far otherwise than thick-witted giants shall I employ the power of the Ring; then let the holy keeper of the heroes tremble; the heights of Walhalla I shall storm with the hosts of Hella, the world then will be mine to govern!" Tranquilly Wotan receives this: "I know your meaning, but it creates in me no uneasiness. He shall rule through the Ring who obtains it." This calm of Wotan's gives Alberich the idea that the god must, so to speak, have cards up his sleeve. "On the sons of heroes," he suggests ironically, "you place your insolent reliance, fond  blossoms of your own blood. Good care have you taken of a young fellow—not so?—who cunningly shall pluck the fruit which you dare not yourself break off?" "Not with me"—Wotan cuts short the discussion, "wrangle with Mime. Danger threatens you through your brother. He is bringing to this spot a youth who is to slay Fafner for him. The boy knows nothing of me. The Nibelung uses him for his own purposes. Wherefore, I tell you, comrade, do freely as you choose!" Alberich can scarcely believe that he has heard aright. "You will keep your hand from the treasure?" Serenely and broadly, Wotan declares—a touch of that tenderness in his tone which the thought of the Wälsungen always has power to arouse—"Whom I love I leave to act for himself: let him stand or fall, his own lord is he. I have no use save for heroes!" This sounds very fair; to Alberich almost too fair. He presses Wotan with further questions. The answers are elusive as oracles, but satisfy Alberich of thus much: that Wotan is himself out of the struggle for the Ring. To point his personal disinterestedness, the god even offers to wake the dragon, that Alberich may warn him of the approaching danger and peradventure receive in token of gratitude—the Ring! We suspect in this Wotan's taste for a joke, unless it be an exhibition of that other trait of the god's, the need to gratify his conscience with a comedy of fairness. At this moment he is not, it is true, interfering; but he is confidently watching the play of forces set working by him long ago. The strong Siegfried armed with the rejuvenated Sieges-schwert is a force having its impulse originally from him. At this moment, perhaps because the events immediately impending have cast their shadows across the sensitive consciousness of an at times prophet, he is in no uneasiness whatever with regard to the fate of the Ring. To Alberich's mystification, he actually  rouses Fafner. "Who disturbs my sleep?" comes a hollow roar from the cave. The Fafner-motif is the old motif of the giants, slightly altered so that instead of the ponderous tread of the brothers it suggests the muffled ponderous beat of a gigantic sinister heart. Wotan and Alberich explain to the dragon his danger and indicate what may buy him safety. Having heard them out, Fafner, unseen in the cave, gives a long lazy comfortable yawn. "I lie and possess! Let me sleep!" Wotan laughs. "Well, Alberich, the plan failed. But abuse me no more, you rogue! One thing, I further enjoin you, keep well in mind: Everything is after its kind, and this kind you cannot alter!" The broad Erda-motif accompanies this maxim. "Take a firm stand! Put your skill to use with Mime, your brother. He is of the kind you understand better. What is of a different kind, learn now to know, too...." When Wotan disappears, the galloping is heard, through the storm-wind that for a moment agitates the leaves of the forest, of his rising Luft-ross. His obscure last words have left Alberich puzzled, sorer and angrier than ever. The air is full of curse-motif. "Laugh on, you light-minded luxurious tribe of the gods! I shall still see you all gone to destruction. While the gold shines in the light there is a wise one keeping watch—His spite will circumvent you all!" He hides himself among the tumbled rocks near the cave-mouth from the brightening light of dawn.

Mime enters guiding Siegfried. "This is the spot, go no further!" Siegfried seats himself under a great tree; they have been travelling through the woods all night. "This is the place where I am to learn fear?" he inquires light-heartedly. The excursion, as far as he knows, has for its single object to teach him that art. He is not of a suspicious turn and does not ask what interest in his education has Mime, in whose  affection he instinctively does not believe. "Now, Mime," he instructs the dwarf, "you are after this to avoid me. If I do not learn here what I should learn, I shall fare further alone, I shall finally be rid of you!" "Believe me, dear boy," says the dwarf, "if you do not learn fear to-day and here, with difficulty shall you learn it elsewhere and at another time!" He directs the youth's eye to the black mouth of the dragon-hole and describes with griesly detail the monster inhabiting it. Siegfried listens unimpressed. Hearing, in answer to his inquiry, that the monster has a heart and that it is in the usual place: "I will drive Nothung into the overweening brute's heart!" he determines lightly. He is sceptical with regard to the lesson in fear which he has been promised. "Just wait!" Mime warns him. "What I said was empty sound in your ears. You must hear and see the creature himself.... Remain where you are. When the sun climbs high, watch for the dragon. He will come out of his cave and pass along this way to go and drink at the spring." "Mime," says Siegfried, with a laugh for his foolish big-boy joke, "if you are to be at the spring I will not hinder the dragon from going there. I will not drive Nothung into his spleen until he has drunk you up. Wherefore, take my advice: do not lie down to rest at the water's edge, but take yourself off as far as ever you can, and never come back!" Mime is too near, as he thinks, the hour of triumph, to take offence. May he not be permitted, after the fight, to refresh the victor with a drink? He will be near. Let Siegfried call him if he needs advice,... or if he finds the sensation of fear delectable!

When Siegfried has freed himself of Mime, whose company seems to become more and more unendurable as he is nearer parting from him for ever, he stretches out again under the great tree, folding his arms beneath his head. "That that  fellow is not my father," he muses, "how glad am I of that! The fresh woodland only begins to please me, the glad daylight to smile to me, now that the offensive wretch is out of my sight!" He drives away the thought of him and lets sweeter reflections gradually absorb him. The leaves rustle and waver; delicate shafts of sunshine drop through them and play over the forest floor. The exquisiteness of the hour, by its natural power over the mood, turns the lonely boy's thoughts toward the only human beings life has so far given him to love,—and in images so vague and distant! "How did my father look?" he wonders dreamily, and answers himself: "Like me, of course!" After a longer spell of gazing up among the trees, while the soft influences of the fragrant woodland world and lovely summer day still further overmaster him: "But—how did my mother look?... That I cannot in the least picture! Like the doe's, I am sure, shone her limpid lustrous eyes—only, more beautiful by far!" The thought of her death fills him with boundless sadness, but not sharp or bitter,—dreamy and sweet from its tenderness. "When she had born me, wherefore did she die? Do human mothers always die of their sons? How sad were that! Oh, might I, son, behold my mother!... My mother—a woman of humankind!" The motif of mother-love is but a slight, beautiful variation from the motif of love in nature accompanying Siegfried's reference to the deer paired in the woods, that strain like the heaving of a great heart oppressed by its burden of love. The thought of his never-known mother draws forth sighs from Siegfried's lips. A long time he lies silent. The Freia-motif, the motif of beauty, clambers upward like a dewy branch of wild clematis. All is still around, but the little wind-stirred leaves, which weave and weave as if a delicate green gold-shot fabric of sound. Against this airy tapestry suddenly stands forth like a vivid pattern the  warbling of a bird. Over and over, with pretty variations, the bird gives its note. It catches Siegfried's attention; he listens. "You sweet little bird," he at last addresses the singer up among the branches, "I never heard you before. Is your home here in the forest?..." The thought occurs to him, so natural to the simple: "Could I but understand the sweet babbling, certainly it would tell me something—perhaps about the dear mother!" He remembers hearing from Mime that one might come to understand the language of the birds. Attractive possibility! Pricked by his desire at once to bring it about, he springs up, cuts one of the reeds growing around the pool where Fafner goes to drink, and fashions it into a pipe. He tries upon it to imitate the bird-note. "If I can sing his language," is his reasoning, "I shall understand, no doubt, what he sings!" After repeated attempts, charmingly comical, and much vain mending of the reed with the edge of Nothung, he grows impatient, is ashamed of his unsuccess before the "roguish listener." He tosses away the silly reed and takes his silver horn. "A merry wild-wood note, such as I can play, you shall hear! I have sounded it as a call to draw to me some dear companion. So far, nothing better has come than a wolf or a bear. Let us see, now, what it attracts this time, whether a dear comrade will come to the call?" He places the horn to his lips and sounds the cheery Lock-weise (lure-call) over and over, with long sustained notes between the calls, during which he looks up at the bird, to see how he likes it. As a variation he plays the motifs which describe himself, the large heroic Siegfried-motif, and then the gay, rash, lesser Nothung-Siegfried motif. He has returned to the Lock-weise, and is repeating it with obstinate persistence, a-mind not to stop until the companion his lonesomeness yearns for shall have answered him when a bellowing sound behind him makes him face  about. We had been warned already by the Wurm-motif, heard before in Nibelheim, when Alberich by the power of the Tarnhelm turned himself into a dragon. Siegfried at sight of Fafner, whom the loud Lock-weise has drawn from his slumbers and his cave, laughs aloud: "My tune has charmed forth something truly lovely! A tidy comrade you would make for me!" "What is that?" roars Fafner, fixing the glare of his eyes upon the shapely form of Siegfried, insignificant in size, as he counts it. "Haha!" cries Siegfried, enchanted to hear from an animal talk which he can understand. "If you are an animal that can speak, you very likely can teach me something. Here is one who does not know fear; can he learn it from you?" "Is this insolence?" asks the amazed brute. "Call it insolence or what you please, but I shall fall upon you bodily, unless you teach me fear." Fafner laughs grimly, as if he licked his chops: "I wanted drink, I now find meat as well!" He shows the red interior of his vast jaws fringed with teeth. There is a brief further exchange of threats and jeers, then Fafner bellows: "Pruh! Come on, swaggering child!" Siegfried shouts: "Look out, bellower, the swaggerer comes!" and, Nothung in hand, leaps to the assault. Vainly Fafner spouts flame to blind and terrify him. The fight ends as it must. The dragon falls beneath the Wotan-sword, wielded by the hero without fear.

With his failing breath, in a tone strangely void of resentment, the dragon questions his slip of an adversary, so unexpectedly victorious: "Who are you, intrepid boy, that have pierced my heart? Who incited the child to the murderous deed? Your brain never conceived that which you have done...." A motif we have come to know well punctuates the dying speech of this still another victim of the curse on the Ring. "I do not know much, as yet," Siegfried replies; "I do not know even  who I am. But it was yourself roused my temper to fight with you." The last of the giants, his hollow voice growing fainter, tells the "clear-eyed boy," the "rosy hero," who it is he has slain, and warns him of the treachery surrounding the owner of the Hort. "Tell me further from whom I am descended," speaks Siegfried; "wise, of a truth, do you appear, wild one, in dying. Guess it from my name. Siegfried I am called!" But the Worm sighing, "Siegfried!..." gives up the breath.

After a moment's contemplation of the mountainous dead, Siegfried resolutely drags from his breast the sword which he had driven in up to the hilt. A drop of the dragon's blood spurts against his hand. With the exclamation: "The blood burns like fire!" he lifts his finger to his mouth. At once his attention is arrested by the voices of the birds. With increasing interest he harkens: It seems to him almost as if the birds were speaking to him; a distinct impression he receives of words. "Is it the effect of tasting the blood?" he wonders. "That curious little bird there, hark, what is he saying to me?" From the tree-top come clear words on a bird's warble: "Hei, to Siegfried belongs now the Nibelung's treasure! Oh, might he find the Hort in the cave! If he should win the Tarnhelm it would serve him for delightful adventures; but if he should find the Ring it would make him sovereign of the world!" Siegfried has listened with bated breath. "Thanks, dear little bird, for your advice. Gladly will I do as you bid!" He enters the cave. As he disappears, Mime crawls near to convince himself ocularly of Fafner's death. At the same moment, Alberich slips from his hiding-place and throws himself across Mime's path, to bar his way to the treasure. A bitter quarrel at once springs up between the brothers; Alberich claims the treasure because it is rightly his, Mime because he reared the youth who has recovered it from the dragon. Mime, whom  Alberich's violence cows still as in the old days, offers to share, if he may have the Tarnhelm—a sly proposition,—he will renounce the Ring; but this Alberich hears with furious scorn, and the wrangle is at its height when Siegfried reappears at the cave's mouth. In his hands are Tarnhelm and Ring. Returning into sight after the angry cat-fight between the ill-conditioned pair, he appears more than ever large, serene, fair, noble. Mime and Alberich betake themselves quickly back to their lurking-places. Siegfried stands considering his odd-looking acquisitions: "Of what use you may be to me I know not; but I took you from the heaped gold of the treasure because a good adviser bade me. As ornaments you shall serve, bearing witness to this day; these baubles shall remind me that in combat I slew Fafner, but failed still to learn fear!" He places the ring on his finger and the Tarnhelm at his belt. In the silence that falls, he listens again for the voice of the bird. It suddenly drops from the tree-top: "Hei! Siegfried possesses the Tarnhelm and Ring! Oh, let him not trust Mime the false! If Siegfried should listen closely to the wretch's hypocritical words, he would penetrate the true meaning of Mime's heart; such is the virtue of the taste of dragon's blood!" No sooner has Siegfried heard, than he sees Mime approaching. He waits for him, leaning on his sword, quietly watchful. The little man contorts body and face into postures and expressions as humbly flattering and cajoling as he can; at every few steps he scrapes and curtseys. "Welcome, Siegfried! Tell me, you soul of courage, have you learned fear?" "Not yet have I found the teacher!" "But the Serpent-Worm which you slew, a fearsome fellow, was he not?" "Grim and malignant though he were, his death verily grieves me, since miscreants of deeper dye still live at large. The one who bade me murder him, I hate more than the dragon!"  Mime to all appearance takes these words as if they carried no offence. What he thinks he is saying in reply we know not; but this is what, spoken in a voice of tenderest affection, Siegfried hears: "Gently now! Not much longer shall you see me. I shall soon close your eyes for their eternal sleep. That which I needed you for you have accomplished; all I wish, now, is to wrest from you the treasure. I believe I shall effect this with small trouble. You know you are not difficult to befool!" "So you are meditating harm to me?" Siegfried asks quietly. Mime starts in amazement. "Did I say anything of the sort?"

Then again, in accents sickly-sweet, with the writhings and grimaces of an excessive affection: "Siegfried, listen, my son! You and the like of you I have always hated from my very heart. Out of love I did not rear you, burdensome nuisance. The trouble I took was for the sake of the treasure in Fafner's keeping. If you do not give it to me willingly, Siegfried, my son, it must be plain even to yourself, you will have to leave me your life!" This formal and direct declaration of hate, proving the justice of his instinctive dislike all along of Mime, calls forth from Siegfried's relief even in this moment the exclamation: "That you hate me, I gladly hear!" Mime, while giving himself visibly all the pains in the world to disguise from Siegfried his intentions, to each of the youth's questions answers, in the supposition that he is telling his lies, the exact truth. Thus Siegfried learns that the drink Mime has prepared for his refreshment will plunge him into deep sleep, upon which, for greater security in his enjoyment of the treasure, Mime will with Nothung cut off his head. The little monster chuckles genially while making these revelations. As Mime reaches him the treacherous drink, Siegfried, moved by an impulse of overpowering disgust, with a sudden swift blow of Nothung  strikes him down. Alberich's laugh of glee and derision rings out from his hiding-place.

After gazing for a moment at the body of the repulsive little traitor,—with the after-thought, it is possible, that the flat of Nothung would have been sufficient for anything so small, though so venomous,—he gives it the obsequies which seem to him the most fitting. He throws him in the cave, that he may lie on the heaped gold and have the coveted treasure at last for his own. He drags Fafner to the cave's mouth, that his bulk may block it. "Lie there, you too, dark dragon! Guard at once the shining treasure and the treasure-loving enemy; thus have you both found rest!"

The sun is high; heated with his exertions, Siegfried returns to his mossy couch under the trees, and is presently again looking overhead for the friendly bird. "Once more, dear little bird, after such a troublesome interruption, I should be glad to listen to your singing. I can see you swinging happily on the bough; brothers and sisters flutter around you, blithe and sweet, twittering the while...." A vague sadness touches his mood, and this pensive moment goes far toward gaining back to him the sympathy which his overgreat sturdiness in dealing death had perhaps forfeited. He is now a poor lonesome beautiful boy, completely sweet-blooded and brave—the hunter that has never robbed the mother of her young—whose heart full of instinctive affection has never had an object on which it could spend itself. "But I," he says envyingly to the bird, "I am so alone! I have neither brother nor sister! My mother vanished,—my father fell,—their son never saw them...." In this humour he lets a shade of regret transpire for the necessity to kill Mime. "My only companion was a loathly dwarf; goodness never knit the bond of affection between us; artful toils the cunning foe spread for me. I was at last even forced  to slay him!" He stares sorrowfully at the sky through the trees. "Friendly bird, I ask you now: will you assist my quest for a good comrade? Will you guide me to the right one? I have called so often and never found one; you, my trusty one, will surely hit it better! So apt has been the counsel given by you already! Now sing! I am listening for your song!" Readily the bright voice from above answers in a joyous warble: "Hei! Siegfried has slain the wicked dwarf! I have in mind for him now the most glorious mate! On a high rock she sleeps, a wall of flame surrounds her abode. If he should push through the fire, if he should waken the bride, then were Brünnhilde his own!" With an instantaneousness touchingly significant of his hard heart-hunger, an attack of impassioned sighing seizes the young Siegfried. "Oh, lovely song! Oh, sweetest breath! How its message glows within my breast, burning me! How it sets my enkindled heart to throbbing! What is it rushing so wildly through my heart and senses?... It drives me, exulting, out of the woods to the mountain-rock. Speak to me again, charming singer: shall I break through the fiery wall? Can I waken the bride?" "Never," replies the bird, "shall the bride be won, Brünnhilde wakened, by a faint-heart! Only by one who knows no fear!" Siegfried shouts with delight: "The stupid boy who knows no fear—little bird, why, that am I! This very day I gave myself fruitless pains to learn it from Fafner. I now burn with the desire to learn it from Brünnhilde! How shall I find the way to her rock?" The bird forsakes the treetop, flutters over the youth's head and flies further. Siegfried interprets this as an invitation. "Thus is the way shown me. Wherever you fly, I follow your flight!" We see him going hither and thither in his attempt to follow the erratic flight of a bird. His guide after a moment bends in a definite direction and Siegfried disappears after him among the trees.


Siegfried and Brunhilde by Howard David Johnson


A wild region at the foot of a rocky mountain, the mountain at the summit of which Brünnhilde sleeps. In night and storm Wotan the Wanderer comes to seek Erda, the Wise Woman, the Wala. He conjures her up from the depths of the earth into his presence. We see her appear, as before, rising in the gloom of a rocky hollow up to half her height.

In all his wandering over the earth, in search of wisdom and counsel, none has Wotan found so wise as she. The question he proposes is: How may a rolling wheel be arrested in its course?

Erda is not willingly waked out of her sleep, nor is it her wont to communicate directly with the upper world. In her slow and solemn sleep-weighted tones, she tells him that the Norns spin into their coil the visions of her illuminated sleep. Why does he not consult them? Or why, she asks, when that counsel is rejected, why does he not, still mote aptly, consult Brünnhilde, wise child of Wotan and Erda?

In his reply, Wotan briefly sums Brünnhilde's offence: She defied the Storm-compeller, where he was practising the utmost self-compulsion; what the Leader of Battle yearned to do, but refrained from, his own antagonist,—all too confident, the insolent maid dared to bring about for herself.

At the indication of Brünnhilde's fate, indignation possesses the Wala. In view of such high-handed injustice, she wishes and struggles to return back into the earth and be merged with her wisdom in sleep. But Wotan will not release her until she has satisfied him "You, all-knowing one, once drove the thorn of care into Wotan's daring heart; with the dread of an adverse ignominious ending you filled him by your foreknowledge,  so that his courage was in bondage to fear. If you are the wisest woman in the world, tell me now: how shall the god overcome that care?" But the injured mother is not to be conciliated. "You are not," she startlingly announces, "what you call yourself!"—Not a god, Wotan?—"What are you come, wild and turbulent spirit, to disturb the Wala's sleep? Restless one, release me! Loose the spell!" "You are not" he retorts, "what you suppose yourself!"—Not the wisest of women! In that she has not divined what he has really come to impart, rather than seriously to ask counsel. For his true errand is to show her the fruits of time in himself, the mood of patience and reconciliation he has reached, nay, of hope for a future in which he is to have no part, that Brünnhilde's mother may sleep the more quietly, and, untroubled, watch the end overtake him through her dream. "Do you know what it is Wotan wills? I speak it in your ear, unforeseeing one, that with easy heart you may return to your eternal sleep. The thought of the end of the gods no longer grieves me, since it is my desire and my will! The thing which I once, in pain and conflict, torn by despair, resolved, I now joyfully and freely carry out: in raging disgust I once devoted the world to the ill-will of the Nibelung; to the joyous Wälsung I now appoint my inheritance. He whom I have chosen, but who has never known me, an intrepid boy, unaided by counsel of mine, has conquered the Nibelung's Ring. Void of envy, happy and loving, Alberich's curse falls away crippled when it would light on the noble one, for fear is unknown to him. She whom you bore to me, Brünnhilde, shall be tenderly waked by the hero; awake, your wise child shall perform a world-delivering deed! Wherefore, sleep! Close your eye: dreaming watch my passing! Whatever works be theirs, to that Eternally Young One, the god in gladness yields his place.  Down, then, Erda! Ancient Fear! Original Care! To your eternal sleep! Down! Down!..." Erda sinks into the earth, the glimmering light fades from the cave.

A bird-note is heard, light and sharp, approaching. A bird flutters into sight and Siegfried, following it, appears upon the scene. The bird, as if at the recognition of danger,—the ravens of Wotan are hovering near—in all haste flies quite away. Siegfried resolves to go on alone. He is stopped by the Wanderer's voice: "Whither, boy, does your way lead you?" Here is some one, thinks Siegfried, who may show him the way. "I seek a rock," he replies; "it is surrounded by fire; there sleeps a woman whom I wish to wake." "Who bade you seek the rock? Who taught you to wish for the woman?" "A little woodland bird told me about it in his singing; he gave me good tidings." "A little bird gossips of many things, but no one can understand him. How did you derive the meaning of his song?" "That was the effect of the blood of a wild dragon,..." and so forth. Wotan continues to ply the youth with questions, just as a kind old grandfather of humankind might lead on a child to talk, for the simple sake of hearing what he will say, for delight in his ingenuousness. The utmost tenderness for this joyous Walsung speaks in the tones of the greybeard. The final object of his questioning is to lead the youth to some acknowledgment of himself as a factor in his fortunes. Without discarding his incognito, he longs to hear on the grandson's lips some name which stands for himself, some reference to him. So, from the question, "Who prompted you to attack the strong Worm?" he passes to the question: "Who shaped the sword, so sharp and hard, that the strongest enemy should succumb to its stroke?" and when Siegfried replies that he did this himself, insists further: "But who shaped the strong pieces, out of which you forged the sword?" The answer to  this is, "Wälse!" It can be nothing else. Siegfried, however, replies: "What do I know? All I know is that the pieces could be of no use to me until I forged the sword over again for myself." Wotan breaks out laughing: "I agree with you!" Siegfried suspecting that he has been quizzed, loses his patience, becomes curt and rough. "What are you laughing at me? Old questioner, you had better stop. Do not keep me chattering here! If you can direct me on my way, speak. If you cannot, hold your mouth!" Deplorable are the manners learned in Mime's cave. "Patience, you boy!" Wanderer mildly checks him; "if I seem old to you, you should offer me reverence!" "That," jeers Siegfried, "is a fine idea! All my life long an old man has stood in my way. I have no more than swept him away. If you continue to stand there stiffly opposing me, beware, I tell you, lest you fare like Mime!" As, with this threat, he takes a stride nearer to the stranger, he is struck by his appearance. "What makes you look like that?" he asks, like a child; "what a great hat you have! Why does it hang down so over your face?... One of your eyes, beneath the brim, is missing.... It was put out, I am sure, by some one whose passage you were stubbornly opposing. Now, take yourself off, or you might easily lose the other!" The indulgent grandsire is still not stirred from his patience, though this must strike a little painfully on his heart. "I see, my son, that, unencumbered by any knowledge, you are quick at disposing of obstacles. With the eye which is missing from my other socket, you yourself are looking at the single eye which I have left for sight." At this riddle, the brilliant Walsung eyes merely flash mirth, while Siegfried laughs at the obscure saying. Not a moment does he waste in reflection upon it, but, with growing impatience to resume his quest, orders Wanderer to guide him or be thrust out of his road. "If  you knew me, bold stripling," the suffering god speaks, still gently, "you would spare me this affront. Close to my heart as you are, your threatening strikes me painfully. Though I have ever loved your luminous race, my anger has before this brought terror upon them. You, toward whom I feel such kindness,—you, all-too-bright!—do not to-day move me to anger.... It might destroy both you and me!" All that is plain to Siegfried, mad to be off in search of his sleeper, is that this prattling old personage neither tells him his way nor will consent to move out of it. As he once more rudely bids him clear the path to the sleeping woman, Wotan's anger breaks forth: "You shall not," he exclaims, "go the way the bird pointed!" "Hoho! You forbidder!..." cries Siegfried, amazed, "who are you, trying to prevent me?" "Fear the Guardian of the Rock! My power it is which holds the maid under the spell of sleep. He who awakes her, he who wins her, makes me powerless for ever!"

Wotan, it would seem, is challenging the boy. His anger, justified though it would be by the stalwart cub's behaviour, is half affected. He had declared not far from this very spot, some eighteen years earlier, that no one who feared his spear should ever cross the barrier of fire. The hour is at hand when the spear must offer itself to be braved by this incarnate courage bent upon that same adventure,—when Wotan must take the chances of discovering that this boy is freer than he—the god. He had declared himself but a moment ago, in his communication with Erda, willing to yield his supremacy to the Eternally Young One. Actually to do it must be a little bitter, after enduring that Young One's cavalier treatment. Perhaps—the text admits of the interpretation,—Wotan is sincerely angry; at Siegfried's impertinence he has changed his mind in respect to yielding his throne to him, and with a real intention of  driving him back from the rock describes the terrors of the mountain: "A sea of fire surges around the woman; hot flames lick the rock; the conflagration rages against him who would push through to the bride. Look up toward the heights! Do you see not the light?... It is waxing in brightness.... Scorching clouds, wavering flames, roaring and crackling, stream down toward us. A sea of light shines about your head, Soon the fire will catch and devour you.... Then, back! mad child!" "Back yourself, you braggart!" cries Siegfried, nothing deterred; "up there where the flames flicker, I must hasten to Brünnhilde!" He is about to push past, when Wotan holds his spear across the path: "If the fire does not frighten you, my spear shall stop your way. My hand still holds the staff of sovereignty. The sword which you swing was once shattered against this shaft, again let it snap on the eternal spear!" Instead of appalling him, the majestic threat creates in Siegfried eagerness and glee: "My father's enemy! Do I find you here? Excellently this happens for my revenge! Swing your spear! With my sword I will split it to pieces!" And he immediately does as he has said. Nothing, it seems, not the spear of the law, can stand against the sword of perfect courage. A clap of thunder accompanies the sundering of the spear. The broken pieces roll at the Wanderer's feet. He picks them quietly up. With godlike calm, the hour having struck, he accepts inevitable fate. The motif of downfall points this beginning of the end of the gods. "Go your way! I cannot hold you!" He vanishes in darkness.

"With broken weapon the coward has fled?" says Siegfried, looking about for his father's enemy. The magic fire, as if to force the intruder back, has been pouring further and further down the mountain-side. But the one whom it should frighten rejoices, glories in the glory of the flames, jubilates. "Ha!  Delightful glow! Beaming brightness! A radiant road lies open before me! Oh, to bathe in the fire! In the fire to find the bride! Hoho! Hoho! Hahei! Hahei! Merrily! Merrily! This time I shall lure a dear companion!" He sets the silver horn to his lips and gaily blowing the Lock-weise starts up the mountain and is lost among the swirling sanguine smoke-clouds. The fire burns bright; the merry call is heard from time to time from the unseen climber. The fire pales—the barrier has been past, the region above is reached, the charmed sleeper's domain. When the veiling smoke completely clears, we see the remembered scene of the Valkyries' rock, and Brünnhilde lying under the spreading pine, as Wotan left her.

It is calm golden daylight. Over the brow of the mountain appears Siegfried and stands still a moment, outlined against the cloudless sky, wondering at the peace, the airiness, considering the "exquisite solitude on the sunny height!" The sweet Fricka-motif speaks aloud as it were the unconscious language of his blood, voices the vague instinct toward nest-building which in the Spring lightly turns a young man's fancy to thoughts of love. He has come in search of a bride, upon the word of a little bird; but his ideas concerning the promised "dear companion" are so few, and the novelty of all he is seeing so takes up his mind, that when his eyes presently fall upon the recumbent form his first thought is not that here must be what he has come in search of.

He approaches and marvels at the bright armour. He lifts off the great shield, again like a child, to see what it covers. A man in suit of mail! He can see the face in part only, but warms with instantaneous pleasure in its comeliness. The helmet, he surmises, must press uncomfortably on the beautiful head. Very gently he takes it off. Long curling locks,  loosed from confinement, gush abundantly forth. Siegfried is startled by the sight. But the right words, "How beautiful!" rise to his untaught lips. He remains sunk in contemplation of the marvel; the tresses remind him of a thing he has often watched: shimmering clouds bounding with their ripples a clear expanse of sky. As if drawn by a magnet, he bends lower over the quiet form and so feels the sleeper's breath. "The breast heaves with the swelling breath, shall I break the cramping corslet?" Cautiously he makes the attempt, but, finding his fingers unapt at the task, solves his difficulty by aid of Nothung. With delicate care he cuts through the iron and lightly removes the corslet. "This is no man!" he cries, starting away in amazement. Such emotion seizes him, with sensations of dizziness and faintness—such a pressure on the heart, forcing from it burning sigh upon sigh, that, with a sense of having no resource in himself, he casts about for help in this all so unfamiliar exquisite distress: "Whom shall I call on that he may save me? Mother! Mother! Remember me!" Swooning, he sinks with his forehead against Brünnhilde's breast—to be roused again by the goad of his desire to see the eyes of the sleeper unclose. "That she should open her eyes?" He hesitates, in tender trouble. "Would her glance not blind me? Have I the hardihood? Could I endure the light?..." He feels the hand trembling with which he is trying to quiet his agitated heart. "What ails me, coward? Is this fear? Oh, mother! Mother! Your bold child! A woman lies folded in slumber,... she has taught him to be afraid!... How shall I bring this fear to an end? How shall I gain back my courage? That I may myself awake from this dream I must waken the maid!" But awe of the so august and quiet sleeper again restrains him. He does not touch her, but lingeringly gazes at her "blossoming mouth," bows till the warm fragrance  of her breath sweeping his face forces forth his impulsive cry: "Awake! Awake! Sacred woman!" He waits with suspended breath. She has not heard. She does not stir. An infinite weakness overtaking him, a mortal coming less, "I will drink life," he sighs, "from sweetest lips, though I should swoon to death in the act!" With closed eyes he bends over Brünnhilde's lips.

Twelve bars, the tempo of which is marked "Sehr mässig," very moderate, sing themselves delicately and gravely to an end. Brünnhilde opens wide her eyes. Siegfried starts from her, not guiltily or to move from his place, only to stand erect and, absorbed, watch her movements.

Slowly she rises to a sitting posture and with beatific looks takes account of the glorious world to which she has reawakened. Solemnly she stretches her arms toward the sky: "Hail to thee, sun!" A great pause, of drinking in further the loveliness of the scene and the joy of life returned to, then: "Hail to thee, light!" And after another great pause of wondering ecstasy: "Hail to thee, radiant day!... Long was my sleep.... I am awake.... Who is the hero that has awakened me?" Siegfried stands spell-bound, in solemn awe at the sound of her voice and the superhuman splendour of her beauty. He answers, in the only way he knows, childlike, direct: "I pressed through the fire which surrounded the rock; I released you from the close helmet; Siegfried I am called who have awakened you!" At the sound of the name, the altogether right one, Brünnhilde takes up again her song of praise: "Hail to you, gods! Hail to thee, world! Hail, sumptuously blooming earth!" And Siegfried breaks forth, in an exalted rapture which inspires his ignorance with expression befitting the hour: "Oh, hail to the mother who bore me, hail to the earth which nourished me, that I might behold  the eyes which now shine upon me, blessed!" Brünnhilde, joining in his hymn of gratitude, blesses, too, the mother who bore him, and the earth which nourished him, whose eyes alone should behold her, for whom alone she was destined to awake. The love-scene following leaves a singular impression of greatness. The wise daughter of the Wala and the "most splendid hero of the world" are simple as children, sincere as animals or angels, ardent with honest natural fire, like stars. When their love finally reaches a perfect understanding their song is a succession of magnificent shouts, primitive as they are thrilling.

"Oh, if you knew, joy of the world," Brünnhilde exposes her artless heart to the hero, "how I have loved you from all time! You were my care, the object of my solicitude! Before you were shaped, I nurtured you, before you were born, my shield concealed you,—so long have I loved you, Siegfried!" He believes for a moment that his mother has not died but has been sleeping and now speaks to him. In correcting him, Brünnhilde shows herself tenderly feminine. No sooner has she spoken the words which must fall with inevitable dreariness on his ear, "Your mother will not come back to you!" than she hastens to heal his hurt with the sweetest thing her love has to say: "Yourself am I, if you love me, fortunate...." She explains the meaning of her earlier words: "I have loved you from all time, for to me alone Wotan's thought was known. That thought which I must never speak, which I did not think, but only felt; for which I strove, struggled, and fought; for which I braved the one who had framed it; for which I was made to suffer and bound in punishment; that thought—might you but grasp it!—was naught but love for you!"

It could hardly be hoped that the young forester should at this moment be able to grasp anything so subtle, as he helplessly  confesses: "Wonderful sounds what you winningly sing; but the sense of it is dark to me. I see your eye beam bright; I feel your warm breath; I hear the sweet singing of your voice; but that which in your singing you would impart, stupefied, I understand it not! I cannot grasp the sense of distant things, when all my senses are absorbed in seeing and feeling only you. With anxious fear you bind me: you alone have taught me to fear. Whom you have bound in mighty bonds, no longer withhold from me my courage!" Brünnhilde at this, with the touch of nature which makes the Valkyrie kin to the young lady of drawing-rooms, turns her head away and talks of something else. She talks of Grane, whom she sees grazing a little way off. As her eyes fall upon the corslet, cut from her body with a sword, the sight smites upon her saddeningly, as a symbol. A consciousness of danger and defencelessness oppresses her, and when Siegfried, made bold in his fear of her by the very need he feels of overcoming that fear, impetuously seizes her in his arms, in terror she starts away from him and wrings her hands with a woful sense of not being any more that Brünnhilde "whom no god had ever approached, before whom reverently the heroes had bowed, who holy had departed from Walhalla." She feels her wisdom forsaking her, her light failing, night and terror closing down upon her. She appeals to him at last against himself: "Oh, Siegfried, see my distress!"

He stands so still for a time, silent, puzzled by her, unwilling certainly to frighten her further, that her immediate fear subsides; her countenance betrays, the stage-directions read, that "a winning picture rises before her soul." The character of this may be divined from the melody rippling softly forth, the motif of peaceful love. A fresh green branch, it makes one think of, with a nest upon it, swinging in a summer wind. More gently she addresses him, pleading rather than repelling,  winning him to give up his way for hers. "Eternal am I,... but eternal for your weal! Oh, Siegfried, joyous hero! Renounce me.... Approach me not with ardent approach.... Constrain me not with shattering constraint.... Have you not seen your own image in the clear stream? Has it not gladdened you, glad one? If you stir the water into turmoil, the smooth surface is lost, you cannot see your own reflection any longer. Wherefore, touch me not, trouble me not; eternally bright then shall you shine back at yourself from me. Oh, Siegfried, luminous youth! love—yourself, and withhold from me. Destroy not what is your own!" His robust young love to this replies—after the simple outburst: "You I love, oh, might you love me! No longer have I myself, oh, had I you!"—that it matters little his image should be broken in the glorious river before him, for, burning and thirsting, he would plunge into it himself, that its waves might blissfully engulf him and his longing be quenched in the flood. It is he who appeals now, with ancient arguments, simple and telling as his blows at the dragon. When at the end of them he clasps Brünnhilde again, she does not as before wrest herself free, but laughs in joy as she feels her love surging, till it, as it seems to her, more than matches his own, and he is the one, she judges, who should feel afraid. She, indeed, asks him, does he not fear?... But the opposite takes place. With her love, ardent as his own, frankly given him, all his courage comes back, "And fear, alas!" he observes, a little disconcerted at the queerness of this new experience, "fear, which I never learned,—fear, which you had hardly taught me,—fear, I believe, I, dullard, have already forgotten it!" Brünnhilde laughs in delight—all of joy and laughter is their love after this up on the sunny height—and declares to the "mad-cap treasury of glorious deeds" that laughing she will love him, laughing lose the light  of her eyes, laughing they will accept destruction, laughing accept death! Let the proud world of Walhalla crumble to dust, the eternal tribe of the gods cease in glory, the Norns rend the coil of fate, the dusk of the gods close down,—Siegfried's star has risen, and he shall be, to Brünnhilde, for ever, everything! In equally fine and joyous ravings Siegfried's voice has been pouring forth alongside of hers; reaching at last an identical sentiment and the same note, the two rush together like flashing mountain torrents, and are lost to us behind the descending curtain.





Sieglinde, having dragged herself into the depths of the great untrodden forest, dwelt there in utter solitude until the time came for her son Siegfried to come into the world. Sick and alone, the poor woman went about in search of aid, and finally came to Mime's cavern, where, after giving birth to her child and intrusting him to the care of the dwarf, she gently breathed her last.

Here, in the grand old forest, young Siegfried grew up to manhood, knowing nothing of his parentage except the lie which Mime, the wily dwarf, chose to tell him, that he was his own son. Strong, fearless, and unruly, the youth soon felt the utmost contempt for the cringing dwarf, and, instead of bending over the anvil and swinging the heavy hammer, he preferred to range the forest, hunting the wild beasts, climbing the tallest trees, and scaling the steepest rocks.

As the opera opens, the curtain rises upon a sooty cave, where the dwarf Mime is alone at work, hammering a sword upon his anvil and complaining bitterly of the strength and violence of young Siegfried, who shatters every weapon he makes. In spite of repeated disappointments, however, Mime the Nibelung works on. His sole aim is to weld a sword which in the bold youth's hands will avail to slay his enemy, the giant Fafnir, the owner of the ring and magic helm, and the possessor of all the mighty hoard.

While busy in his forge, Mime tells how the giant fled with his treasure far away from the haunts of men, concealed his gold in the Neidhole, a grewsome den. There, thanks to the magic helmet, he has assumed the loathsome shape of a great dragon, whose fiery breath and lashing tail none dares to encounter.

