Universal Brotherhood – September 1899

RICHARD WAGNER'S PROSE WORKS: VI (1) — Basil Crump

VOL. I. — WIELAND THE SMITH.

This dramatic sketch was drafted by Wagner in 1849-50. He wanted Liszt to complete the versification and compose the music, writing to Princess Wittgenstein: "I have more designs than I have the power to execute. It takes me back to a time to which I do not wish to be taken back. * * * Even the copying out cost me many a pang." This refers to his sufferings in Paris after the refusal of Rienzi. Liszt naturally shrank from such a task. The plot is a powerful one with a splendid moral. What a pity it is that minds so fertile cannot find others able enough to undertake the more mechanical portions of the work, such as copying and scoring, which consume such an enormous amount of time and energy! Wagner had to squander months and months of priceless time for want of able copyists; and even when he had trained professors like Seidl and Richter at his command, they found that he composed the music and prepared the rough draft faster than they could do the fair copy! Do we not know of such a teacher now with us — handling Art as one detail of a world-wide work — in whom the same faculty is evident? Is it any exaggeration to declare that, aided by half a dozen workers in every department, really talented and trained in their specialties and obeying their teacher implicitly, the thought of the whole world could be revolutionized in a few years? Surely not when we realize what one strong soul can accomplish single-handed and in the face of fiercest opposition. "Ideas rule the world," and better conditions follow better thoughts as surely as the night the day. But to our story. (2)

On a forest-fringed seashore in Norway dwelt a wonder-smith called Wieland, who, "out of the very joy in his handiwork," was wont to fashion trinkets of gold and weapons of matchless merit. One day, while his brothers, Eigel and Helferich, watched admiringly his work, three swan-maids appeared flying westwards o'er the ocean. But lo! one faltered, sank, and plunged into the sea. Swiftly swam Wieland to her aid and brought her safe to land. Beneath her mighty swan wings he lights upon a cruel wound; he minds him of Helferich's healing herbs, and taking off her plumage he applies the balm. Recovering, she tells her story: "King Isang, in the Northland, was her mother's sire; for this mother, the Prince of the Light-elves burnt with love; in the form of a Swan he drew anigh her, and bore her off across the sea to his distant 'island-home.' Close knit by love, they dwelt there three full years; until the mother, seized with foolish doubting, hotly pressed her spouse to tell her of his birthplace — a question he had from the first forefended. Then swam the Elf-prince down the flood, in form of Swan once more; in reachless distance, saw the sorrowing mother her husband rising on his wings into the sea of clouds. (3) Three daughters had she borne him, Swanhilda and her sisters twain; and every year their swan-wings sprouted; and every year their mother stripped their pinions and buried them from sight, for fear lest her dear nestlings, too, might fly away. But now they got them tidings over sea, that good King Isang was fallen prey to Neid-ing, was done to death, and his lands despoiled from his heirs. Then flamed the mother's breast with rage and vengeance; she longed to punish Neiding, and loud bewailed that she had borne but daughters and no son; she therefore gave the maidens back their stored-up wing-apparel, and bade them northwards fly as fleet Valkyrie, to stir up vengeful strife against the Neiding. So had they stirred men's wrath, and with them striven against the thievish King; nor had they turned them homewards until Swanhilda met her wound."

Aglow with tender love, and wroth against the Neiding, Wieland swears ne'er to forsake her. So gives she him a royal Ring in which is set the Victor-stone. To the woman wearing it a man is drawn by Love's enchantment; for the man whose finger it encircles, the victory is won in every combat. But Wieland, heedless and over-confident, hangs it on a thread of bast behind the door along with Swanhilda's snow-white wings. Sinks she now to slumber, while Wieland fares him forth, hither his brother Helferich to bring for perfect healing of his Swan-wife's wound.

