Trusty Eckart and Tannenhäuser
Brave Burgundy no longer
Could fight for fatherland;
The foe they were the stronger,
Upon the bloody sand.
He said: "The foe prevaileth,
My friends and followers fly,
My striving naught availeth,
My spirits sink and die.
No more can I exert me,
Or sword and lance can wield;
O, why did he desert me,
Eckart, our trusty shield!
In fight he used to guide me,
In danger was my stay;
Alas, he's not beside me,
But stays at home today!
The crowds are gathering faster,
Took captive shall I be?
I may not run like dastard,
I'll die like soldier free."
Thus Burgundy so bitter,
Has at his breast his sword;
When, see, breaks-in the Ritter
Eckart, to save his lord!
With cap and armour glancing,
Bold on the foe he rides,
His troop behind him prancing,
And his two sons besides.
Burgundy sees their token,
And cries: "Now, God be praised!
Not yet we're beat or broken,
Since Eckart's flag is raised."
Then like a true knight, Eckart
Dash'd gaily through the foe:
But with his red blood flecker'd,
His little son lay low.
And when the fight was ended,
Then Burgundy he speaks:
"Thou hast me well befriended,
Yet so as wets my cheeks.
The foe is smote and flying;
Thou'st saved my land and life;
But here thy boy is lying,
Returns not from the strife."
Then Eckart wept almost,
The tear stood in his eye;
He clasp'd the son he'd lost,
Close to his breast the boy.
"Why diedst thou, Heinz, so early,
And scarce wast yet a man?
Thou'rt fallen in battle fairly;
For thee I'll not complain.
Thee, Prince, we have deliver'd;
From danger thou art free:
The boy and I are sever'd;
I give my son to thee."
Then Burgundy our chief,
His eyes grew moist and dim;
He felt such joy and grief,
So great that love to him.
His heart was melting, flaming,
He fell on Eckart's breast,
With sobbing voice exclaiming:
"Eckart, my champion best,
Thou stoodst when every other
Had fled from me away;
Therefore thou art my brother
Forever from this day.
The people shall regard thee
As wert thou of my line;
And could I more reward thee,
How gladly were it thine!"
And when we heard the same,
We joy'd as did our prince;
And Trusty Eckart is the name
We've call'd him ever since.
The voice of an old peasant sounded over the rocks, as he sang this ballad; and the Trusty Eckart sat in his grief, on the declivity of the hill, and wept aloud. His youngest boy was standing by him:
— Why weepest thou aloud, my father Eckart? said he: Art thou not great and strong, taller and braver than any other man? Whom, then, art thou afraid of?
Meanwhile the Duke of Burgundy was moving homewards to his Tower. Burgundy was mounted on a stately horse, with splendid trappings; and the gold and jewels of the princely Duke were glittering in the evening sun; so that little Conrad could not sate himself with viewing and admiring the magnificent procession. The Trusty Eckart rose, and looked gloomily over it; and young Conrad, when the hunting train had disappeared, struck up this stave:
On good steed,
Sword and shield
Wouldst thou wield,
With spear and arrow;
Then had need
That the marrow
In thy arm,
That thy heart and blood,
To save thy head from harm.
The old man clasped his son to his bosom, looking with wistful tenderness on his clear blue eyes.
— Didst thou hear that good man's song? said he.
— Ay, why not? answered Conrad: he sang it loud enough, and thou art the Trusty Eckart thyself, so I liked to listen.
— That same Duke is now my enemy, said Eckart; he keeps my other son in prison, nay has already put him to death, if I may credit what the people say.
— Take down thy broad-sword, and do not suffer it, cried Conrad; they will tremble to see thee, and all the people in the whole land will stand by thee, for thou art their greatest hero in the land.
— Not so, my son, said the other; I were then the man my enemies have called me; I dare not be unfaithful to my liege; no, I dare not break the peace which I have pledged to him, and promised on his hand.
— But what wants he with us, then? said Conrad, impatiently.