As Mime finishes the sword he has been fashioning, Siegfried, singing his merry hunting song, dashes into the cave, holding a bear in leash. After some rough play, which nearly drives the unhappy Mime mad with terror, Siegfried sets the beast free, grasps the sword, and with one single blow shatters it to pieces on the anvil, to Mime's great chagrin. Another weapon has failed to satisfy his needs, and the youth, after harshly upbraiding the unhappy smith, throws himself sullenly down in front of the fire. Mime then cringingly approaches him with servile offers of food and drink, continually vaunting his love and devotion. These protests of simulated affection greatly disgust Siegfried, who is well aware of the fact that they are nothing but the merest pretence.

In his anger against this constant deceit, he finally resorts to violence to wring the truth from Mime, who, with many interruptions and many attempts to resume his old whining tone, finally reveals to him the secret of his birth and the name of his mother. He also tells him all he gleaned about his father, who fell in battle, and, in proof of the veracity of his words, produces the fragments of Siegmund's sword, which the dying Sieglinde had left for her son:—

‘Lo! what thy mother had left me!
For my pains and worry together
She gave me this poor reward.
See! a broken sword,
Brandished, she said, by thy father,
When foiled in the last of his fights.’

Siegfried, who has listened to all this tale with breathless attention, interrupting the dwarf only to silence his recurring attempts at self-praise, now declares he will fare forth into the wild world as soon as Mime has welded together the precious fragments of the sword. In the mean while, finding the dwarf's hated presence too unbearable, he rushes out and vanishes in the green forest depths. Left alone once more, Mime wistfully gazes after him, thinking how he may detain the youth until the dragon has been slain. At last he slowly begins to hammer the fragments of the sword, which will not yield to his skill and resume their former shape.

While the dwarf Mime is abandoning himself to moody despair, Wotan has been walking through the forest. He is disguised as a Wanderer, according to his wont, and suddenly enters Mime's cave. The dwarf starts up in alarm at the sight of a stranger, but after asking him who he may be, and learning that he prides himself upon his wisdom, he bids him begone. Wotan, however, who has come hither to ascertain whether there is any prospect of discovering anything new, now proposes a contest of wit, in which the loser's head shall be at the winner's disposal. Mime reluctantly assents, and begins by asking a question concerning the dwarfs and their treasures. This Wotan answers by describing the Nibelungs' gold, and the power wielded by Alberich as long as he was owner of the magic ring.

Mime's second inquiry is relative to the inhabitants of earth, and Wotan describes the great stature of the giants, who, however, were no match for the dwarfs, until they obtained possession not only of the ring, but also of the great hoard over which Fafnir now broods in the guise of a dragon.

Then Mime questions him concerning the gods, but only to be told that Wotan, the most powerful of them all, holds an invincible spear upon whose shaft are engraved powerful runes. In speaking thus the disguised god strikes the ground with his spear, and a long roll of thunder falls upon the terrified Mime's ear.

The three questions have been asked and successfully answered, and it is now Mime's turn to submit to an interrogatory, from which he evidently shrinks, but to which he must yield. Wotan now proceeds to ask him which race, beloved by Wotan, is yet visited by his wrath, which sword is the most invincible of weapons, and who will weld its broken pieces together. Mime triumphantly answers the first two questions by naming the Volsung race and Siegmund's blade, Nothung; but as he has failed to weld the sword anew, and has no idea who will be able to achieve the feat, he is forced to acknowledge himself beaten by the third.

Scorning to take any advantage of so puny a rival, Wotan refuses to take the forfeited head, and departs, after telling the Nibelung that the sword can only be restored to its pristine glory by the hand of a man who knows no fear, and that the same man will claim it as his lawful prize and dispose of Mime's head:—

‘Hark thou forfeited dwarf;
None but he
Who never feared,
Nothung forges anew.
Henceforth beware!
Thy wily head
Is forfeit to him
Whose heart is free from fear.’

When Siegfried returns and finds the fire low, the dwarf idle, and the sword unfinished, he angrily demands an explanation. Mime then reveals to him that none but a fearless man can ever accomplish the task. As Siegfried does not even know the meaning of the word, Mime graphically describes all the various phases of terror to enlighten him.

Siegfried listens to his explanations, but when they have come to an end and he has ascertained that such a feeling has never been harboured in his breast, he springs up and seizes the pieces of the broken sword. He files them to dust, melts the metal on the fire, which he blows into an intense glow, and after moulding tempers the sword. While hammering lustily Siegfried gaily sings the Song of the Sword. The blade, when finished, flashes in his hand like a streak of lightning, and possesses so keen an edge that he cleaves the huge anvil in two with a single stroke.

While Siegfried is thus busily employed, Mime, dreading the man who knows no fear, and to whom he has been told his head was forfeit, concocts a poisonous draught. This he intends to administer to the young hero as soon as the frightful dragon is slain, for he has artfully incited the youth to go forth and attack the monster, in hope of learning the peculiar sensation of fear, which he has never yet known.

In another cave, in the depths of the selfsame dense forest, is Alberich the dwarf, Mime's brother and former master. He mounts guard night and day over the Neidhole, where Fafnir, the giant dragon, gloats over his gold. It is night and the darkness is so great that the entrance to the Neidhole only dimly appears. The storm wind rises and sweeps through the woods, rustling all the forest leaves. It subsides however almost as soon as it has risen, and Wotan, still disguised as a Wanderer, appears in the moonlight, to the great alarm of the wily dwarf. A moment's examination suffices to enable him to recognise his quondam foe, whom he maliciously taunts with the loss of the ring, for well he knows the god cannot take back what he has once given away.

Wotan, however, seems in no wise inclined to resent this taunting speech, but warns Alberich of the approach of Mime, accompanied by a youth who knows no fear, and whose keen blade will slay the monster. He adds that the youth will appropriate the hoard, ere he rouses Fafnir to foretell the enemy's coming. Then he disappears with the usual accompaniment of rushing winds and rumbling thunder.

The warning which Alberich would fain disbelieve is verified, as soon as the morning breaks, by the appearance of Siegfried and Mime. The latter is acting as guide, and eagerly points out the mighty dragon's lair. But even then the youth still refuses to tremble, and when Mime describes Fafnir's fiery breath, coiling tail, and impenetrable hide, he good-naturedly declares he will save his most telling blow until the monster's side is exposed, and he can plunge Nothung deep into his gigantic breast.

Thus forewarned against the dragon's various modes of attack, Siegfried advances boldly, while Mime prudently retires to a place of safety. He is closely watched by Alberich, who crouches unseen in his cave. Siegfried seats himself on the bank to wait for the dragon's awakening, and beguiles the time by trying to imitate the songs of the birds, which he would fain understand quite clearly. As all his efforts result in failure, Siegfried soon casts aside the reed with which he had tried to reproduce their liquid notes, and, winding his horn, boldly summons Fafnir to come forth and encounter him in single fight.

This challenge immediately brings forth the frightful dragon. To Siegfried's surprise he can still talk like a man. After a few of the usual amenities, the fight begins. Mindful of his boast, Siegfried skilfully parries every blow, evades the fiery breath, lashing tail, and dangerous claws, and, biding his time, thrusts his sword up to the very hilt in the giant's heart.

With his dying breath, the monster tells the youth of the curse which accompanies his hoard, and, rolling over, dies in terrible convulsions. The young hero, seeing the monster is dead, withdraws his sword from the wound; but as he does so a drop of the fiery blood falls upon his naked hand. The intolerable smarting sensation it produces causes him to put it to his lips to allay the pain. No sooner has he done so than he suddenly becomes aware that a miracle has happened, for he can understand the songs of all the forest birds.

Listening wonderingly, Siegfried soon hears a bird overhead warning him to possess himself of the tarn-helmet and magic ring, and proclaiming that the treasure of the Nibelungs is now his own. He immediately thanks the bird for its advice, and vanishes into the gaping Neidhole in search of the promised treasures:—

‘Hi! Siegfried shall have now
The Nibelungs' hoard,
For here in the hole
It awaits his hand!
Let him not turn from the tarn-helm,
It leads to tasks of delight;
But finds he a ring for his finger,
The world he will rule with his will.’

Alberich and Mime, who have been trembling with fear as long as the conflict raged, now timidly venture out of their respective hiding places. Then only they become aware of each other's intention to hasten into the cave and appropriate the treasure, and begin a violent quarrel. It is brought to a speedy close, however, by the reappearance of Siegfried wearing the glittering helmet, armour, and magic ring.

The mere appearance of this martial young figure causes both dwarfs to slink back to their hiding places, while the birds resume their song. They warn Siegfried to distrust Mime, who is even then approaching with the poisonous draught. This the dwarf urges upon him with such persistency that Siegfried, disgusted with his fawning hypocrisy, finally draws his sword and kills him with one blow:—

‘Taste of my sword,
Sickening talker!
Meed for hate
Nothung makes;
Work for which he was mended.’

Then, while Alberich is laughing in malicious glee over the downfall of his rival, Siegfried flings his body into the Neidhole, and rolls the dragon's carcass in front of the opening to protect the gold. He next pauses again to listen to the bird in the lime tree, which sings of a lovely maiden surrounded by flames, who can be won as bride only by the man who knows no fear:—

‘Ha! Siegfried has slain
The slanderous dwarf.
O, would that the fairest
Wife he might find!
On lofty heights she sleeps,
A fire embraces her hall;
If he strides through the blaze,
And wakens the bride,
Brunhilde he wins to wife.’

This new quest sounds so alluring to Siegfried, that he immediately sets out upon it, following the road which the Wanderer has previously taken. The latter has gone on to the very foot of the mountain, upon which the flickering flames which surrounded Brunhilde are burning brightly. There he pauses to conjure the goddess Erda to appear and reveal future events. Slowly and reluctantly the Earth goddess arises from her prolonged sleep. Her face is pallid as the newly fallen snow, her head crowned with glittering icicles, and her form enveloped in a great white winding-sheet. In answer to the god's inquiries about the future, she bids him question the Norns and Brunhilde. After a few obscure prophecies he allows her to sink down into her grave once more, for he now knows that one of the Volsung race has won the magic ring, and is even now on his way up the mountain to awaken Brunhilde.

In corroboration of these words, Siegfried appears a few moments after the prophetess or Wala has again sunk into rest. Challenged by Wotan the Wanderer, he declares he is on the way to rouse the sleeping maiden. In answer to a few questions, he rapidly adds that he has slain Mime and the dragon, has tasted its blood, and brandishes aloft the glittering sword which has done him good service and which he has welded himself.

Wotan, wishing to test his courage, and at the same time to fulfil his promise to Brunhilde that none should attempt to pass the flames except the one who feared not even his magic spear, now declares that he has slain his father, Siegmund. Siegfried, the avenger, boldly draws his gleaming sword, which, instead of shattering as once before against the divine spear, cuts it to pieces. In the same instant the Wanderer disappears, amid thunder and lightning. Siegfried, looking about him to find Brunhilde, becomes aware of the flickering flames of a great fire, which rise higher and higher as he rushes joyfully into their very midst, blowing his horn and singing his merry hunting lay.

The flames, which now invade the whole stage, soon flicker and die out, and, as the scene becomes visible once more, Brunhilde is seen fast asleep upon a grassy mound. Siegfried comes, and, after commenting upon the drowsing steed, draws nearer still. Then he perceives the sleeping figure in armour, and bends solicitously over it. Gently he removes the shield and helmet, cuts open the armour, and starts back in surprise when he sees a flood of bright golden hair fall rippling all around the fair form of a sleeping woman:—

‘No man it is!
Hallowed rapture
Thrills through my heart;
Fiery anguish
Enfolds my eyes.
My senses wander
And waver.
Whom shall I summon
Hither to help me?
Mother! Mother!
Be mindful of me.’

His head suddenly sinks down upon her bosom, but, as her immobility continues, he experiences for the first time a faint sensation of fear. This is born of his love for her, and, in a frantic endeavour to recall her to life, he bends down and kisses her passionately. At the magic touch of his lips, Brunhilde opens her eyes, and, overjoyed at the sight of the rising sun, greets it with a burst of rapturous song ere she turns to thank her deliverer. The first glimpse of the hero in his glittering mail is enough to fill her heart with love, and recognizing in him Siegfried, the hero whose coming she herself has foretold, she welcomes him with joy. Siegfried then relates how he found her, how he delivered her from the fetters of sleep, and, impetuously declaring his passion, claims her love in return.

The scene between the young lovers, the personifications of the Sun and of Spring, is one of indescribable passion and beauty, and when they have joined in a duet of unalterable love, Brunhilde no longer regrets past glories, but declares the world well lost for the love she has won.

‘Away Walhall's
Lightening world!
In dust with thy seeming,
Towers lie down!
Farewell greatness
And gift of the gods!
End in bliss
Thou unwithering breed!
You, Norns, unravel
The rope of runes!
Darken upwards
Dusk of the gods!
Night of annulment,
Near in thy cloud!—
I stand in sight
Of Siegfried's star;
For me he was
And for me he will be,
Ever and always,
One and all
Lighting love
And laughing death.’

These sentiments are more than echoed by the enamoured Siegfried, who is beside himself with rapture at the mere thought of possessing the glorious creature, who has forgotten all her divine state to become naught but a loving and lovable woman.






In the Prologue of "The Twilight of the Gods" we learn from report the portion of Wotan's history which belongs between the breaking of his spear and the final events which bring about the gods' end.

At the rising of the curtain the three Norns are dimly discerned upon the well-known scene of Brünnhilde's sleep, before the entrance to the rocky hall where Siegfried and she have their dwelling. The fiery palisade around their fastness casts a faint glow upon the night. The Norns, as it were to while away the heavy hour before dawn, spin and sing. Their "spinning" consists in casting a golden coil from one to the other, after some peculiar ritual, involving fastening it to this pine-tree, winding it about that point of rock, casting it over the shoulder, northward. Their song is of no frivolous matter, but as if we should entertain ourselves recounting the Creation, the Fall of Man, the Deluge. Of the World-Ash they tell, in whose shade a well flowed, murmuring runes of wisdom; of a daring god who came to drink at the well, paying in toll one of his eyes. From the World-Ash, he, Wotan, broke a branch and fashioned it into the shaft of a spear. This he carved with runes of truth to compacts, and held it as the "haft of the world." An intrepid hero clove it asunder. Wotan thereupon commanded  the heroes of Walhalla to hew down the World-Ash and cut it to pieces. "High looms the castle built by giants," sings the youngest of the Norns; "there in the hall sits Wotan amid the holy clan of the gods and heroes. Wooden billets heaped to a lofty pile surround the room. That was once the World-Ash! When the wood shall burn hot and clear, when the flame shall devour the shining hall, the day of the end of the gods shall have dawned!" Wotan himself, when the danger is no longer to be averted of a dishonoured end,—if Alberich, that is, shall regain possession of the Ring,—will plunge the splinters of his defeated spear deep into Loge's breast and himself set the World-Ash ablaze.

As night begins to yield to dawn, confusion falls on the minds of the Norns; their visions, they complain, are dim. The strands of the coil become tangled between their fingers. One of them descries an angry face—Alberich's—floating before her; another becomes aware of an avenging curse gnawing at the threads of the coil. This suddenly snaps—terrific omen! Appalled, with the cry that "eternal wisdom is at an end," they vanish in search of their mother, Erda, in the earth's depths.

Day breaks. The reflection of Loge's defence pales. There greets our ear suddenly a sturdy strain, resembling something we have heard before. By analysis, we discover in it one of the Siegfried-motifs, the horn-call, but grown so robust and weighty, so firm, strong, commanding, that it hardly more than reminds us of the youthful Lock-weise, fluttering forth hopefully to find a "dear companion." The dear companion has long been found. Hard upon this motif of the grown-up Siegfried comes a wholly new motif, the motif of Brünnhilde Wedded, wonderful for its entwining tenderness, yet the elevation it combines with its immensely feminine quality. It is  given over and over; the instruments pass it from one to the other, like a watchword.

The two thus announced come forth into the sunrise from their chamber in the rock, Siegfried full-armed, Brünnhilde leading Grane. They are glorious in this scene of parting. A nobler passion we do not remember hearing expressed than animates them and the music which interprets their being. It is all a little more than life-size.

"To new exploits, beloved hero, how poor were my love, did I not let you go! One single care restrains me, fear of the insufficiency of all I could bestow. What I learned from the gods I have given you, a rich treasury of holy runes, but the maidenly staff of my strength the hero took from me, before whom I now bow. Despoiled of wisdom, though filled with desire to serve; rich in love, but devoid of power, oh, despise not the poor lover who can only wish you, not give you, more!"

But not all the wisdom of the Wala's daughter, not the rich treasury of runes, have availed to change Siegfried from his big incurable simplicity,—as his answer in effect declares: "More did you give me, wonder-woman, than I have capacity to retain! Be not angry that your teaching should have left me still untaught. One knowledge there is which I, none the less, hold fast: that Brünnhilde lives and is mine; one lesson I learned with ease: to think ever of Brünnhilde!"

The gift she asks of his love is that he shall think of himself, think of his great deeds, increase his glory. He bestows on her in leaving the Ring, in which the virtue is condensed of all great deeds he ever did. In exchange she gives him Grane. After offering each other, in their great mood, the consolation that to part is for them not to be parted, for where he goes there in very truth goes she, and where she remains there does he too abide, they call upon the gods to feed their eyes upon the dedicated  pair they are, and with jubilant appellations for each other—Victorious light! Effulgent star! Radiant love! Radiant life!—the last good words ever exchanged between them!—they tear apart, without sorrow or foreboding. She watches him out of sight. The stage-directions say: "From her happy smile may be divined the appearance of the cheerfully departing hero." The emphatic phrase is heard, as he descends into the valley, in which at their first meeting (in the opera "Siegfried") they vowed that each was to the other "eternally and for ever, his inheritance and his possession, his only and his all!" The curtain closes on the Prologue.

By the music we can follow Siegfried on his journey. We know when he comes to the fire, when he comes to the Rhine. There floats to us, with the effect of a folk-song, a legend, the lament of the Rhine-nymphs for their lost gold. Sounds of warning are in the air as Siegfried approaches the Hall of the Gibichungen, but to such the hardy hero, no need to say, is fast sealed.

The curtain unclosing shows the interior of the Hall of the Gibichungen, open at the further end on the Rhine. Gunther, his sister Gutrune, and their half-brother Hagen, sit at a table set with drinking-horns and flagons.

This Hagen is the Nibelung's son of Erda's prophecy: "When the dark enemy of Love shall in wrath beget a son, the end of the gods shall not be long delayed." An allusion of Hagen's there is to his mother, as having succumbed to the craft of Alberich. On the other hand, a reference of Gunther's to Frau Grimhild, his mother and Hagen's, would seem to show that her history, whatever it may have been, bore no outward blot.

He is early old, this "child of hate," as Wotan long ago called him, sere and pallid, totally unglad and hating the glad. He  is the tool created by Alberich—even as Siegmund was Wotan's tool,—to win back for him the Ring. From his Nibelung father he has more than human powers and knowledge. In the conversation which we overhear between the brethren, we witness Hagen laying lines for the recapture of the Ring and Siegfried's destruction, for he, like Mime, understands that there can be no safety for him who shall unrightfully get from Siegfried the Ring, while the strong-handed fellow lives.

Gunther—whose motif betrays him, with its little effect of shallow self-satisfaction, like a jaunty toss of the head,—Gunther asks Hagen, is he not magnificent, sitting beside the Rhine; to the glory of Gibich? "It is my habit," remarks Hagen evasively, "to envy you." "Nay, for me it is to envy you, and not you me," Gunther in his pleasant humour rejoins; "true, I inherited the right of the first-born, but wisdom is yours alone, and I am, in fact, but lauding your good counsel when I inquire of my fame!" "I blame the counsel then," speaks Hagen, "for indifferent is as yet the fame. I know of high advantages which the Gibichung has not yet won...." Gunther's inquiry he satisfies: "In summer ripeness and vigour I behold the stem of Gibich: you, Gunther, without wife,—you, Gutrune, still unwed." Gunther and Gutrune, struck, are silent a moment. Then Gunther inquires whom should he wed that lustre might be added to the glory of the House? "I know a woman," Hagen replies, "the most glorious in the world. On a high rock is her throne; a fire surrounds her abode; only he who shall break through the fire may proffer his suit for Brünnhilde." Gunther's mediocrity and his sense of it stand ingenuously confessed in his question: "Is my courage sufficient for the test?" "The achievement is reserved for one stronger even than you." "Who is this unparalleled champion?" "Siegfried, the son of the Wälsungen....  He, grown in the forest to mighty size and strength, is the man I wish Gutrune for her lord." Gutrune's motif, sweet and shallow, like Gunther's betrays her; an innocent admission of mediocrity, too, is in her exclamation: "You mocker! Unkind Hagen! How should I be able to attach Siegfried to me?" She is unsure of her feminine charm as her brother of his manly courage. As he finds nothing repugnant in the proposition to win his bride through another, so she accepts to win her love through a magic potion. Gunther, Gutrune, and Hunding are the only plain human beings in the drama of the Ring, and certainly they produce the effect of rampant creatures among winged ones. Acquiescently Gutrune hears Hagen's suggestion: "Remember the drink in the cupboard; trust me who provided it. By means of it, the hero whom you desire shall be bound to you by love. Were Siegfried now to enter, were he to taste the spiced drink, that he ever saw a woman before you, that ever a woman approached him, he must totally forget!" Thus they have it planned: Siegfried shall by a love-potion be won to Gutrune, and, as a task by which to obtain her from her brother, shall be deputed to fetch Brünnhilde for him from her flame-surrounded heights. Hagen is alone, of the three, to know of the tie existing between Siegfried and Brünnhilde. But, "How shall we find him?" very pertinently asks Gunther. While storming light-heartedly about the world in search of adventures, it can hardly be, Hagen judges, but that he shall come too to Gibich's shore on the Rhine. Even while he is speaking, Siegfried's horn is heard in the distance. Hagen from the riverside describes the figure he sees approaching: "In a boat, a hero and a horse: he it is, so merrily blowing the horn. By an easy stroke, as if with an idle hand, he drives the craft against the stream." (We hear that easy stroke of the idle hand,—the power and gaiety of Siegfried are in it; it  has a family resemblance to the horn-call.) "So vigourous a hand at the swinging of the scull he alone can boast who slew the dragon. It is Siegfried, surely no other!" Hagen makes a speaking-tube of his hands: "Hoiho! Whither, blithesome hero?" "To the strong son of Gibich!" comes answer from the river. "Here! Here come ashore! Hail, Siegfried, beloved hero!" The hero lands. As he stands at the entrance, holding Grane by the bridle, with the unconstraint of ancient manners they all quietly before speaking take one another's measure with their eyes. Siegfried's fame has preceded him. He is known as the slayer of the dragon, the possessor of the Hort, and commander of the Nibelungen. "Which is the son of Gibich?" he inquires. Gunther presents himself. "I heard you lauded far down the Rhine," Siegfried says; and, with the fresh directness again of ancient manners: "Either fight with me, or be my friend!" As we see him for the first time among common mortals, we perceive the effect of high elegance which pertains to Siegfried's calm, his careless perfect strength and simplicity. Gutrune who has not removed her marvelling gaze from him since his entrance, withdraws—to prepare the drink. As Hagen takes his horse to stable, Siegfried charges him, while a dear memory sings in his heart: "Take good care of Grane for me. Never did you hold by the bridle a horse of nobler breed!"

Magnificent is Gunther in expressions of welcome to the great guest: "Joyfully hail, O hero, the Hall of my fathers! The ground you tread, all you see, regard as your own. Yours is my inheritance, yours are my land and my people. To these add my body. I offer myself as your vassal." Siegfried replies: "I offer neither land nor people; no father's mansion nor court. My sole inheritance is my own body, which I expend day by day in living. Nothing have I but a sword, forged by  myself.... This I pledge with myself to our alliance." Hagen, overhearing, ventures; "Yet report calls you possessor of the Nibelungen-Hort...." And Siegfried; "I had almost forgotten the treasure, so do I prize its idle wealth! I left it lying in a cave where it once was guarded by a dragon." (The reason is clear why the curse must drop away crippled, powerless to blight this free nature, unenfeebled by covetousness as by fear!) "And you brought away no part of it?" "This metal-work, unaware of its use." Hagen recognises the Tarnhelm and explains its virtues. "And you took from the Hort nothing further?" "A ring." "You have it no doubt in safe keeping?" "It is in the keeping of a gracious woman," Siegfried replies dreamily.

Bashful, blushing, tremulous, as different as is well possible from Brünnhilde, Gutrune approaches, holding a filled drinking-horn. "Welcome, guest, in Gibich's house! His daughter offers you drink!"

Siegfried holds the cup before him a moment without drinking, his thoughts flying afar. The words come back to him spoken to Brünnhilde at parting. An infinite tenderness invades him. "Though I should forget all you ever taught me," he murmurs, "one teaching I shall still hold fast. My first draught, to faithful love, Brünnhilde, I drink to you!" With which secret toast to the absent beloved he sets the horn to his lips and drains it—to the motif of Evil Enchantment, the motif of the Cup of Forgetfulness, closely resembling the Tarnhelm-motif, but sweeter,—cruel as a treacherous caress. This whole passage, surpassingly exquisite to the ear, is painful to the heart as hardly another in the opera, fertile as this is in tragic moments. It marks the end of so much happiness.

When Siegfried's eyes, as he returns the cup to Gibich's daughter, rest upon her, it is, as Hagen had foretold, as if he  had never before beheld a woman. The inflammable heart which suffocated him of old at sight of Brünnhilde asleep, now makes his voice falter with instantaneous passion as he exclaims: "You, whose beauty dazzles like lightning, wherefore do you drop your eyes before me?" And when shyly she looks up: "Ha, fairest woman, hide your glance! Its beam scorches the heart within my breast—Gunther, what is your sister's name?... Gutrune!... Are they good runes which I read in her eye?..." Impetuously he seizes her hand; "I offered myself to your brother as his vassal, the haughty one repelled me; will you exhibit the same arrogance toward me, if I offer myself as your ally?" She cannot answer, for the confusion of joy which overwhelms her; signifying by a gesture her unworthiness of this high honour, with unsteady step she leaves the room. Siegfried, closely observed by the other two, gazes lingeringly after her, fast-bewitched. Some sketch of a project for winning her it must be prompting his next words: "Have you, Gunther, a wife?" "Not yet have I courted, and hardly shall I rejoice in a wife! I have set my heart upon one whom no well-advised endeavour can win for me!" "In what can you fail," speaks Siegfried's brisk assurance, "if I stand by you?" "Upon a high rock is her throne, a fire surrounds her abode," Gunther in hopeless tone describes the forbidding circumstances. "Upon a high rock is her throne, a fire surrounds her abode,..." Siegfried rapidly says the words after him, which his lips know so strangely well. "Only he who breaks through the fire..." "Only he who breaks through the fire,..." Siegfried is visibly making a tremendous effort to remember, to account for the something so curiously familiar in the image evoked. "May be Brünnhilde's suitor...." By this, the cup of forgetfulness has completely done its work,—the name suggests to him nothing, the effort itself to remember is forgotten. "But  not for me," sighs Gunther, "to climb the rock; the fire will not die down for me!" "I fear no fire! I will win the woman for you," Siegfried declares, "for your man am I, and my valour is yours, if I may obtain Gutrune for my wife!" Gutrune is promised him. It is Siegfried's heated brain—for the first time fruitful in stratagem—which throws off the plan to deceive this strange woman up in the fire-girdled fastness of whom they tell him, by means of the Tarnhelm, which lends the wearer any shape he wish to adopt. The future brothers swear "blood-brotherhood," pledging their truth in wine, into which each has let trickle a drop of his blood. "If one of the brothers shall break the bond, if one of the friends shall betray his faithful ally, let that which in kindness we drink to-day by drops gush forth in streams, sacred reparation to the friend!" They clasp hands upon the compact, and Hagen with his sword cleaves in two the drinking-horn. "Why," it occurs to Siegfried, "did not you, Hagen, join in the oath?" "My blood would have spoiled the drink," replies the joyless man; "it does not flow noble and untroubled like yours; cold and morose it stagnates in me, and will not colour my cheek. Wherefore I keep afar from the fiery league." The ancient conception of the power of a vow, as of the power of a curse, is interestingly illustrated in this story. The effectiveness of a vow, as we discover, has nothing to do with persons or circumstances; an oath becomes a sort of independent creation with a precise operation of its own. Hagen, capable of any breach of faith, meditating nothing but treachery, dare not join in the formality of the oath because of sure and deadly danger in breaking it. Siegfried deceives Gunther without intending or knowing it, yet his blood must "gush forth in streams" as appointed, to wash out his offence.

Siegfried is for starting without delay on the quest: "There is  my skiff; it will take us quickly to the rock; one night you shall wait in the boat on the shore, then shall you lead home the bride."

The Hall is left in Hagen's care. Followed by Gutrune's eyes, the heroes hurry off. Hagen places himself with spear and shield in the doorway, and, while sitting there sentinel-wise, reflects upon the success of his devices: "Blown along by the wind, the son of Gibich goes a-wooing. Helmsman to him is a strong hero, who is to brave danger in his stead. His own bride this latter will bring for him to the Rhine, but to me he will bring—the Ring! You frank good fellows, light-hearted companions, sail cheerfully on! Abject though he may seem to you, you are yet his servants—the servants of the Nibelung's son!" The curtain closes.

When it reopens we see the scene once more of Siegfried's and Brünnhilde's leave-taking. Brünnhilde sits sunk in contemplation of the Ring and the memories attached to it. Distant thunder disturbs her dreams; her ear seizes a familiar sound, not heard for many a day, the gallop of an approaching air-horse. Her name comes borne on the wind. She rushes to receive Waltraute, whose call she has joyfully recognised. In her delight, she does not at once take account of the Valkyrie's sorrowful and preoccupied mien. She presses rapid questions upon her: "You dared then for love of Brünnhilde brave Walvater's commandment? Or—how? Oh, tell me! Has Wotan's disposition softened toward me? When I protected Siegmund against the god, while it was a fault, I know that I was fulfilling his wish. I know, too, that his anger was appeased, for even though he sealed me in slumber, left me bound on a rock, to be the bondmaid of the man who should find and wake me, yet he granted favour to the prayer of my terror, he surrounded the rock with a devouring fire which should close the way to the base. Thus was I through my punishment made  happy! The most splendid of heroes won me for wife. In the light of his love to-day I beam and laugh!" With uncontrolled joy she embraces the sister, unconscious of the latter's impatience and shy attempt to repel her. "Did my fate, sister, allure you? Have you come to pasture your sight upon my bliss, to share that which has befallen me?"

The suggestion is verily too much! "To share the tumult which, insensate, possesses you? A different matter it is which impelled me, fearful, to break Wotan's commandment...." Brünnhilde wakes to the sister's troubled looks, but she can still think of but one reason for them. "The stern one has not forgiven? You stand in terror of his anger?" "Had I need to fear him—there would be a term to my fear!" "Amazed, I do not understand you!" "Master your agitation, listen attentively. The terror which drove me forth from Walhalla, drives me back thither...." "What has happened to the eternal gods?" cries Brünnhilde, at last alarmed. Waltraute unfolds to her then the sorrowful plight of the gods, making her even over the events in Walhalla since her cutting off from the eternal dynasty. She describes Walvater returning home from his wanderings with his broken spear, the erection around the Hall of the Blessed of the funeral pile cut from the World-Ash, the assembling about Wotan's throne of the gods and heroes. "There he sits, speaks no word, the splinters of the spear clenched in his hand. Holda's (Freia's) apples he will not touch. Fear and amazement bind the gods. His ravens both he has sent ranging; should they return with good tidings, then once again—for the last time!—the god would divinely smile. Clasping his knees lie we Valkyries; he is blind to our entreating looks. I pressed weeping against his breast, his glance wavered—Brünnhilde, he thought of you! Deeply he sighed; he closed his eyes and as if in dream he breathed forth  the words: "If to the daughters of the deep Rhine she would restore the Ring, delivered from the weight of the curse were the gods and the world!" I bethought me then; from his side, between the rows of silent heroes, I stole. In secret haste I mounted my horse and rode upon the storm to you. You, oh, my sister, I now conjure: that which lies in your power, bravely do it,—end the misery of the Immortals!"

Brünnhilde speaks to her pityingly and gently; it is so long since she emerged from the vapour-dimmed atmosphere of her heavenly home that she receives no clear impression, she owns, of the affair related to her; but: "What, pale sister, do you crave from me?"

"Upon your hand, the ring—that is the one! Listen to my counsel, for Wotan's sake cast it from you!" "The ring? Cast it from me?" "To the Rhine-daughters give it back!" "To the Rhine-daughters, I, this ring? Siegfried's love-token? Are you mad?"

Brünnhilde is unshaken by Waltraute's insistence. Good or bad arguments have nothing to do with the case, as it stands in her feeling. Indignation possesses her at the bare notion of the exchange proposed to her, out of all reason and proportion: Siegfried's love, of which his ring is the symbol, for Walhalla's and the world's peace! "Ha! do you know what the ring is to me? How should you grasp it, unfeeling maid? More than the joys of Walhalla, more than the glory of the Immortals, is to me this ring; one look at its clear gold, one flash of its noble lustre, I prize more than the eternally enduring joy of all the gods, for it is Siegfried's love which beams at me from the ring! Oh, might I tell you the bliss.... And that bliss is safeguarded by the ring. Return to the holy council of the gods; inform them, concerning my ring: Love I will never renounce; they shall never take love from me, not though Walhalla the radiant  should crash down in ruins!" When Waltraute with cries of "Woe!" flees to horse, she looks after her unmoved: "Lightning-charged cloud, borne by the wind, go your stormy way! Nevermore steer your course toward me!" She has no regrets; the request has been in her judgment so monstrous that it has hardened and shut her heart toward those who made it. She gazes quietly over the landscape. Her sense of security in Siegfried's love is no doubt at its firmest in these moments following her fiery defence of it, her sacrifice to it of old allegiances. The very peace of possession is upon her.

Twilight has fallen; the guardian fire glows more brightly as the darkness thickens. Of a sudden, the flames leap high,—Loge's signal that some one draws near. At the same moment Siegfried's horn is heard, approaching. With the cry: "In my god's arm!" Brünnhilde rushes to meet him.

A figure springs from the flames upon a rock, a form foreign to Brünnhilde's eyes. The flames drop back. The figure remains, dark against the dim glow of the sky. His head and the greater part of his face are concealed by a helmet of curious fashion; she does not, in the uncertain light, recognise the Tarnhelm. The fact itself of his being there is terrifying, arguing some singular treachery somewhere. "Treason!" is Brünnhilde's first cry, as she recoils and from a distance stares breathlessly at the sinister intruder. He stands motionless, leaning upon his shield and regarding her. "Who is it that has forced his way to me?" she gasps. He is silent still; the horror of him is increased by his silence and motionlessness and his metal mask. The motif of evil enchantment is woven through the whole of this scene. In a hard masterful voice he speaks at length: "Brünnhilde! A suitor is come whom your fire does not alarm! I seek you for my wife; follow me unresistingly." It is all so strange, so like the agonising  impossibilities of a dream,—Brünnhilde falls to trembling. "Who are you, dreadful one? Are you a mortal? Do you come from Hella's army of the night?" Still watching her, motionless on his point of vantage, he replies: "A Gibichung am I, and Gunther is the hero's name, whom, woman, you must follow." It flashes upon Brünnhilde that this, this must have been the true point of Wotan's punishment. When the figure springs from the rock and approaches her, she raises, to hold him off, the hand with Siegfried's ring. "Stand back! Fear this sign!... Stronger than steel I am made by this ring; never shall you rob me of it!" "You teach me," he replies, with his dark calm, "to detach it from you!" He reaches for it, she defends it. They wrestle. She escapes from him with a victorious cry. He seizes her again. The former Valkyrie, reinforced by the Ring, is a match very nearly for the stalwart Wälsung. A shriek is heard. He has caught her hand, and draws the ring from her finger. As if all her strength had been in it and were gone with its loss, she sinks, broken, in the arms of the disguised Siegfried. He coldly lets her down upon the seat of rock. "Now you are mine, Brünnhilde,—Gunther's bride. Withhold not your favour from me now!" She cowers, shattered and stupefied, murmuring, "How could you have helped yourself, miserable woman!" The right of the stronger she recognises, primitive woman, as a right. Fairly vanquished, she must accept the fate of battle,—no dignity, as no success, would pertain to further struggle. When with a gesture of command he points her to her stone chamber, trembling and with faltering step she obeys. Siegfried, following, draws his sword and in his natural voice again, smooth and happy, addresses it: "Now, Nothung, do you bear witness to the restraint which marks my wooing. Guarding my truth to my brother, divide me from his bride!"


The Hall of the Gibichungen once more, seen from the outside. It is night. Hagen sits as we left him, in guard over the hall. He sleeps leaning against a pillar of the portal. A burst of moonlight shows Alberich crouching before him. "Are you asleep, Hagen, my son? Are you asleep and deaf to my voice, whom sleep and rest have forsaken?" "I hear you, harassed spirit; what message have you for my sleep?" Remember! remember! is the burden of Alberich's communication. Be true to the task for the purpose of which you were created. The old enemy, Wotan, is no longer to be feared; he has been made powerless by one of his own race. The object now singly to be kept in view is the destruction of this latter, and capture of the Ring in his possession. Quickly it must be done, for "a wise woman there is, living for love of the Wälsung; were she to bid him restore the Ring to the Rhine-daughters, for ever and ever lost were the gold!" "The Ring I will have!" Hagen quiets the care-ridden Nibelung, "rest in peace!" "Do you swear it to me, Hagen, my hero?" "I swear it to myself!" Dawn has been creeping over the sky. The form of Alberich fades in the growing light and his voice dies on the ear: "Be faithful, Hagen, my son, be faithful—faithful!" Hagen sits alone in the broadening day, seemingly asleep, yet with eyes wide open. He starts. Flushed with the morning-red, Siegfried strides up from the river-bank, uttering his joyful "Hoiho!" "Siegfried, winged hero, whence do you come so fast?" "From Brünnhilde's rock. I there took in the breath which I put forth in calling you,—so rapid was my journey. A couple follows me more slowly. Their journey is by boat. Is Gutrune awake?"

