Walther von der Vogelweide - selected poems translated by Graeme Dunphy
(with no aspirations to poetic genius)
Do der sumer komen was
When the summer came around,
And the flowers from the ground
Merrily were springing,
And the birds were singing,
I made my aimless way
Where an endless pasture lay.
There the crystal streamlet sprang,
By the wood its waters rang;
A nightingale in answer sang.
A great old tree stood by the stream,
Under which I dreamt a dream.
Escaping from the sun,
I to the spring had run
To shelter for a time
In the cool shade of the lime.
There I lay at the waterside,
Bade my weary cares abide;
In sleep I let my fancies glide.
Then it seemed to me as though
I had conquered every foe;
As though my soul could fly
With ease high in the sky,
And here my body could
Behave exactly as it would;
I was freed from every care!
Though God should grant His blessings rare,
There ne'er could be a dream more fair.
Oh, to have slept forever so!
But a rude, unholy crow
For spite began to screech.
I tried in vain to reach
The bird which would destroy
The dreams which brought me joy.
His crowing took my joy away.
No rounded pebble near me lay
Or 'twould have been his Judgment Day.
A wonderful old woman then
Spoke of things beyond my ken.
Eager to know more,
I asked, and this she swore;
Mark this well, my friend,
Take care to comprehend:
Two and one, now that makes three!
And something more she said to me,
That my thumb a finger be!
A religous poem with a hint of mysticism - or a parody of one? The solution to the riddle in the final strophe may be the Holy Trinity.
Nieman kan mit gerten
No-one can obtain
Good children by the cane.
To those in whom true virtues grow
A word is mightier than a blow.
A word is mightier than a blow
To those in whom true virtues grow.
Good children by the cane
No-one can obtain.
A guard upon your tongue!
Good counsel for the young!
Throw the bolt across the door,
Let wicked words escape no more.
Let wicked words escape no more,
Throw the bolt across the door.
Good counsel for the young:
A guard upon your tongue!
A guard upon your eyes!
Always this is wise!
Let them see whatever's good,
Shield them from what's coarse and rude.
Shield them from what's coarse and rude,
Let them see whatever's good.
Always this is wise:
A guard upon your eyes!
A guard upon your ears!
A fool is what he hears!
If opened up to words ill-bred,
They'll bring dishonour on your head.
They'll bring dishonour on your head
If opened up to words ill-bred.
A fool is what he hears;
A guard upon your ears!
A guard upon all three!
They're prone to be too free.
Tongue, eyes, ears are often base,
Inviting scandal and disgrace.
Inviting scandal and disgrace,
Tongue, eyes, ears are often base.
They're prone to be too free.
A guard upon all three!
A nice palindromic structure for this gnomic poem. The argument against corporal punishment is rather forward-thinking.
Unter der linden
Under the lime-tree
On the heath
My love and I reclined an hour.
If someone looks, he
May find beneath
Remains of broken grass and flower.
Near the forest, in a vale,
Merrily sang the nightingale.
He had waited or: Sunshine filled
Till I came. That secret place.
What he called me at our meeting! How he held me at our meeting.
I felt elated How I thrilled
By that name: In his embrace.
"Noble lady" was his greeting. Mother Mary! What a greeting!
Did he kiss me? Many a time!
See how red these lips of mine.
My love prepared
A lavish bed
With flowers scattered all around.
If someone cared
To turn his head
That way, he'd smile at what he found.
By the roses he well may
Notice where my bonnet lay.
That we lay together,
If any knew
(Now God forbid!) I'd die of shame!
Be it forever
Just we two
Who share our secret love's acclaim.
And that little nightingale,
Her discretion will not fail!
The most famous Mädchenlied. The alternative reading of the second strophe depends on whether "hêre frouwe" refers to the girl, who is being flattered by a title above her status, or whether it is her own exclamation.
Diu welt was gelf, rot unde bla
The world was full of colours gay;
In fields and woods the birds of May
Delighted in their fine display:
Red and blue and green were they.
But now the hooded crow holds sway;
His colour is a listless grey.
Despondency is here to stay!
I sat beneath a leafy tree
Watching bird and bumble bee
Which soared as far as eye could see.
Gone is this paradise where we
Made garland chains on bended knee.
Snow and frost now hold the key,
Whether or not the birds agree!
"Let it snow!" the foolish cry;
"Preserve us, God!" the poor reply.
What remains to do but sigh?
Full of heaviness am I!
But this I now can prophesy:
My winter cares at once will fly
When summer's coming I espy.
I'd sooner eat raw crab, you know,
Than live long in a world of snow!
