Universal Brotherhood – June 1898

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

VIII. — PARSIFAL. (Continued.)

All (his lives) are cast aside at last, and he enters the great Temple, where any memory of self or sensation is left outside, as the shoes are cast from the feet of the worshipper. That Temple is the place of his own pure divinity, the central Flame which, however obscured, has animated him through all these struggles. And having found this sublime home, he is sure as the heavens themselves. He remains still, filled with all knowledge and power. The outer man — the adoring, the acting, the living personification, goes its own way hand in hand with Nature, and shows all the superb strength of the savage growth of the earth, lit by that instinct which contains knowledge. — Through the Gates of Gold.

The perfected "likeness" of the noblest work of Art should, by its arousing influence upon our feeling, point us the way to find the archetype whose "somewhere" must perforce reveal itself to our own inner life, set free from Time and Space, and filled alone with Love, and Faith, and Hope. . . .

What untold gain could we bring to those who are on the one hand terrified by the threatenings of the Church, on the other driven to despair by the physicists, could we fit into the lofty building of "Love, Faith, and Hope" a clear knowledge of the ideality of the world, — limited as it is by the laws of Time and Space, which are but the fundamental conditions of our perception. Would not, then, each question of the vexed spirit, each "when" and "where" of the "other world" find its answer in a happy smile? — Wagner''s Religion and Art.

Since the time when Parsifal left the ruins of the Castle of Perdition on his long and weary quest, the condition of the Grail Brotherhood has gradually become worse. Amfortas has refused to again unveil the Grail, and the Knights, deprived of its miraculous sustenance, have ceased their noble deeds, each seeking in the forest for himself the common sustenance of roots and herbs. The aged Titurel, whom only the divine light of the Grail could keep in being, has at last pined away and died; while his faithful armorer and companion, Gurnemanz, has retired to a hut in the forest to prepare by meditation for his end. All this, together with the weariness and sorrow of Parsifal's wanderings, is depicted in the Prelude to the third Act, which opens as follows: —

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We also hear the Thoren-motive, that divine promise which now announces the coming of the Regenerator. It is the dawn of Good Friday and Gurnemanz is roused by a groaning from a thicket hard by. Going to it he discovers Kundry, clad in the coarse garb of the first Act and apparently rigid and lifeless. Let us remember that she represents the material forces of Nature now about to awake with the Spring and the dawn of a New Cycle — a Cycle of material and spiritual regeneration. "Awake!" says Gurnemanz, "Awake to the Spring!" He chafes her hands and brow and at length arouses her from her torpor; but how different now is her mien! All the wildness has vanished, and the only two words she utters in this Act are "Service — Service!" Setting about some useful work she presently draws the attention of Gurnemanz to a figure in the distance clad from head to foot in black armor with closed helmet and lowered lance. The stranger approaches in a dreamy, hesitating manner and seats himself on a knoll with an air of patient but intense weariness. Questioned by Gurnemanz he answers only by silent movements of the head, until requested to put off his weapons in honor of the holy day; then he thrusts the lance upright into the earth, and laying his helmet and other weapons beside it, kneels before it in silent prayer. Gurnemanz is overcome with emotion, for he recognizes Parsifal and the recovered Sacred Lance; so also does Kundry, who gazes calmly and intently upon him. Rising, he greets the aged Gurnemanz tenderly, and to his question whence he came, answers:

"By paths of error and suffering I came; am I to deem my wanderings over and feel that my struggle is at an end. . . . Or — must I wander further?" Then he tells him that it is Amfortas whom he ever seeks, the wounded brother "whose bitter wail I listened to once in foolish amazement, to whom I may now consider myself as chosen to bring salvation." But the curse laid upon him by Kundry had caused him to be continually baffled and to engage in many painful conflicts. One may ask how it was that Kundry had the power to do this? Because in her evil aspect as temptress she represented the misuse of Nature's forces through selfish desire, and the Higher Self or Christos in man has to endure the results of that sin in its effort to redeem the lower self. That redemption is deferred until those results are worked out under the law of Cause and Effect. Parsifal lives for the world instead of dying for it; guarding the sacred Lance, which he might never wield in his own defense, he suffers many a wound, but brings it back undefiled to the Grail's domain.

Now he hears from Gurnemanz that his wanderings are at an end; but the recital of the sad events culminating in Titurel's death fills him with distress and self-reproach that his blind foolishness should have permitted all this misery to come about. Notice here that Titurel does not entirely depart until the new Messenger is ready to undertake the sacred trust. Humanity is never completely deserted by its Elder Brothers, although through its own folly it may have to pass through dark cycles of error and suffering. "The Light has never faded and never will."