 "Now make we welcome, Gibich's-child!" he greets her, as at Hagen's call she comes hurrying out to him. "I bring good tidings!" In exuberantly good spirits he tells them the story of his bad action. The magic draught administered to him had more than destroyed his memory of Brünnhilde, we must believe; the inflaming potion had somehow blotted out, or covered over and for the time cast into the background, his father's part in him, the part of Siegmund, who fought to the end an unequal and losing battle to save a girl from a marriage without love. "Across the expiring fire," he concludes his report, "through the mists of early dawn, she followed me from the mountain-top to the valley. At the shore, Gunther and I, in a trice, changed places, and by virtue of the Tarnhelm I wished myself here. A strong wind is even at the moment driving our dear pair up the Rhine." "Let us display all kindness in our reception of her," Gutrune proposes, with the generosity of overflowing happiness; "that she may be pleased and glad to sojourn with us here! Do you, Hagen, summon the vassals to the wedding at Gibich's court, while I will gather the women." Siegfried fondly offers her his help; hand in hand they go within.

Hagen is conscious, presumably, of an incongruity in the task assigned to him, the genial office of gathering together the clans for a wedding-feast. However that may be, he does not, to perform it, depart at all from his character. Ascending to an eminence, he blows a melancholy blast through a great steer-horn, and, in a voice portending tidings the most alarming, gives the call to arms: "Hoiho! Gibich's men! Up! Arms in the land! Danger! Danger!" In this he persists until from all sides, singly at first, then in groups and lastly in crowds, the vassals, hurriedly armed, come flocking. "Why does the horn sound? Why are we called to arms? Here we are with  our weapons.... Hagen, what danger threatens? What enemy is near? Who attacks us? Is Gunther in need of us?" "Forthwith prepare, and dally not, to receive Gunther returning home. He has wooed a wife!" This still in a tone befitting the announcement of disaster. "Is he in trouble? Is he hard pressed by the foe?" "A formidable wife he brings home!" "Is he pursued by the hostile kindred of the maid?" "He comes alone, unpursued." "The danger then is past? He has come forth victorious from the encounter?" "The dragon-slayer succoured him in his need; Siegfried, the hero, secured his safety." "How then shall his followers further help him?" "Strong steers you shall slaughter and let Wotan's altar stream with their blood." "And what, Hagen, are we to do after that?" "A boar shall you slay for Froh, a mighty ram for Donner; but to Fricka you shall sacrifice sheep, that she may bless the marriage!"

The men are beginning to penetrate through Hagen's sullen aspect to his joke; with heavy playfulness they help it on. "And when we have slaughtered the animals, what shall we do?" "From the hands of fair women take the drinking-horn, pleasantly brimming with wine and mead." "Horn in hand,—what then?" "Bravely carouse until drunkenness overwhelm you—all to the honour of the gods, that they may bless the marriage!" The rough warriors break into laughter, and in uncouth jollity stamp with their feet and spear-butts. "Great good fortune is indeed abroad on the Rhine when Hagen the grim grows jovial!" Not the faintest smile illumines the bleak face. At sight of Gunther's skiff approaching, he checks the men's laughter. Moving among them, with careful foresight he drops seed toward fruits of trouble: "Be loyal to your sovereign mistress, serve her faithfully; if she should suffer wrong, be swift to avenge her!" Hagen's plan for bringing  about Siegfried's destruction is not yet at this point settled in outline. We see him grasping at whatever can be construed into a weapon against him. There are repeated attempts on his part in the scene following to stir against Siegfried some fatal demonstration of popular anger.

The skiff draws to land. The vassals greet their lord and his bride with noisy chorus of welcome, clashing their arms together, beating their swords against their bucklers.

Brünnhilde stands beside Gunther in the boat, statue-still, her eyes bent on the ground, like one who neither sees nor hears. Without resistance she lets Gunther take her hand to help her ashore; but a suppressed snatch of the motif of Wotan's resentment suggests the shudder ominous of danger overrunning his Valkyrie daughter at the contact.

This is Gunther's hour, this for him the supreme occasion in life; the star of his destiny rides the heavens unclouded; he feels now magnificent indeed in his seat on the Rhine, as he stands before his people with the regal creature beside him whom he calls his wife. As if to express the momentary expansion of his nature, his motif resounds, as proudly he presents her, quite changed in character; it has taken on a grandeur approaching pomp: "Brünnhilde, the glory of her sex, I bring to you here on the Rhine. A nobler wife was never won! The race of the Gibichungen, by the grace of the gods, shall now tower to crowning heights of fame!" Brünnhilde does not heed or hear. When, as Gunther leads her toward the Hall, Siegfried and Gutrune meet them, coming forth from it with strains of marriage-music and a festal train of ladies, her eyes never moving from the ground, she does not see them. "Hail, beloved hero! Hail, dearest sister!" Gunther greets the bridal pair. "Joyfully I behold at your side, sister, him who has won you. Two  happy pairs are here met—Brünnhilde and Gunther, Gutrune and Siegfried!"

At the name, Brünnhilde looks quickly up.... Her astonished gaze fastens upon Siegfried's face and dwells intently upon it. Her action is so marked that Gunther drops her hand; all watch her in wonder. A murmur runs through the assembly: "What ails her? Is she out of her mind?" Brünnhilde, still speechless, falls visibly to trembling. Siegfried becomes at last aware of something out of the common in the gaze so persistently fixed upon him. He goes quietly to the woman and asks: "What trouble burdens Brünnhilde's gaze?" She has hardly power to frame words, make sounds, her emotion still further intensified by his cool and disengaged address. "Siegfried, here!... Gutrune!" she painfully brings forth. "Gunther's gentle sister," he enlightens her, in his major, matter-of-fact manner, "wedded to me, as you to Gunther!" At this she recovers her voice to hurl at him startlingly: "I—to Gunther?... A lie!" She is swooning with the helpless horror of all this monstrous mystery. Siegfried, who stands nearest, receives her as she totters, near to falling. As she lies for a moment in the well-known arms, it seems impossible, beyond everything impossible, that his unimaginable purpose should not break down, that he should not be forced to drop this incomprehensible feint of strangeness. But her dying eyes searching the face close to them discover in it no glimmer of feeling. Her heart-broken murmur: "Siegfried.... knows me not?" touches no chord. The hero is for handing her over with all convenient haste to her proper guardian. "Gunther, your wife is ailing!" As Gunther comes, he rouses her: "Awake, woman! Here is your husband!" Because her senses seem clouded and she a moment before rejected the statement that she was married to Gunther, he  singles out for her with his finger the personage he means. Her eyes, as he makes this gesture, are caught by the Ring on his hand. Her mind leaps, inevitably, to the conclusion that Siegfried, who feigns not to know her, not only has cast her off, but is in collusion with this man Gunther, her captor.

Trying by a supreme effort to govern her agitation and anger at the revelation of this unspeakable baseness, till she shall have sounded the affair, "A ring I saw upon your finger," she addresses him; "not to you does it belong; it was torn from me by this man!" indicating Gunther. "How should you have received the ring from him?" Siegfried looks reflectively at the ring. Since all trace of the former Brünnhilde is wiped from his brain, he cannot remember his parting gift to her of the Ring. Certainly, he wrested a ring from this woman, in the twilight.... What became of it?... But the ring on his hand is indisputably a relic of the old days of the fight with the dragon. "I did not receive the ring from him," he replies. She turns to Gunther: "If you took from me the ring, by which you claimed me for wife, declare to him your right to it, demand back the token!" Gunther is sore perplexed. "The ring?... I gave him none.... Are you sure that is the one?" "Where do you conceal the ring," Brünnhilde presses him, "which you robbed from me?" Gunther is stupidly silent, not knowing what he should say; his confusion is so obvious and his blankness so convincingly unassumed, that the truth is borne upon Brünnhilde: It was not he, despite all appearances, who took the ring from her, and if not he—"Ha!" she cries, in a burst of furious indignation, "This is the man who tore the ring from me; Siegfried, trickster and thief!"

Siegfried has been still gazing at the ring on his hand, trying to puzzle out points which the lacunæ in his memory do not permit him to make clear. The contemplation has brought  back old scenes and distant events. He speaks, unruffled: "From no woman did I receive the ring; nor did I take it from any woman. Full well do I recognise the prize of battle, won by me before Neidhöhle, when I slew the mighty dragon."

With what quiet and conviction he makes the statement, as if verily he spoke the truth! Such assurance is hardly imaginable, save as based upon conscious integrity.... Hagen now, the fisher in troubled waters, interferes, still further to increase Brünnhilde's bewilderment: "Are you sure you recognise the ring? If it is the one you gave to Gunther, it belongs to him, and Siegfried obtained it by some artifice which the deceiver shall be made to rue!"

Plainly, there is no way of help in clearing up this desperate tangle. The goaded woman bursts into a wild outcry, sharp as a knife by which she should hope to cut through the coil in which she is caught: "Deceit! Deceit! Dastardly deceit!... Treachery! Treachery! such as never until this moment called for vengeance!"

Gutrune catches her breath: "Deceit?..." The quickly roused suspicion of the crowd takes up Brünnhilde's word: "Treachery?... To whom?..."

"Holy gods! Heavenly leaders!" Brünnhilde's madness clamours to heaven: "Did you appoint this in your councils? Do you impose upon me sufferings such as never were suffered? Do you create ignominy for me such as never was endured? Prompt me then to vengeance such as never yet raged! Enkindle anger in me such as never was quelled! Teach Brünnhilde to break her own heart that she may shatter the one who betrayed her!" The ineffectual Gunther tries vainly to hush her, to stop the scandalous scene. "Away!" she thrusts him from her, "cheat!... Yourself cheated!" and she announces ringingly to them all the one thing which in all this confusion she knows to be  true: "Not to him (Gunther) am I married, but to that man, there!"

"Siegfried?... Gutrune's husband?" the murmur passes through the astonished crowd.

"Love and delight he forced from me...." Her momentary hatred of Siegfried thus distorts the image of the past. Siegfried's only possible interpretation of this astonishing declaration is that the Tarnhelm did not properly conceal his identity—but even so the woman is not speaking the truth. What her purpose can be in thus darkening her own fame he is at a loss to divine. He replies to her charge directly, careless at this point that the plot between Gunther and himself stands betrayed by his words. "Hear, whether I have broken my faith! Blood-brotherhood I swore to Gunther: Nothung, my worthy sword, guarded the vow of truth; its sharp blade divided me from this unhappy woman!" Brünnhilde hears him with a jeer. They are speaking at cross purposes; he, as it should be remembered, of the foregoing night alone, while she speaks of that past so wholly blotted from his mind. "Oh, wily hero! see how you lie! how ill-advisedly you call to witness your sword! I am acquainted indeed with its sharpness, but acquainted, too, with the sheath—in which, pleasantly encased, Nothung, the faithful friend, hung against the wall, while the master courted his dear!"

"How?... How?..." the agitated followers are beginning to ask. "Has he broken his word? Has he smirched Gunther's honour?" Gunther, Gutrune, the vassals, all a little shaken in their faith in Siegfried by the assurance of his accuser, press him to refute her charge, clear himself, take the oath which shall silence the disgraceful accusation. He unhesitatingly asks for a weapon upon which to swear. Hagen craftily offers his spear. Siegfried placing his right hand on  the point, solemnly calls upon the sacred weapon to register his oath, wording it in the following ill-omened fashion: "Where sharpness may pierce me, do you pierce me; where death shall strike me, do you strike me, if yonder woman spoke the truth, if I broke my vow to my brother!" Brünnhilde hearing, flings his hand from the spear-point, and grasping it in her own, pronounces the counter-oath: "Your weight I consecrate, spear, that it may overthrow him! Your sharpness I bless, that it may pierce him! For, having broken every vow, this man now speaks perjury!" Siegfried and Brünnhilde each believe that what he swears is true; but the Oath, the blind power which takes no account of intention, of moral right or wrong, gives right in sequence to Brünnhilde. The spear pierces the hero who invokes it so to do "if the woman spoke true."

There is nothing more, the solemn oath taken, that Siegfried can do, and in his stalwart fashion he turns his back on the whole troublesome business, with the sensible suggestion that the wild woman from the mountains be given rest and quiet "until the impudent rage shall have spent itself which some unholy wizardry has suscitated" against them all.

"You men, come away!" he subjoins, all his heroic good-humour recovered. "When the fighting is to be done with tongues, we will willingly pass for cowards!" For Gunther, whom he sees darkly brooding, he has a word in the ear: "Believe me, I am more vexed than you that I should not have more perfectly deceived her; the Tarnhelm, I could almost believe, only half disguised me. But the anger of women is soon appeased. The woman will beyond a doubt be grateful hereafter that I should have won her for you!" The winged exhilaration of the bridegroom repossessing him, he invites them all in to the wedding-feast, and casting his arm gaily around  Gutrune draws her along with him into the Hall—whither the people swarm after them.

The three are left outside whom no festivity can allure. In long silence they remain, sunk in gloomy study, each on his side. To attempt arriving at clearness by questions does not occur to them; and, indeed, what to each is the principal thing, known from the proof of his eyes, no discussion could affect: for Brünnhilde, Siegfried is estranged from her; for Gunther, his marriage is turned to Dead-Sea apples.

The cheerful music, the summons to the wedding, dies away. Hagen bends his black brow in reflection as to how he shall utilise to his advantage the passions he has aroused; covertly he watches his victims. Gunther has cast himself down and muffled his face from the day, in the clutch of his jealous suspicion of Siegfried and the smart of his public shame.

Brünnhilde stands staring ahead, with set countenance of horror and grief. In an hour she has lived the tragedy which, spread over howsoever many years, is still one of the hardest in human experience, the tragedy which extorted Othello's groan: "But there, where I have garnered up my heart, where either I must live or bear no life—to be discarded thence!" She seeks in the void and blackness some glimmer of light on the incredible mystery of these events. With returning calm, a flash of the truth illuminates her, to the extent that she suspects in the unnatural developments of the last hour the work of sorcery. While hardly helping the actual situation, this interpretation frees Siegfried from the hatefulness of such black guilt as has appeared his, and we feel from this moment that Brünnhilde's undeterred reaching after vengeance, her consent to Siegfried's death, is less a personal need to make an offender pay, than the instinct to cut short the dishonour in which the most magnificent hero in the world is fallen. Impossible  of endurance is a world where Siegfried is false to all his vows, where Siegfried and Brünnhilde are no longer each to the other "for ever and ever, his only and his all!" Heartbreak much more than resentment stamps Brünnhilde's cry: "Where is my wisdom against this enigma? Where are my runes? Oh, lamentation! All my wisdom I bestowed on him. In his power he holds the bondmaid, in thongs the captive, whom, wailing over her wrong, the rich one joyously makes gift of to another! Where shall I find a sword with which to cut the thongs?"

Hagen approaches her: "Place your trust in me, deceived woman! I will avenge you on him who betrayed you...."

"On whom?..." she inquires, hazily. Him who betrayed you describes more than one. "On Siegfried, who betrayed you." "On Siegfried... you?..." She laughs, bitterly, while her unquelled pride in her faithless lord mocks: "A single glance of his flashing eye, which even through the lying disguise shed its radiance upon me, and your best courage would fail you!"

"But is he not, by reason of his perjury, reserved for my spear?"

"Perjury or none, you must fortify your spear by something stronger, if you think of attacking that strongest of all!" "Well I know," the subtle Hagen, with an effect of humbleness, continues, "Siegfried's victorious strength, and how difficult to overcome him in battle; wherefore do you give me good counsel: by what device may this giant be defeated by me?"

She breaks into complaint over the shameful requital with which the love has met that, unknown to him, by charms woven all about his body, made him invulnerable.

"No weapon then can hurt him?" asks Hagen.

"No weapon that is borne in battle...." But she corrects  herself, remembering suddenly that he might, in truth, be wounded in the back. "Never, I knew, would he retreat or in flight show his back to the foe. Upon it therefore I spared to place the spell." "And there my spear shall strike him!" determines Hagen. Having learned from her all that he need, he turns to Gunther: "Up, noble Gibichung! Here stands your strong wife. Why do you hang back there in dejection?"

Gunther breaks into passionate exclamations over the indignity he has suffered. Close indeed upon his hour of glory comes the hour of his humiliation, when he must hear from the queenly woman in whom his pride was placed such words as these: "Oh, ignoble, false companion! Behind the hero you concealed yourself, that he might gain for you the prize of courage! Low indeed has your precious race sunk, when it produces such dastards!" Gunther utters broken excuses, "while deceiving her he was himself deceived,—betraying her, he was betrayed—" and appeals to Hagen to stamp him out of life or help him to wash the stain off his honour!

Hagen has them now both where, for his purposes, he wishes them. "No brain can help you," he replies to Gunther, "nor can any hand! There is but one thing can help you—Siegfried's death!" The two words fall awfully on the air, followed by a long silence. The irresolute Gunther at the sound of the sentence writhes amid doubts and hesitations, such as do not for a moment move his stern fellow-sufferer. He remembers the blood-brotherhood sworn to Siegfried; he begins to question whether the blood-brother has in very fact been false. A returning wave of affection and admiration for the beautiful fellow calls forth a sigh, and then the thought of Gutrune: "Gutrune, to whom myself I freely gave him! If we punish her husband so, with what face shall we stand before her?" At this mention of Gutrune, a light breaks upon Brünnhilde;  "Gutrune!... is the name of the magic charm which has enchanted away from me my husband.... Terror smite her!" "If the manner of his death must offend her, let the deed be hidden from her," Hagen soothes Gunther's scruple. "We will to-morrow fare on a merry hunting-expedition. The noble one will, according to his impetuous wont, go ranging ahead of us, and meet his death by a wild boar."

The three, coming to a common determination upon the fall of Siegfried, are calling upon the different powers to whom they refer their deeds to hear their vows of revenge—Brünnhilde and Gunther upon Wotan, guardian of promises, Hagen upon Alberich—who through the happy working of this vow of vengeance will be master once more of the Ring—when from the Hall comes pouring forth, with music and strewing of flowers, the bridal procession. Gutrune, rose-wreathed, is borne shoulder-high upon a gilded and begarlanded throne. At the vision of her and the glowing Siegfried at her side, Brünnhilde shrinks back. Hagen forces her hand into Gunther's, and this second bridal pair falls into the train winding up the hillside to offer the nuptial sacrifices.


A rocky and wooded valley opening on the Rhine. It is part of the region over-ranged by the hunting-party of Hagen's devising. The horns of the hunters are heard in the distance,—Siegfried's horn-call among them, and Hagen's.

Our old acquaintances, the Rhine-daughters, rise to the surface of the water. They have warning or scent that Siegfried is not far, with the Ring, their stolen gold. They complain in their undulating song of the darkness now in the deep, where of old it was light, when the gold was there to shine for  them. Notwithstanding their loss, they are little less full of their fun than before; they splash and frolic in the water and with their voices copy the crystal play of the river. They pray the sun to send their way the hero who shall give them back the gold, after which they will regard without envy the sun's luminous eye! Siegfried's horn is heard. Recognising it as that of the hero who interests them, they dive under to consult together,—concerning the best method, of course, of extracting from him the Ring.

Siegfried comes to the edge of the bank overhanging the river, in search of tracks of his game, mysteriously lost. He is blaming some wood-imp for playing him a trick, when the Rhine-daughters, rising into sight, hail him by name. They adopt with him the playful, teasing tone of pretty girls with a likely-looking young fellow: "What are you grumbling into the ground?.... What imp excites your ire?... Has a water-sprite bothered you?... Tell us, Siegfried, tell us!" He watches them, smiling, and replies in their own vein: "Have you charmed into your dwellings the shaggy fellow who disappeared from my sight? If he is your sweetheart, far be it from me, you merry ladies, to deprive you of him!" They laugh loud and long, the Rhine-nymphs. "What will you give us, Siegfried, if we find your game for you?" "I have so far no fruit of my chase. You must tell me what you would like!" "A golden ring gleams on your finger..." suggests Wellgunde, and, unable to restrain their eagerness, the three cry out in a voice: "Give us that!" He considers the Ring a moment. "A gigantic dragon I slew for the ring, and I am to part with it in exchange for the paws of a worthless bear?" "Are you so niggardly?... So higgling at a bargain?... You should be generous to ladies!..." they shame him one after the other. With perfect good humour, he offers as a better  objection: "Were I to waste my property on you, my wife, I suspect, would find fault." "She is a shrew, no doubt?... I dare say she beats you.... The hero has a presentiment of the weight of her hand!..." They laugh immoderately. "Laugh away!" the hero laughs with them, but, not to be compelled by their derision: "I shall none the less leave you to disappointment, for the ring which you covet no teasing shall get for you!" The wily maidens do not take this up, but, turning from him, permit him to overhear the remarks about him which they exchange among themselves: "So handsome! So strong!... So fitted to inspire love!... What a pity that he is a miser!" With shouts of laughter they duck under.

Siegfried turns away, untroubled, and descends further into the narrow valley. But their words have not quite glanced off him. "Why do I suffer such a mean report of myself? Shall I lend myself to gibes of the sort? If they should come again to the water's edge, the ring they might have!" Too large to feel demeaned by an inconsistency, he shouts to them: "Hey, you lively water-beauties! Come quickly! I make you a gift of the ring!" Taking it off, he holds it toward them. This is the point in his fortunes where we perceive the working of Siegfried's fate. If the nymphs, as one would have felt safe in counting upon their doing, had risen and caught the Ring from him with a laugh louder than any before, all might have been well. Hagen would have had nothing to gain by killing him. But the curse which doomed the owner of the Ring to a bloody end would not have it so. It had been crippled, it is true, against the noble one; it had failed to make him suspicious, sad, and careful. But his violent death we see provided for when, by what seems the merest hazard, his offer of the Ring to the Rhine-maidens is not accepted on the expected  terms. The sisters rise to his call, but instead of faces dancing with laughter they show him grave and warning countenances. Their subaqueous deliberations have resulted in a most ill-inspired change of tactics. Instead of snatching at the proffered Ring and glad to have it, they represent to Siegfried that he will be under an obligation to them for ridding him of it. His mood of giving is changed by a threat into one of refusal. "Keep it, hero, and guard it with care, until you become aware of the evil fate you are cherishing under its shape. Then you will be glad if we will deliver you from the curse!" He slips back the Ring on his finger and bids them tell what they know. "Siegfried! We know of evil threatening you! To your danger you retain the Ring! Out of the Rhine-gold it was forged; he who shaped it and miserably lost it, placed a curse upon it long ago, that it should bring death upon him who wore it. As you slew the dragon, even so shall you be slain, and this very day, of this we warn you, unless you give us the Ring to bury in the deep Rhine; its water alone can allay the curse!" "You artful ladies," the hero shakes his head, "let be that policy! If I hardly trusted your flatteries, your attempt to alarm me deceives me still less...." When more impressively still they reiterate their warning, protesting their truth, urging the irresistible strength of the curse woven by the Norns into the coil of the eternal law, he answers, and the nature against which the curse had so long been of no effect shows brightly forth in the brief tirade: "My sword once cleft asunder a spear. The eternal coil of the law, whatever wild curses they have woven into it, the Norns shall see cut through by Nothung. A dragon once upon a time did of a truth warn me of the curse, but he could not teach me to fear! Though the whole world might be gained to me by a ring, for love I would willingly cede it; you should have it if you gave me delight. But if you threaten me  in life and limb, though the ring should not enclose the worth of a finger, not by any force could you get it from me! For life and limb, if I must live loveless and a slave to fear,—life and limb, look you, like this I cast them far away from me!" He takes up and flings a clod of earth over his shoulder. The Rhine-daughters in agitation press him still for a moment with warnings; but, realising the futility of these, with the prophecy: "A proud woman will this very day inherit of you; she will lend a more heedful ear to our warning!" they finally swim away, as they announce: "To her! To her! To her!"

Their singing floats back, dying away, a long time after they have taken their leave; Siefgried stands watching them out of sight, amused: "In water as on land I have now learned the ways of women; if a man resist their cajoling, they try threats with him; if he boldly brave these, let him look for scorn and reproaches! And yet—were it not for my truth to Gutrune, one of those dainty water-women I should have liked to tame!"

The horns of the hunting-party are heard approaching. Siegfried shouts in answer to their shouts. When Hagen and Gunther come in sight, he calls to them to join him down there where it is fresh and cool. The company with their freight of game descend into the shady gorge, to camp for an hour. The wine-skins and drink-horns are passed. Siegfried, questioned by Hagen of his fortune at the chase, jestingly gives his account: "I came forth for forest-hunting, but water-game was all that presented itself. Had I had a mind to it, three wild water-birds I might have caught for you, who sang to me, there on the Rhine, that I should be slain to-day!" Never had he spoken with a more unclouded brow. Gunther starts at his words and glances apprehensively at Hagen. Siegfried stretches out contentedly between them, the ample sunshine in his  blood, and remembers that he is thirsty. Hagen treats the evil prophecy as lightly as does Siegfried himself. In not unnatural sequence to Siegfried's reference to the water-birds, he remarks: "I have heard it reported, Siegfried, that you understand the language of the birds. Is it true?" "I have not heeded their babble this many a day—" Siegfried is saying, when Gunther's heavy and preoccupied mien is borne upon him; he breaks off to reach him his drink-horn, cheerily rallying him: "Drink, Gunther, drink! Your brother brings it to you!" Gunther, oppressed by his dark doubt of Siegfried, is not prompt in accepting the proffered cup. His reply obscurely conveys his sense of some failure in their good-fellowship. Siegfried takes it up merely to turn into occasion for one of his cordial laughs. "You over-cheerful hero!" sighs Gunther. Something is wrong, Siegfried cannot fail to see. He drops privately to Hagen his interpretation of the friend's gloom: "Brünnhilde is giving him trouble?" "If he understood her as well as you understand the song of the birds!" Siegfried has an inspiration. Those last words of Hagen's contain the germ of it. "Hei! Gunther!" he calls to the blood-brother, who appears so sorely in need of cheering: "You melancholy fellow! If you will thank me for it, I will sing you tales from the days of my youth!"

Gunther's reply is politely encouraging. Hagen joins his invitation to the half-brother's. The listeners place themselves at ease on the ground about the narrator, seated in their midst on a mossy stump. Then Siegfried, with his beautiful, bottomless zest in life, recounts in vivid running sketches the story we know. One after the other the familiar motifs pass in review. From them alone one could reconstruct the tale. Of his childhood in Mime's cave, the forging of Nothung, the slaying of the dragon. Of the wonder worked by the drop of dragon's  blood on the tongue, the little bird's good counsel by which he won Tarnhelm and Ring, the same bird's warning upon which he slew Mime. At this point, when we are wondering how, with Brünnhilde wiped from his memory, he can proceed, Hagen hands him a horn filled with wine, in which he has been seen expressing the juice of an herb; this, the Nibelung's son, wise in the virtues of simples, tells him, will sharpen his memory and bring close remote events.

Siegfried takes the cup, but for a moment does not taste it, absorbed, as is evident, in the effort to remember what came right after the point in his story at which he just broke off. The forgetfulness-motif suggests his baffled groping. Mechanically he sets the horn to his lips—a strain of the tenderest and most ecstatic of the Siegfried-Brünnhilde love-music marks the first effect of the draught which dissolves the mists obscuring memory,—followed close by the whole slowly unwinding Brünnhilde-motif. We feel as if we had suddenly, with Siegfried, waked from a bad dream. We take a trembling breath of relief at the weight removed from our heart.

A light of fixed joy grows and grows in Siegfried's face, as upon this recovering of his true identity he takes up his story again: "Wistfully I listened for the bird in the tree-tops. He sat there still, and sang; 'Hei, Siegfried has slain the wicked dwarf! I have in mind for him now the most glorious mate! On a high rock she sleeps, a wall of flame surrounds her abode. If he should push through the fire, if he should waken the bride, then were Brünnhilde his own!'" Gunther hears in growing amazement. "Straightway, unhesitating, I hastened forth. I reached the fire-girt rock. I crossed the flaming barrier, and found in reward"—the memory holds his breath suspended—a beautiful woman, asleep in a suit of gleaming armour. I loosed the helmet from the glorious head; audaciously with a  kiss I waked the maid.... Oh, with what ardour did then the arm of the lovely Brünnhilde enfold me!"

Gunther springs up in horrified comprehension. Two ravens at this moment make sudden interruption, flying out of a tree and wheeling above Siegfried's head. He starts up, in natural interest at the apparition of Wotan's messengers. "Can you understand, too, the croaking of these ravens?" sneers Hagen. Siegfried, looking after the black birds as they bend their flight Rhine-wards, turns his back to the questioner. "They bid me take vengeance!" Hagen grimly interprets for himself, and with a quick thrust drives his spear through Siegfried's body, from the back. Too late Gunther holds his arm and the retainers spring to prevent him. Siegfried's eyes flash wildly about for a weapon. He snatches up his great shield and lifts it aloft to crush the perfidious enemy,—but his strength fails, the shield drops, and he falls crashing backwards upon it.

"Hagen, what have you done?" comes accusingly from Gunther and the men-of-arms, while a shudder runs through the assembly, and, as one feels at the music's intimation, through the very heart of nature. "Taken vengeance of perjury!" Hagen coldly replies, and, turning from the group gathered around the dying hero, slowly disappears in the gathering dusk. Gunther, seized with remorseful anguish, bends over the wounded brother. Two of the company, aiding his effort to rise, support him. It is clear at once that immediate surroundings and recent events are blotted from his ken by the brighter light of a remembered scene, filling the wide-open, over-brilliant Wälsung-eyes. The music lets us into the secret first of what it is—so absorbingly present to him in this last hour: the moment marvellous among all in his existence, when he had seen the sleeping Brünnhilde return to life. It is as if it were all  happening a second time, she having mysteriously since that first awakening been again sunk into sleep, from which he must now again recall her: "Brünnhilde, sacred bride... awake!... Open your eyes.... Who sealed you again in sleep?... Who bound you in joyless slumber? The Awakener is come. He kisses you awake.... He rends the confining bands... whereupon breaks forth upon him the light of Brünnhilde's smile!... Oh, that eye, henceforth to close no more!... Oh, the happy heaving of that breath!... Sweetest languor, blissful darkness.... Brünnhilde welcomes me to her!..."

So he dies as he had lived, joyous and unafraid, the curse, while having its way with him to the extent of securing his destruction, crippled as ever before, when the death by which it would punish is embraced like a bride.

For a long moment all stand motionless and heavily silent. It really seems impossible that a spear-thrust could extinguish that glowing,—that superabundant,—that splendid life. Night deepens. At a sign from Gunther, the men lift the dead, laid upon his shield, to their shoulders, and in solemn procession start upon the rocky path homeward.

What is called Siegfried's funeral-march is, as it were, a funeral oration spoken over him by a great voice, of one penetrated with the sense of what he was and of earth's loss in him. "Listen! Listen and shudder, all created things, and feel the shock, and measure the magnitude, of your loss! Behold, he was brave among all heroes, this Wälsung,—yet tender, too. He was the child of the love of two beautiful, unhappy beings, and, a glory to them, he became—Siegfried, the most exalted hero of the world! Mourn for him heroically, not with tears, but battle-shouts, in keeping with his greatness!"

The moon breaks through the clouds and showers spectral light upon the funeral train slowly moving up the hillside.  Night-mists rise from the Rhine and gradually blot out the scene.

When the mists disperse we find ourselves once more in the Hall of the Gibichungen, where Gutrune, troubled by the tardiness of the hunters in returning, strains her hearing for Siegfried's horn. Bad dreams have disturbed her sleep, and the wild neighing of Grane, and the sound of Brünnhilde laughing in the solitary night. "I fear Brünnhilde!" she confesses to herself. Yet, in need of companionship in her anxiety, she calls at the sister-in-law's door; receiving no answer, she looks in. The room is empty. It must have been Brünnhilde, then, whom she saw striding down to the bank of the Rhine, unable, like herself, to sleep.

Hearing a stir, she again listens intently for Siegfried's horn. Not that, but Hagen's lugubrious Hoiho! comes to her ear: "Hoiho! Awake! Lights! Bright torches! We bring home spoils of the chase!" He appears in advance of the party thus announced. "Up, Gutrune! Welcome Siegfried, the strong hero returning home!" She is frightened—the fact is to her so significant of not having heard his horn. As the confused train accompanying the slain hero pours into the hall, Hagen's exultation can no longer contain itself, and, negligent of all suitable appearance of concern for Gutrune's sorrow, he announces the death of her beloved with all the gloating glee he feels: "The pallid hero, no more shall he blow the horn, no more storm forth either to chase or to battle, nor sue ever more for fair women!" They bring in the body, they set down the bier. "The victim of a wild boar, Siegfried, your dead lord!" With a shriek Gutrune falls fainting upon the inanimate form. Gunther tries to comfort her, clearing himself, accusing Hagen: "He is the accursed boar who slew the noble one!" "Yes, I killed him!" boldly boasts Hagen, so near the attainment of  his object that he is careless of all else; "I, Hagen, struck him dead! He was reserved for my spear, by which he swore his false oath. I have earned the sacred right to his spoils, wherefore—I demand that Ring!" "Back!" shouts Gunther, as Hagen approaches to take it. "What belongs to me, you shall never touch! Dare you lay hands on Gutrune's inheritance?" But Hagen, in his new mood, is quick of his hands as earlier of his wits. He draws his sword and without further parley attacks Gunther. The fight is short, Gunther falls. He had been the claimant of the Ring but a few hours. Hagen hurries to the bier to snatch his prey from Siegfried's finger. The dead hand is slowly raised... and threateningly warns off the robber. Hagen drops back.

In the stillness of horror which succeeds the loud outcry of the women at the portent, a solemn figure parts the crowd and strides slowly forward—Brünnhilde, to whom the passing hours have restored calm, and to whom meditation has brought light.

She knows now what she should think, and what there remains to do.

Gutrune, hearing her voice, raises her own to accuse her of all this woe overtaking them: "You—you incited the men against him—woe that you should ever have entered this house!" "Hush! pitiable girl!" Brünnhilde checks her, without anger. "You never were his wedded wife; as his paramour you ensnared his affections. The mate of his manhood am I, to whom he vowed eternal vows, before ever he saw you!" Gutrune upon this, apprehending all, curses Hagen who had given her the evil drink through which Siegfried had been made to forget his former love.

A long space Brünnhilde stands in contemplation of Siegfried's face, gazing with changing emotions, from passionate  sorrow to solemn exultation. She turns at length to the vassals and commands them to build a great funeral pile. High and bright let the flames leap which shall devour the noble body. Let them bring Grane, that he with herself may follow the hero, whose honours her own body yearns to share. While they are fulfilling her wish, she falls once more into rapt study of the dead face, her own face becoming gentler and gentler, as clearer and clearer understanding comes to her of him and all that had happened. Her features appear softly glorified at last with the light of forgiveness and reconcilement—and she speaks his praise and justification: "Clear as the sun his light shines upon me. He was the truest of all, this one who betrayed me!" As an instance of his truth she quotes the incident of the sword, placed, in loyalty to his friend, between himself and his own beloved, "alone dear to him." "Vows more true than his were never vowed by any; no one more faithfully than he observed a covenant; no other ever loved with a love so unalloyed; and yet all vows, all covenants, all obligations of love, were betrayed by him as never by man before! Do you know how this came to be?..." The dealing with her of Wotan she recognises in these extreme calamities falling upon her; she must suffer all this to be brought, blind one, to a comprehension of that which was demanded of her, which she had so haughtily refused to consider when Waltraute pleaded for the gods. She bows now under his heavy hand, but not without reproach and arraignment: "Oh you, holy guardians of vows! Turn your eyes upon my broad-blown woe: behold your eternal guilt! Hear my accusation, most high god! Through his bravest action, desired by you and of use to you, you devoted him who performed it to dark powers of destruction...." (The old story of the Ring!) "By the truest of all men born must I be betrayed, that a woman might grow wise!... And  have I understood at last what it is you want of me?... Aye, of everything, of everything, everything, I have understanding! All has in this hour become clear to me.... I hear the rustling, too, of your ravens: with the message so fearfully yearned for I send them both home.... Be at rest, be at rest, you god!" The tone of these last words is that of the old Brünnhilde once more, the tender daughter pitying her father's sorrows. Yes, let him be at rest, for the Ring shall go back to the Rhine, to obtain which result her dearest happiness has been sacrificed. She takes it from Siegfried's finger, and places it—Siegfried's love-token, not to be yielded up while she lives—upon her own. The Rhine-daughters, when the funeral pile has burned to the ground, shall take it from her ashes. She has had conversation in the night with the wise sisters of the deep; no fear but that they will be at hand.

And is that what will be Brünnhilde's prophesied world-delivering act? Restoring the Ring to the Rhine, thus saving the world definitely from Alberich and the army of the night? Or can we suppose it to be the act which she accomplishes in the same stroke,—the act of plunging into their twilight the whole tribe of the tired unjust gods, so long now tremulously awaiting their end? Or, is the latter act Brünnhilde's supreme vengeance? Or,—this seems more likely,—an act of supreme benevolence, the result of at last understanding "everything, everything, everything!"?

The funeral pile decked with precious covers and flowers stands ready, Siegfried's body upon it. Brünnhilde seizes a torch from one of the attendants: "Fly home, you ravens, report to your master what you have heard here by the shore of the Rhine! Pass, on your way, near to Brünnhilde's rock: direct Loge, who is still smouldering there, to Walhalla. For the dawn is now breaking of the end of the gods! Thus do I hurl  a burning brand into Walhalla's flaunting citadel!" She sets fire with these words to the pyre, which rapidly blazes up. Wotan's ravens are seen slowly flapping off toward the horizon. Brünnhilde takes Grane from the young men holding him, and, with all the joy now again in her voice, face, and words, which illuminated the moment of her first union, long ago, with the then so youthful and ingenuous Awakener, she rushes to be reunited to him in death, springing with her jubilant Valkyrie-cry upon Grane and with him plunging into the flames.

The fire flares doubly brilliant and high; the red glare of it fills the whole scene. It becomes evident suddenly that the Hall of the Gibichungen is burning. The people huddle together in terror. When the funeral pile sinks to a heap, the Rhine is seen flooding in upon the embers. Hagen, eagerly on the watch for his last chance, beholds with the insanity of despair the Rhine-daughters rise from the waves close beside the site of the pyre. Hurling from him shield and spear, he dashes into the water to thrust them back. "Away from the Ring!" Two of the jocose sisters for all reply entwine their arms around his neck and draw him away and away with them into the deep water. The third triumphantly holds up before his eyes the recovered Ring.

As the fire dies among the blackened ruins of the Hall, and the Rhine recedes into its boundaries, a red light breaks in the sky. More and more brightly it glows, till Walhalla is discerned in its central illumination, with its enthroned gods and heroes. Flames are seen invading the stately hall. When the company of the Blessed are completely wrapped in fire, the curtain falls.

The last word of the music is the exultant phrase by which Sieglinde greeted the prophecy of Siegfried's birth. It has been woven all through Brünnhilde's last ardently happy salutation  to him, as if in recognition of some mystical quality—in death—of birth.