Night is at hand as a ship glides to the shore, bearing Bathilda, daughter of Neiding, and her waiting-women. Creeping cautiously towards the hut she whispers: "My runes I've read aright; hither flew the wounded Shield-maid, (4) for well this shore is known for healing. For Wieland — Gram (Neiding's marshal) may entrap him; the weightiest work I alone. Win I the Ring of the Swan-maid, then mistress am I of the mightiest gem; my father shall thank me alone for his might." (5)

Speedily with magic arts of a material nature she forces the door of the hut, steals the Ring, and stealthily returns to the shore.

Fresh ships reach the strand, bearing Gram and his weaponed warriors. Hiding the ring, Bathilda tells them whither hastened Wieland. With secret joy she notes that Gram, erstwhile cold and sullen, is urged by the power of the Ring to swear his passionate devotion to her. She accepts his vow, and sails with her women for Neiding's land.

Wieland, blindfolded and fettered, is soon brought back by Gram's retainers. Gram accuses him of using Neiding's gold, and tells him he must henceforth forge for him alone. The bandage is torn from his eyes, and he beholds his hut in flames. Oh, horror! Swanhilda is dead! Vengeance! He bursts his fetters, snatches a sword, and sets upon his enemies with fearful fury. Eigel and Helferich come to his aid, and together they beat them back into the ships. Burning for vengeance, Wieland will yet follow them. Having no boat, he springs upon a log and pushes forth to sea, calling upon his grandam Wachilde to guide him to his goal.

Arrived in Niaren-land under name of Goldbrand, he straightway forgets Swanhilda and vengeance under the spell of Bathilda's Ring. Swayed by it he offers Neiding myriad swords for battle against his own King Rothar. Neiding rejoices that he has found the equal of Wieland and accepts the boon. Meanwhile Bathilda is playing a crafty game. Gram, whom she loves, comes to her in disgrace for having failed to capture Wieland. She tells him to take heart, for she holds her father under the spell of the Ring. Then, in pursuance of her schemes, she persuades Gram to spy upon Goldbrand, rousing his jealousy by telling of the wonder-smith's passion for her.

Bathilda now tells her father she has got the Victor-Stone which will win him victory in the coming strife with King Rothar. She reveals the identity of Goldbrand: "Thee serves he not," she says, "for me, it is, he slaves. Now goest thou into battle and give I thee the Ring, I lose my magic power o'er Wieland; he wakes from out his blindness, and wreaks a fell revenge: the swords the which he forgeth, he turns their edge 'gainst us!"

But Neiding prizes Wieland's skill, and moreover he mistrusts Gram, whom Bathilda begs for husband as her guerdon. He decides to influence Gram against Wieland, whose sword will surely slay the marshal. And so it happens. A single stroke of Wieland's sword brings Gram to ground. As Bathilda rushes forward in anguish to save her lover, the hero's weapon grazes her finger and injures the Ring. Neiding completes his cunning plan by cutting the sinews of poor Wieland's feet. "Weapons fair and armour shall he weld me. No artist limb shall come to harm: yet, so of him I make me sure, and so he flee not, hew me the sinews of his feet! Limps he a little, what hurts it? The smithy needs but hands and arms! These graciously I leave him!"

Thus Wieland, propped on crutches, is doomed to hammer at the Neiding's prison-forge. "He, the free artist-smith who, of very joy in his art, had forged the most wondrous of smithery, to arm and gladden withal those dear ones whom he dowered thus with fame and victory — here must he, spurned and spat upon, smite out the chains from his own body, and swords and trappings for the man who cast him into shame."

In the utmost depths of his despondency Bathilda visits him. She seeks what only Wieland's art can do — the mending of the damaged Ring. Yet she fears to let him handle it, for by that Ring she holds his love. So first she bids him swear his fealty to her and abandonment of vengeful schemes.