Parsifal is now conducted to a spring where Gurnemanz removes his dusky armor, revealing beneath a garment of pure white. While Kundry loosens his greaves and washes his feet, he asks if today he will be led to Amfortas. Gurnemanz assures him that will be so, for the funeral ceremony of King Titurel is to take place, and Amfortas has promised once more to unveil the Grail. Then, at Parsifal's request, he sprinkles his head, the following motive accompanying this act of baptism:

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Kundry now takes a golden phial from her bosom and anoints Parsifal's feet, drying them with her hair. Taking the phial gently from her he hands it to Gurnemanz, saying to her: "You have anointed my feet; now let the companion of Titurel anoint my head, that to-day he may yet hail me as King.'' So Gurnemanz performs the solemn and touching rite, folding his hands upon his head: "So was it promised to us," he says reverently, "so do I bless thy head — and hail thee as King. Thou — pure one — compassionate sufferer, enlightened deliverer! (The Thoren-motive is heard.) As thou hast borne the sufferings of the redeemed one, so now take the last burden from his head."

Meanwhile Parsifal unobserved has taken water in his hand from the spring and now sprinkles it on Kundry's head, saying: "My first duty I fulfil thus: be baptized and believe on the Redeemer!" His first act of kingly compassion is to receive forever into the holy community the one who tempted him and then cursed his path. And she — who through many lives could only laugh, storm, and rage — -bows her head to the earth and weeps for the first time.

"How beautiful the meadows seem today!" says Parsifal, gazing in quiet rapture upon the sunlit landscape, "I once met with magic flowers, which climbing up to my head eagerly sought to clasp me; but never saw I the grass, the flowers, and blossoms, so sweet and tender, nor ever smelled they so childishly pure, nor ever spoke to me with such loving confidence." For, as Gurnemanz explains, "ransomed nature gained this morn her day of innocence," and Kundry, her representative, looks up at her conqueror and deliverer, her eyes filled with tears. "Thy tears have also become a dew of blessing"; he says, "thou weepest, see, the meadow smiles;" and bending down he kisses her gently upon the brow.

The bells of Monsalvat are now heard, and they hasten to invest Parsifal with his Knight's mantle. Grasping the Lance he follows Gurnemanz, and this time Kundry comes also. The scenery moves as in the first Act, only in the reverse direction, the accompanying music taking the form of a most impressive Death March in honor of Titurel.

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The Temple is veiled in gloomy twilight, and the Knights enter in two trains, one bearing Titurel's coffin and the other Amfortas, before whom is borne, as before, the shrine of the Grail. Setting down the coffin in front of the altar, the Knights call upon Amfortas to be mindful for the last time of his office. As Amfortas wearily replies that he would more willingly accept death, the coffin is opened and at the sight of their dead Master the Knights make a sign of horror and utter a cry of lamentation. Addressing the corpse, the wounded son prays that the peace of death may descend upon him; then, as the Knights press around him commanding him in Titurel's name to unveil the Grail, he rushes amongst them in a paroxysm of despair, and baring the bleeding wound to their gaze calls on them to "kill the tortured sinner," and then the Grail will glow for them of its own accord. Meanwhile Parsifal has entered unobserved with Gurnemanz and Kundry; advancing as the Knights recoil in fear from their distracted king he touches the wound with the point of the Lance, saying, "Only one weapon can avail! Only the Lance which opened the wound can close it." The face of Amfortas glows with intense rapture and he staggers healed but fainting into the arms of Gurnemanz.

"Be whole, purified and redeemed!" continues Parsifal, "For I now perform thine office. Blessed be thy suffering, which gave the highest power of pity, and the strength of purest knowledge to the timid Fool."

Marching with stately steps towards the centre of the Temple he raises the Lance, and with his eyes fixed upon its point he calls the Brotherhood to witness that he has restored the sacred weapon to its sanctuary. Then, mounting the steps of the altar, he takes the Cup of the Grail from its shrine and kneels before it in silence. Gradually it begins to glow with a soft light, and the gloom in the Temple deepens as the light from the dome grows brighter, while the celestial choirs and the Knights join in one great paean of joy and wonder:

Miracle of Highest redemption!

Redemption to the Redeemer!

A ray of light descends upon the Cup which glows with an intense lustre, and, as Parsifal elevates it, the White Dove, emblem of the Divine Spirit, floats down from the dome and hovers over its latest Messenger. Kundry with eyes ever fixed on her Redeemer falls lifeless to the earth; Desire is dead, and the deceptive, illusory powers of nature are dispelled by the light of Truth. No grander figure was ever depicted than that of Parsifal as he stands, the embodiment of compassionate Love, before the adoring Brotherhood, the "living link" between them and the fount of Divine Love whose light and power now radiate upon them from the Cup he holds.

This last and truly inspired effort of a noble life-work speaks with such clearness and simplicity to our hearts that we must deem any further attempt at interpretation unnecessary. Wagner once said of his Lohengrin drama that all that was needed for its understanding was "a healthy sense and a human heart;" and if the great lesson of "Parsifal" is Sympathy, so it is by that power, and not by any intellectual process that we shall grasp its true significance.


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