So Wotan finds his rest, and the ill consequences at last end of his unjust act—end with the reparation of the injustice, the return of the gold to the Rhine. But has not the evil act been like the Djinn of old, let out of the insignificant-looking urn, waxing great, looming dark, and dictating hard terms! When Wotan in pride of being committed it, against two simpletons, how could he have divined that by this pin-point he set inexorable machinery moving which should bring about his confusion, forcing him in its progress to so many injustices more, injustices which his soul would loathe, which would blight his best beloved, which would by far be his greatest punishment!... The Trilogy is moral as a tract.






The Norns, or Northern goddesses of fate, are seen in the dim light before dawn, busily weaving the web of destiny on the rocky hillside where the Walkyries formerly held their tryst. As they twist their rope, which is stretched from north to south, they sing of the age of gold. Then they sat beneath the great world-ash, near the limpid well, where Wotan had left an eye in pledge to win a daily draught of wisdom.

They also sing how the god tore from the mighty ash a limb which he fashioned into an invincible spear. This caused the death of the tree, which withered and died in spite of all their care. The third Norn then continues the tale her sisters have begun, and tells how Wotan came home with a shivered spear one day, and bade the gods cut down the tree. Its limbs were piled like fuel all around Walhalla, the castle which the giants had built, and since then Wotan has sat there in moody silence, awaiting the predicted end, which can no longer be far distant.

While they are singing, the barrier of flame in the background burns brightly, and its light grows pale only as dawn breaks slowly over the scene. The rope which the Norns are weaving then suddenly parts beneath their fingers; so they bind the fragments about them and sink slowly into the ground, to join their mother Erda, wailing a prophecy concerning the end of the old heathen world:—

‘Away now is our knowledge!
The world meets
From wisdom no more;
Below to Mother, below!’

As they vanish, the day slowly breaks, and Siegfried and Brunhilde come out of the cave. The former is in full armour and bears a jewelled shield, the latter leads her horse, Grane, by the bridle. Tenderly Brunhilde bids her lover farewell, telling him that she will not restrain his ardour, for she knows it is a hero's part to journey out into the world and perform the noble tasks which await him. But her strength and martial fury have entirely departed since she has learned to love, and she repeatedly adjures him not to forget her, promising to await his homecoming behind her flickering barrier of flame, and to think constantly of him while he is away. Siegfried reminds her that she need not fear he will forget her as long as she wears the Nibelung ring, the seal of their troth, and gladly accepts from her in exchange the steed Grane. Although it can no longer scurry along the paths of air, this horse is afraid of nothing, and is ready to rush through water and fire at his command.

As Siegfried goes down the hill leading his steed, Brunhilde watches him out of sight, and it is only when the last echoes of his hunting horn die away in the distance that the curtain falls.

The next scene is played at Worms on the Rhine. Gunther and his sister Gutrune are sitting in their ancestral hall, with their half-brother Hagen. He is the son of Alberich, and has been begotten with the sole hope that he will once help his father to recover the Nibelung ring. Hagen advises Gunther to remember the duty he owes his race, and to marry as soon as possible, and recommends as suitable mate the fair Brunhilde, who is fenced in by a huge barrier of living flame.

Gunther is not at all averse to matrimony, and is anxious to secure the peerless bride proposed, yet he knows he can never pass through the flames, and asks how Brunhilde is to be won. Hagen, who as a Nibelung knows the future, foretells that Siegfried, the dauntless hero, will soon be there, and adds that, if they can only efface from his memory all recollection of past love by means of a magic potion, they can soon induce him to promise his aid in exchange for the hand of Gutrune.

As he speaks, the sound of a horn is heard, and Hagen, looking out, sees Siegfried crossing the river in a boat, and goes down to the landing with Gunther to bid the hero welcome. Hagen leads the horse away, but soon returns, while Gunther ushers Siegfried into the hall of the Gibichungs, and enters into conversation with him. As Siegfried's curiosity has been roused by the strangers calling him by name, he soon inquires how they knew him, and Hagen declares that the mere sight of the tarn-cap had been enough. He then reveals to Siegfried its magical properties, and asks him what he has done with the hoard, and especially with the ring, which he vainly seeks on his hand. Siegfried carelessly replies that the gold is still in the Neidhole, guarded by the body of the dragon, while the ring now adorns a woman's fair hand. As he finishes this statement, Gutrune timidly draws near, and offers him a drinking horn, the draught of welcome, in which, however, the magic potion of forgetfulness has been mixed.

Siegfried drains it eagerly, remarking to himself that he drinks to Brunhilde alone. But no sooner has he partaken of it than her memory leaves him, and he finds himself gazing admiringly upon Gutrune. Gunther then proceeds to tell Siegfried the story of Brunhilde, whom he would fain woo to wife. Although the hero dreamily repeats his words, and seems to be struggling hard to recall some past memory, he does not succeed in doing so. Finally he shakes off his abstraction, and ardently proposes to pass through the fire and win Brunhilde for Gunther in exchange for Gutrune's hand:—

‘Me frights not her fire;
I'll woo for thee the maid;
For with might and mind
Am I thy man—
A wife in Gutrun' to win.’

The two heroes now decide upon swearing blood brotherhood according to Northern custom,—an inviolable oath,—and, charging Hagen to guard the hall of the Gibichungs, they immediately sally forth on their quest.

Brunhilde, in the mean while, has remained on the Walkürenfels anxiously watching for Siegfried's return, and spending long hours in contemplating the magic ring, her lover husband's last gift. Her solitude is, however, soon invaded by Waltraute, one of her sister Walkyries. She informs her that Wotan has been plunged in melancholy thought ever since he returned home from his wanderings with a shattered spear, and bade the gods pile the wood of the withered world-ash all around Walhalla. This he has decided shall be his funeral pyre, when the predicted doom of the gods overtakes him.

Waltraute adds also that she alone has found the clue to his sorrow, for she has overheard him mutter that, if the ring were given back to the Rhine-daughters, the curse spoken by Alberich would be annulled, and the gods could yet be saved from their doom:—

‘The day the River's daughters
Find from her finger the ring,
Will the curse's weight
Be cast from the god and the world.’

Brunhilde pays but indifferent attention to all this account, and it is only when Waltraute informs her that it is in her power to avert the gods' doom by restoring the ring she wears to the mourning Rhine-daughters, that she starts angrily from her abstraction, swearing she will never part with Siegfried's gift, the emblem and seal of their plighted troth.

Waltraute, seeing no prayers will avail to win the ring, then rides sadly away, while the twilight gradually settles down, and the barrier of flames burns on with a redder glow. At the sound of a hunting horn, Brunhilde rushes joyously to the back of the scene, with a rapturous cry of ‘Siegfried!’ but shrinks suddenly back in fear and dismay when, instead of the bright beloved form, a dark man appears through the flickering flames. It is Siegfried, who, by virtue of the tarn-helmet, has assumed Gunther's form and voice, and boldly claims Brunhilde as his bride, in reward for having made his way through the barrier of fire. Brunhilde indignantly refuses to recognize him as her master. Passionately kissing her ring, she loudly declares that as long as it graces her finger she will have the strength to repulse every attack and keep her troth to the giver. This declaration so incenses Siegfried—who, owing to the magic potion, has entirely forgotten her and her love—that he rushes towards her, and after a violent struggle wrenches the ring from her finger, and places it upon his own.

Cowed by the violence of this rude wooer, and deprived of her ring, Brunhilde no longer resists, but tacitly yields when he claims her as wife, and both soon disappear in the cave. There Siegfried, mindful of his oath to marry her by proxy only, lays his unsheathed sword between him and his friend's bride:—

‘Now, Nothung, witness well
That faithfully I wooed;
Lest I wane in truth to my brother,
Bar me away from his bride!’

Hagen, left alone at Worms to guard the hall of the Gibichungs, is favored in his sleep by a visit from his father, Alberich. The dwarf informs him that ever since the gods touched the fatal ring their power has waned, and that he must do all in his power to recover it from Siegfried, who again holds it, and who little suspects its magic power. As Alberich disappears, carrying with him Hagen's promise to do all he can, the latter awakens just in time to welcome the returning Siegfried. The young hero joyfully announces the success of their expedition, and rapturously claims Gutrune as his bride. After hearing her lover's account of his night's adventures, the maiden leads him into the hall in search of rest and refreshment, while Hagen, summoning the people with repeated blasts of his horn, admonishes them to deck the altars of Wotan, Freya, and Donner, and to prepare to receive their master and mistress with every demonstration of joy. The festive preparations are barely completed, when Gunther and Brunhilde arrive. The bride is pale and reluctant, and advances with downcast eyes, which she raises only when she stands opposite Gutrune and Siegfried, and hears the latter's name. Dropping Gunther's hand, she rushes forward impetuously to throw herself in Siegfried's arms, but, arrested by his cold unrecognising glance, she tremblingly inquires how he came there, and why he stands by Gutrune's side? Calmly then Siegfried announces his coming marriage:—

‘Gunther's winsome sister
She that I wed
As Gunther thee.’

Brunhilde indignantly denies her marriage to Gunther, and almost swoons, but Siegfried supports her, and, although Brunhilde softly and passionately asks him if he does not know her, the young hero indifferently hands her over to Gunther, bidding him look after his wife.

At a motion of his hand, Brunhilde's attention is attracted to the ring, and she angrily demands how he dare wear the token which Gunther wrested from her hand.

Bewildered by this question, Siegfried denies ever having received the ring from Gunther, and declares he won it from the dragon in the Neidhole; but Hagen, anxious to stir up strife, interferes, and elicits from Brunhilde an assurance that the hero can have won the ring only by guile.

A misunderstanding now ensues, for while Brunhilde in speaking refers to their first meeting, and swears that Siegfried had wooed and treated her as his wife, he, recollecting only the second encounter, during which he acted only as Gunther's proxy, denies her assertions.

Both solemnly swear to the truth of their statement upon Hagen's spear, calling the vengeance of Heaven down upon them in case of perjury. Then the interrupted wedding festivities are resumed, for Gunther knows only too well by what fraud his bride was obtained, and thinks the transformation has not been complete enough to blind the wise Brunhilde.

As Siegfried gently leads Gutrune away into the hall, whither all but Hagen, Gunther, and Brunhilde follow him, the latter gives way to her extravagant grief. Hagen approaches her, offering to avenge all her wrongs, and even slay Siegfried if nothing else will satisfy her, and wipe away the foul stain upon her honour. But Brunhilde tells him it is quite useless to challenge the hero, for she herself had made him invulnerable to every blow by blessing every part of his body except his back. This she deemed useless to protect, as Siegfried, the bravest of men, never fled from any foe:—


So wounds him nowhere a weapon?


In battle none:—but still
Bare to the stroke is his back
Never—I felt—
In flight he would find
A foe to be harmful behind him,
So spared I his back from the blessing.’

Her resentment against Siegfried has reached such a pitch, however, that she finally hails with fierce joy Hagen's proposal to slay him in the forest on the morrow. Even Gunther acquiesces in this crime, which will leave his sister a widow, and they soon agree that it shall be explained to Gutrune as a hunting casualty.

At noon on the next day Siegfried arrives alone on the banks of the Rhine, in search of a quarry which has escaped him. The Rhine daughters, who concealed it purposely in hopes of recovering their ring, rise up out of the water, and swimming gracefully around promise to help him recover his game if he will only give them his ring. Siegfried, who attaches no value whatever to the trinket, but wishes to tease them, refuses it at first; but when they change their bantering into a prophetic tone and try to frighten him by telling him the ring will prove his bane unless he intrust it to their care, he proudly answers that he has never yet learned to fear, and declares he will keep it, and see whether their prediction will be fulfilled:—

‘My sword once splintered a spear;—
The endless coil
Of counsel of old,
Wove they with wasting
Curses its web;
Norns shall not cover from Nothung!
One warned me beware
Of the curse a Worm;
But he failed to make me to fear,—
The World's riches
I won with a ring,
That for love's delight
Swiftly I'd leave;
I'll yield it for sweetness to you;
But for safety of limbs and of life,—
Were it not worth
Of a finger's weight,—
No ring from me you will reach!’

The Rhine maidens then bid him farewell, and swim away repeating their ominous prophecy. After they have gone, the hunting party appear, heralded by the merry music of their horns. All sit down to partake of the refreshments that have been brought, and as Siegfried has provided no game, he tries to do his share by entertaining them with tales of his early youth.

After telling them of his childhood spent in Mime's forge, of the welding of Nothung and the slaying of Fafnir, he describes how a mere taste of the dragon's blood enabled him to understand the songs of the birds. Encouraged by Hagen, he next relates the capture of the tarn-helm and ring, and then, draining his horn in which Hagen has secretly poured an antidote to the draught of forgetfulness administered by Gutrune, he describes his departure in quest of the sleeping Walkyrie and his first meeting with Brunhilde. At the mere mention of her name, all the past returns to his mind. He suddenly remembers all her beauty and love, and starts wildly to his feet, but only to be pierced by the spear of the treacherous Hagen, who had stolen behind him to drive it into his heart.

The dying hero makes one last vain effort to avenge himself, then sinks feebly to the earth, while Hagen slips away, declaring that the perjurer had fully deserved to be slain by the weapon upon which he had sworn his false oath. Gunther, sorry now that it is too late, bends sadly over the prostrate hero, who, released from the fatal effects of Gutrune's draught, speaks once more of his beloved Brunhilde, and fancies he is once more clasped in her arms as of old.

Then, when he has breathed his last, the hunters place his body upon a shield and bear it away in the rapidly falling dusk, to the slow, mournful accompaniment of a funeral march, whose muffled notes fall like a knell on the listener's ear.

Gutrune, who has found the day very long indeed without her beloved Siegfried, comes out of her room at nightfall, and listens intently for the sound of the hunting horn which will proclaim his welcome return. She is not the only watcher, however, for Brunhilde has stolen down to the river, and her apartment is quite empty.

Suddenly Hagen comes in, and Gutrune, terrified at his unexpected appearance, anxiously inquires why she has not heard her husband's horn. Without any preparation, roughly, brutally, Hagen informs her the hero is dead, just as the bearers enter and deposit his lifeless body at her feet.

Gutrune faints, but when she recovers consciousness she indignantly refuses to credit Hagen's story, that her husband was slain by a boar. She wildly accuses Gunther, who frees himself from suspicion by denouncing Hagen. Without showing the least sign of remorse, the dark son of Alberich then acknowledges the deed, and, seeing that Gunther is about to appropriate the fatal ring, draws his sword and slays him also. Wildly now Hagen snatches at the ring, that long coveted treasure; but he starts back in dismay without having secured it, for the dead hand is threateningly raised, to the horror of all the spectators.

Next Brunhilde comes upon the scene, singing a song of vengeance; and when Gutrune wildly accuses her of being the cause of her husband's murder, she declares that she alone was Siegfried's lawful wife, and that he would always have been true to her had not Gutrune won him by the ruse of a magic draught. Sadly Gutrune acknowledges the truth of this statement, and, feeling that she has no right to mourn over the husband of another woman, she creeps over to Gunther's corpse and bends motionless over him.

Brunhilde's anger is all forgotten now that the hero is dead, and, after caressing him tenderly for a while, she directs the bystanders to erect a huge funeral pyre. While they are thus occupied she sings the hero's dirge, and draws the ring unhindered from his dead hand. Then she announces her decision to perish in the flames beside him, and declares the Rhine maidens can come and reclaim their stolen treasure from their mingled ashes:—

‘Thou guilty ring!
Running gold!
My hand gathers,
And gives thee again.
You wisely seeing
Water sisters,
The Rhine's unresting daughters,
I deem your word was of weight!
All that you ask
Now is your own;
Here from my ashes'
Heap you may have it!—
The flame as it clasps me round
Free from the curse of the ring!—
Back to its gold
Unbind it again,
And far in the flood
Withhold its fire,
The Rhine's unslumbering sun,
That for harm from him was reft.’

The curse of the ring is at an end. The ravens of Wotan, perching aloft, fly heavily off to announce the tidings in Walhalla, while Brunhilde, after seeing Siegfried's body carefully deposited on the pyre with all his weapons, kindles the fire with her own hand. Then, springing upon Grane, she rides into the very midst of the flames, which soon rise so high that they swallow her up and entirely hide her from the spectators' sight.

After a short time the flames die down, the bright light fades, the stage darkens, and the river rises and overflows its banks, until its waves come dashing over the funeral pyre. They bear upon their swelling crests the Rhine maidens who have come to recover their ring, Hagen, standing gloomily in the background, becomes suddenly aware of their intention, wildly flings his weapons aside, and rushes forward, crying, ‘Unhand the ring!’ But he is caught in the twining arms of two of the Rhine maidens, who draw him down under the water, and drown him, while the third, having secured the Nibelung ring, returns in triumph on the ebbing waves to her native depths, chanting the Rhinegold strain. As she disappears, a reddish glow like the Aurora Borealis appears in the sky. It grows brighter and brighter, until one can discern the shining abode of Walhalla, enveloped in lurid flames from the burning world-ash, and in the centre the assembled gods calmly seated upon their thrones, to submit to their long predicted doom, the ‘Götterdämmerung.’ 3 





The "argument of The Master-singers" is effectually given in the Overture: Art and Love. The Masters are first—a little pompously, as befits their pretensions,—presented to us. Then Young Love sweeps across the scene, delicate musical gale. The themes of the two then mingle, foreshadowing how the affairs of Walther shall become entangled with those of the Guild.

This Walther von Stolzing, a young Franconian noble, last of his line, had for reasons which are not given forsaken the ancestral castle and come to Nuremberg in the intention of becoming a citizen there. He had brought letters to a prominent burgher of the town, Veit Pogner, the rich goldsmith, long acquainted with his family, and known to it, by reputation. Pogner had offered him every courtesy, hospitality, and assistance in the business of selling his Franconian lands.

Walther had found twenty-four hours in Nuremberg and Pogner's house ample time to fall deeply, transcendingly, rapturously, in love with the goldsmith's daughter. She is very young, very feminine, even in the respect of being little rather than large, so that she is always called, fondly, Evchen, little Eva. Her name is perhaps meant to indicate her quality of inveterate femineity. The whole story goes to show that she  was pretty enough to turn heads young and old. She had been an obedient, an exemplary daughter, up to the hour of meeting Walther, allowing her father to think for her, accepting demurely his views for her. How should she not feel it best, so long as her immature heart had never spoken a word, to let a most kind and indulgent parent, whose wisdom it was not for her to question, dispose of her hand in the manner he thought most fitting? When she had seen Walther, however, a new light illumined her position.

On the second day of his acquaintance with her, it seemed to the young lord that he could not live through another night but he made sure of one point. He followed his lady to vespers, in the hope of an opportunity to exchange one private word, ask one question. It was the eve of Saint John's day. The congregation when the curtain rises is concluding an anthem to the "noble Baptist." Eva and Magdalene, her nurse, are in one of the pews that fill the nave of the church. Walther stands in the aisle, leaning against a pillar, from which position he can watch the fair one. He tries whenever her eyes stray his way, as, irresistibly attracted, they frequently do, to convey to her by glance and gesture his prayer for a moment's interview. Magdalene feels herself repeatedly obliged to recall her young lady's attention to the church-service. The congregation rises at last and flocks to the church-door. Walther steps before the two women as they are passing forth with the rest, with the hurried demand to Eva for a word, a single word. Magdalene, who is a step behind, has not caught his request. Eva with quick resource sends her back to the pew for her forgotten kerchief. But Walther has become alarmed at his own boldness, and instead of utilising his opportunity to utter or obtain that "single word," falls to pouring forth many disconnected words by way of leading up to the all-important question.  He has not contrived to get it out before Magdalene returns. But Eva then discovers that her brooch too has been left in the pew. Walther, because he really dreads to hear an answer which may dash his dearest hopes, makes no better use of this second chance than of the first; he is still leading up to his famous question when Magdalene brings the brooch. But upon this fortune favours him, Magdalene must run back to the pew for her forgotten prayer-book; and in the brief interval of her search Walther asks breathlessly of Eva: if she be already betrothed! She does not reply by the instantaneous negative he had hoped for, and the passionate wish breaks from his lips that he had never crossed the threshold of her father's house! Magdalene, who has rejoined them, bridles indignantly at such an expression from him. "How now, my lord, what is this you say? Scarce arrived in Nuremberg, were you not hospitably received? Is not the best afforded by kitchen and cellar, cupboard and store-room, deserving of any gratitude whatever?" Eva tries to silence her: "That is not what he meant, good Lene. But... this information he desires of me—How am I to say it? I hardly myself understand! I feel as if I were dreaming—He wishes to know whether I am already betrothed?" Lene at this recognises, of course, that here is that reprobate thing, a lover, and remembers her first duty as a duenna, to keep off all such from her young charge. She is for hurrying home at once. Walther resolutely detains her. "Not till I know all!"—"The church is empty, every one is gone!" Eva gives as a reason for not being so punctilious. Lene sees in the very loneliness of the place a reason the more for departing with all speed,—but Fate again helps Walther. David, a youthful shoe-maker's apprentice, enters the church from the vestry, and falls to making mysterious preparations, drawing curtains which shut off the nave of the church, measuring  distances on the pavement with a yard-rule. No sooner has Magdalene caught sight of him than she becomes absent-minded, and when Eva urges, "What am I to tell him? Do you tell me what I am to say!" more good-humoured than before, she vouchsafes: "Your lordship, the question you ask of the damsel is not so easy to answer. As a matter of truth, Evchen Pogner is betrothed——" "But no one," quickly adds the girl, "has as yet see the bridegroom!" He gathers from the two that the bridegroom shall be the victor on the following day in a song-contest, the master-singer to whom the other master-singers award the prize, and whom the bride herself crowns. It all falls strangely on the ears of one not a Nuremberger. "The master-singer?..." he falters. "Are you not one?" Eva asks incredulously, wistfully. And when in his effort to grasp the situation exactly he continues asking questions, she answers his interrogative: "The bride then chooses?..." with complete forgetfulness of every maidenly convention, by an ardent, honest "You, or no one!"—"Are you gone mad?" Magdalene grasps her arm, shocked and flustered. She has, and feels no shame. "Good Lene, help me to win him!"—"But you saw him yesterday for the first time!" No, she became a victim so readily to love's torment, Eva tells Lene, because she had long known him in a picture, Albrecht Dürer's painting of David, after the slaying of Goliath, his sword at his belt, his sling in his hand, his head brightly encircled with fair curls.

Joyful agitation has seized the Knight at Eva's sweet impulsive word, and, with it, bewilderment as to what must be his course in circumstances so unprecedented. He restlessly paces the pavement, trying to determine how he shall deal with the strange conditions raising their barrier between him and the object of his desire. Magdalene calls to her the object of hers.  The middle-aged spinster has a weak spot in her heart for David. The boyish shoe-maker's apprentice on his side adores her—and the pleasant bits she maternally smuggles to him from Pogner's kitchen. Questioned, he informs her that he is making the place ready for the master-singers. There is to be directly a song-trial: such song-apprentices as commit no offence against the table of rules are to be promoted to mastership. Here would be the Knight's chance, reflects Lene,—his one chance to be made master before the fateful morrow. When, as they are leaving, Walther offers the ladies his company to Master Pognet's, she bids him wait rather for Pogner where he stands: if he wishes to enter the contest for Evchen's hand, Fortune has favoured him with respect to time and place. "What am I to do?" asks the lover eagerly. David shall instruct him, and Magdalene herself instructs David to make himself useful to the Knight. "Something choice from the kitchen I will save for you. And if the young lord here shall to-day be made a master, you may to-morrow proffer your requests full boldly!"

"Shall I see you again?" Eva shyly asks of Walther, as Magdalene is hurrying her off. His answer gives the keynote of him, characteristic outburst that it is of his vital, vigourous, enthusiastic youth, to which all things seem possible—beautiful youth, which has the splendour and force of fire, with the freshness of flowers; which flashes like a sword and trembles like a lute-string. "Shall I see you again?" It is after vespers. "This evening, surely!" he replies: "How shall I tell you what I would be willing to undertake for your sake? New is my heart, new is my mind, new to me is all this which I am entering upon. One thing only I know, one thing only I grasp, that I will devote soul and senses to winning you! If it may not be with the sword, I must achieve it with song, and as a master sing you mine!  For you, my blood and my possessions, for you, the sacred aspiration of a poet!" Strains from this sweet and proud profession are scattered all through the story, they are the Walther-motifs, heard in his first sigh as he watches her from the shadow of the church-pillar, and woven finally into his prize-song. And the effect of youth that goes magically with them! The fragrance that belongs to them, with the fire! As of green things in early May, wet with the dew of dawn,—the beams of the rising sun kindling all to a softly-dazzling glory. The hearer feels himself young too with an immortal youth.... But words are never so ineffectual as when they would translate music.

When Walther and Eva part, they are candidly lovers, for she has joined her voice to his at the closing words of his profession, and herself warmly professed: "My heart with its blessed ardour,—for you, its love-consecrated kindness!" In a moment the women are gone. Walther casts himself in a great high-backed carved seat which apprentices have a moment before placed in the conspicuous position it occupies, and is absorbed in the attempt to collect himself, deal with his swarming emotions, order his wild thoughts, scheme what to do. The excited blood in his veins sings the song of his youth.

Apprentices in number, lively and mischievous imps, have entered and are setting the place aright for the meeting of the master-singers, placing seats for these on one side and forms for themselves on the opposite side, arranging near the centre a platform and blackboard enclosed by curtains. David stands studying that original who supposes one can be made a master in an hour. The gentleman's rank and fine feathers do not impress the youth, who feels himself rather, with respect to the requirements of the hour, in a position to patronise. Walther is startled to hear him suddenly shout: "Begin!"  "What is the matter?" he inquires, waking out of his dream. "Begin! That is what the Marker calls out, and then you must sing. Don't you know that?"—"Who is the Marker?"—"Don't you know? Have you never been to a song-trial?"—"Never, where the judges were artisans."—"Are you a poet?"—"Would that I were!"—"Are you a singer?"—"Would that I knew!"—"But you have at least been a 'school-frequenter' and a 'pupil?'"—"It all sounds foreign to my ear!"—"And you wish to become a master, off-hand, like that?"—"What enormous difficulty does the matter present?"—David groans: "Oh, Lene, Lene... oh, Magdalene!"—"What a to-do you make! Come, tell me, in good faith, what I must do!" David has now the chance he loves. Here is one who knows nothing whatever of the things it is his pride to have learned at least the names of, the things to a Nuremberger worth knowing among all. The ignoramus shall be properly dazzled. David strikes an attitude. "Myself," he informs Walther, "I am learning the Art from the greatest master in Nuremberg, Hans Sachs. For a full year I have received his instructions. Shoe-making and poetry I learn simultaneously. When I have pounded the leather even and smooth, I learn of vowel-sounds and of consonance. When I have waxed the thread hard and stiff, I apply myself to the rules of rhyme. While punching holes and driving the awl, I commit the science of rhythm and number...." And so forth. For a full year he has been learning, and how far does Walther suppose he has got? The Knight suggests, laughing: "To the making of a right good pair of shoes!" Nay, this top-lofty aristocrat, with his jokes, does not in the least understand! And David enlarges further on the great and various difficulties in the way of him who aspires to become a master-singer. A "bar," let him know, has manifold parts and divisions, full difficult to master the law  thereof!... And then comes the "after-song," which must not be too short, nor yet too long, and must contain no rhyme already used in the foregoing stanzas. But even when a person has learned and knows all this, even then he is not yet called a master. For there are a thousand subtleties and refinements the aspirant must still make his own. Whether David in showing off draws a bit upon his fancy, or whether the master-singers really cherished these distinctions in mode and tone, one can but wonder. Suggestive the titles of them certainly are. Glibly, grandly, and with a rich relish, David tells them off: The fool's-cap, the black-ink mode; the red, blue and green tones; the hawthorn-blossom, straw-wisp, fennel modes; the tender, the sweet, the rose-coloured tone; the short-lived love, the deserted-lover tones; the rosemary, the golden lupine, the rainbow, the nightingale modes; the English tin, the stick-cinnamon modes; the fresh orange, green linden-blossom modes; the frogs', the calves', the goldfinch modes; the mode—save the mark!—of the secret gormandiser; the lark, the snail tones; the barking tone; the balsam, the marjoram modes; the tawny lion-fell, the faithful pelican modes; the respendent gold-galloon mode! Walther cries out to Heaven for help. "Those," proceeds David, "are only the names! Now learn to sing them exactly as the masters have established, every word and tone sounding clearly, the voice rising and falling as it should...." etc., etc., etc.; "but if, when you have done all these things correctly, you should make a mistake, or in any wise stumble and flounder, whatever your success up to that moment, you would have failed in the song-trial! In spite of great diligence and application, myself I have not brought it to that point. Let me be an example to you, and drop this folly of seeking to be made a master!"

Walther, persisting in inquiry, conquers the information at  last that in order to be named a master a man must compose an original poem and fit it to an original air, in accordance with the many laws laid down by his judges. "All there is for me to do then," concludes the lover, nothing discouraged, "is to aim directly at mastership. If I am to sing successfully, I must find, to verses of my own, a melody of my own!" David, who has joined the apprentices, fends off their teasing by privately preparing them for rich diversion presently at the song-trial. "Not I to-day, another fellow is up for trial! He has not been a 'pupil' and is not a 'singer'; the formality of earning the title of 'poet' he says he will omit; for he is a gentleman of quality, and expects, with one leap and no further difficulty, this very day to become a master. Wherefore arrange carefully the Marker's cabinet; the blackboard on the wall, convenient to the Marker's hand.... The Marker, yes!" he repeats bodingly to the not sufficiently impressed knight. "Are you not afraid? Many a candidate already, singing before him, has met with failure. He allows you seven errors; he marks them there with chalk; whoever makes more than seven errors has completely and conclusively failed!" The apprentices in their glee over the prospective entertainment join hands and dance in a ring around the curtained recess where the Marker shortly shall be chronicling the slips and blunders of this self-confident lordling.

Their play is interrupted, and they hurriedly put on good behaviour, at the entrance of two of the masters, Pogner and Sixtus Beckmesser, the town-clerk. The change in the music is definite as a change of air and scene, is like passing from the hubbub of the street into some calm and pleasant precinct. Beckmesser is importuning Pogner with regard to his intentions for the morrow. Beckmesser wishes extremely to become his son-in-law, wherefore he thinks it would be best to give the  young lady no choice, to decree simply and finally that the winner of the prize for song should be her husband. He feels cocksure of his superiority as a master-singer, but dubious, it would seem, of his power to enthrall the fancy of a young girl. "If Evchen's voice can strike out the candidate, of what use to me is my supremacy as a master?"—"Come," replies Pogner sensibly, "if you have no hopes of the daughter's regard, how do you come to enter the lists as her suitor?" Beckmesser, after this check, cannot, of course, urge anything further in the same direction. He begs for Pogner's influence with his child, and turns away disgusted with the goldsmith's merely civil assent. It seems to him that a man like Pogner ought to know as well as he knows that women have no real taste, that they are capable of preferring the sorriest stuff to all the poetry in the world. How shall he, Beckmesser, avoid a disappointment, a public defeat? He decides upon reflection to try the prize-song he has prepared, as a serenade, and make sure beforehand that the maiden will be pleased with it.

Walther has approached and exchanged greetings with Pogner. He comes directly to the point, and, with airy aplomb, "If truth must be told," he says, "the thing which drove me from home and brought me to Nuremberg was the love of Art, nothing else! I forgot to tell you this yesterday—but to-day I proclaim it aloud. It is my desire to become a master-singer. Receive me, master, in the guild!"

The masters are flocking in, bakers, tailors, coppersmiths, grocers, weavers. Pogner turns to them, delighted. "Hear, what a very interesting case. The knight here, my friend, is desirous of dedicating himself to our Art. It seems like the olden days come back!—You can hardly think," to Walther, "how glad I am! As willingly indeed as ever I lent you my assistance to sell your land, I will receive you in the guild!"—"What man  is that?" Beckmesser almost barks, catching sight of Walther. Suspiciously he observes him: "I do not like him.... What is he doing here? How his eyes beam with laughter!... Look sharp, Sixtus, keep an eye on that fellow!"

"And may I hope," asks Walther of Pogner, "to have this very day an opportunity to undergo trial and be elected master?"—"Oho!" soliloquises Beckmesser, with a shock of surprise at audacity such as this, "on that head stands no skittle!" There is no moss growing on him! Pogner is no doubt surprised too, but answers kindly: "The matter must be conducted according to rule. To-day, however, as it happens, is song-trial. I will propose you. The masters lend a favourable ear to requests of mine."

The masters are assembled; last of all has entered Hans Sachs, the shoe-maker,—dear, benignantly-gazing Hans Sachs. "Are we all here?" asks one of the members. "Sachs is here! What more is necessary?" sneers Beckmesser.

Fritz Kothner, the baker, in the capacity of speaker, calls the roll. As the meeting is about to pass to the business of the day, Pogner asks for the floor, and unfolds before the assembled guild his romantic scheme: The following is Saint John's day, when it is customary for the master-singers to hold a song-contest out in the open, among the people, the victorious singer receiving a prize. "Now I, by God's grace, am a rich man, and every one should give according to his means. I cast about therefore for a gift to give not unworthy of me. Hear what I determined upon. In my extensive travels over Germany, I have often been chagrined to find that the burgher is held cheap, is thought close-fisted and mean-minded. Among high and low alike, I heard the bitter reproach, till I was soul-sick of it,—that the burgher has no aim or object above commerce and the getting of money. That we alone in the whole kingdom  of Germany are the guardians and preservers of art, they take into no account. To what point we place our honour in that, with what a lofty spirit we cherish the good and beautiful, how highly we prize art and its influence, I wished therefore to show the world. So hear, Masters, the gift which I have appointed for prize: To the singer who in the song-contest shall before all the people win the prize on Saint John's day, let him be who he may, I give, devotee of art that I am, Veit Pogner of Nuremberg, with my whole inheritance, even as it stands, Eva, my only child, in marriage!"

Loud applause. "There is a man for you!... There is talk of the right sort!... There one sees what a Nuremberger is capable of!... Who would not wish to be a bachelor?..." "I dare say that some," suggests Sachs, "would not mind giving away their wives!"

But there is a postscript to Pogner's address which qualifies the aspect of the whole: The maiden shall have the right to reject the masters' choice. That is what has from the first bothered Beckmesser, in Pogner's counsel before this making public of his idea. The general mood is changed by this revelation. "Does it strike you as judicious?" Beckmesser privately consults Kothner; "Dangerous I call it!"—"Do I understand aright," asks Kothner; "that we are placed in the hands of the young lady? If the master-singers' verdict then does not agree with hers, how is it to operate?"—"Let the young lady choose at once according to the inclination of her heart, and leave master-singing out of the game!" remarks Beckmesser tartly. "Not at all! Not at all!" Pogner strives to calm them, "Not in the very least! You have imperfectly understood. The maiden may refuse the one to whom you master-singers award the prize, but she may not choose another. A master-singer he must be. Only one crowned by yourselves may become  a suitor for her." The arrangement does seem, closely considered, rather hard on the young lady, and one fancies more than once, in the course of the play, a shade of sheepishness in the father's own attitude toward it,—momentary ripples of misgiving.

A voice of beautiful, calm, corrective sanity is now raised in the assembly. "Your pardon!" speaks Sachs to Pogner, "you have perhaps already gone somewhat far. The heart of a young girl and the heart aglow for master-art do not always burn with an identical flame. Feminine judgment, untutored as it is, would seem to me on a level with popular judgment. If therefore you have in mind to show the people how highly you honour art, and if, leaving to your daughter the right of choice, you wish her not to repudiate the verdict, let the people be among the judges, for the people's taste is sure to coincide with the girl's."

Indignation upon this among the masters. "The people?... That were fine! As well say good-bye, once for all, to art!... Sachs, what you say is nonsense.... Are the rules of art to be set aside for the people?"—"Understand me aright!" Sachs meets them; "How you take on! You will own that I know the rules thoroughly. For many a year I have been at pains to keep the guild to a strict observation of them. But once a year it would seem to me wise to test the rules themselves, and see whether in the easy grooves of habit their strength and vitality have not been lost. And whether you are still upon the right track of nature you can only find out from such as know nothing of tabulated rules!" (The apprentices, who here represent the people, and have no great love for the Tabulatur, give evidence of joy.) "Wherefore it would seem to me expedient that yearly, at Saint John's feast, instead of permitting the people to come to you, you should descend out of your  lofty mastership-cloud, and yourselves go to the people. You wish to please the people. It would strike me as to the point to let the people tell you itself whether you succeed in pleasing it. You would thus secure a vital advantage, both for the people and for art. There you have Hans Sachs's opinion!"

No one agrees with him, of course. "You no doubt mean well, but it would be a mistake.... If the people is to have a voice, I, for one, shall keep my mouth shut.... If art is to run after the favour of the people, it cannot fail to come to grief and contempt."—"His success would be enormous, no doubt, who urges this matter so stiffly," Beckmesser puts in spitefully; "His compositions are nearly all popular street-songs!"

Pogner sets Sachs's suggestion aside with perfect civility and good humour. "The thing I am about to do is novel already. Too much novelty at one time might bring in its wake regret...."—"Sufficient to me," Sachs yields the point, "is the maiden's right of refusal!"—"That cobbler always excites my wrath!" mutters Beckmesser.

They pass to the order of the day. "Who enters the lists as a candidate? A bachelor he must be."—"Or perhaps a widower?" offers Beckmesser; "Ask Sachs!"—"Oh, no, master Beckmesser," Sachs retorts; "Of younger wax than either you or I must the suitor be, if Evchen is to bestow the prize on him!"—"Younger than I, too?... Coarse fellow!"

At the question whether any be on the spot who wish to take the song-trial, Pogner presents Walther von Stolzing, as one desirous of being that same day elected master-singer. The motif of Wather's presentation gives a clear idea of the knight's charming appearance, his grace, his elastic step, his hat and feathers, the delicate haughtiness of his bearing, in keeping with his proud name.

