Theosophy – August 1897

RICHARD WAGNER'S MUSIC DRAMAS: VI-4a — Basil Crump

VI. — THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG.

PART IV. — THK DUSK OF THE GODS.

Moreover, the power that works for evil, the real bane of (i.e., that poisons) Love, condenses itself into the Gold robbed from Nature and misused, the Nibelung's Ring. The Curse that cleaves thereto is not dispelled ere it is given again to Nature, the Gold plunged back into the Rhine. . . . All is experience. Nor is Siegfried, taken alone (the male alone), the perfect Man: only with Brynhild becomes he the redeemer. One cannot do all; it needs the plural; and the suffering, self-offering woman bee mes at last the true, the open-eyed redemptrix: for Love, in truth, is the "Eternal Womanly" itself. . . . However, to summarize the thing, I ask you: Can you figure to yourself a moral action otherwise than under the idea of Renunciation? And what is the highest holiness, i.e., complete Redemption, but the adoption of this principle for every action of our lives? — Letter to August Roeckel.

SIEGFRIED'S Death, as this, the last and most tragic section of the great Tetralogy, was originally called, was really the first part of the story which Wagner cast into dramatic form. But he saw in working it out that its deeply stirring interest and enormous import needed a setting forth of earlier causes in order to make the meaning clear. Thus it came about that, working backwards, the poet-musician unfolded the tale to the point where we see in the theft of Alberich, the cause of Siegfried's death at the hand of the Nibelung's son Hagen. Let us not lose sight of the elements of the "Eternal Manly" (Will, Force and Intellect) and the "Eternal Womanly," (Endurance, Love and Intuition) which one sees embodied again and again in the characters of these four dramas until they find their noblest expression in the union of Siegfried and Brynhild — a union which (as Brynhild foresaw) means death to them both, but in that death, VICTORY and REDEMPTION

wagner

RICHARD WAGNER
(We are indebted to the Musical Courier, New York, for this excellent portrait.)

The Dusk of the Gods is ushered in by the sorrowful song of the three Norns (Goddesses of Fate and Daughters of Erda), as they weave the Cord of Fate and tell the story of the past on the Valkyrie's Rock. In the background is the yellow glow of the fire.

The first Norn tells of the World's Ash Tree on whose verdant branches they once weaved the Cord of Fate. From its roots there welled forth a stream of purest knowledge.

     A fearless god
Sought to drink of the fount,
     Giving up an eye (1)
To buy the ineffable boon.

Then from the Ash-Tree, Wotan broke off a branch to serve as the shaft of his all-ruling spear. The Tree, thus wounded, withered and died; the Fount of Knowledge ceased to flow.

     Dark with sorrow
     Waked then my song.
     I weave again
At the World's Ash Tree no more,
     So must the Fir Tree
Find me support for the Cord.

Then the second Norn relates how Wotan carved on his spear the Runes of Bargain, and the fearless Hero he had created cut it in twain. How he then summoned his heroes to fell the Ash Tree and gather the wood into faggots. Now, sings the third Norn, he sits in Valhalla, surrounded by gods and heroes, with the faggots piled around its walls. When the wood takes fire, then will begin the dusk of the gods. By the power of his spear he chained the Fire God to the Valkyrie's Rock. One day he will thrust the splintered spear shaft into Loke's smouldering breast, and cast the burning brand into the heap which surrounds Valhalla.

The night is waning and the Cord gets tangled and frayed, as the Norns tell of Alberich's theft and his awful Curse. Suddenly it breaks, and tying the pieces round their bodies they disappear, crying:

Here ends all our wisdom!
The world knows
Our wise words no more.
Away! To Mother! Away!

As the dawn appears, Siegfried and Brynhild enter from the Cave. He is in full armor and she leads her horse Grane, saying, "What worth were my love for thee if I sent thee not forth to shape fresh deeds? Only the fear that thou hast not won enough of my worth makes me hesitate." Then, as if sensing the future, she utters these solemn and beautiful words:

     Think of the oaths which unite us,
     Think of the faith we bear,
     Think of the love we feel;
Then will Brynhild always burn
In thy heart as a holy thing.

As token of this love Siegfried gives her the Ring — that dread symbol of selfish power which still holds Alberich's Curse. In return she gives him her horse, Grane, who is fearless as Siegfried himself. Now he recognizes that it is from her he gets his power and virtue:

Thy noble steed bestriding
And with thy sheltering shield,
Now Siegfried am I no more:
I am but as Brynhild's arm!

Whilst Brynhild's parting words remind him of their essential unity:

So art thou Siegfried and Brynhild. —

O ye holy powers above us
Watch o'er this devoted pair!
Though apart, who can divide us?
Though divided, we are one!

Can we not hear those beautiful lines from the Dream of Ravan

Before all time — beyond — beside,
     Thou rememberest her eternally,
For she is thy spirit's primeval bride,
     The complement of thy unity,
Joined or dissevered, averted or fond,
'Twixt her and thee an eternal bond
Exists, which tho' ye were to seek,
Ye cannot ever, ever break —
A bond from which there is no freeing,
     Since the typal spirit never
     From its antitype can sever,
     She is a portion of thy being
     To all eternity.