Summer, take away our woe:
Restore the meadow's splendid show.
Among the flowers we shall go,
Glad to see the sunshine glow
And chase away its wintry foe.
Unkempt am I as Esau who
Lost birth-right, and blessing too.
Kindly Summer, where are you?
Oh, to see the winter through!
I tell you this, and this is true:
Before I'd face all this anew
I'd be a monk at Toberlu!
This winter poem must be slightly tongue-in-cheek - the best way to deal with unpleasant things is to laugh at them. In the original of this poem, the rhyme on the five long vowels is visually striking, but with English orthography we have to settle for hearing it. Doberlug was a Cistercian monastery renowned for its strict asceticism.
Uns hat der winter geschat uber al
The winter has cast down her wintery shawl.
On heathland and woodland the snowflakes now fall
Where once we delighted to hear the birds call.
When I see the children again throw their ball
In the street: Soon the birds will be back one and all.
Until winter is over I'd fain close my eyes,
And let sleep rob my wintery foe of his prize.
In his icy grip every joyful thing dies
Till he's routed by May when the spring's in the skies.
Then again I'll pluck flowers where the hoarfrost now lies.
Another neat little winter poem. I rather like the idea that the enjambement in lines 4-5 echoes the bouncing of the ball.
Do Friderich uz Osterrich also gewarp
When Frederick of Austria drew his last breath,
His soul arose to life, his body went to death;
He took my cocky crane-strut to the grave.
I slunk around despondent wherever I might be,
My head was like a peacock's, hanging to my knee;
But now again I hold it high and brave.
I have found a homely fire,
Crown and empire now my verse inspire.
The fiddle's playing, come then, let us dance!
Gone is all my heaviness,
At last my feet are steady now my cares are less,
My heart is high; my fortunes now advance.
Walther's patron Frederick of Austria died on crusade in April 1198, so Walther attached himself to the entourage of Philip of Swabia, who was crowned King in September. This poem marks the transition. The imagery attached to the birds is unusual: as proud as a crane, as demure as a peacock?
Diu krone ist elter danne der kunec Philippes si
The crown is older than my liege king Philip is,
Yet see how wonderfully now this crown is his!
The goldsmith's craft out-sparkles every other!
It suits so well the virtues of his kingly heart
That none could ever justly tear the two apart;
For each proclaims the honour of its brother.
The noble stone uniquely can
Enhance and be enhanced by such a fine young man;
The sight delights the princes near and far.
You wonder if a king is crowned?
Now see upon whose head the orphan stone is found.
That stone is every prince's guiding star!
Another poem in the "Philippston", on the coronation of Philip in 1198.
Ez gienc eins tages als unser herre wart geborn
On that same day our Lord in human flesh was born
Of the virgin he had chosen to adorn,
King Philip went to Magdeburg in state.
There strode a Kaiser's brother and a Kaiser's son,
Three were the names, and yet the man was one,
With crown and sceptre, regal and ornate.
His measured step was clearly seen.
Behind him walked with dignity his high-born queen,
A thornless rose, a grape without the gall.
Nobles came from everywhere:
Thuringen and Saxony were also there.
Wise men would endorse it one and all.
Philip's court visited Magdeburg at Christmas 1199. When the whole world had stopped to pay homage to the virgin and her son, the whole German establishment had also gathered in a well-named town to honour the Christ-like king and the queen who resembled the Madonna.
Ich saz uf eime steine
I sat upon a stone,
Cross-legged and all alone.
My elbow on my knee I propped,
And in my up-turned hand I dropped
My chin, as deep in thought
I wondered how we ought
To live together here and now.
In vain I asked the question how
Three things might be gained
And together be maintained.
Two are wealth and good renoun
Which often bring each other down;
The third is God's good grace,
Which takes pride of place.
How I longed to have all three;
But sadly it cannot yet be
That one heart could claim
Fortune, favour, fame.
Ways and means cannot be found
With such chaos all around.
There's treason and deceit,
There's violence on the street.
Peace and justice are deplored;
The three will never be achieved until these two have been restored.
One of the poems in the "Reichston", refers to the chaos preceding Philip's succession. 24 lines of rhyming couplets, alternating 33443344...3348.
Kunc Constantin der gap so vil
The great King Constantine once gave
The Roman Chair a gift most grave,
Too generous by far: lance, cross and crown.
At once declared the angels' mass:
"Alas, alas, three times alas,
Now Christendom will lose her high renown.
A doubtful gift has here been given,
With gall her honey has been riven;
Only sorrow shall ensue."