 A black suspicion enters Beckmesser's breast at sight of him: he is the card which Pogner has all along had up his sleeve. The town-clerk declares promptly that it is too late now to enter the new-comer. The masters exchange glances: "Anoble?... Is it a case for rejoicing? Or is there danger in it?... The fact that Master Pogner speaks for him has its weight, certainly..."—"If he is to be welcomed among us," says Kothner, somewhat forbiddingly, "he must show proper recommendations."—"Do not mistake me," Pogner hastens to say; "Though I wish him good fortune, I have no thought of waiving any rule. Put to him, gentlemen, the customary questions." At the very first question, however, whether he be free and honourably born, Pogner hurriedly prevents Walther's answer by his own, making himself voucher for him in every respect such as that. The generous Sachs, feeling the something grudging in the attitude of the masters, reminds them that it had long been one of the rules made by themselves that an applicant being a lord or a peasant should have no significance, that inquiry concerning art alone should be made of one desiring to become a master-singer. Kothner passes thereupon to the question: "Of what master are you a disciple?" And then is born into the world a new, a ravishing melody—which has all the delight in it that can be compressed into the space. Airily, confidently, debonairly, Walther delivers himself, in the sweet ingenuousness of his heart, "new," as he had said, ignorant as yet of the jealous world's ways: "Beside my quiet hearth in winter-time, when castle and court were buried in snow, in an ancient book, bequeathed to me by my fathers, I was wont to read recorded the engaging beauties of past Springs, as well as, prophesied, the beauties of the Spring soon to reawaken. The poet, Walther von der Vogelweid, he it is who has been my master!" Sachs has listened with a surprised, charmed sympathy. He  nods beamingly: "A good master!"—"But long dead!" snaps Beckmesser; "How could he learn the canons from him?"

Kothner proceeds without comment to the next question: "In what school did you learn to sing?"—"Then when the sward was free from frost, and summer-time was come back, all that in the long winter-evenings I had read in the old book was proclaimed aloud in the luxuriance of the forest. I caught the clear sound of it there. In the forest where the birds congregate, I learned likewise to sing!"—"Ho, ho, from finches and tomtits you acquired the art of master-singing?" Beckmesser jeers; "Your song no doubt smacks of its teachers!"—"What do you think, masters," inquires Kothner, upon this hopeless revelation, "shall I proceed with the questions? It strikes me his lordship's answers are altogether wide of the mark."—"That is what will presently be seen," Sachs interposes warmly; "If his art is of the right sort, and he duly proves it, of what consequence is it from whom he learned it?" Whereupon Kothner proceeds, addressing Walther: "Are you prepared, now, at once, to attempt an original master-song, new in conception, original both in text and tune?" Walther answers unhesitatingly: "All that winter-night and forest-splendour, that book and grove have taught me; all that the magic of poetry has secretly revealed to me; all that I have gathered, a thoughtful listener, from ride to battle or from dance in gay assembly,—all this, in the present hour, when the highest prize of life may be purchased by a song, is what must necessarily flow into my song, original in word and note,—is what must be outpoured before you, masters, if I succeed, as a master-song!"

"Did you gather anything from that torrent of words?" Beckmesser asks, with his eyebrows up among his hair, of his fellow-masters. "Now, masters, if you please," Kothner directs, "let the Marker take his seat. Does his lordship," to  Walther, "choose a sacred subject?" "One that is sacred to me!" the young man answers magnificently; "The banner of Love I swing and I sing—and cherish good hope!" "That," considers Kothner, without a gleam, "comes under the head of secular subject. And now, Master Beckmesser, pray shut yourself in!" With a thin pose of reluctance, Beckmesser takes his way toward the curtained cabinet. "A sour office—and to-day especially. The chalk, I surmise, will be troublesomely in requisition. Know, Sir Knight, Sixtus Beckmesser is the Marker. Here in the cabinet he attends to his stern duty. He allows you seven errors. He marks them down in there with chalk. If you make over seven errors, Sir Knight, you have failed in the song-trial. Keen is the Marker's ear; that the sight of him therefore may not disconcert you, he relieves you of his presence and considerately shuts himself up in there—God have you in his keeping!" He has climbed upon the platform; he sharply draws the curtains.

Two apprentices take down from the wall and bring forward the Leges Tabulaturœ. With pomp and flourish Kothner reads them off to Walther. The "tabulature" gives the straight and narrow laws upon which a song must be constructed, to earn its singer the dignity of mastership. "Now take your seat in the singing-chair!" Kothner orders Walther at the close of his reading. "Here, in this chair?" It is the tall carved chair in which he had cast himself earlier. "As is the custom of the school!" Even so much of restraint as the obligation to sing on a given spot is repugnant to the spirit of the highborn youth, who yet is undertaking to satisfy the most law-ridden assemblage he could have met with. He murmurs, taking the seat: "For your sake, beloved, it shall be done!"—"The singer sits!" announces Kothner. "Begin!" shouts Beckmesser out of sight.

 From Beckmesser's cry "Begin!" Walther takes his cue, and simply vaulting into the seat of his Pegasus, casting the bridle upon the neck of inspiration, he directly before them all pours forth his full heart in profuse strains of unpremeditated art. He has never committed their canons, is ignorant of their conventions; he has genius, that is all, and its daring; is a poet born, not made; is at the moment, beside all the rest, uplifted by the divine fire of his love—and his song is right as some natural object, a crystal or a flower. Consummate as is the song, it has yet the character perfectly of an improvisation—the ideal improvisation, let us say—the gush, the rush, the profusion of lovely ornament, the unrestraint,—but essentially orderly, the unrestraint, like that of an army with banners, swarming, in only apparent confusion, up a height, to assured victory. The urge, the climbing effect of the song, are owing, it is plain enough, to Walther's being really inside of it, to his having cast his whole self into it, with his straining after a goal, his desperate necessity to win. In this case, verily the style is the man. "Begin!"—runs the sense of that perfect song, "Thus shouted Spring in the woods, till they rang again! And as the sound died away in distant waves, in the distance a sound was born, drawing nearer and nearer in a mighty flood. It grows, it resounds, the woods re-echo with a multitude of sweet voices. Loud and clear, it sweeps anear, to what a torrent it is grown! Like clangour of bells rings the multiple voice of Joy! The forest, how readily it responds to the call which has wakened it anew to life, and entones the sweet canticle of Spring!"

The Marker's chalk is not idle; a number of workmanlike scratches have been heard. Walther has stopped short, jarred by the sound. He resumes after a moment: "In a thorny hedge, devoured by envy and chagrin, Winter, in his armour of ill-will, cowers in hiding. Amid the rustling of withered leaves,  he sits spying with watchful eye and ear for a chance to bring to grief the happy singing...." The singer bounds to his feet. "None the less, 'Begin!' The cry rang in my breast, when I was as yet wholly unaware of love! And in my breast I felt a deep stirring, which woke me as if from a dream. My heart filled the chamber of my bosom with its trembling palpitations; mightily surged my blood, its stream swollen by new emotions; stormily out of the warm night pressed the host of sighs,—increasing, in the wild tumult of joy, to the innumerableness of the sea. My breast, with what rapture it responds to the call which has wakened it to new life, and entones the lovely canticle of Love!"

He has hardly ceased, when Beckmesser thrusts apart the curtains. "Have you finished? I have quite finished with the blackboard!" He holds up for inspection the blackboard, overscored on both sides with great chalk-marks. The masters break into laughter. "Have the goodness to listen," demands Walther imperiously; "I have only just reached the point where my song is to publish my lady's praise!"—"Go and sing wherever else you please. Here you have failed." Beckmesser descends from his post, flourishing the blackboard. "I beg you will examine, masters, this blackboard. Never since I live has such a thing been heard of. I should not have believed it though you had all affirmed it under oath...." Walther, in the innocence of his youth, loudly appeals: "Do you intend to allow him, masters, to interrupt me like this? Am I not from any one of you to have a hearing?" Pogner's courtesy interferes: "One word, friend Marker, are you not out of temper?" Beckmesser excitedly proceeds to justify his chalk-marks. No beginning or end, defective metre, defective construction! Blind meaning! Not one proper breathing-space anywhere! No appropriate colouring—and of melody not a vestige! Then,  what a mad medley of "modes"! A mixture of adventure-tone, blue-knightly-spurs tone, tall-pine-trees tone and haughty-stripling tone! (Which permits the supposition that David, though moved by the desire to amaze, was yet a faithful reporter of the refinements of master-singing.) The master-singers agree readily with Beckmesser, are really relieved to find their impressions boldly put into form for them by him. Not one of them has understood anything. Walther's unprecedented leaping to his feet in the heat of inspiration has given offence to this one; the other terms his singing "empty battering at the ear-drums." They are about to subscribe unanimously to Beckmesser's verdict that he has lost his case, when Sachs's voice breaks in upon the confusion. He has listened to Walther in complete self-forgetful absorption. The absence of all jealousy in his large nature leaves his mind peculiarly open for genuine first-hand impressions; his wide understanding is not repelled by the new and strange. The close of the young man's song has found him won, enlisted, prepossessed. He calls the masters to halt. "Not every one shares in your opinion! The Knight's song struck me as novel, yet not confused; although he forsook the beaten track, he strode along with firm, unerring step...." Sachs nods to himself and beams at this reviewing of the intense pleasure he has just experienced. "When you find that you have been trying to measure by your own rules that which does not lie within the compass of your rules, the thing to do is to forget your rules and try to discover the rules of that which you wish to measure!" Which sage talk is not destined to be fruitfully heard in the agitation of prejudice, alarm, and dislike possessing the majority of the masters. "Oh, very well," fumes Beckmesser, "Now you have heard him: Sachs offering a loophole to bunglers, that they may slip in and out at will and flourish  at ease. Sing to the people as much as you please, in marketplace and street; here no one shall gain admission save in accordance with rule!" Sachs insists that Walther must be heard to the end. "The guild of the masters, the whole body," chafes Beckmesser, "are as nothing counterbalanced by Sachs!" "God forbid," speaks Sachs, "that I should desire anything contrary to the guild's laws; but among those very laws it stands written that the Marker shall be so chosen that neither love nor hate may influence his judgment. Now, if the Marker go on lover's feet, how should he not yield to the temptation of bringing a rival to derision before the assembled school?" Beckmesser flares up, trembling with rage. "What concern of Master Sachs's is it on what sort of feet I go? Let him sooner turn his attention to making me shoes that will not hurt my toes. But since my shoe-maker has become a mighty poet, it's a sorry business with my foot-wear. See there, all down at the heel, the sole half off and shuffling! His many verses and rhymes I would cheerfully dispense with, likewise his tales, his plays, and his comical pieces, if he would just bring me home my new shoes for to-morrow!" The thrust tells. Sachs scratches his ear a little ruefully, but is not found quite without a word to say. The excuse he advances is that while it is his custom to write a verse on the sole of every shoe he delivers, he has not yet found a verse worthy of the learned town-clerk. "But," by a turn of the conversation directing it to a use nearer his heart, "I very likely shall catch inspiration from the Knight," he says, "when I have heard the whole of his song! Wherefore let him sing further undisturbed. Sing!" Slyly smiling he makes sign to Walther, "Sing, in Master Marker's despite!"

Walther springs to the singing-chair, but the masters cry in a voice, "An end! An end!" Walther, undaunted, climbs  to his feet upon the very seat of the sacred chair, from which he commands the assembly by half his height and haughtily looks down upon it. And he sings with all his lungs and all his fire to make himself heard above the hubbub; he sings, determined to impose the impress of himself upon their minds, will they or not; and his tenor pierces through and floats over the snarling chorus of objection; and he sings his song, in spite of them all, to the very end. "From the dark thorn-hedge rustles forth the owl, and by his hooting rouses the hoarse choir of the ravens; in night-black swarm they gather, and croak aloud with their hollow voices, magpies, crows, and daws! But thereupon soars upward on a pair of golden wings, wonderful, a Bird: his clearly-shining plumage gleams bright aloft in the air, rapturously he soars hither and thither, inviting me to join him in flight. My heart expands with a delicious pain, my longing to fly creates wings. I swing myself heavenward in daring flight, away from that death-vault, the city, away to the hills of home; thence to the green forest, meeting-place of birds, where long ago Walther, the Poet, won my allegiance. There sing I clear and loud the praise of my dearest lady, there mounts upward, little as Master Crows may relish it, the proud canticle of love!"

All this while the confusion of voices has not ceased or diminished. Beckmesser has been heatedly, in support of his chalk-marks, going over Walther's literary misdemeanours: Defective versification, unpronounceable words, misplaced rhymes, etc. etc. The masters have been vociferously criticising and rejecting the new-comer. Pogner has looked on and taken no part, a dejected spectator. He is sorry to see the Knight defeated, and he says to himself that he knows he will regret his toleration of this high-handedness of the masters. For the natural thought has risen in his mind that it would be agreeable to have this fine fellow received in the guild, and subsequently  into his family as son-in-law. Upon which thought naturally follows the other: "The victor whom I now must fall back upon, who knows if my child will care for him? I confess to a degree of uneasiness as to whether Eva will choose that master!"

Sachs alone has listened through all the manifold disturbance—has intently, delightedly listened; has loved the boy's courage, and marvelled at the force of his inspiration; has besought the masters to keep still and listen, or at least to let others listen.... "No use! It is labour lost! One can hardly hear his own words. The Knight can not from one of them gain attention!... That is what I call courage, to go on singing like that! His heart is in the right place,—a very giant of a poet. I, Hans Sachs, make verses and shoes, but he is a Knight and a poet on top of it!" The apprentices, emboldened by the general disorder, add their voices to the others, attempting to drown out the singer so fierily, unremittingly singing from his post of vantage. They join hands again and dance in circle around the Marker's platform.

Through all this, over all this, the stubborn song, not for a moment weakening or wavering, has climbed its way, with the figurative Bird, to its climax-point. His throat shall burst, but he will be heard! His last note Walther holds for four bars: "Das stolze Lie——bes Lied!"... Sung to an end it is, the lofty canticle of love. The singer jumps down from the chair. "A lasting farewell to you, my masters!" With a proud gesture, which rids him of them forever and consigns them to the dust-heap of their sordid narrowness and mediocrity, he stalks to the door. "Versungen und verthan! Versungen und verthan!" cry the masters, raising their hands according to custom in giving a vote; "Versungen und verthan!" He has failed in song, he is done with!

 The song-trial is over. The apprentices in merry tumult take apart the Marker's closet, hurry off benches and seats, rapidly clearing the church of all signs of the meeting. The masters leave, except Sachs. He stands gazing abstractedly at the singing-chair, while a snatch of Walther's song sings itself over in his memory. His meditation is interrupted by the apprentices snatching up and carrying off the chair. With a half-melancholy smile and a gesture of delicate mockery at himself for the spell he has so completely fallen under, reluctantly the last master-singer turns to the door, and the curtain falls.


The second act shows the exterior of Pogner's house and of Sachs's, his neighbour across the street. It is the close of day; David, putting up the shutters, is thinking of the morrow and its pleasures so intently that he does not, for a moment, recognise Lene's voice calling him. He mistakes it for that of some teasing fellow-apprentice, until he turns around and beholds her, as so often! with a promising-looking basket on her arm. "I bring you something good. Yes, you may peep. That is for my precious treasure, but first, quick, tell me, what success had the Knight? Did you instruct him to some purpose? Was he made a master?"—"Ah, Mistress Lene, it's a bad case! He failed utterly and miserably!"—"He failed?..." "Ay,—why should you so particularly care?" She jerks away the basket from his outstretched hand: "Keep your hands to yourself! Here is nothing for you! God ha' mercy, our young lord defeated!" and hurries into the house, leaving him crest-fallen, an object of mockery to his companions, who have lost nothing of the interview. Goaded, he has finally plunged  among them with punishing fist, when Sachs's arrival upon the scene stops the disorder. The boys nimbly scatter. David is ordered indoors. "Close the shop and make a light. Put the new shoes on the lasts!" Both go in.

The peacefulness of evening is upon the scene. Pogner, with his daughter on his arm, returning from a walk, comes down the lane which divides his house from Sachs's. He hesitates at Sachs's door. "Shall we see whether neighbour Sachs be at home? I should be glad of a talk with him. Shall I go in?..." But he decides against it. "Why should I, after all? Better not! When a man undertakes a course out of the usual, how should he accept advice?... Was it not he who considered that I went too far? Yet, in forsaking the beaten track, was I not doing even as he does? Or, was I actuated peradventure—by vanity?" Pogner is not easy in his mind, it is plain. He invites his silent and preoccupied daughter to sit beside him a little space on the stone seat under the linden in front of their house; he tries to fortify his faltering heart with the review of his plan for the morrow, held in the poetic light in which he first saw and found it alluring. "Deliciously mild is the evening. It presages a most beautiful day to shine upon you to-morrow. Oh, child, does no throb of the heart tell you what happiness awaits you to-morrow, when the whole of Nuremberg, with its burghers and plebeians, its guilds, its populace and high officials, is to gather in your presence to see you award the prize, the noble laurel-wreath, to the master of your choice and your chosen bridegroom?" But he speaks to the Evchen of day before yesterday. So recently as that his scheme no doubt attracted the daughter of his blood even as it did him; she saw it with kindred eyes. Her youthful pride rejoiced in the part she was to play of lovely lady of romance, to know that she should become from that day a heroine of legend, Page 218 her name for long years recurring in the songs of song-loving Nuremberg. As for the practical side of the question, she felt safe. She believed she knew which of the master-singers was sure of election by the majority of the masters, and him she had it in her heart to crown with a right good-will—so recently as day before yesterday. But to-day, at her father's "the master of your choice" she wistfully inquires, "Dear father, must it be a master?"—"Understand me well, a master of your choice," the uneasy parent replies.

Magdalene is making signs from the doorway to Eva. The girl becomes absent-minded, drops the subject in question, and suggests to her father that he go in to supper. Vexed with himself and her, he rises from her side. "We are not expecting any guest, are we?" he asks, a shade querulously. "Why, surely, the Knight?"—"How is that?"—"Did you not see him to-day?"—"No desire have I to see him!" the troubled father mutters. Then, in a flash, two and two leap together and make four to his startled mind. "What's this?... Nay, thick-witted am I grown!"—"Dear little father, go in and change your coat!" urges the pretty daughter. "Humph!" he murmurs, now as absent-minded as she, "What is this buzzing in my head?" and goes indoors.

Magdalene reports to Eva David's news: the Knight has been refused admission to the guild. "God help me! What shall I do!" cries Eva, in a sea of troubles; "Ah, Lene, the anxiety!... Where to turn to find out something?"—"From Sachs, perhaps?"—"Ah, yes, he is fond of me. Certainly, I will go to him."—"Beware of arousing suspicion. Your father will notice if we stay out any longer at present. Wait until after supper. I shall have something further to communicate to you then, a message which a certain person charged me with privately."—"Who?.. The Knight?"—"No,  Beckmesser."—"Something proper that must be!" the fair girl scoffs as they enter the house.

Sachs, in working-clothes, is seen moving within his shop. He orders David to place his table and stool beside the door, and go to bed. Reluctantly David goes off. He is troubled over Magdalene's unaccountable behaviour to him, and this sitting up late of his master's interferes with his slipping over to her for an explanation. Sachs takes his seat before the work-table, sets his materials aright, but having done it, instead of falling to work, leans back and lets the sweetness of the evening beguile him, dreams possess and waft him whither they will. That haunting strain from Walther's song, repeated slowly, as by one savouring it with pensive pleasure, again sings itself to his inward ear; it, indeed, is partly to blame for his mood of gentle unrest. The memory will not let him alone of that marvellous, that unprecedented experience of the afternoon. Unreservedly the grey-haired man's homage flies to the youngling who so easily outstrips them all, with their inveterate painstaking, their multitudinous canons. Not only without a shade of bitterness but with a tender elation, he lives over again the emotions created in him by that passionate song. To his true poet's heart it is a matter for exultation that just something beautiful should have been, and he there to witness and rejoice. He reconsiders it all with affectionate disquisition, fresh delight in every point. If just a shade of sadness belongs to the hour, it lies in the recognition that though the vision of beauty has by the contagion that is proper to it stimulated in him the impulse to be at once producing, he too, beautiful things, not by any longing could he, after a life of faithful effort in the service of Poesy, produce anything to compare with the unprepared effusion of that youth!

In the serenity of the lovely evening his thoughts breathe  themselves forth upon the scented June air: "What fragrance—how mild, how sweet, how abundant,—exhaled from the elder-tree! Its soft spell loosens my fibres, solicits me to seek expression for my thoughts. To what purpose, any expression of mine? A poor, simple fellow am I! Little in the mood for work as I am, you had best, friend, let me alone! Far wiser I should attend to my leather and desist altogether from poetry!" Resolutely he falls to work. But Friend Elder-tree does not therefore cease to shed scent. It casts its spell over him again almost at once. "No, there is no use in trying to work!" Sachs leans back and listens again to the echo in his memory of Walther's song. "I feel it," he meditates, lending ear to the persistent voice in his brain, "and cannot understand it. I cannot retain it—nor yet can forget it! And if for a moment I grasp it, to measure it is beyond me. But how should I hope to grasp that which struck me as illimitable? No rule fitted it, and yet it had not one fault! It sounded so old, and was yet so new,—like the song of birds in the sweet May-time. One who should hear it, and, smitten with madness, try to sing in imitation of that Bird, would meet with scorn and derision.... The law of Spring,—exquisite compulsion!—according to that were the rules of song laid in his breast. And he sang even as he must! And as he must, the power to do it came to him, I marked that quite particularly.... The Bird who sang to-day, his beak is fashioned aright! Great as was the dismay created by him among the masters, he was much to Hans Sachs's mind!"

Evchen has come out of her house and softly approached. Sachs looks up, joyfully surprised, at her greeting: "Good-evening, master; still so diligent?" There follows as pretty an exhibition of youthful feminine arts as one could wish to see. The cajoling inflections of the music alone would inform one  of what is in action. Eva has come to Sachs with an ulterior motive: to hear the details of the song-trial. She has no mind, of course, to avow her interest frankly. She must gain her end as she can, and, as a beginning, to flatter her man and challenge his fondness for her can never fall wholly wide of the mark. Sachs loves her dearly, that she knows, and she has, in the innocent presumption of her young beauty, not questioned that he would enter the song-tournament for her; and until yesterday she rested in placid contentment upon the intention of crowning this affection which never since her birth has failed her. Her narrow eighteen years have no conception of a devotion so generous and deep it would not dream, however fair the opportunity, of laying upon her youth the burden of his maturity, the oppression of his thoughtfulness. Sachs is unwilling, too, very likely, in his wisdom, to compromise the peace of his Indian summer by assuming the guardianship of an over-fair young wife. His neighbour's picturesque whim, the song-contest in prospect, has no doubt given Sachs sufficient uneasiness, but he finally, as we heard him declare to Pogner, rests satisfied with the maiden's privilege of refusal. Not one of the guild of master-singers seems to him worthy of this blooming young Eve. As for the father's "Never!" applied to her marriage if she shall not accept the master-singers' choice, Sachs knows his Pogner and his Eva, and is willing to entrust the matter to Time.

And so the ingenuous seductress finds the genial, clever, mellow neighbour's attitude toward her in this scene more canny than she can have expected, or quite relishes. It almost appears he had no idea of trying for her. Perhaps an intuition of her momentary insincerity has made him more than naturally wary. The practising upon himself of her pretty coquetries he suffers however without unreasonable distaste. "Ha, child,  dear Evchen, out so late? But I know—I know what brings you so late. The new shoes?"—"You are mistaken! I have not even tried on the shoes. They are so beautiful, so richly ornamented, I have not yet ventured so much as to put them on my feet!"—"And yet you are to wear them to-morrow as a bride?" She takes a seat on the stone bench by his door and leans confidingly close to him. "Who, then, is to be the bridegroom?"—"How should I know?"—"How can you know then that I am to be a bride?"—"What a question! The town knows it!"—"And if the town knows it, friend Sachs feels that he has good authority. I should have thought that he knew more than the town."—"What should I know?"—"See, now, I shall be obliged to tell him! I am certainly a fool!..."—"I did not say so."—"It is you then who are more than common knowing...."—"I do not know."—"You do not know!.. You have nothing to say!..." She draws away, nettled: "Ah, friend Sachs, I now perceive that pitch is not wax! I had supposed you cleverer." Calmly he takes up her words and by them guides the conversation from that ground. "Child, the properties both of wax and pitch I am well acquainted with. With wax I stroke the silken threads with which I stitch your dainty shoes; the shoes I am at this moment making, I sew with coarse cord, and use pitch to stiffen it, for the hard-fibred customer who is to wear them."—"Who is it? Some one of great consequence, I suppose?"—"Of consequence, indeed! A proud master, on wooing bent, who has no doubt whatever of coming forth victorious from to-morrow's event. For Master Beckmesser I am making these shoes."—"Then use pitch in plenty, that he may stick fast in them and trouble me no more!"—"He hopes surely by his song to win you."—"What can justify such a hope?"—"He is a bachelor, you see; there are not many in the place." Again she draws near and bends close  to him. "Might not a widower be successful?" In his kind, sane, unsentimental voice he replies promptly: "My child, he would be too old for you!"—"What do you mean, too old? The question here is one of art. The man who has achieved distinction in art, let him contend for me." Sachs smiles, indulgently, paternally. "Dear little Eva, are you making a fool of me?" (Machst mir blauen Dunst? Are you blinding me with blue haze?)—"Not I! It is you—" she retorts warmly, "it is you who are playing tricks on me. Confess that you are of an inconstant nature. God knows who it is you have now housed in your heart. And I have been supposing for years it was I!"—"Because I used to be fond of carrying you in my arms?"—"I see! It was only because you had no children of your own!"—"Time was when I had a wife and children enough," Sachs reminds her gently. "But your wife died, and I grew up!"—"And you grew up, tall and most fair!"—"And so I thought you would take me into your house in place of wife and child...."—"Thus I should have a child and a wife in one ... A pleasant pastime, indeed! Ha ha! How beautifully you have planned it all!"—"I believe," she pouts, and bends her brows on him in a puzzled frown, "I believe that the master is making fun of me! In the end he will calmly acquiesce in Beckmesser to-morrow carrying me off, right under his nose, from him and all the rest!"—"How could I prevent it," says Sachs, not upset apparently by the fearful thought, "if he is successful? Your father alone could find a remedy to that."—"Where such a master carries his head!" cries Eva, in acute exasperation, "If I were to come to your house, should I so much as be made at home?" Somewhat dryly he takes up her words, as before, to steer the conversation from these dubious borders; and by some hazard, or intuition, turns it upon the subject nearest her heart. "Ah, yes, you are  right! My head is in a state of confusion. I have had much care and bother to-day. Something of it clings very probably to my wits."—"At the singing-school, do you mean?" she asks, with covert eagerness; "There was song-trial to-day."—"Yes, child, I had considerable trouble over an election." She draws close to him. "Now, Sachs! You should have said so at once, and I would not have harassed you with senseless questions. Tell me now who it was that sought for election?"—"A knight, my child, wofully untaught!"—"A knight? You do not say so! And was he admitted?"—"Far from it, my dear. There was too much difference of opinion."—"Well, tell me, then. Tell me how it all happened. If it troubles you, how should it leave me untroubled? So he stood the trial discreditably and was defeated...."—"Hopelessly defeated, the gallant cavalier!" Walther's failure is symbolised by a melodious groan. "Hopelessly, you say? There was no way then by which he might have been saved? Did he sing so badly, so faultily, that there is no possibility more of his becoming a master?"—"My child," Sachs broadly assevers, "for him all is definitely lost. And never in any land will he be made a master. For he who is a master born occupies ever among masters the very lowest place." On the verge of tears, with difficulty controlling her indignation, Eva continues her questioning: "One thing more tell me. Did he not find among the masters a single friend?" Sachs nearly laughs. "That were not bad! To be, on top of everything, his friend! His friend—before whom all feel themselves so small!..." (If Eva were not so engrossed with her single idea, the gleam in Sachs's eye, the fire in his tone, would interpret to her this brutal-sounding speech.) "Young Lord Arrogance, let him go his way! Let him go brawling and slashing through the world! As for us, let us draw our breath in peaceful enjoyment of what we have acquired with labour  and difficulty. Keep off the fiery fellow from running amuck among us! Let fortune bloom for him elsewhere!" Trembling with anger, and dropping all concealment, Eva springs to her feet: "Yes, elsewhere shall fortune bloom for him than in the neighbourhood of you repulsive envy-ridden creatures!—elsewhere, where hearts still have some warmth in them, in spite of all cantankerous Master Hanses!—Directly, yes, I am coming!" (This to Magdalene, who has been calling to her from her father's door.) "I go home much comforted! It reeks of pitch here till God take pity on us! Kindle a fire with it, do, Master Sachs, and get a little warmth into you, if you can!"

"I thought so!" Sachs says to himself as he watches her cross the street to her own door. Two and two have leaped together in his mind, too. "The question is now what will be the sage course to pursue." He goes within and closes his door... all but a crack.

"Your father is asking for you," Magdalene reports to her agitated mistress. "Go to him," weeps Eva, "and say that I have gone to my room and to bed." But Beckmesser—the nurse reminds her of the message from him. He desires her to be at the window; he will sing and play to her a beautiful composition by which he hopes on the morrow to win her. He wishes to discover whether it be to her taste. Eva, anxiously awaiting the arrival of her lover, disposes of the subject by ordering Magdalene to be at the window in her place. "That would make David jealous!" reflects Magdalene; "His chamber is toward the lane." The prospect tickles her spirits. Even as she is urging Eva to go in, for her father, is calling, Walther comes down the lane. Hopeless after that, Magdalene recognises, to attempt dragging indoors the damsel. She hurries in by herself to content Pogner with some discreet misrepresentation.

 With passionate endearments Walther and Eva have rushed into each other's arms. All is lost which depended upon his winning the title of master-singer. There is nothing further to hope from that quarter; no choice is left, they must fly together. "Away, where liberty is!" he cries, "That is where I belong, there where I am master in the house!" He grows hot with anger at remembrance of the masters' treatment of him, but, even more, with loathing at the thought of his beloved sitting to-morrow in their midst, looked upon by them with covetous eyes as a possible bride. "And I would endure it, do you think? I would not fall upon them all, sword in hand?" The night-watchman's horn breaks across his heated outburst. He claps hand to his sword. Eva draws him gently into the shadow of the linden-tree, to lie concealed until the watchman have passed, and leaves him a moment to go within.

The night-watchman, with pike, horn, and lantern, comes down the lane, calling the hour of ten; he bids the householders look to their fires and lights, avoiding disaster, and so let God the Lord be praised! He turns the corner, the sound of his horn dies away.

Sachs from behind his door has played the eavesdropper. "Evil doings are under way! No less than an elopement! Attention! This must not be!"

Eva creeps forth from her father's house, disguised for the journey in Magdalene's things. "No stopping for reflection!" she cries; "Away from here! Away! Oh, that we were already off and afar!"—"This way, through the lane...." Walther draws her along with him. "At the city-gate we shall find servant and horses." But right across the lane falls suddenly a great shaft of light, projected from Sachs's window, cast by a lamp placed behind a glass globe which magnifies it to intense brilliancy. The lovers find themselves standing in a  bright illumination. Eva pulls Walther quickly back into the dark. "Woe's me, the shoe-maker! If he were to see us!... Hide! Do not go near that man!"—"What other road can we take?"—"The street there—but it is a winding one, I am not well acquainted with it, and, besides, we should run into the night-watchman."—"Well, then, through the lane!"—"The shoe-maker must first leave the window!"—"I will force him to leave it!" says Walther, fiercely.—"He must not see you. He knows you."—"The shoe-maker?..."—"Yes, it is Sachs."—"Hans Sachs, my friend?"—"Do not believe it! He had nothing but evil to say of you!"—"What, Sachs? He, too?... I will put out his lamp!" She catches again at his arm, and even at that moment both are startled into immobility by the sound of a lute. Some one approaches, testing as he comes the strings of a lute, if they be in tune. The light has disappeared from the shoe-maker's window. Walther is again for dashing down the lane toward the city-gate and the horses. "But no! Can't you hear?"—his lady hangs back. "Some one else has come and taken up his station there."—"I hear it and see it. It is some street-musician. What is he doing so late at night?"—"It is Beckmesser!"—"What, the Marker? The Marker in my power? There is one whose loafing in the street shall not trouble us long...." Again she catches in terror at his arm, so ready ever to catch at the sword. "For the love of Heaven, listen! Do you wish to waken my father? The man will sing his song and then will go his way. Let us hide behind the shrubs yonder." She draws her lover to the stone seat under the linden-tree.

Sachs at the sound of the lute has drawn in his light, become superfluous, since the road is effectually blocked for the lovers by the musical interloper. He overhears Eva's exclamation, "Beckmesser!" and has an idea. Beckmesser shall be made of  use to prevent the lovers as long as possible from moving any farther from the safe parental roof than that stone seat under the linden, where they huddle close, whispering together, while keeping a watchful eye on the actors of the comedy which follows. Sachs, as one might know of him, loves a joke. He softly opens his door, places his work-bench and lamp right in the doorway, and sets himself at his work. When Beckmesser, after impatiently preluding to bring to the window the figure he is expecting, clears his throat to begin the serenade, Sachs, vigourously hammering on his last, prevents him by bursting forth on his own account in a lusty ditty with much loud Ohe, Ohe, Trallalei!—a playful ditty, sweet at the core, about Eve, the original mother, and the first pair of shoes, ordered for her from an angel by the Lord himself, who was sorry to see the pitiful sinner, when turned out of Paradise, go bruising her little feet, for which He had a tenderness, on the hard stones; and Adam, too, stubbing his toes against the flints, the song tells how he on the same occasion was measured for boots. Beckmesser can hardly contain his impatience and disgust till the first verse comes to an end. Upon the last note of it, he addresses the shoe-maker with what sickly civility he can summon: "How is this, master? Still up? So late at night?" Sachs expresses an equal surprise to find the town-clerk moving abroad: "I suppose you are concerned for your shoes. I am at work on them, as you see; you shall have them to-morrow."—"Devil take the shoes!" groans Beckmesser; "What I want here is quiet!" But his words are lost amid Sachs's hammer-blows and unmoderated voice launching forth upon the second verse. "You are to stop at once!" Beckmesser, in mounting anger, orders Sachs, as, hardly pausing to take breath, the shoe-maker is attacking the third verse. "Is it a practical joke you are playing on me? Do you make no distinction between  the night and the day?" Sachs looks at him in innocent surprise. "What does it matter to you that I should sing? You are anxious, are you not, to have your shoes finished?"—"Shut yourself up indoors then and keep quiet!"—"Nay, night-labour is burdensome; if I am to keep cheerful at my work, I must have air and light-hearted song. So hear how the third verse goes!" And he attacks it with a will. There is added to Beckmesser's other troubles the fearful thought that the maiden may mistake this outrageous bellowing for his love-song. A second-story window in Pogner's house has softly opened, a form is dimly outlined within the frame of it. "I am lost now," Beckmesser desperately reflects, "if he goes on singing!" He resolutely steps up to Sachs: "Friend Sachs, just listen to one word! How bent you seem upon those shoes! I truly had forgotten all about them. As a shoe-maker, the fact is, I hold you in great esteem, but as an artist and critic I honour you even more highly. I beseech you therefore to give your attention to a little song by which I hope to-morrow to win the prize. I am eager to be told whether you think well of it." While talking, he strums, as if casually, upon his lute, to keep the lady from leaving the window. "Oh, no!" Sachs replies; "You wish to catch me by my weak side. I have no wish for another berating. Since your shoe-maker takes himself for a poet, it fares but ill with your footgear. I can see for myself that it is in a deplorable condition. And so I drop verse and rhyme, knowledge and erudition, and I make you the new shoes for to-morrow."—"Let that be, do!" Beckmesser adjures him; "That was only a joke. Understand now what my true sentiments are. You stand high in honour with the people, and the daughter of Pogner has a great opinion of you. Now, if I intend to offer myself as a suitor for her to-morrow, can you not see how I might be destroyed by her not taking kindly to my  song? Therefore listen to me quietly, do, and when I have finished my song tell me what in it you like, and what not, that I may make my dispositions accordingly."—"Go along! Let me alone!" Sachs still excuses himself; "How should so much honour accrue to me? My songs are but common street-songs; let me therefore, in my common way, sing them to the street!" He is taking up his noisy lay again about Eve and shoes when Beckmesser's rage explodes. Quaking, the town-clerk pours forth reproach and insult. This conduct of the shoe-maker's has its source in envy, nothing else; envy of the dignity of Marker which has never been bestowed upon him, and which now never will be, not so long as Beckmesser lives and has influence with the masters. When he stops at last, for lack of breath, Sachs asks artlessly: "Was that your song?... Somewhat irregular in form, but it sounded right spirited!"

Walther, in the shadow, clasping his troubled lady, who is unaccountably saddened by the untimely farce, struggles with a hysterical desire to laugh—it is all so like a fantastic dream.

At last shoe-maker and town-clerk come to an arrangement. Beckmesser shall sing his song, and Sachs, whose criticism he so unwontedly desires, shall act as Marker; but Sachs, who contends that he is loath to stop work on his shoes, instead of marking with chalk, shall mark the singer's mistakes by blows of his hammer on the last, and so, peradventure, while listening, forward his work. A disgusting arrangement, but Beckmesser is in such terror lest the lady leave her post before he have sung that he consents. "Begin!" hollaes Sachs, and Beckmesser, after preluding, sings, while Sachs punctuates the lines with smart taps on the last. These at first discompose the singer, and he stops at each tap to inquire angrily what it is that is not right; he shortly resolves, however, to pay no heed to the spiteful enemy, but cover over the interruptions with his voice.  Louder and louder and ever more breathlessly he sings, a lyric that is more prosy than prose, a piece of common statement of facts, tortured into verse, which attains metre only by throwing the accent continually, ludicrously, on the wrong syllables. The melody, nasal and snuffling, is the very prose, too, of music. A ridiculous, dead-in-earnest song, relating in three long verses the circumstances of the song-contest and the singer's tender hopes.