Eckart sat down again, and said:
— My son, the entire story of it would be long, and thou wouldst scarcely understand it. The great have always their worst enemy in their own hearts, and they fear it day and night; so Burgundy has now come to think that he has trusted me too far; that he has nursed in me a serpent in his bosom. People call me the stoutest warrior in our country; they say openly that he owes me land and life; I am named the Trusty Eckart; and thus oppressed and suffering persons turn to me, that I may get them help. All this he cannot suffer. So he has taken up a grudge against me; and every one that wants to rise in favour with him increases his distrust; so that at last he has quite turned away his heart from me.
Hereupon the hero Eckart told, in smooth words, how Burgundy had banished him from his sight, how they had become entire strangers to each other, as the Duke suspected that he even meant to rob him of his dukedom. In trouble and sorrow, he proceeded to relate how the Duke had cast his son into confinement, and was threatening the life of Eckart himself, as of a traitor to the land.
But Conrad said to his father:
— Wilt thou let me go, my old father, and speak with the Duke, to make him reasonable and kind to thee? If he has killed my brother, then he is a wicked man, and thou must punish him; but that cannot be, for he could not so falsely forget the great service thou hast done him.
— Dost thou know the old proverb? said Eckart:
"Doth the king require thy aid,
Thou'rt a friend can ne'er be paid;
Hast them help'd him through his trouble,
Friendship's grown an empty bubble."
— Yes; my whole life has been wasted in vain. Why did he make me great, to cast me down the deeper? The friendship of princes is like a deadly poison, which can only be employed against our enemies, and with which at last we unwarily kill ourselves.
— I will to the Duke, cried Conrad: I will call back into his soul all that thou hast done, that thou hast suffered for him; and he will again be as of old.
— Thou hast forgot, said Eckart, that they look on us as traitors. Therefore let us fly together to some foreign country, where a better fortune may betide us.
— At thy age, said Conrad, wilt thou turn away thy face from thy kind home? I will to Burgundy; I will quiet him, and reconcile him to thee. What can he do to me, even though he still hate and fear thee?
— I let thee go unwillingly, said Eckart; for my soul forebodes no good; and yet I would fain be reconciled to him, for he is my old friend; and fain save thy brother, who is pining in the dungeon beside him.
The sun threw his last mild rays on the green Earth: Eckart sat pensively leaning back against a tree; he looked long at Conrad, then said:
— If thou wilt go, my little boy, go now, before the night grow altogether dark. The windows in the Duke's Castle are already glittering with lights, and I hear afar off the sound of trumpets from the feast; perhaps his son's bride may have arrived, and his mind may be friendlier to us.
Unwillingly he let him go, for he no longer trusted to his fortune: but Conrad's heart was light; for he thought it would be an easy task to turn the mind of Burgundy, who had played with him so kindly but a short while before.
— Wilt thou come back to me, my little boy? sobbed Eckart: if I lose thee, no other of my race remains.
The boy consoled him; flattered him with caresses: at last they parted.
Conrad knocked at the gate of the Castle, and was let in; old Eckart stayed without in the night alone.
— Him too have I lost, moaned he in his solitude; I shall never see his face again.
Whilst he so lamented, there came tottering towards him a gray-haired man; endeavouring to get down the rocks; and seeming, at every step, to fear that he should stumble into the abyss. Seeing the old man's feebleness, Eckart held out his hand to him, and helped him to descend in safety.
— Which way come ye? inquired Eckart.
The old man sat down, and began to weep, so that the tears came running over his cheeks. Eckart tried to soothe him and console him with reasonable words; but the sorrowful old man seemed not at all to heed these well-meant speeches, but to yield himself the more immoderately to his sorrows.
— What grief can it be that lies so heavy on you as to overpower you utterly? said Eckart.
— Ah, my children! moaned the old man.
Then Eckart thought of Conrad, Heinz and Dietrich, and was himself altogether comfortless.
— Yes, said he, if your children are dead, your misery in truth is very great.
— Worse than dead, replied the old man, with his mournful voice; for they are not dead, but lost forever to me. O, would to Heaven that they were but dead!
