The Wagnerian Romances Part 8

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The broken pieces roll at the Wanderer's feet. He picks them quietly up. With G.o.dlike calm, the hour having struck, he accepts inevitable fate. The motif of downfall points this beginning of the end of the G.o.ds. "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 Brunnhilde 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 rec.u.mbent 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 s.h.i.+eld, 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: s.h.i.+mmering 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 Brunnhilde'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 Brunnhilde's lips.

Twelve bars, the tempo of which is marked "_Sehr ma.s.sig,_" very moderate, sing themselves delicately and gravely to an end. Brunnhilde 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, Brunnhilde takes up again her song of praise: "Hail to you, G.o.ds! 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 s.h.i.+ne upon me, blessed!" Brunnhilde, joining in his hymn of grat.i.tude, 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," Brunnhilde 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 s.h.i.+eld 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, Brunnhilde 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!" Brunnhilde 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 Brunnhilde "whom no G.o.d 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 s.h.i.+ne 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 Brunnhilde 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!" Brunnhilde 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 G.o.ds cease in glory, the Norns rend the coil of fate, the dusk of the G.o.ds close down,--Siegfried's star has risen, and he shall be, to Brunnhilde, 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 flas.h.i.+ng mountain torrents, and are lost to us behind the descending curtain.

THE TWILIGHT OF THE G.o.dS

THE TWILIGHT OF THE G.o.dS

(DIE GOETTERDAEMMERUNG)

I

In the Prologue of "The Twilight of the G.o.ds" 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 G.o.ds' end.

At the rising of the curtain the three Norns are dimly discerned upon the well-known scene of Brunnhilde'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 G.o.d who came to drink at the well, paying in toll one of his eyes. From the World-Ash, he, Wotan, broke a branch and fas.h.i.+oned 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 G.o.ds and heroes. Wooden billets heaped to a lofty pile surround the room.

That was once the World-As.h.!.+ When the wood shall burn hot and clear, when the flame shall devour the s.h.i.+ning hall, the day of the end of the G.o.ds 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 st.u.r.dy strain, resembling something we have heard before. By a.n.a.lysis, 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 Brunnhilde Wedded, wonderful for its entwining tenderness, yet the elevation it combines with its immensely feminine quality. It is given over and over; the instruments pa.s.s 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, Brunnhilde leading Grane. They are glorious in this scene of parting. A n.o.bler pa.s.sion 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 G.o.ds 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 Brunnhilde lives and is mine; one lesson I learned with ease: to think ever of Brunnhilde!"

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 G.o.ds 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 Gib.i.+.c.hungen, but to such the hardy hero, no need to say, is fast sealed.

The curtain unclosing shows the interior of the Hall of the Gib.i.+.c.hungen, 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 G.o.ds shall not be long delayed." An allusion of Hagen's there is to his mother, as having succ.u.mbed 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 Gib.i.+.c.h? "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 Gib.i.+.c.hung has not yet won...." Gunther's inquiry he satisfies: "In summer ripeness and vigour I behold the stem of Gib.i.+.c.h: you, Gunther, without wife,--you, Gutrune, still unwed." Gunther and Gutrune, struck, are silent a moment. Then Gunther inquires whom should he wed that l.u.s.tre 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 Brunnhilde." 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 Walsungen.... 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 Brunnhilde for him from her flame-surrounded heights. Hagen is alone, of the three, to know of the tie existing between Siegfried and Brunnhilde. 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 Gib.i.+.c.h's sh.o.r.e 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 Gib.i.+.c.h!" comes answer from the river. "Here! Here come ash.o.r.e! 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 Gib.i.+.c.h?" 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 n.o.bler 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 va.s.sal." 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, blus.h.i.+ng, tremulous, as different as is well possible from Brunnhilde, Gutrune approaches, holding a filled drinking-horn.

"Welcome, guest, in Gib.i.+.c.h'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 Brunnhilde 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, Brunnhilde, 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 pa.s.sage, surpa.s.singly 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 Gib.i.+.c.h'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 Brunnhilde asleep, now makes his voice falter with instantaneous pa.s.sion 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 va.s.sal, 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 a.s.surance, "if I stand by you?" "Upon a high rock is her throne, a fire surrounds her abode," Gunther in hopeless tone describes the forbidding circ.u.mstances. "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 Brunnhilde'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 n.o.ble 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 ill.u.s.trated in this story. The effectiveness of a vow, as we discover, has nothing to do with persons or circ.u.mstances; 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 sh.o.r.e, 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 s.h.i.+eld in the doorway, and, while sitting there sentinel-wise, reflects upon the success of his devices: "Blown along by the wind, the son of Gib.i.+.c.h 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 Brunnhilde's leave-taking. Brunnhilde 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 Brunnhilde brave Walvater's commandment? Or--how? Oh, tell me! Has Wotan's disposition softened toward me? When I protected Siegmund against the G.o.d, 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?

The Wagnerian Romances Part 8

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The Wagnerian Romances Part 8 summary

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