By the end of the second verse, the teasing shoe-maker has tapped so much that the soles are solid with the vamps. He swings the finished shoes triumphantly before his customer, announcing that he has thought of an appropriate verse to write on the soles, and it is: "A good song must keep time!" But Beckmesser does not stop for him. Beckmesser disdainfully goes on, as if he and the lady were alone in the world, and he sang thus loud to overpower some such thing as the sea-surf. In his engrossment he fails to take account of various ominous signs. He does not see David appear at his chamber-window. In spite of Eva's clothes which she is wearing, the boy recognises Magdalene at the casement across the way. His jealousy is quick to suppose her cold treatment of himself due to an inclination toward this new admirer. The neighbours, too, begin to lean out of their windows and ask the reason of this abominable caterwauling. A crowd collects in the street, of persons trying to find out what is the matter. The apprentices come flocking, mischievous instigators to mischief, and the journeymen, little better than they. Soon, there is difference and quarreling among those arriving to inquire the cause of the disturbance. Neighbours pour into the street, men and women in night-attire; finally, the heavy burghers arrive, the masters themselves, noisy, almost disorderly, in their attempts to restore order. Beckmesser, singing at the top of his lungs, does not  wake to consciousness of his surroundings until a cudgel falls across his back, wielded by David. He flees—but is at every few steps overtaken again and beaten. The two figures, in flight and pursuit, waving lute and brandishing cudgel, disappear and reappear at intervals among the swaying crowd. In vain Magdalene from above screams to David to let the gentleman go. Pogner's hand draws her away from the window; in the dim light he mistakes her for Eva. Sachs, when the confusion is well under way, draws in his work-bench and closes his door ... again all but a crack, through which he can watch the two figures wrapped in a single cloak beneath the linden-tree. When the disorder is at its height, Walther clasps the girl with his left arm, with his right bares his sword, and attempts a rush through the crowd, toward the gates and horses of freedom. Quick as thought, Sachs has cleared his way to the couple; he grasps Walther by the arm. Pogner at the same moment appears at his door, calling for Lene. Sachs pushes toward him Eva, half-fainting, bereft by panic of all power to withstand the impulsion. Pogner receives her in his arms and draws her within doors, not suspecting but that she is the faithful nurse whose garments she wears. With deft foot Sachs propels David before him into the house; then, forcibly drawing Walther with him across the threshold, fastens the door,—his object happily accomplished.

The street-battle is still raging. But at this point women pour water from the windows on the heads of the combatants, as they would on fighting dogs. Simultaneously, the horn of the night-watchman is heard. In the space of a yawn the scene is deserted; all down the street are fast-closed windows and doors; Beckmesser hobbles off rubbing his back. The old night-watchman, reaching the spot, rubs his eyes, clearly wondering if he have dreamed that he heard alarming sounds  from that quarter. After looking all around, he droningly calls the hour of eleven, enjoins the people to be on guard against phantoms and spooks, that no evil spirit may work harm to their souls, and so let God the Lord be praised! The full moon rising above the housetops suddenly floods the quiet lane. The watchman slowly goes down it. As he vanishes around the corner, the curtain falls.


The interior of Sachs's workshop. The poet sits in an ample armchair, near the window, bathed in the morning sunshine, absorbed in a great book. The magnanimity of his mood, the beautiful deep calm following upon certain resolutions and sacrifices, the gently exalted melancholy of his meditations—half remembrance, and dreamy as if violet shades of evening softened them,—the composer has given us to apprehend all in the introduction to the third act.

So rapt is Sachs in the perusal of his great volume, or, as may be suspected, in images which float between the page and his eyes, that he does not see David enter carrying a basket of Lene's bestowal filled with flowers and ribbons for the adornment of his person on this festival day, as well as with cake and sausage. The apprentice, when Sachs does not speak, or, spoken to, answer, or make sign when he informs him that Beckmesser's shoes have been duly delivered, believes him to be angry, and goes into a long apology for his misconduct on the night before, brightening finally with the relation of his making-up this morning with Lene, who has satisfactorily explained all. Sachs reads on, as little disturbed as by the buzzing of a fly on the pane. Only when he has finished, and closed his book,—the unexpected clap of the covers so startles David that he  stumbles to his knees—Sachs looks around him, as if coming back from a dream. His eye is caught by the bright flowers and ribbons brought in by David. Their effect of young gayety touches some chord in him more than usually sensitive at this moment. "Flowers and ribbons I see over there," he muses audibly; "Sweet and youthful they look! How come they in my house?" David is relieved to find him in this gentle mood, yet puzzled at the remoteness and abstraction from which the master is but slowly drawn. He has occasion for a moment to wonder even whether the master have perchance become hard of hearing....

Fully returned at length to a sense of the common surrounding world, Sachs asks David for his day's lesson, and the apprentice briskly sings his verse, first comically confusing the tune with that of Beckmesser's serenade, still buzzing in his head, then, at Sachs's gesture of astonishment, righting himself and acquitting himself of his task without slip. The verse is a playful bit, between psalm and street-song. It relates that when Saint John was baptising on the banks of Jordan there came to him a lady from Nuremberg bringing her little son for baptism. When she got home, however, to German land, it proved that vainly had one on the banks of Jordan been given the name of Johannes, on the banks of the Pegnitz he became Hans! The pronouncing of the name brings to David's mind the remembrance suddenly that it is his master's name, that the day is therefore his name's-day. In an impulse of affectionate devotion he presses on him all the gay articles just received from Lene, the flowers and ribbons, the magnificent cake, and, but shyly, as if it were not quite worthy of a poet, the sausage. With great gentleness, Sachs thanks the lad and bids him keep the things for himself, adding a request that he make himself fine with those same flowers and ribbons to accompany him  presently to the meadow outside the city gates where the song-contest is to be held. His stately herald he shall be. Sachs's friendliness encourages the boy to venture a small liberty. "May I not rather go as your groom's-man? Master, dear master, you must marry again!"—"You would be glad of a mistress in the house?" asks Sachs dreamily.—"It would make, in my opinion, a much more imposing household!" There is popular talk and expectation of it, as an outcome of the coming song-contest, David intimates; "You will hardly have much trouble, as I think, in singing Beckmesser out of the field; I hardly believe he will make himself very conspicuous to-day!"—"I hardly believe so, either," Sachs smiles: "But go now, and be careful not to disturb his lordship. Come back when you have made yourself fine."

Left alone, Sachs sinks into thought again, sitting there with his book on his knees and his head propped on his hand. We are allowed to follow his reflections, those of a philosopher,—but not one standing apart and watching a little scornfully the vagaries of men; a very human being, taking part in them, without losing a humourous sense of their character. "Illusion! Illusion! Everywhere illusion! Whichever way I bend my inquiry, searching the chronicles of the city and those of the world, to discover the reason why people, in vain and frantic rage, torment and oppress themselves and one another to the point of bloodshed! No one has any good of it, or receives any thanks for it. Through its working, the defeated and put to flight fancies himself chasing the foe. He is deaf to his own cry of pain. When he twists the knife in his own flesh, he has an idea that he is doing himself a pleasure! Who shall find a name for it? One name, forsooth, befits it: Ancient Illusion it is, without which nothing happens, nothing either goes or stands still. If it halts in its career, it merely while slumbering  gathers new force; it presently wakes up, and then see who can master it!..." He smiles whimsically, nodding to himself, at the contemplation of the instance of all this uppermost in his mind, the events of the evening before. "How peaceful, in its adherence to good customs, approved in conduct and deed, lies in the heart of Germany my beloved Nuremberg! But late upon a night, a man there is found totally void of counsel how to prevent a catastrophe, resulting from youth and hot blood. A shoe-maker in his shop tugs gently at the threads of illusion: how promptly up and down the lanes and streets the thing begins to rage; men, women, boys and children, fall upon one another like mad and blind; and the crack-brained spirit is not to be laid until a shower fall of blows—a shower of blows, kicks and cudgel-thwacks, to smother the angry conflagration. God knows how it all came about?" He smiles again, reflectively, over the recollection of the lovely quiet evening it was, the terrific discordant pother that arose,—the lovely and hushed night that presently resumed her reign. The incident looks fantastic now. "An imp must have had a hand in it!" is the poet's fanciful induction; "A glow-worm could not find his mate, it was he responsible for all the damage done! It was the fault of the elder-tree—of Saint John's night! ... But now—" he broadly dismisses the fancies and aberrations of the warm mid-summer night, and turns his face toward the clear-defined duty of the day: "But now it is Saint John's Day! And now let us see how Hans Sachs shall contrive deftly to guide Illusion to the working out of a noble purpose. For if the spirit will not let us rest even here in Nuremberg, let it be for such works as seldom succeed by vulgar means, and succeed never without some grain of illusion in the perpetrator himself!"

Walther appears at the door of an inner chamber. Sachs  rises to meet and greet his guest. They had a good talk the night before, after the wise shoester's act of well-meant violence. Walther was grateful, no doubt, upon calmer reflection, to have been saved from the ruinous folly he had projected. The two men are obviously fast friends. There is in Sachs's attitude a touching deference toward the younger man, the heart-wholly acknowledged superior in talent. It is a pleasant spectacle, the grey meistersinger's eager glorying in the golden youth's simple, abundant, God-bestowed gift. The motif of his address to Walther has a touch of charming courtliness. "God keep your lordship! Did you find rest? You were up late—you did, however, finally sleep?"—"A little," Walther answers, "but soundly and well." There is something hushed and fixed in Walther's aspect, as if he listened to voices no one else could hear, gazed upon some vision invisible to others. He is still under the spell of a recent marvellous impression. "I have had—" he tells Sachs, when the latter genially asks is he feeling, after his good sleep, in good form and of good courage, "I have had a wonderfully beautiful dream...."—"A good omen, that! Tell me your dream!"—"I hardly dare to touch it with my thought, so do I fear to see it fade away."—"My friend," the older poet with fine amenity takes up the part of teacher, and his observations have a ripe, sunny, elevated wisdom, for which one should store them carefully as one does good fruit, "that exactly is the task of a poet, to mark dreams and interpret them. Believe me, of all the illusions of man the most nearly approaching truth are those he comes into cognisance of through dreams. The whole art of poetry is but the interpretation of true-dreaming. What if this dream now should contain a hint how you may to-day be made a master?"—"No, no," Walther rejects the idea with distaste; "In the presence of the guild and its masters, scant inspiration would animate my  dream-picture!"—"But yet, suppose your dream contained the magic spell by which you might win over the guild?" Walther shakes his head: "How do you cling to an illusion, if after such a rupture as you witnessed you still cherish such a hope!"—"Nay, my hope stands undiminished, nor has anything so far occurred to overthrow it; if that were not so, believe me, instead of preventing your flight, I would myself have taken flight with you! Pray you, therefore, let your resentment die! You are dealing with honourable men. They make mistakes and are fairly settled in the comfortable determination to be taken in their own way. Those who offer prizes desire after all that one shall please them. Your song scared them, and with reason, for, upon reflection, the like flaming poetry and passion are adapted for the luring of daughters into mad adventures, but the sentiment leading to the blessed married state finds words and notes of a different sort!" Walther grins: "I know the sort—from hearing them last night; there was a good deal of noise out in the street." Sachs laughs too; "Yes! yes!... You heard likewise how I beat time. But let be all that, and follow my advice, good and short: summon up your energies for a master-song!"—"A beautiful song, and a master-song, how am I to seize the distinction between them?" asks the singer of the beautiful song which had been despised. "My friend," Sachs explains, with a warmth as of tears and blood, "in the beautiful days of youth, when the bosom expands high and wide with the mighty transports of happy first love, many are they who can achieve a beautiful song: the Spring-time it is which sings for them! But let summer come, autumn and winter, the sorrows and cares of life,—no dearth of wedded joys along-side!—christenings, business, discord and difficulties, those who still after all that can compass the singing of a beautiful song, those, mark me, are entitled  masters!" Aye, first, as a modern poet has said, warm natural drops of blood; later, the alchemist's laborious spheres of chemic gold. In youth, all-sufficient inspiration,—later, labour and rule, with meritorious concentration substituting for impetus and fire the beauty of careful form, and making durable in this the evanescent dreams of youth. "Learn the master-rules in good season," Sachs adds, "that they may be faithful guides to you, helping you to preserve safely that which in the gracious years of youth spring-time and love with exquisite throes bred in your unconscious heart, that you may store and treasure it, and it may not be lost!"—"But who—" Walther asks, inclined to cavil where anything is concerned which relates to the master-singers, "Who created these rules which stand in such high honour?"—"They were sorely-needy masters," Sachs in his moved tones continues the charming lesson, "spirits heavily weighted with the weariness of life; in the wilderness of their distresses they created for themselves an image, that they might retain vivid and lasting the memory of young love, bearing the sign and stamp still, and breathing the fragrance, of Spring!"—"But," Walther objects, suspicious of that whole tribe of snuffy masters, for whom Sachs has the same charity of a broad understanding which he has shown in Walter's own case, "however can he for whom Spring is long past fix the essence of it in an image?"—"He recreates it as well as he can," Sachs sums with sudden curtness, recognising perhaps the futility of his attempt against this so lively dislike; and passes on to the point more important at this moment, to his thinking. "I beg you, therefore, sorely-needy man that I am, if I am to teach you the rules, that you should renew in me the sense of that which originally gave them rise. See, here are ink, pen, and paper. I will be your scribe, do you dictate."—"Hardly should I know how to begin."—"Relate to me your  morning dream."—"Nay, as a result of your teaching of rules, I feel as if it had faded quite away."—"The very point where the poet's art comes into requisition! Recall your beautiful dream of the morning, for the rest, let it be Hans Sachs's care!"

Walther takes a moment to collect himself. Sachs sits with quill poised over paper. Then Walther relates his dream, meeting Sachs's request for a master-song by casting it as he goes, with the light ease of genius, into verse and melody,—his second astonishing improvisation, joyous as the first, but not agitated—reflective, as if he filled Sordello's account of himself: "I' mi son un che quando Amore spira, noto, e quel che detta dentro vo significando." I am one who when Love breathes, do note, and that which he dictates within do go expressing. All things lovely seem to have congregated in this dream of his; it is no wonder that the lingering impression of it enveloped him with an atmosphere of Paradise, and that he feared almost to breathe lest it be dispelled. Just the words he has to use, without their relations, conjure up a flock of alluring images: Morning-shine, roseate light, blossoms, perfume, air, joy,—unimaginable joy, a garden! The idea that a poet's song is as much a part of him as fruit is of the tree stands illustrated by the fact that the song which falls on our ear as in its ensemble so fresh, is yet composed in great part of the Walther-motifs with which we have become familiar; his youth, his enthusiasm, his courage and his love, all go into the making of his song. As he said in answer to Kothner, what should be put into his song unless the essence of all he had known and lived?

Glimmering beneath the rosy light of dawn, the air being laden with the scent of flowers, a garden, he sings, full of never before imagined attractions, had invited him to enter it....

"That was a stanza." Sachs states, as Walther pauses. "Take  careful heed now that the one following must be exactly like it."—"Why exactly alike?" the free-born asks, ready to chafe at the shadow of a restriction. Sachs, indulgent, makes play for this prodigious child's sake of the to him so grave business of song-making: "That one may see that you have selected a mate!"

In that blissful garden a magnificent tree had proffered to his desire a sumptuous harvest of golden fruit.... Such is the matter of the second stanza.

"You did not," Sachs critically considers, "close on the same tone. Excruciating is that to the masters, but Hans Sachs learns from your doing it that in Spring-time it must perforce be so! Proceed now to the aftersong."—"What is that?" asks Walther. "Your success in finding a well-suited couple will appear now from their off-spring!"

In the garden, by an exquisite miracle, he had found suddenly standing at his side a woman, more sweetly and graciously beautiful than any he had ever beheld. Like a bride she had entwined her arms softly about him, and had guided him, with eyes and hand, toward the fruit of his desire, the fair fruit of the tree of life....

Joyfully stirred as he is by the beauty of dream and song, Sachs controls his emotion, to secure all he can from the young poet's momentary docility. "There's what I call an aftersong!" he exclaims cordially; "See, now, how rounded and fine is the whole first part. With the melody you deal, to be sure, a bit freely. I do not say, however, that it is a fault. But it makes the thing more difficult to retain, and that incenses our old men. Let us have now a second part, that we may gain a clear idea of the first. I do not even know, so skilfully have you cast them into rhyme, what in your song was invention and what was dream...."

 With heavenly glow of sunset-light, day had departed, as he lay there drinking joy from her eyes, desire the sole power in possession of his heart. Night had closed down, baffling the eyesight, when, through the branches, the rays of two bright stars had shed their light upon his face. The sound of a spring upon the quiet height had reached his ear, murmuring more musically than any spring heard theretofore; stars had appeared in multitude, dancing among the boughs overhead, until, instead of golden fruit, the laurel-tree had swarmed with a host of stars....

"Friend!" cries Sachs, striving against the full betrayal of his pleasure, lest it be an interrupting element, "your dream was an effectual guide! The second part is successful as the first. If now," he ventures, "you would compose a third, it might contain the interpretation of your dream...." But Walther jumps up from his chair, suddenly weary of the game. "Enough of words!" And Sachs, with sympathetic understanding of the incalculable ways of poets, refrains from pressing him. That overbubbling inspiration he believes can be counted upon. "Reserve then word and deed for the proper place. And I pray you hold fast in memory, this melody, a charming one it is to fit with words. And, against the moment of singing it in a more extended circle, hold fast likewise to your dream!"—"What have you in mind?" Walther inquires. Sachs does not directly enlighten him, but: "Your faithful servant has, very seasonably, arrived with packs and porte-manteaux. The garments in which you intended to make yourself brave for wedding-ceremonials at home, he has brought here to the house. A little dove no doubt directed him to the nest where his master slept. Come with me therefore to your chamber. Fitting it is we both attire ourselves splendidly, when a splendid deed is to be dared!" Walther without question  places his hand, as if it held his whole confidence, in Sachs's. They pass together out of the workshop.

The stage remains for a moment empty. The air retains as if echoes, or fragrances, of the personalities which have but just withdrawn; it is sweetened with effluvia of Walther's youth, of Sachs's greatness of heart. Suddenly, like a bar of bilious green across a shimmering mother-o'-pearl fabric, harmonies of a very different sort catch the attention, and Beckmesser's face is seen peering in at the window. Finding the workshop empty, he limps in. He is in holiday array, but there is little of holiday about him, save in his gaudily beribboned clothes. A long comedy-scene follows, in which Beckmesser says never a word, but his thoughts are heard and his actions are eloquent. His body is one mass of aches and pains, his soul the battleground of anger, shame, thirst for vengeance. The din of the evening before fills his ears; he is chased, as if by furies, by memories of the indignities put upon him. He is so sore he cannot sit; when he goes his joints hurt rackingly. His restless moving about the room while he waits for Sachs brings him to the master's writing-table: his eye falls on the sheet of music on which Sachs has taken down Walther's song; his attention is arrested; he reads it off mentally with ever-increasing agitation. No mistake possible, in his mind: Sachs, who had declared that he would not enter the song-contest for Pogner's daughter, has outrageously lied, and here is the proof of it, this song which he means to sing at the tournament. "Now," bursts forth Beckmesser, "everything becomes clear to me!" He jumps, hearing Sachs at the door, and stuffs the paper into his pocket. Sachs, in his handsome best-coat, meets him pleasantly. "You surely are not having any more trouble with the shoes?" Beckmesser's wrath holds in but a moment before voiding itself upon Sachs in accusation and threat. "Be sure,  friend Sachs, I know you now!... That I may not stand in your way, you go so far even as to incite the mob to riot.... You have always been my enemy.... Now hear, whether I see through you. The maiden whom I have chosen, who was verily born for me, to the frustration of all widowers there be,—of her you are in pursuit! In order that Master Sachs might gain the goldsmith's rich inheritance it was that at the council of masters he stood upon minor clauses. For that reason, fool that I was! with bawling and hammering he tried to drown my song,—that the child might not be made aware of another's ability! Yes, yes! Have I hit the mark? And finally from his cobbler's shop he egged after me boys with cudgels, that he might be rid of me.... Ouch! Ouch! Green and blue was I beaten, made an object of derision to the beloved woman, so drubbed and maltreated that no tailor's flat-iron can smoothe me out! Upon my very life an attempt was made! But I came out of it with sufficient spirit left to reward you for the deed. Stand forth to-day and sing, do, and see how you prosper. Beaten and bruised as I am, I shall certainly manage to throw you out of time!" Sachs has unperturbedly let him spend himself. "My good friend, you are labouring under a delusion. You are free to attribute to me what actions you please... but I have not the least thought of competing." "Lies and deceit!" roars Beckmesser, "I know better!" Sachs quietly repeats his statement. "What else I have in mind is no affair of yours. But concerning the contest you are in error."—"Not in the contest? No competition-song?"—"Certainly not." Beckmesser produces the piece of music. "Is that your hand?"—"Yes," Sachs owns, amused; "Was that it?"—"I suppose you call it a biblical lay?"—"Nay," laughs Sachs, "any one guessing it to be such would hit wide enough of the mark."—"Well, then?"—"What is it?"—"Do you ask me?"—"What  do you mean?"—"That you are, in all can dour, a rogue of the first magnitude!" Sachs shrugs good-humouredly; "Maybe! I have never, however, pocketed what I found upon another's table. That one may not think evil of you, dear sir, keep the paper, I make you a gift of it." Beckmesser leaps in the air with incredulous joy: "Lord God! A poem of Sachs's!... But soft, that I may not be led into fresh troubles. You have, no doubt," he insinuates, "committed the thing perfectly to memory?"—"Have no uneasiness with regard to that."—"You bestow the sheet on me then outright?"—"To prevent you being a thief."—"And suppose I made use of it?"—"You may do as you please."—"I may sing it, then?"—"If it is not too difficult."—"And if I should please my audience?"—"I should be greatly astonished!"—Beckmesser misses the sly shoester's intention. "You are too modest altogether," he says; and goes on to explain in what dire need he stands of a new composition, since the song sung the night before as a serenade can have no chance, if sung again to-day, of charming the Pognerin, for whom it must be associated, thanks to the cobbler's merry jests, with every undignified circumstance. And how can he, poor belaboured wretch, find the necessary peace of mind to compose a new one? Yet, if he have not a new song, he must give up the hope of marriage. But a song of Sachs's would enable him to overcome every obstacle; if he may have it, let all the disagreements which have kept them apart be forgotten and buried. But,—he suddenly holds in, and puckers his forehead,—if this were a trap? "Even so late as yesterday," he says to Sachs, "you were my enemy. How is it that after all the troubles between us you are to-day kindly disposed toward me?"—"I worked on your shoes until late at night," Sachs disingenuously replies; "is that the sort of consideration one shows an enemy?"—"True, true. But  now give me your word. Whenever and under whatever circumstances you hear that song, you will never by any chance say that it is of your composing."—"I give you my word and oath," Sachs assents, with a spice of wicked glee, "that I will never boast of that song being mine."—Beckmesser's spirits rise to heights of mad exhilaration. "What more do I want? I am saved! Beckmesser need trouble no further!"—"Friend," Sachs warns him, "in all kindness I advise you, study that song carefully. It is of no easy execution."—"Friend Sachs," Beckmesser waives the warning, "you are a good poet, but in all that relates to tones and tunes there is no one goes ahead of me. But now, quickly home, to learn the thing by heart. Hans Sachs, my dear fellow, I have misunderstood you. My judgment was thrown off the track by that adventurer. Just such a one was needed! But we masters made short work of him! Good-bye! I must be off! Elsewhere will I show my gratitude for your sweet friendliness. I will vote for you hereafter, I will buy your works. I will make you Marker!" Effusively he embraces him: "Marker, Marker, Marker Hans Sachs!"

Hans Sachs looks after the departing figure with a meditative smile. "So entirely ill-natured have I never yet found any one. He cannot fail to come to grief of some sort. Many there be who squander their wits, but they reserve enough to keep house with. The hour of weakness comes for each one of us, when he turns fool and is open to parley." So entirely ill-natured Beckmesser has been found that Sachs feels no compunction at letting him run into the pitfall gaping ahead. He is willing to win an advantage by a deception, let him follow his head, why should honest Sachs be tender of him? The joke is not severe beyond his deserts. He has candidly rejoiced that short work was made of that adventurer, Von  Stolzing; why should he not be permitted to encounter the same sort of treatment? Why indeed should not his dishonesty be turned to use? "That Master Beckmesser here turned thief," reflects Sachs, "falls in excellently with my plan."

Eva appears in the doorway, Eva dazzling in her white wedding-dress. "I was wondering," says Sachs to himself at sight of her, "where she could be!" For, as Walther was known to be in the house, it was thought she must before long find some pretext to stand beneath the same roof. She wears a little languid air; last evening was a sore trial to young nerves. A tinge of accusing plaintiveness is in her voice. She is markedly abstracted; her thoughts are wandering, of course, all about the house in search of him. She has her pretext ready, and meets Sachs's warm compliment upon her appearance with a reproachful: "Ah, master! So long as the tailor has done his work successfully, who ever will divine where I suffer inconvenience, where secretly my shoe pinches me?"—"The wicked shoe!" Sachs is for a moment really deceived; "It was your humour yesterday not to try it on."—"You see? I had too much confidence. I was mistaken in the master."—"I am sorry, indeed I am!" He is on his knee at once: "Let me look at it, my child, that I may help you, right off, quick!"—"As soon as I stand on it, it obliges me to go; and as soon as I go, it obliges me to stand."—"Place your foot here on the stool, I will remedy the evil at once. Now, what is wrong with it?"—"You can see, it is too wide!"—"Child, that is pure vanity. The shoe is snug."—"That is what I said, and that is why it pinches my toes."—"Here, at the left?"—"No, the right."—"At the instep?"—"No, the heel."—"What?" he asks incredulously, "Something wrong too with the heel?"—"Ach, master," she exclaims, "do you know better than I where my shoe pinches me?"—"I can only wonder," he replies, good-humouredly,  "that your shoe should be loose and yet pinch you everywhere!" The door of the inner room opens at this moment, and Walther stands upon the threshold in the rich gala costume of a young noble. Eva at sight of him in his splendour utters a cry, and remains spell-bound, gazing. He stops short in the doorway, spell-bound equally at sight of her in her shimmering bride's-robe of white,—and from their eyes, fixed unwaveringly upon each other, their hearts travel forth on luminous beams to meet and mingle. Sachs's back is toward Walther; he has not see him, but the tell-tale light on Eva's face, reflection of a sun-burst, has reported to him of the apparition. He pretends not to see. "Aha! Here is the trouble!" he speaks, as if nothing were; "Now I see what the matter is! Child, you were right, the seams are stiff. Just wait and I will set the matter aright. Stay where you are, I will take the shoe and put it on the last for a minute. After that it will give you no further trouble." He draws the shoe tenderly from her childish foot, and leaves her standing, statue-still, lost in her trance of contemplation, with her foot on the stool, while he takes the shoe to his bench and pretends to work at it. He cannot forbear,—while he plays his little comedy, and those two angelically beautiful beings, saved and aided by him, between whom he shares his big heart, stand hushed, drinking, in oblivion of all, the heavenly nectar of each other's glances,—he cannot forbear teasing the little lady a bit, giving her a little lesson, taking a very mild vengeance on her for the faintly perfidious wiles of yesterday. So he runs on, while making himself busy with her shoe: "Forever to be cobbling! That is my fate. Night nor day, no deliverance for me! Child, listen! I have thought over what shall bring my shoe-making to an end. The best thing I can do will be after all to enter the contest for your hand. I might thus at least win something for myself as a poet!...  You are not listening? Yet it was yourself put the idea in my head.... Oh, very well! I see! Attend to your shoes! If at least," he slyly suggests, without turning, "some one would sing to me while I work! I heard to-day a regularly beautiful song. If just a third verse, equally successful, might be added to it!" Like the hypnotised receiving a suggestion, Walther, ready as a bird, breaks forth singing, his gaze never swerving from Eva: "Did the stars come to a pause in their charming dance? Light and clear, above the clustering locks of the most beautiful of all women, glittered with soft brilliancy a crown of stars..."

"Listen, child," Sachs bids Eva, in the short pause between the verses, "that is a master-song!"

"Miracle upon miracle! A double radiance of day now illumines me, for, even as two suns of purest delight, two divinely beautiful eyes bend their light upon me...."

"That," says Sachs, "is the sort of thing you hear sung in my house nowadays!"

"Oh, gracious vision which my heart found boldness to approach! The wreath, which in the rays of the twin suns shows pale at once and green, tenderly and mildly she weaves about the consort's head. Into the breast of the poet—born erst to joy, now elect to glory,—Paradisal joy she pours, in Love's dream!"

Sachs has been enabled to keep in hand his emotion at the sound of the ecstatic song by diligently busying himself with the shoe, uttering at intervals small insignificant remarks: "Let us see, now, whether I have got my shoe aright. I believe I have finally succeeded, eh? Try it, now!" He has slipped it on to her foot, "Walk on it! Tell me, does it still hurt?" But Eva, who has stood breathlessly gazing and listening to the thrilling accents, new to her, of her lover, when the heart-searching  voice is silent and the tension relaxes, bursts into passionate weeping, sinks on Sachs's breast and clings to him, sobbing. Walther with a quick stride is beside them; impulsively he grasps the hand of the good Sachs, to whom he dimly feels he owes so much,—to whom he owes really more than he dreams.

For a moment not one of them can speak. Then it becomes too much for Sachs, this soft beloved form trembling against his breast; he gently frees himself and allows the burden he relinquishes to slide upon the shoulder of Walther. Like a noble dog shaking his fur, he takes himself away and finds occupation at the further end of the room, trying by his commonplace playful talk to dispel the oppression of a too great emotion. Again he must, all for her good, tease Evchen a bit. "Has not a shoe-maker his fill of troubles?" he grumbles; "Were I not at the same time a poet, not another shoe would I make. So much hard work, such a perpetual calling upon you! This one's shoe is too loose, that one's too tight, here it claps, it hangs at the heel, there it presses, it pinches. The shoe-maker must know everything, mend everything that is torn, and if he be in addition a poet, then verily he is not allowed a moment's peace. But if, on top of all, he be a widower, then he is in all truth regarded as a very fool! The youngest of maidens, if a husband is wanted, request him to apply for them; let him understand them or let him not, it is all the same; let him say yes, let him say no, in the end he is told that he smells of pitch, and is called stupid, cantankerous, and impertinent! I wouldn't care so much," he concludes humourously, "but for my apprentice. He is losing all respect for me!..."

The conscience-smitten girl flings her arms around him again: "Oh, Sachs, my friend, oh, noble heart, how can I ever repay you? Without your love, what were I? What were I,  without you? I should have remained a child forever, had you not awakened me. Through you I won the things one prizes, through you I learned what a soul is. Through you I awoke, through you alone I learned to think nobly, freely, courageously. You guided my growth, and brought me to flowering. Oh, dear master, scold me, well you may!... But yet I was on the right track. For, had I any choice, you, no other, should be my husband. I would hold out the prize to you alone. As it is, I myself have been chosen—to never-before-dreamed-of torment! And if this day I am wedded, it will be without choice of my own. Coercion I have suffered, have suffered violence. You know, master, that the force of it frightened even you!"—"My child," he replies, mildly, collectedly—if feelingly and a little sadly, to her impulsive confession, while a known, poignant strain, like a profound sigh, holds the ear for a moment, an echo from a different opera, "of Tristan and Isolde I know the sorrowful story. Hans Sachs was shrewd and would have none of King Mark's happiness!" With a return to the lightness which is his policy of the moment, he adds, lest emotion too far unnerve them all: "Full time it was that the right one should appear, or I should after all have run into the snare!... Aha! There comes Lene looking for you. Hey, David, aren't you coming?" Nurse and apprentice enter, one from outside and one from within, in their holiday garments.

"The witnesses are here, the sponsors present, now quickly to the christening! Take your places!" Sachs directs. All look at him in wonder. He lays before them his idea of giving, with proper ceremony, a name to the master-song born in his house. It is a poet's fancy, an act of tender superstition on Sachs's part, a form by which he tries to lay a helpful charm or blessing upon the new-born creation on which so much depends;  send it forth equipped as well as possible with spiritual arms, that it may, as he says, "grow great without harm or mishap." The young melody's father, of course, is Walther; the Pognerin and he, Sachs, will stand its sponsors; Lene and David shall be witnesses. But as an apprentice is not a proper witness, David is promoted with the rite of a smart box on the ear from apprentice to journeyman. Sachs suggests as the name of the new-born: Song of Interpretation of the Blissful Morning-Dream, and the young godmother is requested to speak appropriate words over it. The point of what follows is hardly in Eva's words, pretty as they are; the point is that one of the most extraordinary quintets that ever charmed human ear serves as baptismal send-off to the infant melody.

Each of the five singing together expresses, according to custom in concerted pieces, the aspect which the common subject, or the hour, has for him. And so dear Sachs, while Eva and Walther rejoice on their side, and David and Lene—to whom the apprentice's promotion opens vistas of mastership and marriage,—rejoice on theirs, Sachs, adding a less glad but more serene voice to the glorious sheaf of song, reveals his heart,—with no one to listen, for all are singing. "Full fain"—he sighs, "Full fain had I been to sing before the winsome child, but need was that I should place restraint upon the sweet disorderly motions of the heart. A lovely evening dream it was, hardly dare I to think upon it...." But the wreath of immortal youth shall be the poet's reward. Impertinent to pity the sturdy Sachs, who has his poetry and his strong heart. And he has at all moments been wiser than his lovely evening dream. There has been really no renunciation on his part, for he had never allowed himself any serious parleying with the tender temptation. Not for an instant does he present himself as a  sentimental figure; but the generosity with which he employs himself to secure for others the happiness which, though in his good sense he had denied it to himself, his heart had yet caressed in its alluring evening dream, makes him a magnanimous one.

It is time when they have finished to start for the seat of the Saint John's Day celebration. Sachs sends Eva home to her father, orders David to close the shop, and starts along with Walther.

While the curtain is lowered for the change of scene, one of those musical transformations takes place of which there are several instances in these operas. With elements we know, new elements begin to mingle; the old are withdrawn, and presently, musically, as ocularly, the scene is changed. We behold a green meadow on the banks of the Pegnitz; in the distance, the city of Nuremberg. The place is decorated for holiday. There is a great stand for the master-singers and judges in the song-contest. Crowds of holiday-makers are on the spot already, more still arrive by the river in bright boats. The various guilds march in procession with their respective insignia, shoe-makers, tailors, bakers. Apprentices and young girls dance together to a measure daintily gay as their fluttering ribbon-knots. Conspicuous among them is David, so forgetful for the moment of Lene and himself as to imprint a glowing kiss on his partner's cheek. Frivolities stop short with the arrival of the masters. These assemble to the sound of what we will call their unofficial march; then, to their great march, they walk to their places on the stand, Kothner waving the banner of the guild, and the people acclaiming. Pogner escorts Eva to the seat of honour. When all are in their places, a corps of young apprentices, filling the function to-day of heralds, and carrying staffs of office liberally be flowered, call out in Latin the  order for silence. Quiet being established, Sachs, spokesman for the occasion, rises. At once the silence is shattered by cheers for the popular poet, cries of joy at sight of him; there is waving of kerchiefs and hats. To show how every one knows and loves his songs, the people entone one of them all together and sing it jubilantly through; and "Long live Sachs!" they shout, "Hans Sachs! Long live Nuremberg's beloved Hans Sachs!" It is too much for poet to experience unmoved, and Sachs's voice, when the people quiet down at last, to listen, only gradually regains its manly firmness. "You ease your own hearts and burden mine, in offering me, unworthy, too great honour. If I am not to sink crushed beneath it, let it be in the thought that it is the gift of your love. Great honour already has fallen to my portion to-day, in that I have been elected to the dignity of spokesman. And the announcement which I have to make to you, believe me, is full of high honour!" He imparts to them Pogner's project, but with these important modifications or omissions,—and it is they which constitute the stroke Sachs has been preparing. No mention whatever is made of the limitations determined upon by the masters at the last meeting: that the singers contending must be members of the guild, and that the masters exclusively shall be judges. So the offer stands: A lovely girl and a rich inheritance shall be the portion of the singer who before the assembled people shall carry off the prize,—awarded, one naturally understands, since nothing different is stated, by popular acclamation. Free candidature, therefore popular election! And Sachs so presents the thing that the masters cannot very well object, if even they had the courage to chance the awkwardness of a public scene; they can hardly claim it is not fair that they, presumably superior in song to non-masters, should accept the contest on the same terms. Sachs's peculiar audacity  has lain in his taking the risk of a perfectly justified revolt on the part of the masters against his high-handed proceeding; he has counted on the restraining effect of the public occasion; has counted on luck, which proverbially follows the bold. High-handed, his course, undeniably, but too much was at stake for any narrow consideration to hold back Sachs: the happiness of Eva,—of, as he says, at the conclusion of his announcement, "the amiable stainless one, who must never be made to regret that Nuremberg holds in such honour art and its professors!" Hearty applause follows his words. Pogner grasps his hand, moved, infinitely relieved. "Oh, Sachs, my friend, what thanks do I owe you! How did you know what was weighing on my heart?"—"Much was staked upon that cast," replies Sachs; "now pluck up heart!"

He catches sight of Beckmesser, who ever since arriving with the rest of the masters has been feverishly studying his bit of music-sheet, at intervals wiping the desperate sweat from his brow. "Mr. Marker, how are you getting on?"—"Oh, this song!" groans the Marker, "I cannot make head or tail of it, and I have worked over it, in all truth, hard enough!" Sachs shows him, if he but knew it, a way of escape. "My friend, you are not obliged to use it."—"What is the good? My own song, through your fault, is done for. Now be a kind dear fellow, it would be abominable of you to leave me in the lurch."—"It is my opinion that you had better give it up."—"Give it up?... Well, hardly! I can easily beat all the others, if only you will not sing. I am certain that no one will understand the song, but I am building upon your popularity."

Sachs abandons him to his fate, and declares the song-contest open. Kothner summons the contestants, "And let the oldest," he calls, "come first. Master Beckmesser, pray begin. We are late!"

 The little heralds have piled up grassy sods into a sort of pedestal for the singers to stand on. They lead Beckmesser to this. He stumbles in going, and can hardly from nervousness keep his balance on the none too secure elevation. The common people begin to titter. Murmurs fly from one to the other: "What? That one? That is one of the suitors? Why, he can't even walk!... Keep quiet! He is an eminent master! He is the town-clerk.... Lord, what a muff! He is toppling over!... Be still, and stop your jokes; he has a seat and a voice in the committee!..."—"Silentium! Silentium!" calls the chorus of little heralds. And Kothner: "Begin!" Beckmesser, after bowing to the queen of the day and to the assembly, gives forth, haltingly, Walther's song as he remembers it, as it has become with passing through the medium of his mind. What he utters, with many an anxious peep at the crumpled manuscript, is nonsense of the most ludicrous. For every word he substitutes another of distantly the same sound, but different meaning, betraying how he has not understood a syllable. The melody, if so were he had mastered it, has completely dropped from his mind, and what he sings to the eccentric words is his own serenade, but perverted by the interference of the alien influence.

The masters at the end of the first verse look at one another, mystified. "What is that? Has he lost his senses? An extraordinary case! Do our ears deceive us?" The people giggle and make remarks, not too loud as yet.

At the end of the second verse, the masters inquire of one another, "What does it mean? Has he gone mad? His song is one piece of nonsense!" while the people giggle louder and make remarks less and less respectful.

At the end of the third verse, populace and masters burst into peals of laughter. Beckmesser descends from his pedestal  and hurls himself raging at Sachs. "Accursed cobbler! To you I owe this!—The song is none of mine," he excitedly informs the rest. "Sachs here, whom you honour so, your Sachs gave me the song. The scandalous wretch compelled me to sing it, he foisted off his miserable song on me!" He dashes the sorry-looking manuscript at Sachs's feet, and rushes off like one pursued by a nest of hornets.