These strange words astonished Eckart, and he asked the old man to explain the riddle; whereupon the latter answered:
— The age we live in is indeed a marvellous age, and surely the last days are at hand; for the most dreadful signs are sent into the world, to threaten it. Every sort of wickedness is casting off its old fetters, and stalking bold and free about the Earth; the fear of God is drying up and dispersing, and can find no channel to unite in; and the Powers of Evil are rising audaciously from their dark nooks, and celebrating their triumph. Ah, my dear sir! we are old, but not old enough for such prodigious things. You have doubtless seen the Comet, that wondrous light in the sky, that shines so prophetically down upon us? All men predict evil; and no one thinks of beginning the reform with himself, and so essaying to turn off the rod. Nor is this enough; but portents are also issuing from the Earth, and breaking mysteriously from the depths below, even as the light shines frightfully on us from above. Have you never heard of the Hill, which people call the Hill of Venus?
— Never, said Eckart, far as I have travelled.
— I am surprised at that, replied the old man; for the matter is now grown as notorious as it is true. To this Mountain have the Devils fled, and sought shelter in the desert centre of the Earth, according as the growth of our Holy Faith has cast down the idolatrous worship of the Heathen. Here, they say, before all others, Lady Venus keeps her court, and all her hellish hosts of worldly Lusts and forbidden Wishes gather round her, so that the Hill has been accursed since time immemorial.
— But in what country lies the Hill? inquired Eckart.
— There is the secret, said the old man, that no one can tell this, except he have first given himself up to be Satan's servant; and, indeed, no guiltless person ever thinks of seeking it out. A wonderful Musician on a sudden issues from below, whom the Powers of Hell have sent as their ambassador; he roams through the world, and plays, and makes music on a pipe, so that his tones sound far and wide. And whoever hears these sounds is seized by him with visible yet inexplicable force, and drawn on, on, into the wilderness; he sees not the road he travels; he wanders, and wanders, and is not weary; his strength and his speed go on increasing; no power can restrain him; but he runs frantic into the Mountain, from which he can nevermore return. This power has, in our day, been restored to Hell; and in this inverse direction, the ill-starred, perverted pilgrims are travelling to a Shrine where no deliverance awaits them, or can reach them any more. For a long while, my two sons had given me no contentment; they were dissolute and immoral; they despised their parents, as they did religion; but now the Sound has caught and carried them off, they are gone into unseen kingdoms; the world was too narrow for them, they are seeking room in Hell.
— And what do you intend to do in such a mystery? said Eckart.
— With this crutch I set out, replied the old man, to wander through the world, to find them again, or die of weariness and woe.
So saying, he tore himself from his rest with a strong effort; and hastened forth with his utmost speed, as if he had found himself neglecting his most precious earthly hope; and Eckart looked with compassion on his vain toil, and rated him in his thoughts as mad.
It had been night, and was now day, and Conrad came not back. Eckart wandered to and fro among the rocks, and turned his longing eyes on the Castle; still he did not see him. A crowd came issuing through the gate; and Eckart no longer heeded to conceal himself; but mounted his horse, which was grazing in freedom; and rode into the middle of the troop, who were now proceeding merrily and carelessly across the plain. On his reaching them, they recognised him; but no one laid a hand on him, or said a hard word to him; they stood mute for reverence, surrounded him in admiration, and then went their way. One of the squires he called back, and asked him:
— Where is my Conrad?
— O! ask me not, replied the squire; it would but cause you sorrow and lamenting.
— And Dietrich! cried the father.
— Name not their names any more, said the aged squire, for they are gone; the wrath of our master was kindled against them, and he meant to punish you in them.
A hot rage mounted up in Eckart's soul; and, for sorrow and fury, he was no longer master of himself. He dashed the spurs into his horse, and rode through the Castle-gate. All drew back, with timid reverence, from his way; and thus he rode on to the front of the Palace. He sprang from horseback, and mounted the great steps with wavering pace.
— Am I here in the dwelling of the man, said he, within himself, who was once my friend?
He endeavoured to collect his thoughts; but wilder and wilder images kept moving in his eye, and thus he stept into the Prince's chamber.