"Naught have I to venge," he cries, apart my laming; does that not lower me in thine eyes, then fair I am again to look on, and all my vengeance so foreswear I!" "Wieland, was thine oath sworn freely?" asks Bathilda, with fawning softness. "Upon this Ring I swear it!" he answers passionately, snatching it from her hand. But, lo! the magic touch of that Ring brings back the lost memory of Swanhilda. The mists of delusion melt away until the whole vile plot is clear before him. In terrible anger he turns on Bathilda, who, terrified, confesses how she basely stole the talisman. "My curse upon thee, thievish hell-wife!" he thunders, seizing her, and closing fast the smithy door. "For stones and rings thou lam'st free men, and murderest their wives! My wife, and not myself, I now venge on thee! Die!" As he swings his hammer over her she cries in utmost terror: "Thy wife lives! * * * That night, upon my homeward journey, I gazed across the wooded shore and saw the swanlike sisters, as they dived into the forest depths; twain were they then; but three they mounted, over wood and sea to wing them westwards."

Wieland drops his hammer; awful to behold is his despair. "Now ween I who I was, and what a free, blest man! Now wot I that the truest Wife is living, but wretched I may never reach her, never see her more!"

"Bathilda stands as though turned to stone; she feels the fearful reality of human misery, now laid before her. Profound sorrow pierces her soul. Wieland lies speechless on the ground." She bends anxiously beside him. He begins to stir. With the remembrance of Swanhilda the power of his soul is beginning to reassert itself, even in the darkest hour of his grief.

"Swanhilda! Swanhilda! Could I but lift myself from Earth, that only greets my foot with anguish, laid low in shameful impotence! As erst I swam across the billows, ah! could I now fly through the clouds! Strong are mine arms, to ply thy pinions, and fearsome is my need! Thy Wings! Thy wings! Had I thy wings, a warrior then would stoutly cleave the clouds, venging soar above his foemen!"

His eyes glow ever brighter as the soul's magic energy asserts itself. "In waxing inspiration he raises himself upon his crutches, to the full height of his stature." Awestruck, Bathilda cries, "A God it is that stands before me!" Wieland, with heaving breast, replies, "A Man! A Man in highest Need!" Then, with a terrible outburst: "'Tis Need! Need swayed her pinions, and fanned her inspiration round my brain! I've found it, what never man devised! Swanhilda! Truest Wife, to thee I'm nigh! I swing me up to thee!"

Bathilda, filled with lofty love for the godlike man she sees before her, is humbled and transformed. She begs for guidance in expiating her guilt. Wieland bids her become the faithful wife of good King Rothar, who erstwhile sought her hand. Obediently she takes her leave, the while he sets about his new-found task.

"He is bent on creating his highest masterpiece. The swordblades that he had forged so keen and sharp for Neiding, he now will beat them out to pliant, soaring pinions; they shall be joined together, for the arms, by bands of steel; in the neck, where the bands are to fit into each other, the Wonder-stone from Swanhilda's Ring shall form the clasp, the magic axis round which the pair of Wings shall stir."

Suddenly, as with waxing energy, he works, faintly hears he, through the smoke and fume, the voice of Swanhilda calling his name. "I hover nigh thee in the air above, to comfort thee in woe and want."

Transported, he answers: "In want am I; yet taught me Want to swing myself above my woe. * * * I forge me Wings, thou dearest Wife! On wings, I'll mount into the sky! Death and destruction dealt to the Neidings. I swing myself avenged to thee!"

"Wieland! Wieland! Mightiest man! Wooest thou me in the free wide heavens; ne'er will I flee thee away!"

Spurred to new exertions Wieland has finished his work, when Nieding and his retainers demand admittance. Wieland lets them in, then unperceived he locks the door and throws the key into the fire.

"Neiding is delighted at Wieland's arduous toil. * * * the wondrous force of the man astounds him. Any other would have died, mayhap, through what he suffered; but the force of will, with which Wieland fits himself to his evil plight, shows a high and noble race."

He has come to see about his swords. Rothar with mighty hosts is marching on his kingdom, and there is need of Wieland's weapons.