Amazement reigns among master-singers and people: "A song of Sachs's? The matter grows more and more astonishing! The song is yours? Be so good, Sachs, as to explain!" Sachs has picked up and smoothed out the crumpled page. "The song, as a matter of truth, is not of my composing. Herr Beckmesser is mistaken, in this respect as in others. How he obtained it let him tell you himself. But never should I be audacious to the point of boasting that so fine a song had been written by me, Hans Sachs."—"What?... Fine?... That crazy rubbish? Sachs is joking! He says that in fun!"—"I declare to you, gentlemen, that the song is beautiful. But it is obvious at a single glance that Master Beckmesser misrepresents it. I swear to you, however, that you would hear it with delight were one to sing it in this circle correctly as to word and melody. And one who should be able to do this would by that fact sufficiently prove that he is the author of the song, and that in all justice, if he found just judges, he would be called a master. I have been accused and must defend myself. Let me therefore summon a witness. If any one is present who knows that right is on my side, let him come forward as a witness before this assembly."

Quietly and quickly, with his proudly-borne head and his light proud step, Walther advances. A murmur of pleasure runs through the assembly at sight of him, in his resplendent clothes and plumed hat. The good populace on whom Sachs  had counted do not disappoint him: the gallant young figure finds instantaneous favour. "A proper witness, handsome and spirited," they comment, "from whom something proper may be expected!" The master-singers are not slow to recognise the intruder of yesterday, and to grasp the situation. They accept it good-humouredly enough, with artistic appreciation, no doubt, of Sachs's well managed coup de théâtre. "Ah, Sachs, confess that you are a sly one! But, for this once, have your way!"

"Masters and people are agreed to try the worth of my witness," Sachs announces; "Herr Walther von Stolzing, sing the song. And you, masters, see if he render it aright." He hands them the manuscript.

Walther takes his stand on the flowery mound and starts singing the song we know already. Presently however, the song lifts him away, and he alters, as with that power of inspiration behind him how could he help?—he amplifies, makes more beautiful still. But by that time the masters have become so interested that they withdraw their attention from the manuscript, and follow enthralled the voice of the singer alone.

The song is in its final effect considerably different from the original one, being the fruit of the moment, like Walther's other improvisations. It preserves, however, both in text and tune, a sufficient likeness to the first to prove it of an identical source. It is the same dream he tells, but expressed in different images.

In a blessed love-dream, he had been led to a garden where, beneath a miraculous tree, he had beheld—vision promising fulfilment to love's wildest desire!—a woman of all-surpassing beauty: Eve, in the garden of Paradise....

In a poet's waking dream, he had been lured by the crystal murmur of a spring up a steep path. There, beneath a laurel-tree, he had beheld—and from her hand had received upon his  brow water from the sacred fount,—a woman of a beauty grave and sublime: the Muse of Parnassus....

There is no doubt of the impression the song produces upon the audience. As he pauses between the verses, Walther cannot but seize their irrepressible exclamations. "That is a very different matter! Who would have thought it?" The people surrender heart-wholly. "How it soars,—so sweet, so far from earth, and yet it is all as if one had lived through it himself!"—"It is bold and unusual, but well-rhymed and singable!" the masters admit. The circumstances of this hearing are different enough from yesterday's. The infection of Beckmesser's jealous spite is wanting; softening influences are in the lovely scene, the poetic occasion. The pure ecstasy of the song has a chance to work its spell, to transport them outside of their limitations. They are honourable men, as Sachs assured Walther; they have no parti pris of bolts and shutters against the New; on occasion they can be generous. "Yes, yes, I see, it is quite another thing," they say, "when it is sung aright!"

Sure of victory, already triumphant, Walther leaps to the goal: "Oh, day most rich in blessing, on which I awake from my dream! The Paradise I saw in sleep lies before me in intensified splendour. The murmuring spring lures me along the way which leads to it,—and the One whose home is there, the elect of my heart, the loveliest of earth, my muse and inspiration, as holy and high as she is fair, I have boldly wooed her,—I have won, by the bright light of day, through the victory of song, both Parnassus and Paradise!"

Before the last note has died, all are clamouring together, awarding to Walther the master-prize. "Reach him the wreath! There is no lover or singer like him!" And then Walther's exquisite morning-dream comes true. He kneels before the  woman more graciously beautiful than any he had ever seen, while, bending upon him eyes luminous with joy as twin suns, she places upon his head the wreath of laurel and myrtle, the poet's and lover's crown.

Pogner wrings Sachs's hand. "Oh, Sachs, to you I owe happiness and honour!" He draws a sigh of immense well-being. "Lifted is the weight from my heart!"

There are congratulations and rejoicings. In the general glow of good-humour, voices of master-singers call out to Pogner: "Up Master Pogner, and announce to his lordship his admission to the master-guild!" Pogner takes the decoration of the order, the gold chain with the three medallions, and with the words, "I receive you into the master-guild," is casting it over the victorious singer's head, when Walther starts back, as from something of horridly unpleasant association, and makes a gesture of uncompromising refusal. "Not a master, no!... I mean to be happy without that title!"

An uncomfortable silence follows upon the hard snub. All look toward Sachs, whose face has clouded over with pain. He walks to Walther, and seizing him by the hand, as one might a child, to bring it to reason, vigorously speaks the defence of the order to which he belongs. "Despise not the masters, but, rather, honour their art. The great good you have this day received speaks loud in their praise. Not to your ancestors, however great, not to your coat of arms, your spear or sword, but to the fact that you are a singer, that you have proved yourself a master, you owe to-day your highest happiness. If then you apply to the question a grateful mind: how can that art be of no account which holds such prizes? That our masters cared for it in their own way, that according to their lights they were faithful to it, that is what has preserved it. Though it no longer is aristocratic, as in the times when it was fostered  by princes and courts, yet despite the stress of evil years it has remained German, it has remained sincere. And if it had prospered nowhere but among us, with our burdens and restrictions, you can see in what honour it is held here. What more do you require of the masters?... Have a care! Evil contingencies threaten! Should the day come when the German people and kingdom fall asunder, its princes, seduced by false outlandish splendours, would soon no longer understand the language of their own people, and outlandish error, outlandish vanities, would be sown by them in German soil. In that day, should it come, no one would know any longer what is German and genuine, did it not survive by grace of the German masters! Then honour the German masters! By that spell shall you command good genii! And if you second them by your favour, holy Rome may pass away in smoke: we shall still have our holy German art!"

Nobly and contritely Walther bows his head, and Sachs hangs about his neck the collar of the guild. Eva, fired, takes from her lover's fair curls the laurel-wreath, and presses it upon the grisled head of the master. He stands radiant between the two whose happiness is his work. The populace wave their hats and kerchiefs, cheering, "Hail, Sachs! Hans Sachs! Hail Nuremberg's beloved Hans Sachs!"

One cannot help imagining, in "Meistersinger," a fragment of autobiography, a recollection of days when Wagner must have heard on all sides concerning his work what we still occasionally hear, such words as he puts into the mouth of Beckmesser: "Kein Absatz wo, kein' Coloratur! Von Melodei auch nicht eine Spur!" No pause anywhere for breath! No appropriate colouring! Of melody not the remotest trace!

 No pause anywhere for breath! The headlong rush it has of genius. No appropriate colouring! The colouring happens merely to be new. Of melody not the remotest trace,—when in this opera particularly the composer casts melodies up in the air like golden balls and juggles with them; when, like a conjurer, he goes on taking fresh roses in absurd abundance out of a horn that should naturally have been ten times empty!

If we may translate the personages of this delicious play into types, Walther must stand for the poet and singer by God's grace, fresh young Genius, winged bringer of a new message. Beckmesser for Old School, where it has become fossil, where forms moulded on life have become void and dry, and rules are held sufficient without breath of inspiration. Nay, inspiration, which jostles and disturbs rule, is regarded with suspicion. Inspiration to Beckmesser is as much an intruder as would be Saint Francis coming to visit some Prior of his own order long after the spirit animating the saint had been hardened into forms. Hans Sachs, then, is a sort of Ideal Critic, with affection and allegiance toward the past, but with a fair and open mind toward the new. Walther himself could have no more admirable attitude, more perfect temper, toward Art, than Sachs. It is only to be hoped that in his maturity he was as tolerant and broad-minded.

The wise, the gentle Sachs! It is a pity that in listening to an opera one hears so little of the words, for there fall from his genial lips precepts which it would be really worth while to impress upon the memory, among which could there be a more golden than his word to critics: "When you find that you are trying to measure by your own rules that which does not lie within the compass of your rules, the thing to do is to forget your rules and try to discover the rules of that which you wish to measure!".





When Richard Wagner was only sixteen years of age he read with great enthusiasm one of Hoffmann's novels entitled ‘Sängerkrieg,’ giving a romantic account of the ancient musical contests at the Wartburg in Bavaria. The impression made upon him by this account was first utilised in his opera of ‘Tannhäuser,’ when his attention was attracted also to the picturesque possibilities of the guilds formed by the burghers.

It was not until 1845, however, that he made definite use of this material, and began the sketch for his only comic opera. The first outline was drawn during a sojourn in the Bohemian mountains, when he felt in an unusually light and festive mood. But the work was soon set aside, and was not resumed until 1862, when it was finished in Paris. The score was then begun, and written almost entirely at Biberich on the Rhine, and Wagner himself conducted the overture for the first time at a concert in Leipzig.

This fragment was very well received and there was an ‘enthusiastic demand for a repetition, in which the members of the orchestra took part as much as the audience.’ The opera itself, however, was first performed under Von Bülow, in 1868, at Munich. The best singers of the day took the principal parts, and the result of their united efforts was ‘a perfect performance; the best that had hitherto been given of any work of the master.’

The opera, at first intended as a comical pendant to ‘Tannhäuser,’ is, as we have already stated, Wagner's first and only attempt to write in the comic vein, and the text is full of witty and cutting allusions to the thick-headed critics (at whose hands Wagner had suffered so sorely), who sweepingly condemn everything that does not conform to their fixed standard. During all the Middle Ages, and more especially in the middle of the thirteenth century, the quaint old city of Nuremberg was the seat of one of the most noted musical guilds, or German training schools for poets and musicians. The members of this fraternity were all burghers, instead of knights like the Minnesingers, and held different ranks according to their degree of proficiency. They were therefore called singers when they had mastered a certain number of tunes; poets when they could compose verses to a given air; and Master Singers when they could write both words and music on an appointed theme. The musical by-laws of this guild were called ‘Tabulatur,’ and every candidate was forced to pass an examination, seven mistakes being the maximum allowed by the chief examiner, who bore the title of Marker.

The opera opens in the interior of St. Catharine's church in Nuremberg, where a closing hymn in honour of St. John is being sung. Eva Pogner and her maid, Magdalena, have been present at the service, and are still standing in their pew. But, in spite of her handmaiden's energetic signs and nudges, the young lady pays but little heed to the closing hymn, and turns all her attention upon a handsome young knight, Walther von Stolzenfels, who, as the last note dies away, presses eagerly forward and enters into conversation with her.

To secure a few moments' private interview Eva sends her maid back to the pew, first for her forgotten kerchief, next for a pin which she has lost, and lastly for her prayer-book. During these temporary absences the deeply enamoured youth implores Eva to tell him whether she is still free, and whether her heart and hand are still at her own disposal. Before the agitated girl can answer, the servant comes up, and, overhearing the question, declares that her mistress's hand has already been promised,—a statement which Eva modifies by adding that her future bridegroom is yet to be chosen. As these contradictory answers greatly puzzle Walther, she hurriedly explains that her father, the wealthiest burgher of the town, wishing to show his veneration for music, has promised his fortune and her hand to a Master Singer, the preference being given to the one who will win the prize on the morrow. The only proviso made is that the girl may remain free if the bridegroom does not win her approval, and Eva timidly confesses that she will either marry Walther or remain single all her life. Magdalena, who has been carrying on a lively flirtation of her own with David, the sexton, now suddenly hurries her young mistress off, bidding the knight apply to David if he would learn any more concerning the musical test about to take place, and in the same breath she promises her lover some choice dainties if he will only do all in his power to enlighten and favour her mistress's suitor.

‘Let David supply all
The facts of the trial.—
David, my dear, just heed what I say!
You must induce Sir Walther to stay.
The larder I'll sweep,
The best for you keep;
To-morrow rewards shall fall faster
If this young knight is made Master.’

Walther, who has just passionately declared to Eva that he knows he could become both poet and musician for her sweet sake, since her father has vowed never to allow her to marry any but a Master, now listens attentively to David's exposition of the school's rules and regulations. In the mean while the apprentices come filing in, prepare the benches and chairs, arrange the Marker's curtained box, and gayly chaff each other as they join in an impromptu dance.

They only subside when Pogner, Eva's father, enters with Beckmesser, an old widower, the Marker of the guild, who flatters himself he can easily win the prize on the morrow, and would fain make Pogner promise that the victor should receive the maiden's hand without her consent being asked. He fears lest the capricious fair one may yet refuse to marry him, and decides to make sure of her by singing a serenade under her window that very night. But when he sees the handsome young candidate step forward and receive the support of Pogner, (who has already made his acquaintance, and who evidently is inclined to favour him,) the widower looks very glum indeed, and vindictively resolves to prevent his entrance into the guild by fair means or by foul.

Hans Sachs, the poet shoemaker of Nuremberg, and all the other members of the guild, having now appeared, Beckmesser calls the roll, and Pogner repeats his offer to give his fortune and daughter to the winner of the prize on the morrow, and charges the guild to select their candidates for the contest. Of course the very first thing to be done is to examine the new candidate. Walther, when questioned concerning his teachers and method, boldly declares he has learned his art from nature alone, chooses love as his theme for a trial song, and bursts forth into an impassioned and beautiful strain. But as his words and music are strictly original, and therefore cannot be judged by the usual canons, Beckmesser savagely marks down mistake after mistake, and brusquely interrupts the song to declare the singer is ‘outsung and outdone.’ In proof of this assertion he exhibits his slate, which is covered with bad marks. Hans Sachs, the only member present who has understood the beauty of this original lay, vainly tries to interfere in Walther's behalf, but his efforts only call forth a rude attack on Beckmesser's part, who advises him to reserve his opinions, stick to his last, and finish the pair of shoes which he has promised him for the morrow. Walther is finally allowed to finish his song, but the prejudiced and intolerant citizens of Nuremberg utterly refuse to receive him in their guild, and he rushes out of the hall in despair, for he has lost his best chance to win the hand of his lady love by competing for the prize on the morrow. His departure is a signal for a tumultuous breaking up of the meeting, the apprentices dancing as before, as soon as their masters have departed.

The second act represents one of the tortuous alleys and a long straight street of the quaint old city of Nuremberg. On one side is Hans Sachs's modest shoemaker's shop, on the other the entrance to Pogner's stately dwelling. It is evening, and David, the shoemaker's apprentice, is leisurely putting up the shutters, when his attention is suddenly attracted by Magdalena, who appears with a basket of dainties. She however refuses to give them to him until he tells her the result of the musical examination. When she hears that Walther has failed and has been refused admittance to the guild, she pettishly snatches the basket from his grasp and flounces off in great displeasure. The other apprentices, who in the mean while have slyly drawn near, now make unmerciful fun of David, who stands stupidly in the middle of the street gazing regretfully after her.

This rough play is soon ended by the appearance of Hans Sachs. He orders all the apprentices to bed, and, by a judicious application of his strap, drives David into the house. Quiet has just been restored once more, when Pogner and Eva come sauntering down the street, returning from their customary evening walk, and sit down side by side on the bench in front of their door.

Here Pogner tries to sound his daughter's feelings, and to discover whether she has any preference among the morrow's candidates, reiterating his decision, however, that he will never allow her to marry any one except a man who has publicly won the title of Master Singer. As he cannot ascertain his daughter's feelings, he soon enters the house, while Eva lingers outside watching for Walther's promised visit. She is soon joined by Magdalena, who sorrowfully tells her that Walther has been rejected; but, as she can give no details about the examination, Eva timidly approaches Hans Sachs's window hoping to learn more from him. The cobbler is sitting at work near his window, singing a song of his own composition, and the maiden soon enters into a bantering conversation with her old friend.

In answer to Hans Sachs's questions, she soon confides to him that she cannot endure Beckmesser, and to flatter him into a good humour she archly suggests that, as he too is a widower, he ought to compete for her hand. Hans Sachs, who is far too shrewd not to see through her girlish fencing, now resolves to discover whether she is as indifferent to the young knight, and in order to do so he drops a few careless and contemptuous remarks about him, which drive the young lady away in a very bad temper.

Smiling maliciously at the success of his ruse, the cobbler cheerfully continues his work, while Eva rejoins Magdalena, who informs her that Beckmesser has signified his intention to serenade her that very night. Eva cares naught for the widower's music, and, only intent upon securing a private interview with the handsome young knight, refuses to re-enter the house; so Magdalena leaves her to answer Pogner's call.

A few moments later Walther himself comes slowly down the street; but, in spite of Eva's rapturous welcome, he remains plunged in melancholy, for he has forfeited all hope of winning her on the morrow. The sound of the watchman's horn drives the young people apart, and while Eva vanishes into the house, Walther hides under the shadow of the great linden tree in front of Sachs's house.

His presence has been detected by the shoemaker, who makes no sign, and when the night watchman has gone by, singing the hour and admonishing all good people to go to bed, he perceives a female form glide softly out of the house and join the knight. This female is Eva, who has exchanged garments with Magdalena, and has prevailed upon her to pose at her window during the serenade, while she tries to comfort her beloved.

Crouching in the shade, the lovers now plan to elope that very night, but Hans Sachs overhears their conversation, and when they are about to leave their hiding-place and depart, he flings open his shutter so that a broad beam of light streams across the old street. It makes such a brilliant illumination that it is impossible for any one to pass unseen. This ruse, which proves such a hindrance to the lovers, is equally distasteful to Beckmesser, who has come down the street and has taken his stand near them to tune his lute and begin his serenade. Before he can utter the first note, Hans Sachs, having become aware of his presence also, and maliciously anxious to defeat his plans, lustily entones a noisy ditty about Adam and Eve, hammering his shoes to beat time.

Beckmesser, who has seen Eva's window open, and longs to make himself heard, steps up to the shoemaker's window. In answer to his testy questions why he is at his bench at such an hour, Hans Sachs good-humouredly replies that he must work late to finish the shoes about which he has been twitted in public. At his wit's end to silence the shoemaker and sing his serenade, Beckmesser artfully pretends that he would like to have Sachs's opinion of the song he intends to sing on the morrow, and proposes to let him hear it then. After a little demur the shoemaker consents, upon condition that he may give a tap with his hammer every time he hears a mistake, and thus carry on the double office of marker and of cobbler.

Beckmesser is, however, so angry and agitated that his song is utterly spoiled, and he makes so many mistakes that the cobbler's hammer keeps up an incessant clatter. These irritating sounds make the singer more nervous still, and he sings so loudly and so badly that he rouses the whole neighbourhood, and heads pop out of every window to bid him be still.

David also ventures to peer forth, and, seeing that the serenade is directed to Magdalena, whom he recognises at the window above, his jealous anger knows no bounds. He springs out of the window, and begins belabouring his unlucky rival with a stout cudgel. The Nuremberg apprentices, who are divided up into numerous rival guilds, and who are always quarrelling, seize this occasion to bandy words, which soon result in bringing them all out into the street, where a free fight takes place between the rival factions of journeymen and apprentices.

Magdalena, seeing her beloved David in peril screams aloud, until Pogner, deceived by her apparel, pulls her into the room and closes the window, declaring he must go and see that all is safe. Sachs, who has closed his shutter at the first sounds of the fight, steals out into the street, approaches the young lovers, and, pretending to take Eva for Magdalena, he thrusts her quickly into Pogner's house, and drags Walther into his own dwelling just as the sound of the approaching night watch is heard. As if by magic the brawlers suddenly disappear, the windows close, the lights are extinguished, and as the watchman turns the corner the street has resumed its wonted peaceful aspect.

The third act opens on the morrow, in Hans Sachs's shop, where the cobbler is absorbed in reading and oblivious of the presence of his apprentice David, who comes sneaking in with a basket which he has just received from Magdalena. Taking advantage of his master's absorption, David examines the ribbons, flowers, cakes, and sausages with which it is stocked, starting guiltily at his master's every movement, and finally seeking to disarm the anger he must feel at the evening's brawl by offering him the gifts he has just received.

Hans Sachs, however, good-naturedly refuses to receive them, and after making his apprentice sing the song for the day he dismisses him to don his festive attire, for he has decided to take him with him to the festival. Left alone, Sachs soliloquises on the follies of mankind, until Walther appears. In reply to his host's polite inquiry how he spent the night, Walther declares he has been visited by a wonderful dream, which he goes on to relate. At the very first words the cobbler discovers that it is part of a beautiful song, conforming to all the Master Singers' rigid rules, and he hastily jots down the words, bidding the young knight be careful to retain the tune.

As they both leave the room to don their festive apparel, Beckmesser comes limping in. He soon discovers the verses on the bench, and pockets them, intending to substitute them for his own in the coming contest. Sachs, coming in, denies all intention of taking part in the day's programme, and when Beckmesser jealously asks why he has been inditing a love song if he does not intend to sue for Eva's hand, he discovers the larceny. He, however, good-naturedly allows Beckmesser to retain the copy of verses, and even promises him that he will never claim the authorship of the song, a promise which Beckmesser intends to make use of so as to pass it off as his own.

Triumphant now and sure of victory, Beckmesser departs as Eva enters in bridal attire. She is of course devoured by curiosity to know what has become of her lover, but, as excuse for her presence, she petulantly complains that her shoe pinches. Kneeling in front of her, Sachs investigates the matter, greatly puzzled at first by her confused and contradictory statements and by her senseless replies to his questions. He is turning his back to the inner door, through which Walther has also entered the shop, but, soon becoming aware of the cause of her perturbation, he deftly draws the shoe from her foot, and going to his last pretends to be very busy over it, while he is in reality listening intently to discover whether Eva's presence will inspire Walther with the third and last verse of his song. His expectations are not disappointed, for the knight, approaching the maiden softly, declares his love in a beautiful song.

As the last notes die away, the cobbler joyfully exclaims that Walther has composed a Master Song, calls Eva and David (who has just entered) as witnesses that he composed it, foretells that, if Walther will only yield to his guidance he will yet enable him to win the prize, and, patting Eva in a truly paternal fashion, he bids her be happy, for she will yet be able to marry the man she loves. David, who has been made journeyman so that he can bear witness for Walther, greets the happy Magdalena with the tidings that they no longer need delay, but can marry immediately.

After the four happy young people and Hans Sachs have given vent to their rapture in a beautiful quintette, they adjourn to the meadow outside of the town, where the musical contest is to take place. The peasants and apprentices are merrily dancing on the green, and cease their mirthful gyrations only when the Master Singers appear. Hans Sachs addresses the crowd, reads the conditions of the test, proclaims what the prize shall be, and concludes by inviting Beckmesser to come forth and begin his song. The young people assembled hail this elderly candidate with veiled scorn, and Beckmesser, painfully clambering to the eminence where the candidates are requested to stand, hesitatingly begins his lay. The words, with which he has had no time to become familiar, are entirely unadapted to his tune, so he draws them out, clips them, loses the thread of the verses, and fails in every sense.

In his chagrin at having made himself ridiculous, and in anger because his colleagues declare the words of his song have no sense, he suddenly turns upon Hans Sachs, and, hoping to humiliate him publicly, accuses him of having written the song. Hans Sachs, of course, disowns the authorship, but stoutly declares the song is a masterpiece, and that he is sure every one present will agree with him if they hear it properly rendered to its appropriate tune. As he is a general favourite among his townsmen, he soon prevails upon them to listen to the author and composer and decide whether he or Beckmesser is at fault.

Walther then springs lightly up the turfy throne, and, inspired by love, he sings with all his heart. The beautiful words, married to an equally beautiful strain, win for him the unanimous plaudits of the crowd, who hail him as victor, while the blushing Eva places the laurel crown upon his head. Pogner, openly delighted with the favourable turn of affairs, gives him the badge of the guild, and heartily promises him the hand of his only daughter. As for Hans Sachs, having publicly proved that his judgment was not at fault, and that he had been keen enough to detect genius even when it revealed itself in a new form, he is heartily cheered by all the Nurembergers, who are prouder than ever of the cobbler poet who has brought about a happy marriage:—

‘Hail Sachs! Hans Sachs!
Hail Nuremberg's darling Sachs!’







A Dutch sea-captain, so long before the date of the play that his story at the time of it is an old legend, finding himself baffled during a storm in his effort to double certain cape, swore a great oath that he would persist to the end of time. The Devil heard him and took him at his word. He was doomed eternally to sail the seas. But an angel of the Lord interposed, and obtained for him a condition of release: Every seven years he might land and woo a woman; if he could find one to love him faithfully until death, the curse upon him would be defeated, he would be saved.

The Ouverture paints a great storm at sea, and contrasts the two ships that are drawing toward the same bay of refuge in the coast, the phantom ship with its crew of ghosts and their sinister sea-cry, the common substantial other craft with its comfortable flesh-and-blood sailors.

As the curtain rises upon the turbulent sea and black weather, the Norwegian vessel has got safely within the haven. While the sailors furl sails, cast cables, the captain, Daland, comes ashore and climbs upon a rock to study the landscape. He recognises the spot, seven miles from the harbour of home where his daughter Senta awaits his return, whom he had thought by this hour to be clasping in his arms. "But he who counts upon the wind," he philosophises, "is counting upon the mercy of Satan!" There is nothing to do but wait until the  storm subsides. He returns on board, sends the tired crew below to rest after their long struggle with the storm, leaves the watch to the mate, and himself retires to the cabin. The mate, alone on deck, after going the round, seats himself at the helm. The violence of the storm has somewhat diminished, the sky has lightened. To keep awake, he sings,—a love-song, ingenuous as sailors are; which does not however fulfil its purpose, for the singer, more and more oppressed with drowsiness, drops off before the last bar.

The storm once more gathers force, the sky darkens. A ship appears in the distance, with blood-red sails and black masts. It rapidly nears shore and noiselessly turns into the bay beside Daland's. The anchor drops with a crash. The Norwegian mate starts, but, half-blind with sleep, discerning nothing to take alarm at, drops off again. Without a sound the crew of the strange ship furl their sails and coil their ropes. The captain, singularly pale, black-bearded, in a black Spanish costume of long-past fashion, lands alone. It is he whom ballads call the Flying Dutchman. Seven years have passed since he last touched land. His opportunity has returned, to reach out for salvation. He comes ashore wearily, perfunctorily, without hope, or doubt but that the ocean will soon be receiving him back for continued desperate wanderings. "Your cruelty, proud ocean," he apostrophises it, "is variable, but my torment eternal! The salvation which I seek on land, never shall I find it. To you, floods of the boundless main, I shall be found faithful until your last wave break and your last moisture dry!

"How often—" he cries, as in fixed despair he gazes back over the past, "How often, filled with longing to die have I cast myself into the deepest abysses of the sea, but death, alas! I could not find! Against the reefs where ships find dreadful  burial I have driven my ship, but it found no grave! Inciting him to rage, I have defied the pirate—I hoped to meet with death in fierce battle. 'Here,' I have cried, 'show your prowess! Full of treasure are ship and boat! But the wild son of the sea trembling hoisted the sign of the cross and fled. Nowhere a grave! Never to die! Such is the dreadful sentence of damnation. Oh, tell me, gentle angel of God's, who won for me the possibility of salvation, was I, wretch, the toy of your mockery when you showed me the means of redemption? Vain hope! Fearful, idle illusion! There is no such thing more upon earth as eternal fidelity, One hope alone is left me, one hope alone which nothing can destroy. However long the seed of earth endure, it must come to final dissolution. Day of Judgment, end of the world! When shall you dawn upon my night? When shall it sound, the trump of doom, at which the earth will crumble away? When all the dead arise, then shall I pass into nothingness. O ye worlds, a term to your course! Eternal void, receive me!" From the hold of the phantom-ship the unseen crew echo his prayer: "Eternal void, receive us!"

He is leaning against a rock, absorbed in sombre meditation, when Daland, emerging from the cabin to take a look at the weather, becomes aware of the looming neighbour. He rouses the sleep-drunken mate. The latter, shocked wide-awake by the conviction of negligence, catches up a speaking-trumpet and calls to the strange ship lying at anchor close by, "Who is there?" There comes no sound in reply, save from the echo. "Answer!" shouts the mate; "Your name and colours!" Silence, as before. "It appears they are quite as lazy as we!" Daland remarks, finding nothing particularly noteworthy in the unresponse, since his own crew are asleep too after their long toil. Catching sight of the dark figure on shore which he  rightly takes to be the captain, he prevents the mate's further investigation, and turns his questions to this one: "Halloo, seaman! Give your name! Your country?" The answer comes after a long pause, almost as if the speaker had lost the habit of human intercourse and uttered himself with difficulty. "I have come from afar. Do you, in such stress of weather, deny me anchorage?"—"God forbid! The seaman knows the friendly courtesies of hospitality!" cries Daland. Joining the stranger ashore, "Who are you?" he asks. "Hollander."—"God be with you! So you too were driven by the hurricane on to the bare rocky coast? I had no better fate. My home is but a few miles from here; I had nearly reached it when I was forced to turn and sail away. Tell me, whence are you come? Has your ship sustained damage?"—"My ship is strong, nor likely to meet with damage," the Hollande, answers, as drearily as mysteriously; "Driven by storms and adverse winds I have been wandering over the face of the waters—how long? I hardly could tell. I have long ceased to count the years. I hardly could name all the lands I have approached. One land alone, the one which of all I long for, I can never find,—the land of home! Grant me for a short period the hospitality of your house, and you shall not rue the act of friendliness. My ship is richly laden with treasures from every region and latitude. If you will traffic with me, you may be sure of your advantage."—"How wonderful!" says Daland, impressed; "Am I to take you at your word? An evil star, it would seem, has so far pursued you. I am ready to do what I can to serve you. But—may I ask what is the cargo of your ship?" The Hollander makes a sign to the watch. His sailors bring ashore a chest. "The rarest treasures you shall see, precious pearls and noblest gems," the stranger speaks to the wide-eyed Daland. "See for yourself, and be convinced of the value  of the price I offer for the hospitality of your roof." The lid of the chest is lifted. Daland stares amazed at the contents. "What? Is it possible? These treasures?—But who is so rich as to have an equivalent to tender?"—"Equivalent? I have told you—I offer this for a single night's lodging. What you see, however, is an insignificant portion of that which the hold of my ship contains. Of what avail to me is the treasure? I have neither wife nor child, and my home I can never find. All my riches I will give you, if you will afford me a home with you and yours." Daland cannot believe that he hears aright. "Have you a daughter?" inquires the Hollander. "I have, indeed, a most dear child."—"Let her be my wife!" Again Daland cannot believe his ears, cannot be sure whether he is asleep or awake. It is suggested later that he cares unduly for wealth; but, without supposing him avaricious, we can realise how what is offered at this moment should seem such to his simple sailor mind that a man must be outright mad not to grasp at it for the inconceivable happiness and splendour of himself and house. No flesh-and-blood girl, no daughter of the common fellow he is, can to his mind be a reasonable equivalent, really, for the mass of riches proposed in exchange for her. Daland nor she had probably in all their lives owned a precious stone. And this chest is full to the brim of jewels, and that ship contains more still a hundred-fold, and the man asking for his daughter's hand is clearly a hypochondriac, infinitely sea-weary, who sees in the prospect of home and settled life the whole desire of his heart, cloyed with riches and sick of wandering. If he, Daland, should hesitate, the suitor might change his mind. As for the daughter, she will either see the thing as he sees it,—how could human woman see it differently?—or, dutiful, will be ruled by his superior wisdom. "Indeed, stranger, I have a lovely daughter;  devoted to me with the most faithful filial love. She is my pride, my highest wealth, my comfort in evil days, my joy in good."—"May her love," the Hollander exclaims with feeling, "never fail her father! True to him, she will be true likewise to her husband."—"You give jewels, priceless pearls," remarks Daland, with an attempt at dignity that does his self-respect good, no doubt, without greatly impressing us, "but the greatest treasure of all is a faithful wife!"—"And you will give me such a one?"—"You have my word. Your fate moves my sympathy. Freehanded as you are, you give assurance of magnanimity and high-mindedness. The like of you I have ever wished for son-in-law, and even were your fortune not so great, I would choose no other."—"My thanks. And shall I see the daughter this very day?"—"The next favourable wind will take us home. You shall see her, and if she pleases you..."—"She shall be my wife.—Will she prove to be my angel?" he sighs aside; "Do I still permit myself the folly of an illusion that an angel's heart will pity me? Hopeless as I am, I yet follow the lure of hope!"

"The wind is propitious, the sea is calm. We will heave anchor at once, and speedily reach home," says Daland. "If I may beg,—do you sail ahead," the Hollander suggests. "The wind is fresh, but my crew is spent. I will let them rest awhile and then will follow."—"But our wind?"—"Will continue for some time blowing from the south. My ship is swift and will surely overtake yours."—"You believe so? Very well! Let it be as you wish. Farewell, and may you meet my child before the end of day!" The sailors have lifted the anchor and set the sails. Daland goes on board. With the crew singing cheerily together, the Norwegian ship starts upon the homeward course. The Hollander returns to his silent deck.


The scene is next laid in the interior of Daland's house, the large living-room, where a flock of girls sit around the fire with their spinning-wheels. Beside the maps and pictures of nautical interest forming the natural decoration of a sea-captain's house, there hangs on the wall the picture of a pale black-bearded man, dressed in the Spanish fashion of years long gone.

The girls are spinning busily, singing while they work. They are the sweethearts of the lads on Daland's ship, and their song is of sailors at sea who are thinking of maidens at home, and if diligent turning of the spinning-wheel might influence the wind—oh, but they would speedily be back in harbour!

One only of the young girls in the room is not working; Senta, letting her wheel stand idle, leans back abstractedly in a great armchair, with her eyes fixed upon the picture of the pale man. Her old nurse, Mary, who spins diligently herself and keeps the rest at their task, chides her, not very severely, for her idleness. The girls in their song have been felicitating themselves that if they are zealous at their spinning their lovers will give them the golden earnings they bring home from the south. "You naughty child," Mary says to Senta, at the end of the song, "if you do not spin, you will receive no present from your Schatz!" Senta's companions laugh at this. "There is no need for her to hurry. Her sweetheart is not out at Sea. He brings home no gold, he brings home game. Everyone knows in what the fortune of a huntsman consists!" Senta does not stir; it is doubtful if she have heard. Without removing her eyes from the picture of the pallid man, she hums softly to herself certain fragment of old ballad. "Look at  her!" the nurse takes fuller account of her attitude and abstraction; "Look at her! Always in front of that picture! Do you intend to dream away your whole young life before that portrait?" Senta answers gently, still without taking her eyes from the pale face: "Why did you tell me who he is, and relate his story?... The unhappy soul!" At the heavily burdened sigh upon which she utters the last words, "God have you in His care!" exclaims Mary, vaguely troubled. But the girls, who are in merry mood, laugh again. "Why, why, what is that we hear? She sighs for the pale man! There you see what a picture can do. She is in love. Please Heaven no mischief result! Erik is somewhat hot of temper. Please God he do no damage! Say not a word, else, aflame with wrath, he may shoot the rival from the wall!" Their chatter finally reaching her consciousness, Senta turns to them, annoyed. "Oh, keep still! Stop your silly laughing! Do you wish to make me really cross?" Further to tease her, they drown her voice with the refrain of their spinning-song: "Mutter and hum, good little wheel, cheerily, cheerily turn! Spin, spin a thousand threads, good little wheel, mutter and hum!"—"Do stop that foolish song," begs Senta, "my ears are dazed with your muttering and humming. If you wish me to attend, find something better to do!"—"Very well," say the girls, "then sing yourself!" As a bird to the nest, Senta returns to the subject engrossing her mind. "Hear what I suggest: let Mary sing us the ballad." All understand what ballad is meant. "God forbid!" cries the nurse; "It is likely I will do it! Children, let the Flying Dutchman rest!"—"Yet how often have I heard the ballad from you!" sighs Senta; and, as the nurse continues obdurate, "I will sing it myself," she decides, "and do you girls listen. Could I but bring home to your hearts the wretchedness of the poor soul's fate, it could  not fail to move you to compassion!" The girls accept the offer with delight, push aside their spinning-wheels and gather around the singer. Only the old nurse, whose instinct has somehow caught alarm, and who has conceived a curious dislike and fear of this pallid hero of legend, refuses her countenance and testily goes on spinning by herself in the chimney-corner.

"Have you met the ship on the seas," sings Senta, "blood-red of sail and black of mast? Upon the high deck, the pale man, the ship's master, keeps incessant watch.—Hui! How the wind blows! Yohohey!—Hui! How it sings in the stays! Yohohey!—Hui! Like an arrow flies the ship, without stop, without rest! Yet might deliverance one day come to the pale man, could he find a woman upon earth who should love him faithfully until death. Oh, when, pale sea-farer, when shall you find her? Pray to Heaven that a woman soon may keep her troth to him!

"With contrary wind, in the rage of the storm, he determined to double a cape. He cursed and swore in mad mood: 'Not to all eternity will I desist!'—Hui! And Satan heard it. Yohohey!—Hui! Took him at his word. Yohohey!—Hui! And now, a lost soul, he sails the seas, without stop, without rest. How the unhappy man, however, might find deliverance upon earth, an angel of the Lord showed him,—how he might earn eventual salvation. Oh, that you might, pale sea-farer, find it! Pray to Heaven that a woman soon may keep her troth to him!

"He casts anchor every seven years, and to woo a woman comes ashore. But never yet has he found a faithful one.—Hui! Spread the sails! Yohohey!—Hui! Lift the anchor! Yohohey!—Hui! False love, false troth! Back to sea, without stop, without rest!..." Senta who has been singing  with a spirit and expressiveness full unusual as applied to a threadbare old ballad, has at this point reached such a pitch of emotion that her voice fails and she sinks in her chair exhausted. The girls, whom her earnestness has impressed into a realisation of the facts sung by her, who have for a moment had through her eyes the vision of that lost soul's wretchedness, take up the ballad where she drops it, and sing on in tones which confess the contagion of her sympathy: "Ah, where tarries she, to whom God's angel might guide you? Where shall you find her who will be your own true and loyal love until death?" With an air of illumination, Senta starts to her feet and finishes the song with words which rise inspired to her lips: "Let me be that woman! My truth shall work your deliverance! God's angel guide you to me! Through me you shall reach salvation!" She speaks so passionately, appears so strangely, that her companions feel a sort of puzzled alarm. The old nurse, frightened, rushes to her side with the cry: "Heaven help us!" and all together they try to bring her to her normal self, calling in tones of protest, "Senta! Senta!"