Burgundy's presence of mind forsook him, and he trembled as Eckart stood in his presence.
— Art thou the Duke of Burgundy? said Eckart to him. To which the Duke answered:
— And thou hast killed my son Dietrich?
The Duke said:
— And my little Conrad too, cried Eckart, in his grief, was not too good for thee, and thou hast killed him also?
— To which the Duke again answered:
Here Eckart was unmanned, and said, in tears:
— O! answer me not so, Burgundy; for I cannot bear these speeches. Tell me but that thou art sorry, that thou wishest it were yet undone, and I will try to comfort myself; but thus thou art utterly offensive to my heart.
The Duke said:
— Depart from my sight, false traitor; for thou art the worst enemy I have on Earth.
— Thou hast of old called me thy friend; but these thoughts are now far from thee. Never did I act against thee; still have I honoured and loved thee as my prince; and God forbid that I should now, as I well might, lay my hand upon my sword, and seek revenge of thee. No, I will depart from thy sight, and die in solitude.
So saying, he went out; and Burgundy was moved in his mind; but at his call, the guards appeared with their lances, who encircled him on all sides, and motioned to drive Eckart from the chamber with their weapons.
To horse the hero springs,
Wild through the hills he rideth:
"Of hope in earthly things,
Now none with me abideth.
My sons are slain in youth,
I have no child or wife;
The Prince suspects my truth,
Has sworn to take my life."
Then to the wood he turns him,
There gallops on and on;
The smart of sorrow burns him,
He cries: "They're gone, they're gone!
All living men from me are fled,
New friends I must provide me,
To the oaks and firs beside me,
Complain in desert dead.
There is no child to cheer me,
By cruel wolves they're slain;
Once three of them were near me,
I see them not again."
As Eckart cried thus sadly,
His sense it pass'd away;
He rides in fury madly
Till dawning of the day.
His horse in frantic speed
Sinks down at last exhausted;
And naught does Eckart heed,
Or think or know what caused it;
But on the cold ground lie,
Not fearing, loving longer;
Despair grows strong and stronger,
He wishes but to die.
No one about the Castle knew whither Eckart had gone; for he had lost himself in the waste forests, and let no man see him. The Duke dreaded his intentions; and he now repented that he had let him go, and not laid hold of him. So, one morning, he set forth with a great train of hunters and attendants, to search the woods, and find out Eckart; for he thought, that till Eckart were destroyed, there could be no security. All were unwearied, and regardless of toil; but the sun set without their having found a trace of Eckart.
A storm came on, and great clouds flew blustering over the forest; the thunder rolled, and lightning struck the tall oaks: all present were seized with an unquiet terror, and they gradually dispersed among the bushes, or the open spaces of the wood. The Duke's horse plunged into the thicket; his squires could not follow him: the gallant horse rushed to the ground; and Burgundy in vain called through the tempest to his servants; for there was no one that could hear him.
Like a wild man had Eckart roamed about the woods, unconscious of himself or his misfortunes; he had lost all thought,, and in blank stupefaction satisfied his hunger with roots and herbs: the hero could not now be recognised by any one, so sore had the days of his despair defaced him. As the storm came on, he awoke from his stupefaction, and again felt his existence and his woes, and saw the misery that had befallen him. He raised a loud cry of lamentation for his children; he tore his white hair; and called out, in the bellowing of the storm:
— Whither, whither are ye gone, ye parts of my heart? And how is all strength departed from me, that I could not even avenge your death? Why did I hold back my arm, and did not send to death him who had given my heart these deadly stabs? Ha, fool, though deservest that the tyrant should mock thee, since thy powerless arm and thy silly heart withstood not the murderer. Now, O now were he with me! But it is in vain to wish for vengeance, when the moment is gone by.
Thus came on the night, and Eckart wandered to and fro in his sorrow. From a distance he heard as it were a voice calling for help. Directing his steps by the sound, he came up to a man in the darkness, who was leaning on the stem of a tree, and mournfully entreating to be guided to his road. Eckart started at the voice, for it seemed familiar to him; but he soon recovered, and perceived that the lost wayfarer was the Duke of Burgundy. Then he raised his hand to his sword, to cut down the man who had been the murderer of his children; his fury came on him with new force, and he was upon the point of finishing his bloody task, when all at once he stopped, for his oath and the word he had pledged came into his mind. He took his enemy's hand, and led him to the quarter where he thought the road must be.