"Small use are swords, to him who vanquishes by Stones of Victory," cries Wieland, mockingly, "more need was mine of newer crutches; that nimbler still about thy business I'd hither flit and fro, than e'er I could upon these stumps of willow. Lo! from thy blades I've forged me crutches; they'll let me gladly lack my feet." So saying, he quickly dons his wings, and begins to fan the embers of his hearth, until great tongues of flame threaten Neiding and his courtiers. Alarmed, he rushes for the door, to find it locked. "Betrayed! we're trapped past helping! Seize ye the traitor, or e'er we stifle!" The place is now full of flame and smoke; as the men press forward to seize on Wieland he rises phoenix-like from the fire, while the stithy falls in ruins upon his enemies.

His brothers, Eigel and Helferich, now appear at the head of Rothar's host. Eigel ends Neiding's sufferings with a well-aimed arrow. "Rothar, advancing, is greeted by the Niars as their deliverer. Sundrenched, brilliant morn. In the background a forest. All gaze, in transport and amazement, up to Wieland. He has swung himself still higher; the dazzling steel of his wings shines like the sun in the morning splendor. Swanhilda hovers, on her broad-spread swan-wings, towards him from the wood. They meet, and fly into the distance."

Although the chief moral of this beautiful myth is quite obvious, yet a short analysis in detail will be helpful to many.

Wieland is, of course, the human soul, seeking for union with its higher nature by striving to "realize the nobility of its calling and its true position in life." (6)

The spirit of creative art is active in him. Working for very joy in his art his creations are unique in beauty and efficiency.

Swanhilda is the higher nature, the spirit of creative art who, of godly origin, is free to fly on sacred swan-wings the higher regions of consciousness, and wage war against the lower nature.

Neiding, Gram and Bathilda are the trinity of lower forces. Wagner calls Neiding "Envy." Notice that they balance the higher trinity of the three Swan-maidens, Wieland making the seventh. Associated with him are his two brothers and King Rothar, the whole making the perfect number 10. Arranged in the following symbolical figure — familiar to Esoteric students — we have a picture of the triune man of Spirit, Soul and Body:

diagram

When Swanhilda becomes Wieland's wife, he has, by the sincerity of his work, drawn the full presence and help of his higher self into his life. It is the grander, more complete, incarnation of the soul. But this involves new tests of faith and trust. Wieland receives from the higher nature the gift of its magic powers — the Ring which binds him to it, and the Victor-Stone which gives him dominion over all the lower forces. Proud in the consciousness of his new-found strength, he scorns to wear the talisman, and hangs it up behind the door. At once the evil powers manifest themselves, burn his house, bind him, steal the Ring and turn its power against him, while Swanhilda has to return to the upper realms, and he loses consciousness of her. His pure, unselfish love for the higher is transformed into a blind delusive passion for the lower aspect, Bathilda.

In Niaren-land we find ourselves in the midst of all the intrigues, rottenness, plots, falsities and cruelties of the lower nature — that realm where Envy is king. Mark this: Here we have a fine picture of how the evil powers defeat their own ends, where the soul's motive is pure. Wieland is sincere in all; he keeps on working in the face of every obstacle. So Bathilda, in her schemes, first of all causes Gram to be slain, and then is forced to let Wieland handle the Ring, which had become damaged in the fight. Once more he rends the veil which has obscured the higher self, and such is its power that it transforms Bathilda's nature, and lifts her to the perception of higher forces. (7)

She is witness of the wonderful process by which, in the hour of his deepest despondency, the energy of Wieland's soul arises in its god-like power, and inspires him with the Master-secret of holy freedom. Well may she cry, "A God it is that stands before me!"

No sooner does Wieland begin to execute his masterpiece than he becomes conscious once more of the divine presence hovering over him. She tells him the meaning of his new resolve: "Wooest thou me in the free, wide heavens, ne'er will flee thee away! He has found the secret of eternal union with his higher nature; he must rise to its pure, free, godlike realm on the pinions of his true endeavor, not seek to drag it down to his own level.