Let the mind go back over this beautiful story of our forefathers which Wagner devoted the flower of his life-energy to forcing into the hearts of a cold, unbrotherly generation — the story of the loving care and protection of Brynhild for Siegfried, even before he came into objective being, and of her sacrifice of godhood in order to become united with him, teach him her wisdom, and so produce "The perfect Man, the Man-God, who is higher than the Angels." It is the self-sacrificing love of the "Inner God" for its Human Reflection, here throwing a beautiful and ennobling light on the higher and more real aspects of human relationship.

To the soul, newly united to its divine nature, there now comes a final trial, and his safety will depend on his keeping the remembrance of that divinity within his heart. Here it is that we shall see the last terrible result of the Nibelung's Curse. In order to understand clearly the complicated action which follows it will be well to roughly indicate the grouping of the good and evil forces as the various embodiments of the Will and Intellect of Wotan and the Wisdom and Love of Erda. The diagram must therefore not be taken in the ordinary sense of a genealogical tree.

tree

With the parting of Siegfried and Brynhild the Epilogue closes and we are introduced to the Hall of the Gibichungs on the banks of the Rhine, where Hagen, the anger-begotten son of "Love's dark enemy," is plotting to get the Ring from Siegfried. His tools are the Gibichungs, Gunther and his sister Gutrune. It is interesting to note that they are the half-blood relations of Hagen, and they stand midway between the good and evil forces as shown in the foregoing diagram. To the vain and ambitious Gunther the evil half-brother holds out the prospect of winning more power and wisdom by wedding the maiden who dwells on the fire-girt rock. But only Siegfried, greatest of heroes, can pass through the fire; how then can Gunther win her? Hagen forthwith unfolds his crafty plan: Gunther shall give Siegfried a drink which shall cause him to forget Brynhild and fall in love with Gutrune. While they plot Siegfried's horn is heard on the Rhine and he enters in search of Gunther. The Drink of Forgetfulness is offered to him by Gutrune, and, accepting it, he immediately falls in love with her. Turning to Gunther he asks if he is married; Gunther replies that he is not and that he wishes to espouse Brynhild. Siegfried, at the mention of that name, shows that the Drink of Forgetfulness has done its double work and he has lost all memory of his holy love. Not only so, but he now enters into the rite of Blood-Brotherhood with Gunther, and undertakes with the aid of the Farnhelm or Helmet of Concealment to take Gunther's form and win Brynhild for him. We may here quote Wagner's comment on this, and the closely allied drama of Tristan and Isolde which he wrote during the greater labors of the Ring. "Both Siegfried and Tristan, in bondage to an illusion (2) which makes this deed of theirs unfree, woo for another their own eternally predestined bride, and in the false relation hence arising find their doom."

Meanwhile Brynhild is visited by her sister-Valkyrie, Valtranta, who in agitated and sorrowful tones tells her how Wotan sits silent and grave in Valhalla's halls, and has sent forth his two ravens to bring him tidings of the end:

     Unto his breast
     Weeping I pressed me;
     His brooding then broke; —
And his thoughts turned, Brynhild, to thee!
     Deep sighs he uttered,
     Closed his eyelids,
     As he were dreaming,
     And uttered these words:
"The day the Rhine's three daughters
Gain by surrender from her the Ring
     From the Curse's load
Released are gods and men!"

But merely to preserve the old order of things — the pomp and selfish rest of Valhalla and the gods — Brynhild will not renounce the Ring, and sends Valtranta away in despair. Wagner's explanation to his friend, August Roeckel, who could not fathom his deep meaning, throws the necessary light on this:

"Let me say a further word about Brynhild. Her, also, you misjudge, when you call her refusal to make away the Ring to Wotan hard and perverse. Have you not seen how Brynhild cut herself from Wotan and all the gods for sake of Love, because — where Wotan harbored plans — she simply loved? After Siegfried fully woke her, she has had no other knowledge saving that of Love. Now — since Siegfried sped from her — the symbol of this Love is — the Ring. When Wotan demands it of her, nothing rises to her mind but the cause of her severance from Wotan (because she dealt from Love); and only one thing knows she still, that she has renounced all godhood for Love's sake. But she knows that Love is the only godlike thing; so, let Valhalla's splendor go to ground, the Ring — her love — she will not yield. I ask you: How pitifully mean and miserly were she, if she refused to give up the Ring because she had heard (mayhap through Siegfried) of its magic and its golden might? Is that what you seriously would attribute to this glorious woman? If, however, you shudder to think of her seeing in that Cursed Ring the symbol of true Love, you will feel precisely what I meant you to, and will recognize the power of the Nibelung's Curse at its most fearful, its most tragic height: then will you fully comprehend the necessity of the whole last drama, Siegfried's Death. That is what we still had to witness, to fully realize the evil of the Gold."