The Duke foredone and weary
Sank in the wilder'd breaks;
Him in the tempest dreary
He on his shoulders takes.
Said Burgundy: "I'm giving
Much toil to thee, I fear."
Eckart replied: "The living
On Earth have much to bear."
"Yet," said the Duke, "believe me,
Were we out of the wood,
Since now thou dost relieve me,
Thy sorrows I'll make good."
The hero at this promise
Felt on his cheek the tear;
Said he: "Indeed I nowise
Do look for payment here."
"Harder our plight is growing,"
The Duke cries, dreading scath,
"Now whither are we going?
Who art thou? Art thou Death?"
"Not Death," said he, still weeping,
"Or any fiend am I;
Thy life is in God's keeping,
Thy ways are in his eye."
"Ah," said the Duke, repenting,
"My breast is foul within;
I tremble, while lamenting,
Lest God requite my sin.
My truest friend I've banish'd,
His children have I slain,
In wrath from me he vanish 'd,
As foe he comes again.
To me he was devoted,
Through good report and bad;
My rights he still promoted,
The truest man I had.
Me he can never pardon,
I kill'd his children dear;
This night, to pay my guerdon,
I' th' wood he lurks, I fear.
This does my conscience teach me,
A threat'ning voice within;
If here to-night he reach me,
I die a child of sin."
Said Eckart: "The beginning
Of our woes is guilt;
My grief is for thy sinning,
And for the blood thou'st spilt.
And that the man will meet thee
Is likewise surely true;
Yet fear not, I entreat thee,
He'll harm no hair of you."
Thus were they going forward talking, when another person in the forest met them; it was Wolfram, the Duke's Squire, who had long been looking for his master. The dark night was still lying over them, and no star twinkled from between the wet black clouds. The Duke felt weaker, and longed to reach some lodging, where he might sleep till day; besides, he was afraid that he might meet with Eckart, who stood like a spectre before his soul. He imagined he should never see the morning; and shuddered anew when the wind again rustled through the high trees, and the storm came down from the hollows of the mountains, and went rushing over his head.
— Wolfram, cried the Duke, in his anguish, climb one of these tall pines, and look about if thou canst spy no light, no house or cottage, whither we may turn.
The Squire, at the hazard of his life, clomb up a lofty pine, which the storm was waving from the one side to the other, and ever and anon bending down the top of it to the very ground; so that the Squire wavered to and fro upon it like a little squirrel. At last he reached the top, and cried:
— Down there, in the valley, I see the glimmer of a candle; thither must we turn.
So he descended and showed the way; and in a while, they all perceived the cheerful light; at which the Duke once more took heart. Eckart still continued mute, and occupied within himself; he spoke no word, and looked at his inward thoughts. On arriving at the hut, they knocked; and a little old housewife let them in: as they entered, the stout Eckart set the Duke down from his shoulders, who threw himself immediately upon his knees, and in a fervent prayer thanked God for his deliverance. Eckart took his seat in a dark corner; and there he found fast asleep the poor old man, who had lately told him of his great misery about his sons, and the search he was making for them.
When the Duke had done praying, he said:
— Very strange have my thoughts been this night, and the goodness of God and his almighty power never showed themselves so openly before to my obdurate heart: my mind also tells me that I have not long to live; and I desire nothing save that God would pardon me my manifold and heavy sins. You two, also, who have led me hither, I could wish to recompense, so far as in my power, before my end arrive. To thee, Wolfram, I give both the castles that are on these hills beside us; and in future, in remembrance of this awful night, thou shalt call them the Tannenhäuser, or Pinehouses.
— But who art thou, strange man, continued he, that hast placed thyself there in the nook, apart? Come forth, that I may also pay thee for thy toil.