Unnoticed of the rest, Erik, the huntsman, has during the last moments been standing in the doorway. He has heard Senta's exclamation, witnessed her strange condition, and affected by it differently from all the others cries, heart-struck, "Senta, Senta, are you determined to destroy me?"—"Oh, help us, Erik," the others appeal to him; "She is out of her senses!" The nurse, who has felt her blood unaccountably running chill, turns angrily to the picture on the wall: "Abominable picture, out of the house you shall go just as soon as the father comes home!"—"The father has arrived," Erik informs them; "From the cliff I saw his ship come in." All minds veer promptly from the subject which had been engrossing them, to this delightful one of the arrival. The girls are for running  to the harbour upon the instant. Mary prevents them. "Stop! Stop! You shall remain quietly at home. The sailor-folk will be arriving with hollow stomachs. To the kitchen and cellar! No time to waste! Let curiosity torment you as it may, first of all go and do your duty!" She drives them before her from the room, and follows.

Senta is going, too, but Erik bars the way, pleading, "Stay, Senta, stay for a moment! Release me from this torture—or, if you will, destroy me quite!" She affects, as the simplest girl must, not to understand. "Erik, what is it?"—"Oh, Senta, speak, say what is to become of me! Your father is coming home. Before starting upon a new voyage, he is sure to wish to carry out what he so often has spoken of..."—"And what is that?"—"To give you a husband. My heart with its unchanging love, my humble fortune, my hunter's luck, these things being all I have to offer, will not your father repulse me? And if my heart breaks with its misery, tell me, Senta, who is there will speak a word for me?" He pleads warmly, young Erik; he is at that age and point in life when not to obtain the woman he has set his heart upon seems a calamity such as will extinguish the sun, make the rest of life worthless; when refusal signifies destruction, and he is not ashamed of this as a weakness, but proud of it as a strength, and uses it as the most pertinent argument, and feels no abjectness in confessing himself at the mercy of a girl, a toy in her frail hands. He is the only lover of this type in the Wagnerian assortment, and, it happens, the only one who fails. Senta, we are permitted to divine, had not always felt as removed from him as at this moment. It is but lately, no doubt, with the turning perhaps of her seventeenth year, at some fuller opening into womanhood, that her romantic dream has taken such possession of her, and his warm-blooded urgent love become something  to withdraw from, without clearly formulated reason, by an instinct. She tries now to silence him, to put him off with the excuse that she must hurry to her father. But he is not to be put off. To detain her, he reproaches. "You wish to avoid me!"—"I must go to the harbour!"—"You shrink from me?"—"Oh, let me go!"—"You shrink from the wound which yourself you made, the madness of love you inspired? Oh, you shall hear me in this hour, shall hear the last question I will ask. When my heart is breaking with anguish, will not Senta herself speak a word for me?" She applies herself then to quiet and comfort such evident suffering; he is after all flesh-and-blood and close at hand, the other a dream. Her sentiments besides are not very clear even to herself. "Do you doubt my heart?" she asks reassuringly; "Do you doubt that it is full of kindness toward you? What is it, tell me, makes you so unhappy? What suspicion darkens your mind?"—"Oh, your father's heart is set upon riches. And you, Senta, how should I count upon you? Do you ever grant one of my requests? Do you not daily hurt and afflict my heart?"—"Afflict your heart?..." she asks in wonder. "What am I to think?" he goes on to show the jealous core of his unhappiness; "That picture..."—"What picture?..."—"Will you renounce your extravagant imaginings?"—"Can I keep from my face the compassion I feel?"—"And that ballad... you sang it again to-day."—"I am a child," she excuses herself, "and sing I know not what! Are you afraid of a song, a picture?"—"You are so pale!" he replies, studying her face dubiously; "Tell me, have I no reason to be afraid?"—"Should I not be moved by the terrible doom of that unhappiest man?"—"But my sufferings, Senta, do they no longer move you?"—"Oh, vaunt not your sufferings!" she cries, almost impatiently; "What can your sufferings be? Do you know what the fate  is of that poor soul?" She draws him before the picture, and while indicating it to him gazes raptly at it herself; "Can you not feel the woe, the inexpressible deep misery in the eyes which he turns upon me? Oh, the calamity which robbed him eternally of rest, the sense of it pierces my heart!" Veritable alarm seizes Erik at the earnestness she exhibits, an alarm to something more vital even than his alert jealousy, a terrible fear for her as apart from himself. "Woe's me!" he exclaims, "I am reminded of my ill-boding dream! God have you in his care, Satan has cast his toils about you!"—"What frightens you so?" she asks wearily. It is as if excess of emotion had brought on an immense fatigue; she sinks exhausted in the grand-sire's chair. "Let me tell you of it, Senta. It is a dream, hear and be warned by it." She leans back with closed eyes, and as he narrates it is as if having fallen asleep she saw in dream what he describes. "Upon the high cliff I lay dreaming. Beneath me I saw the expanse of the sea; I could hear the surf where it breaks foaming against the beach. I espied a foreign ship close to shore, a strange ship, extraordinary. Two men drew toward land. One of them, I saw it, was your father."—"And the other?" she asks, like a somnambulist, without opening her eyes. "I recognised him well enough, with his black doublet and pale face...."—"And his mournful glance...." she adds, still with closed eyes. Erik points at the picture: "The sea-man there."—"And I?..." she asks. "You came out of the house. You ran to meet your father. But hardly had you reached the pair, when you cast yourself at the feet of the stranger. I saw you clasp his knees...." "He lifted me...."—"To his breast. Passionately you clung to him, and kissed him ardently...."—"And then?" He gazes at her with a sort of terror, as at something unnatural, in her appearance of sleep. "I saw you fly together over the  sea." She seems to wake with a start. "He is looking for me!" she cries in tones of extraordinary conviction, "I shall see him! My destiny it is to perish with him!" Erik recoils: "Horrible! Ha, I see it full plainly at last, she is gone from me! My dream boded true!" In uncontrollable despair he flees from the house. Senta, her excitement gradually dying, remains gazing at the picture. She is murmuring softly to herself the burden of the ballad: "Ah, may you, pale sea-farer, find her! Pray to Heaven that a woman soon may keep her troth to him!"—when the door opens and Daland and the Hollander appear at the threshold. Serita's eyes turn from the picture to the stranger entering. A cry escapes her lips and her eyes fasten on his face. His eyes, too, as he slowly steps into the room, bend steadfastly upon hers. They gaze as if the same spell had fallen upon both.

The father, after a moment watching from the doorway, waiting for his daughter to run as usual to greet him, speaks, not altogether displeased: "My child, you see me standing at the door, and, what is this? No embrace? No kiss? You stand in your place as if bewitched? Do I deserve, Senta, such a welcome?"—"God be with you!" she murmurs faintly, and, as he comes nearer, asks underbreath, without removing her eyes from the figure—the counterpart of the picture on the wall, "Father, speak, who is the stranger?" The father smiles: "You are eager to know? My child, give kind welcome to the stranger. A sea-man he is, like myself, and solicits our hospitality. Homeless for long years, incessantly bound on long voyages, in far-off lands he has gathered vast treasures. An exile from home, he offers rich compensation for a place at the fireside. Speak, Senta, should you be sorry that the stranger should dwell with us?" To the Hollander, while the daughter without a word's reply continues in her fixed contemplation  of his face, he speaks aside: "Tell me, did I praise her too highly? Now you see her in person, does she rightly please you? Must I add more still to my overflowing praise? Confess that she is an ornament to her sex!" The Hollander answers by an expressive gesture, his eyes fast all the while upon the maiden's face. The father turns anew to the daughter, and, without further preamble: "My child, let it please you to show favour to this man. He requests a goodly gift from your heart. Reach him your hand, for he shall be your bridegroom. If you are of a like mind with your father, to-morrow he shall be your husband." She shrinks, painfully, at this bluntness and precipitancy. The father, not noticing, unpockets jewels to show her. "Look at this circlet, behold these clasps. The sum of his possessions makes these the merest trifle. How, my precious child, should you not care for them? And it will all be yours for the exchanging of rings with him. But... neither of you speaks...." He looks at them in turn. They have neither heeded nor heard, they are lost in contemplation of each other. "Am I in the way?" They do not hear that either. "I clearly am," he says to himself. "The best will be to leave them alone together." With a parting private word to the daughter: "May you win this noble man! Believe me, such good fortune is not common!" and to the Dutchman: "I leave you to yourselves, and betake myself away. Believe me, fair as she is, she is no less true than fair!" he discreetly withdraws.

The strange predestined lovers stand for long moments steadily gazing at each other, almost unconsciously, without motion to draw nearer—or further apart. Each of them voices his thoughts, not speaking to the other, but, dreamily, to himself. He murmurs: "As if out of the distance of long-past days speaks to me the semblance of this maiden. Even  such as through dread eternities I dreamed her, I behold her now here before my eyes. From the black depths of my night I too have ventured to raise my longing eyes upon a woman. Satan's malice left me a living heart, alas, that I might never lose consciousness of my torment. The sullen glow which I feel burning in my breast, should I, unhappy man, call it love? Ah, no, the longing it is for redemption! Oh, might redemption be my portion through such an angel as she is!" And she speaks, to herself, half-aloud: "Have I sunk into a wonderful dream? Is this which I see an illusion? Or have I until this moment lived in a world of dream, and is this the day of awakening? He stands before me, his features stamped with sorrow. His unparalleled sufferings silently call to me. Can the voice of deepest pity deceive? As I have so often beheld him he stands before me now. This sorrow which burns within my bosom, this going out of desire toward him, what must I call it? Oh, that the salvation which he goes seeking without rest might reach the unhappy man through me!"

He moves a little nearer to her at last, and asks with the simplicity and sincerity which befit the hour so fraught with fate, "Will you not reject your father's choice? That which he promised—what? shall it hold good? Could you forever give yourself to me? You could hold out your hand to the stranger? I might, after a life of torment, find in your truth the long craved-for peace?" She answers upon the instant, singularly sure of her heart: "Whoever you may be, and whatever ruin your cruel fate reserve for you, and whatever the destiny I thereby call upon myself, my obedient duty shall ever be to my father's wish."—"What, so unconditionally? My sorrows, is it possible, have moved you to such deep compassion?"—"Sorrows how measureless!" she exclaims to herself.  "Oh, might I bring you consolation for those!" And he, overhearing: "Oh, gentlest sound through the warring darkness! An angel are you! The love of an angel can still the pain even of lost souls! If I may hope for salvation, Almighty, let it be through this angel!" But in the uplift of hope reviving, a remembrance gives him pause,—remembrance of the whole condition of his deliverance; and, a strain of solemnity mingling with his grateful tenderness, he warns her: "Could you apprehend the fate which, in belonging to me, with me you must share, you would pause to consider the sacrifice you bring in vowing to be true. Your youth would flee shuddering at prospect of the fate to which you would have doomed it, if the fairest virtues of womankind, if sacred fidelity and truth, be not yours." She replies with no less assurance than before, and her air of exalted inspiration: "Well do I know the high duties of woman. Be comforted, unhappy man! Let fate do justice of those who defy her decree. In my soul is written the supreme law of truth, and unto him to whom I pledge my faith this one truth it is which I give: Truth until death!"

Like balm the words fall upon his wounded spirit. The powers of darkness, it seems, are to be defeated; the evil star, it seems, has set and the star of hope arisen. "Ye angels," he calls to them, "who had quite forsaken me, confirm her heart in its constancy!" And she, her heavenly pity prays: "Let him have reached home at last! Let his ship rest here eternally in port!"

Daland re-enters. "By your leave, my people outside can hardly wait. Upon each home-coming, you must know, we hold a merry-making. I would fain add to the cheer of the feast, and am come, with that in mind, to ask if it might not be I made into a betrothal feast?—As far as I see," he turns to the Hollander, "you have wooed to your heart's purpose?—And  you, my child," to Senta, "are you ready, too?" Senta with solemn resolution reaches her hand to the Dutchman. "Here is my hand, and here, never to repent it, I plight my troth until death!" The Hollander, taking her hand, cries defiance to the mockery of Hell through this fast truth of hers. At Daland's summons thereupon, "To the feast, and let every one to-day make merry!" the three turn to go and take share—even, incredibly, the Dutchman,—in legitimate human rejoicings.


Close by Daland's house lies the rock-bound bay into which his ship and the Dutchman's have come to anchor. The two crafts are seen in the clear night, lying at a short distance from each other, hard by the shore. The Norwegian is brightly illuminated, the sailors are on deck making holiday. The Hollander presents a striking contrast: not a light does it show, not a sound issues from it; it looms shadowy and forbidding.

"Steersman, leave the watch!" sing the roistering Norway lads; "Furl the sails! Anchor fast! Come along, steersman! No wind is there to fear nor adverse coast, and we mean to be right jolly. Each of us has a sweetheart on shore, excellent tobacco and superior brandy-wine. Rocks and storms are far outside, we laugh at rocks and storms! Steersman, come and drink!" They dance on deck, marking time with their heavy boots.

From Daland's house comes the bevy of girls we know, laden with generous baskets of food and drink. Finding their sweethearts so merrily employed, "Just look at them!" they say; "As we live, they are dancing! The ladies do certainly  seem superfluous!" With a playful feint of pique they pass without further notice the lighted, noisy ship, and go toward the Hollander, whose blood-tinted sails and black masts form but a grim silhouette against the star-sown sky. "Hi, girls,—stop! Where are you going?" the simple-minded sailors cry after them. But the girls do not abandon their small vengeance of serving the strangers first. "You have a mind to fresh wine, have you not? And is not your neighbour to have something too? Are the liquor and the feast to be solely for you?" The young mate rises to the occasion and has a fling at these suddenly-instituted rivals: "Indeed, indeed, take something, do, to the poor lads. They appear to be quite faint with thirst!" All turn their attention squarely now to the foreign ship and take account of the strangeness of its conditions. "Not a sound on board! And see, not a light! No sign of the crew!"—"Halloo, sea-folk!" the maidens shout, "Halloo! Do you need lights? Where are you? We cannot see...."—"Don't wake them," chaff the Norwegians, "they are still asleep!" The girls go close to the ship and shout again. "Halloo, sea-folk! Halloo, answer!" There is along silence. The sailor-lads have the laugh now on the girls. "Ha, ha! In very truth, they are dead. They are in no need of food and drink." But the girls will not accept their defeat. "What?" they continue calling to the invisible Dutch crew; "Are you so lazy as to have gone already to bed? Is it not holiday-time for you, too?"—"They lie fast in their lairs," jest the Norwegians; "like dragons they guard their treasure!"—"Halloo, sea-folk!" persist the girls; "Do you not wish for golden wine? Surely you are thirsty?"—"They do not care to drink, they do not care to sing," the sailor-lads tease; "there is no light burning in all their ship!"—"Say," the girls continue addressing the unresponding crew, "have you  no sweethearts on land? Do you not wish to come and dance on the friendly shore?"—"They are already old, they are pale instead of ruddy," put in the sailors, "and their sweethearts, they are dead!"—"Halloo!" the girls call louder, "Seafolk, wake up! We are bringing you food and drink to heart's content!" The sailors good-humouredly unite in chorus: "They are bringing you food and drink to heart's content!" Another long pause, unbroken by the faintest sound from the Dutch ship. The girls are becoming uneasy. "It is a fact," they speak lower, struck; "They seem to be all dead. They do not need food and drink." But the boys feel jollier than ever. "You have heard of the Flying Dutchman," they cry, by way of wild joke; "His ship, big as life and true to life, you behold there!"—"Then don't wake the crew!" say the girls; "They are ghosts, we could swear!" The sailor-lads take their turn now shouting questions, humourously intended, at the sombre hull: "How many hundreds of years have you already been at sea? Storm and rocks have no terrors for you! Have you no letters, no commissions for shore? We will see that they come to our great-great-grandfathers' hands!" In the extravagance of fun, finally, raising their voices to the very loudest, "Halloo, sea-folk!" they cry; "Spread your sails! Give us a specimen of the Flying Dutchman's speed!" At the prolonged silence following, the girls shrink away, at last really frightened. "They do not hear. It makes our flesh creep. They do not want anything. Why do we continue to call?"—"That is it, you girls," the sailors heartily agree, "let the dead rest in peace! And let us who are alive be happy!" The girls hand up to them the savoury baskets. "There, take, since your neighbours disdain it."—"But what? Are you not coming on board yourselves?" inquire the sailors, when the girls do not as expected follow. It is early still;  they will return a little later, they promise, Till then let the boys drink and dance, but be careful not to disturb the repose of their weary neighbours!

When the girls have returned to the house, the sailors open the hampers and lustily fall to, casting playful thanks to those dumb neighbours for this double share of victuals and wine. In the lightness of their hearts they sing, and to the verses of their rollicking "Steersman, leave the watch!" clash their goblets noisily together.

Absorbed in their carousal, they have not remarked a beginning of movement on the ship close by and in the water immediately around it. This rises and falls in a mysterious violent swell, which rocks the awakening ship, while the rest of the sea is calm. Storm-wind whistles and howls among the rigging, though the night elsewhere is still and bright. Livid fire flares up in the place of the watch-light, bringing into distinctness the black cordage and spectral crew. The latter seem to come to life in the weird illumination, and with hollow voices suddenly entone a sea-song of strange intervals and cadences, disquieting to ears of warm flesh and blood. "Yohohey! Yohohohey!—Huissa! The storm drives us to land!—Huissa! Sail in! Anchor loose!—Huissa! Run into the bay!—Black captain, go ashore! Seven years are over, sue for the hand of a golden-haired maiden. Golden-haired maiden, be true to him, be true! Cheerily, cheerily, bridegroom, today! The storm-wind howls wedding-music, the ocean dances to the tune.—Hui! Hark! His whistle sounds. Captain, are you back again?—Hui! Hoist the sail! Your bride, say, where is she?—Hui! Off, to sea! Captain, captain, you have no luck in love! Ha, ha, ha! Blow, storm-wind, howl away! No damage can you do to our sails! Satan has charmed them, they will not rend in all eternity!"

 The Norwegian sailors, suspending their own clamour, have looked and listened in an increasing wonder, which gradually turns to horror. To overcome the superstitious fear they frankly own to, they start singing together with all their might, to drown their terror as well as the voices of the rival singers. The two sharply contrasting sea-songs strive one against the other for a few moments, then the Norwegians, giving up the contention, retire from deck to the last man, tremulously making the sign of the cross. As they disappear below, the Dutchmen break into a fearful yell of derision,—and instantly darkness and complete silence reinvade the ship, while perfect calm falls upon the sea. For a long interval the scene so crowded and noisy a moment before, remains empty and still.

Senta comes hurriedly from the house, followed by Erik, both in great agitation. He has learned of her betrothal to the stranger. "What have I heard?" he cries in incredulous anguish; "O God, what have I seen? Is it a delusion? Can it be truth? Can it be fact?"—"Ask not, Erik," she falters, in anguish, too; "I must not answer."—"Just God! There can be no doubt of it. It is truth! What unholy power swept you along? What force so quickly prevailed with you to make you break this devoted heart? Was it your father? Ha, he brought the bridegroom home with him. I recognised him. I forboded what is coming to pass. But you? Is it possible? You give your hand to the man who has hardly more than crossed your doorstep?"—"Oh, say no more!" pleads the girl, torn by the sight of his sorrow, and her necessity to refuse the only possible comfort, "Be silent! I must! I must!..."—"Oh, that docility, blind as your act!" he raves; "You were glad, at a beck from your father, to follow. With a blow you crush the life out of my heart!"—"No more! No more!" she  tries to stop him; "I must not see you again, must not think of you. High duty commands it!"—"What high duty? Is it not a higher duty still to observe that which you once swore to me,—eternal constancy?"—"What?..." she cries, in utmost dismay; "You say that I swore eternal constancy to you?"—"Oh, Senta," he goes on, subdued by her shocked amazement, sorrowfully to explain the simple rhetoric of his misstatement, "will you deny it? Do you refuse to remember that day when you called me to you in the valley? When in order to gather the upland flowers for you I endured dangers and labours innumerable? Do you remember how from the steep rocks on the shore we watched your father departing? He sailed upon the white-winged ship, and confided you to my care. When your arm encircled my neck, did you not own once more your love for me? That which thrilled me at the pressure of your hand, tell me, was it not the assurance of your constancy?"

Unseen of the two, for the moment so absorbed in each other, the Hollander has come from the house. He has been standing near enough to overhear Erik's last sentences; the significance of these seems scarcely ambiguous, his inference is natural. It is a lovers' meeting which he has chanced upon. Whatever her reasons for accepting him, the Hollander,—it is clear that this young huntsman has a claim on the girl who declared so glibly that the law of truth was written in her soul.

The two are interrupted by a wail. "Lost! Oh, lost! To all eternity lost!" They turn and start in horror at sight of the Hollander. "Farewell, Senta," he cries, and with the precipitation of despair is making straight for the boundless deep. Senta throws herself across his path. "Stay, O unfortunate!" But the Hollander pushes past. "To sea! To sea! To sea until the end of time!—It is at an end with your truth! At an  end with your truth and my salvation! Farewell, I would not bring about your ruin!" Erik, catching sight of his face, the face of a lost soul, shudders at the measureless woe in his eyes. "Stay," Senta implores, "stay, you shall never depart!" Disregarding her, the Hollander blows a shrill note on his whistle and shouts to his crew: "Hoist sail! Lift anchor! For ever and ever bid farewell to the land!"

There is struggle for a long moment among the three: hers to prevent the Hollander; Erik's to keep back her, caught, as he believes, in the claws of Satan; the Hollander's to leave. Since her faith is turned to mockery, he, forced to doubt her, has fallen to doubting God himself. There is no faith more on earth. Away, then, forever away! "Learn the fate from which I save you!" he finally turns to her, as if softened by her pleading to the point of wishing her to know that he leaves not in hate and anger, but very pity for her feminine frailty; and he states plainly the threatening fate of which we heard him give but a warning before. "Condemned am I to the most dreadful of dooms. Tenfold death would be to me yearned-for bliss. A woman alone can deliver me, a woman who shall keep her faith to me even until death. You, it is true, had sworn truth to me, but not as yet before the Almighty, and that it is which saves you. For know, unhappy woman, the fate which overtakes her who breaks her vow of eternal constancy to me: Everlasting damnation is her portion. Innumerable have been the victims already, through me, of that dread sentence. But you—you shall be saved. Farewell, then, and farewell, to all time, salvation!" Again he turns shoreward. "Indeed, indeed, I know you," Senta follows still; "Full well I know your fate. From the first moment of seeing you I knew you. The end is at hand of your torture! I am she through whose fidelity you shall find salvation!"

 Erik, in terror for Senta, has called wildly toward the house, toward the ship, for help to save her. Daland, Mary, and the young girls have come hurrying from the house, the Norwegian sailors from the ship. "No, no, you know me not!" the Hollander is saying; "No suspicion have you who I am! Inquire of the seas of every zone, inquire of the seaman overscoring the main—Behold"—he points at the ship whose blood-red sails are set and whose ghastly crew show uncannily active in preparations for departure; "Behold and recognise this ship, terror of every pious soul.... The Flying Dutchman I am called!"

With lightning rapidity he has gone aboard. Instantly the weird ship is under way and amid the cavernous Yohohoes of its seamen making for the open sea.

Senta struggles to follow. Her father, Erik, her nurse, all forcibly hold her back. But she is suddenly stronger than them all. She tears herself free and rushing from them climbs a rock projecting into the deep water. With all her strength she calls after the departing Hollander, "Praise be to your angel and his decree! Here am I, faithful to you until death!" and springs into the sea.

Upon the instant, the red-sailed ship, with all its crew, sinks. A great wave heaves high and falls again eddying, burying the whole. Above the drifting wreckage, in the rosy light, fore-shine of sunrise, are seen the transfigured and glorified forms of Senta and the Hollander rising from the sea, clasped in each others' arms, and floating heavenward.

We are always touched in this old world of daily wickedness and pettiness to come upon stories which seem statements of a popular ineradicable assurance that love has power to save. It is perhaps oftenest the love of a woman, clinging pertinaciously  to her affection; but there are legends, too, of men,—who do not save, however, that we remember, by long fidelity, but by ardour rather in overcoming obstacles. They kiss the fair enchanted one in the form of a hideous dragon and she is restored to beauty. One sees the simple philosophy of such folk-tales. The evil doom is usually the punishment for sin. The one who loves the person so doomed is innocent. If then she makes the fate of the sufferer her own, she suffers unjust punishment, and God, who inclines to mercy, must sooner pardon the sinner for her sake than condemn the innocent.







After leaving Riga, where he had accepted the position of Music Director, which he filled acceptably for some time, Wagner went to Pillau, where he embarked on a sailing vessel bound for London. He was accompanied by his wife and by a huge Newfoundland dog, and during this journey learned to know the sea, and became familiar with the sound of the sailors' songs, the creaking of the rigging, the whistling of the wind, and the roar and crash of the waves. This journey made a deep impression upon his imagination. He had read Heine's version of the legend of the Flying Dutchman, and questioned the sailors, who told him many similar yarns. He himself subsequently said: ‘I shall never forget that voyage; it lasted three weeks and a half, and was rich in disasters. Three times we suffered from the effects of heavy storms. The passage through the Narrows made a wondrous impression on my fancy. The legend of the Flying Dutchman was confirmed by the sailors, and the circumstances gave it a distinct and characteristic colour in my mind.’

One year later, when in Paris, Wagner submitted detailed sketches for this work to the Director of the Opera, to whom Meyerbeer had introduced him. The sketches were accepted, and shortly after the Director expressed a wish to purchase them. Wagner utterly refused at first to give up his claim to the plot, which he had secured from Heine; but, finding that he could not obtain possession of the sketches, which had already been given to Foucher for versification, he accepted the miserable sum of £20, which was all that was offered in compensation. The stolen opera was produced in Paris under the title of ‘Le Vaisseau Fantôme,’ in 1842, but it was never very successful, and has been entirely eclipsed by Wagner's version. Wagner had not, however, relinquished the idea of writing an opera upon this theme, and he finished the poem, which Spohr has designated as ‘a little masterpiece,’ as quickly as possible. The score was written at Meudon, near Paris, and completed, with the exception of the overture, in the short space of seven weeks. When offered in Munich and Leipsic the critics pronounced it ‘unfit for Germany,’ but, upon Meyerbeer's recommendation, it was accepted at Berlin, although no preparations were made for its immediate representation.

‘The Flying Dutchman’ was first brought out at Dresden in 1843, four years after the idea of this work had first suggested itself to the illustrious composer, who conducted the orchestra in person, while Madame Schröder-Devrient sang the part of Senta. The audience did not receive it very enthusiastically, and, while some of the hearers were deeply moved, the majority were simply astonished. No one at first seemed to appreciate the opera at its full value except Spohr, who in connection with it wrote: ‘Der Fliegende Holländer interests me in the highest degree. The opera is imaginative, of noble invention, well written for the voices, immensely difficult, rather overdone as regards instrumentation, but full of novel effects; at the theatre it is sure to prove clear and intelligible.... I have come to the conclusion that among composers for the stage, pro tem., Wagner is the most gifted.’

The legend upon which the whole opera is based is that a Dutch captain once tried to double the Cape of Good Hope in the teeth of a gale, swearing he would accomplish his purpose even if he had to plough the main forever. This rash oath was overheard by Satan, who condemned him to sail until the Judgment Day, unless he could find a woman who would love him faithfully until death. Once in every seven years only did the Devil allow the Dutchman to land, in search of the maiden who might effect his release.

In the first act of the opera, the seven years have just ended, and Daland, a Norwegian captain, has been forced by a tempest to anchor his vessel in a sheltered bay within a few miles of his peaceful home, where Senta, his only daughter, awaits him. All on board are sleeping, and the steersman alone keeps watch over the anchored vessel, singing of the maiden he loves and of the gifts he is bringing her from foreign lands. In the midst of his song, the Flying Dutchman's black-masted vessel with its red sails enters the cove, and casts anchor beside the Norwegian ship, although no one seems aware of its approach.

The Dutchman, who has not noticed the vessel at anchor so near him, springs eagerly ashore, breathing a sigh of relief at being allowed to land once more, although he has but little hope of finding the faithful woman who alone can release him from his frightful doom:—

‘The term is past,
And once again are ended the seven long years!
The weary sea casts me upon the land.
Ha! haughty ocean,
A little while, and thou again wilt bear me.
Though thou art changeful,
Unchanging is my doom;
Release, which on the land I seek for,
Never shall I meet with.’

The unhappy wanderer then tells how he has braved the dangers of every sea, sought death on every rock, challenged every pirate, and how vain all his efforts have been to find the death which always eludes him.

Daland, waking from his sound slumbers, suddenly perceives the anchored vessel, and chides the drowsy steersman, who has not warned him of its approach. He is about to signal to the ship to ascertain its name, when he suddenly perceives the Dutchman, whom he questions concerning his home and destination.

The Dutchman answers his questions very briefly, and, upon hearing that Daland's home is very near, eagerly offers untold wealth for permission to linger a few hours by his fireside, and to taste the joys of home.

Amazed at the sight of the treasures spread out before him, Daland not only consents to show hospitality to this strange homeless guest, but even promises, after a little persuasion, to allow him to woo and to win, if he can, the affections of his only daughter, Senta:—

‘I give thee here my word.
I mourn thy lot. As thou art bountiful,
Thou showest me thy good and noble heart.
My son I wish thou wert;
And were thy wealth not half as great,
I would not choose another.’

Transported with joy at the mere prospect of winning the love which may compass his salvation, the Flying Dutchman proclaims in song his mingled rapture and relief, and while he sings the storm clouds break, and the sun again shines forth over the mysteriously calmed sea. The opportunity is immediately seized by the Norwegian captain, who, bidding the Dutchman follow him closely, bids the sailors raise the anchor, and sails out of the little harbour to the merry accompaniment of a nautical chorus:—

‘Through thunder and storm from distant seas,
My maiden, come I near;
Over towering waves, with southern breeze,
My maiden, am I here.
My maiden, were there no south wind,
I never could come to thee:
O fair south wind, to me be kind!
My maiden, she longs for me.
      Hoho! Halloho!’

The next scene represents a room in Daland's house. The rough walls are covered with maps and charts, and on the farther partition there is a striking portrait of a pale, melancholy looking man, who wears a dark beard and a foreign dress.

The air is resonant with the continual hum of the whirling spinning-wheels, for the maidens are all working diligently under the direction of Maria, the housekeeper, and soon begin their usual spinning chorus. Their hands and feet work busily while two verses of the song are sung, and all are remarkably diligent except Senta, who sits with her hands in her lap, gazing in rapt attention at the portrait of the Flying Dutchman, whose mournful fate has touched her tender heart, and whose haunting eyes have made her indulge in many a long day-dream. Roused from her abstraction by the chiding voice of Mary, and by her companions, who twit her with having fallen in love with a shadow instead of thinking only of her lover Erik, the hunter, Senta resumes her work, and to still their chatter sings them the ballad of the Flying Dutchman. When she has described his aimless wanderings and his mournful doom, which naught can change until he finds a maiden who will pledge him her entire faith, the girls mockingly interrupt her to inquire whether she would have the courage to love an outcast and to follow a spectral wooer. But when Senta passionately declares she would do it gladly, and ends by fervently praying that he may soon appear to put her love and faith to the test, they are almost as much alarmed as Erik, who enters the room in time to hear this enthusiastic outburst.

Turning to Mary, the housekeeper, he informs her that Daland's ship has just sailed into the harbour in company with another vessel, whose captain and crew he doubtless means to entertain. At these tidings the wheels are all set aside, and the maidens hasten to help prepare the food for the customary feast. Senta alone remains seated by her wheel, and Erik, placing himself beside her, implores her not to leave him for another, but to put an end to his sorrows by promising to become his wife. His eloquent pleading has no effect upon her, however, and when he tries to deride her fancy for the pictured face, and to awaken her pity for him by describing his own sufferings, she scornfully compares them to the Dutchman's unhappy fate:—

‘Oh, vaunt it not!
What can thy sorrow be?
Know'st thou the fate of that unhappy man?
Look, canst thou feel the pain, the grief,
With which his gaze on me he bends?
Ah! when I think he has ne'er found relief,
How sharp a pang my bosom rends!’

Erik, beside himself with jealousy, finally tells her that he has had an ominous dream, in which he saw her greet the dark stranger, embrace him tenderly, and even follow him out to sea, where she was lost. But all this pleading only makes Senta more obstinate in her refusal of his attentions, and more eager to behold the object of her romantic attachment, who at that very moment enters the house, following her father, who greets her tenderly. The sudden apparition of the stranger, whose resemblance to the portrait is very striking, robs Senta of all composure, and it is only when her father has gently reproved her for her cold behaviour that she bids him welcome.

Daland then explains to his daughter that his guest is a wanderer and an exile, although well provided with this world's goods, and asks her whether she would be willing to listen to his wooing, and would consent to ratify his conditional promise by giving the stranger her hand:—

‘Wilt thou, my child, accord our guest a friendly welcome,
And wilt thou also let him share thy kindly heart?
Give him thy hand, for bridegroom it is thine to call him,
If thou but give consent, to-morrow his thou art.’

Wholly uninfluenced by the description of the stranger's wealth which her father gives her, but entirely won by the Flying Dutchman's timidly expressed hope that she will not refuse him the blessing he has so long and so vainly sought, Senta hesitates no longer, but generously promises to become his wife, whatever fate may await her:—

‘Whoe'er thou art, where'er thy curse may lead thee,
And me, when I thy lot mine own have made,—
Whate'er the fate which I with thee may share in,
My father's will by me shall be obeyed.’

This promise at first fills the heart of the Flying Dutchman with the utmost rapture, for he is thinking only of himself, and of his release from the curse, but soon he begins to love the innocent maiden through whom alone he can find rest. Then he also remembers that, if she fail, she too will be accursed, and, instead of urging her as before, he now tries to dissuade her from becoming his wife by depicting life at his side in the most unenticing colours, and by warning her that she must die if her faith should waver. Senta, undeterred by all these statements, and eager if necessary to sacrifice herself for her beloved, again offers to follow him, and once more a rapturous thrill passes through his heart:—


Here is my hand! I will not rue,
But e'en to death will I be true.

The Dutchman.

She gives her hand! I conquer you,
Dread powers of Hell, while she is true.’

Daland returns into the room in time to see that they have agreed to marry, and proposes that their wedding should take place immediately, and be celebrated at the same time as the feast which he generally gives all his sailors at the end of a happy journey.

The third act of this opera represents both ships riding at anchor in a rocky bay, near which rises Daland's picturesque Norwegian cottage. All is life and animation on board the Norwegian vessel, where the sailors are dancing and singing in chorus, but the black-masted ship appears deserted, and is as quiet as the tomb.

When the sailors have ended their chorus, the pretty peasant girls come trooping down to the shore, bringing food and drink for both crews, which they hail from the shore. The Norwegian sailors promptly respond to their call, and, hastening ashore, they receive their share of the feast; but the phantom vessel remains as lifeless as before. In vain the girls offer the provisions they have brought, in vain the other crew taunt the sleepers, there is no answer given. The provisions are then all bestowed upon the Norwegians, who eat and drink most heartily ere they resume their merry chorus. Suddenly, however, the Dutch sailors rouse themselves, appear on deck, and prepare to depart, while singing about their captain, who has once more gone ashore in search of the faithful wife who alone can save him. Blue flames hover over the phantom ship, and the sound of a coming storm is borne upon the breeze. The Norwegian sailors sing louder than ever to drown this ominous sound, but they are soon too alarmed to sing, and hasten into their cabins making the sign of the cross, which evokes a burst of demoniac laughter from the phantom crew.

The storm and lights subside as quickly and mysteriously as they appeared, and all is quiet once more as Senta comes down to the shore. Erik, meeting her, implores her to listen to his wooing, which once found favour, and to forget the stranger whom her father has induced her to accept on such short notice. Senta listens patiently to his plea, which does not in the least shake her faith in her new lover, or change her resolution to live and die for him alone. But the Dutchman, appearing suddenly, mistakes her patience for regret, and, almost frantic with love and despair, he bids her a passionate farewell and rushes off toward his ship.

‘To sea! To sea till time is ended!
Thy sacred promise be forgot,
Thy sacred promise and my fate!
Farewell! I wish not to destroy thee!’

But Senta has not ceased to love him. She runs after him, imploring him to remain with her, protesting her fidelity and renewing her vows in spite of Erik's passionate efforts to prevent her from doing so. The Flying Dutchman at first refuses to listen to her words, and rapidly gives his orders for departure. She is about to embark, when he suddenly turns toward her and declares that he is accursed, and that she has saved herself, by timely withdrawal, from the doom which awaits all those who fail to keep their troth:—

‘Now hear, and learn the fate from which thou wilt be saved:
Condemned am I to bear a frightful fortune,—
Ten times would death appear a brighter lot.
A woman's hand alone the curse can lighten,
If she will love me, and till death be true.
Still to be faithful thou hast vowed,
Yet has not God thy promise?
This rescues thee; for know, unhappy, what a fate is theirs
Who break the troth which they to me have plighted:
Endless damnation is their doom!
Victims untold have fallen 'neath this curse through me.
Yet, Senta, thou shalt escape.
Farewell! All hope is fled forevermore.’

But Senta has known from the very beginning who this dark wooer was, and is so intent upon saving him from his fate that she fears no danger for herself. Passionately she clings to him, protesting her affection, and when he looses her, and Erik would fain detain her by force, she struggles frantically to follow him.

Erik's cry brings Daland, Mary, and the Chorus to the rescue, and they too strive to restrain Senta, when they hear the stranger proclaim from the deck of his phantom ship that he is the Scourge of the Sea,—the Flying Dutchman. The vessel sails away from the harbour. Senta escapes from her friends, and rushes to a projecting cliff, whence she casts herself recklessly into the seething waves, intent only upon showing her love and saving him, and thereby proving herself faithful unto death:—

‘Praise thou thine angel for what he saith;
Here stand I, faithful, yea, till death!’

As Senta sinks beneath the waves the phantom vessel vanishes also, and as the storm abates and the rosy evening clouds appear in the west the transfigured forms of Senta and the Flying Dutchman hover for a moment over the wreck, and, rising slowly, float upward and out of sight, embracing each other, for her faithful love has indeed accomplished his salvation, and his spirit, may now be at rest.


Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

| privacy