The final scene is magnificent in its impressive symbology. Out of the very swords he was compelled to forge for his enemy, Wieland forges the wings which shall raise him out of all the conditions which have oppressed and fettered him. Their magic fulcrum is Swanhilda's king. As he soars aloft and abroad it is the very fire and framework of his prison-house which crush and consume his enemies. Bathilda alone is saved for future usefulness. Seemingly the worst of all, her heart was touched by Wieland's woe, and thus the first thrill of fellow-suffering opened to her the gateway of a noble life, beginning with Wieland's forgiveness and her union with good King Rothar.

Finally, let Wagner's own words round off the meaning of the story:

"From Want, from terrible all-powerful Want, the fettered artist learnt to mould what no man's mind had yet conceived. Wieland found it; found how to forge him WINGS. . .Wings to soar through Heaven's distance to the blessed island of his Wife!

"He did it; he fulfilled the task that utmost Want had set within him. Borne on the work of his own Art (his own ideals), he flew aloft * * * he swung himself in blissful, daring flight athwart the winds, to where he found the loved one of his youth.

"O, sole and glorious Folk!. . . This is it that thou thyself hast sung. Thou art thyself this Wieland! Weld thou thy wings, and soar on high!"

FOOTNOTES:

1. Translated by W. Ashton Ellis. London: Kegan Paul. (return to text)

2. The staff-rhyme alliteration referred to in the Artwork of the Future (July number) is conspicuous in this sketch. A Welsh student writes: "With great interest I discover from your article in U. B. that Wagner used Stabreim (we call it Cynghanedd), and it is the main feature of Welsh poetry. This feature and the matter of vowel rhyming (long vowels) contributes to making the poetry naturally full of tone, so that any person to whom poetry is not absolutely a dead letter will naturally and unavoidably fall into what we call the hwyl when reading it, i.e., a kind of chanting or intoning. All these things are simply the custom of the country, and anyone who speaks Welsh can hear a bit of genuine tone-speech from any good Welsh preacher. Speaking without is hardly listened to, and no true Cambrian bard would be dreaming of reciting poetry any other how. Another peculiarity is illustrated in this verse from an old hymn:

Cai fawl telyn nad yn gelyn
Cythraul melyn, caeth rol moelau
Yn du bwyllo, wan godwyllo
Er cur bwyllo, I'r cor byllau.

Here you observe that in the first and third lines vowel rhyming is used, while in the second and fourth we have the Cynghanedd." (return to text)

3. The close identity of this legend with that of Wagner's Lohengrin, and also with the Greek legends of Eros and Psyche, and Zeus and Semele, should be noted. The swan is a sacred bird: it drew Lohengrin's boat; through the death of a swan both Buddha and Parsifal received their first lesson in compassion. Note also that Wieland is the rebirth of the Greek Daedalus, but his wings are of tougher material and do not fail him in flight. (return to text)

4. A name of the Valkyries or "Choosers of the Slain." Their duties were to carry the souls of heroes slain in battle to Valhalla, where they rested until ready for another battle (or incarnation) in the earth world. The Valkyries also had the power of at once resuscitating the exhausted soul so that it could go on fighting without any interval of rest. We see here the Scandinavian belief in Rebirth and the power of the soul to renounce its rest between each incarnation in order to keep on working for humanity. (return to text)

5. The Ring, as in Wagner's great tetralogy, The Ring of the Nibelung, is a symbol of power. There are other points of resemblance to that drama, which Wagner had in fact begun to work upon in 1848. Wieland is a small portion of the vast amount of material in the great Nibelungen Epic which Wagner sifted, rearranged and morally ennobled, in order to form the fit expression for his lofty teachings. (return to text)

6. First object of Katherine Tingley's International Brotherhood League. (return to text)

7. Compare the close of Tannhauser, of which Wagner says: "We hear the jubilant song of the redeemed Venusberg itself, its song changed into adoration of the Divine." (return to text)


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