Here we can plainly see that the Curse is now blinding even Brynhild, and she fails to see that Love, renounced by Alberich in the lowest depths to gain selfish power, must now be renounced by her in its highest form as a persona/ possession if the Curse is to be redeemed. It is the terrible results which follow this last and highest form of Desire that force Brynhild to realize the necessity for executing Wotan's last wish. For be it remembered that, in Wagner's own words, "Wotan soars to the tragic height of willing his own undoing."

Now comes the most awful scene in this dark tragedy. Brynhild hears the notes of Siegfried's horn and eagerly awaits his coming, when lo! to her astonishment and terror a strange form appears through the fire, announces himself as Gunther, and claims her as wife. In vain she holds up the ring to protect herself; he wrests from her the treasured love-token and takes her to the real Gunther, who waits without. "Why does Brynhild so speedily submit to the disguised Siegfried?" continues Wagner in his letter. "Just because he had torn from her the Ring, in which alone she treasured up her strength. The terror, the demoniacal, of the whole scene has entirely escaped you. Through the flames foredoomed for Siegfried alone to pass, the fire which experience has shown that he alone could pass, there strides to her — with small ado — an 'other.' The ground reels beneath Brynhild's feet, the world is out of joint; in a terrible struggle she is overpowered, she is 'forsaken by God.' Moreover it is Siegfried, in reality, whom (unconsciously — but all the more bewilderingly) despite his mask, she — almost — recognizes by his flashing eye. (You feel it, here passes something quite 'unspeakable,' and therefore you are very wrong to call me to account for it in speech!)"

Once more we return to the banks of the Rhine. It is still night, and Alberich, ever on the watch to regain his lost booty, is holding conclave with his son. The pale moonlight dimly reveals the evil pair:

     Yet potent hatred
     I planted, Hagen,
In thee, my avenger: —
     To win me the Ring,
Thou'llt vanquish Volsung and Wotan.
Swear to me, Hagen, my son?

Hagen gives the required oath. The rising sun reveals Siegfried returning alone from the Valkyrie's Rock. Questioned by Hagen and Gutrune, he relates the horrible night's work and how he brought Brynhild to the real Gunther:

     When shore was near,
     Flash! — in shape
Reversed were Gunther and I.
Then by the helmet's virtue,
Wishing I hither flew.
By hast'ning wind impelled,
The pair up the river come.

The two falsely-matched couples meet. Brynhild, with terror and amaze, recognizes Siegfried. Almost fainting she falls into the unconscious hero's arms, murmuring, "Siegfried —— knows me not!" Mark the growing horror of this intensely dramatic crisis; for, as Siegfried points to her supposed husband Gunther, in a flash she sees the Ring on his finger. Starting forward, "with fearful impetuosity," she exclaims: "Ha! That Ring upon his hand! His ——? Siegfried ——?" Struggling to repress the storm of emotion which rises within her, she imperiously demands of Gunther an explanation. But Gunther, puzzled, knows nothing of it. Then, turning frantically on Siegfried, she accuses him of the heartless theft, denied in all unconsciousness by the hero, who, under the spell of the magic drink, remembers naught after winning it from the Dragon. This last fearful plot of the dark powers blinds even Brynhild's sight. She does not see that Siegfried unconsciously deceived her, and calls on the Gods to avenge the wrong:

Holy Gods!
Ye heavenly guardians!
Was this indeed
Your whispered will?
Grief do ye give
Such as none ever grasped.
Shape me a shame
No mortal has share?
Vouchsafe revenge then
Like none ever viewed, —
Rouse me to wrath
Such as none can arrest!
Here let Brynhild's
Heart straight be broken
If he who wronged her
May but be wrecked.

Straightway she declares that Siegfried is her true husband, and he is accused of breaking his oath of Blood-Brotherhood with Gunther. On the spear-point offered by the plotter Hagen he swears:

     Where steel e'er can strike me;
     Strike thou at me:
     Where'er death can be dealt me
     Deal it to me,
If she really is wronged —
If I have injured my friend.
And on this fateful point Brynhild also swears:
     I sanctify thy strength
     To his destruction!
     And I bless thy blade, withal,
     That it may blight him;
For broken are all of his oaths,
And perjured now doth he prove.

Horrible is the delusion which besets this hapless pair. Brynhild dimly feels it, and, as Siegfried and Gutrune depart, she murmurs in bewilderment:

What infernal craft
Can here be hidden?
. . . . . .
What can all my runes do
Against this riddle?

Now the arch-plotter Hagen, watching his opportunity, learns from her that she had made Siegfried invulnerable except in his back, since she well knew that he would never turn it to an enemy. "There," says Hagen, "shall he be speared." Thus is the plot completed for the Hero's death.

To be continued.)

FOOTNOTES:

1. Remember that this eye (the eye of spiritual vision) was afterwards regained by Siegfried when he had slain the Dragon. (See note to Siegfried, ante. p. 56.) (return to text)

2. The illusion of matter, here represented by the Gibichungs, Hagen and the Curse of the Ring. In Tristan it is represented by King Mark for whom Tristan wooes Isolde. (return to text)


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