All the princes rule with princely might,
But now the cleric's choice will fall
Against the greatest prince of all;
We turn for help, O God, to you.
The clergy seek to take the layman's right.
What the angels said was true!
In September 1201 the Pope acknowleged Otto of Brunswick's claim on the imperial throne, thus alligning himself against Philip. Walther protests by challenging the Donation of Constantine.
Her keiser, sit ir willekomen!
Herr Kaiser, welcome! Welcome home!
The title "King" you left in Rome,
But now your crown shines brighter than before.
Your hand is full of wealth and might;
To punish sinners is your right,
Or to reward with bounty from your store.
Let me tell you: many,
Many a joyful cry went out
As princes hailed your coming from abroad.
And Meißen more than any,
He is yours without a doubt.
Sooner would an angel turn from God!
A decade later, Walther is on Otto's side. This poem from the "Ottenton" celebrates Otto's returned to Germany as emperor in 1212. Dietrich of Meißen had been involved in a conspiracy against Otto, but now, it seems, he is true. Though of course, there really was once an angel who turned from God!
Vrouwe, vernemt dur got von mir diz maere
Lady, be godly! Hear the plea I make.
I bring a message in my song:
A knight is burdened with a great heart-ache
Under which he's suffered long.
I am to inform you that
If you will turn his mood about,
Without a doubt,
Many hearts will then be glad.
Lady, his "high spirits" are your goal.
Don't neglect this; don't be coy.
This surely will advantage you, and all
Who rejoice in sharing joy.
For he'll employ his every phrase
(If indeed it's joy you bring)
Just to sing
Aloud your honour and your praise.
Lady, grant his spirits a reprieve.
You are all his heart's delight.
Truly he is worthy to receive
Your favours. This is good and right.
Lady, raise his spirits high.
You can give him what he yearns,
That he learns
Loves best demands to satisfy.
"Yet I wonder what his suit forebodes?
Can I trust his winning ways?
Crooked paths are found beside straight roads!
May God protect me all my days!
I will do the things I should,
Frustrating him who points the way,
But leads astray.
Teach me, God, to know what's good."
Walther is most famous for his Minnesang, but I doubt if I'll ever be famous for my translations of it. The German is far lighter and more natural than this.
Owe war sint verswunden alliu miniu jar!
Alas, where have they gone to, year on weary year?
Was it all a dream then, my life's, my love's career?
Things I took for granted, were they really so?
Sleep, sleep overtook me, and then I didn't know.
Now I have awakened, but like a foreign land
Are things once as familiar as my own right hand.
The people and the places that as a child I knew
Now seem strange and distant, a tale which isn't true.
Children I once played with are no longer young and proud.
The forests have been levelled, the meadows have been ploughed.
But for the river flowing where it always flowed
My heart could never carry its heavy, heavy load.
Some who paid me honour now turn their eyes away;
The world is too ungrateful when one is old and grey.
Fondly I remember what joy there used to be.
Those days have vanished traceless as ripples on the sea,
Alas, for the young people, how lamentable they are.
Once they were so courtly, a better crowd by far.
All they know is worry! Why are they so sad?
Though I search the world over, not one I find is glad.
Dancing, laughing, singing are no-where in their creed.
No Christian ever saw a more pathetic breed.
Just look at how the ladies bind up their hair;
Proud knights attired in costumes the peasantry might wear.
Unlovely, unkind letters have come to us from Rome;
Distress caused at a distance brings despondency at home.
Once we lived not badly. It troubles me within:
When laughter turns to mourning, what then do we win?
The wild birds in the branches, they too lament our plight.
How can I continue to hope for some respite?
Oh, but this is foolish, to be so sorely vexed!
To seek joy in this world is to lose it in the next,
Alas, how we've been poisoned by things which taste so sweet.
If you take the honey, gall is what you'll eat.
The world without is pleasing, white and green and red;
Within, dark black's her colour, dismal like the dead.
Whoever she seduces should look to be redeemed;
Penance for some great sin may be lighter than it seemed.
Take note, you knights, consider! This is your travail:
You wear the shining helmet, the shirt of strong chain mail.
Yours is the sturdy long-shield, the consecrated sword;
I wish that I were worthy of such a bless'd reward.
What riches I, a poor man, could then accumulate.
(I don't mean gold or silver or any vast estate!)
An eternal crown of glory would then my brow enhance;
Any simple soldier could win one with his lance.
If I could cross the ocean, if that could come to pass,
My song would be rejoicing, and nevermore "alas!"
Walther's "elegy" is more than a lament of old age. It calls to participation in the crusade of Frederick II. The unkind letters are those excommunicating Frederick in 1227.