Then rose the hero from his place,
And stept into the light before them;
Deep lines of woe were on his face,
But with a patient mind he bore them.
And Burgundy, his heart forsook him,
To see that mild old gray-hair'd man;
His face grew pale, a trembling took him,
He swoon'd and sank to earth again.
"O, saints of heaven," he wakes and cries,
"Is't thou that art before my eyes?
How shall I fly? Where shall I hide me?
Was't thou that in the wood didst guide me?
I kill'd thy children young and fair,
Me in thy arms how couldst thou bear?"
Thus Burgundy goes on to wail,
And feels the heart within him fail;
Death is at hand, remorse pursues him,
With streaming eyes he sinks on Eckart's bosom;
And Eckart whispers to him low:
"Henceforth I have forgot the slight,
So thou and all the world may know,
Eckart was still thy trusty knight."
Thus passed the hours till morning, when some other servants of the Duke arrived, and found their dying master. They laid him on a mule, and took him back to his castle. Eckart he could not suffer from his side; he would often take his hand and press it to his breast, and look at him with an imploring look. Then Eckart would embrace him, and speak a few kind words to him, and so the Prince would feel composed. At last he summoned all his Council, and declared to them that he appointed Eckart, the trusty man, to be guardian of his sons, seeing he had proved himself the noblest of all. And thus he died.
Thenceforward Eckart took on him the government with all zeal; and every person in the land admired his high manly spirit. Not long afterwards a rumour spread abroad in all quarters, of a strange Musician, who had come from Venus-Hill, who was travelling through the whole land, and seducing men with his playing, so that they disappeared, and no one could find any traces of them. Many credited the story, others not; Eckart recollected the unhappy old man.
— I have taken you for my sons, said he to the young Princes, as he once stood with them on the hill before the Castle; your happiness must now be my posterity; when dead, I shall still live in your joy.
They lay down on the slope, from which the fair country was visible for many a league; and here Eckart had to guard himself from speaking of his children; for they seemed as if coming towards him from the distant mountains, while he heard afar off a lovely sound.
"Comes it not like dreams
Stealing o'er the vales and streams?
Out of regions far from this,
Like the song of souls in bliss?"
This to the youths did Eckart say,
And caught the sound from far away;
And as the magic tones came nigher,
A wicked strange desire
Awakens in the breasts of these pure boys,
That drives them forth to seek for unknown joys.
"Come, let's to the fields, to the meadows and mountains,
The forests invite us, the streams and the fountains;
Soft voices in secret for loitering chide us,
Away to the Garden of Pleasure they'll guide us."
The Player comes in foreign guise,
Appears before their wondering eyes;
And higher swells the music's sound,
And brighter glows the emerald ground;
The flowers appear as drunk,
Twilight red has on them sunk;
And through the green grass play, with airy lightness,
Soft, fitful, blue and golden streaks of brightness.
Like a shadow, melts and flits away
All that bound men to this world of clay;
In Earth all toil and tumult cease,
Like one bright flower it blooms in peace;
The mountains rock in purple light,
The valleys shout as with delight;
All rush and whirl in the music's noise,
And long to share of these offer'd joys;
The soul of man is allured to gladness,
And lies entranced in that blissful madness.
The Trusty Eckart felt it,
But wist not of the cause;
His heart the music melted,
He wondered what it was.
The world seems new and fairer,
All blooming like the rose;
Can Eckart be a sharer
In raptures such as those?
"Ha! Are those tones restoring
My wife and bonny sons?
All that I was deploring,
My lost beloved ones?"
Yet soon his sense collected
Brought doubt within his breast;
These hellish arts detected,
A horror him possess'd.
And now he sees the raging
Of his young princes dear;
Themselves to Hell engaging,
His voice no more they hear.
And forth, in wild commotion,
They rush, not knowing where;
In tumult like the ocean,
When mad his billows are.
Then, as these things assail'd him,
He wist not what to do;
His knighthood almost fail'd him
Amid that hellish crew.
Then to his soul appeareth
The hour the Duke did die;
His friend's faint prayer he heareth,
He sees his fading eye.
And so his mind's in armour,
And hope is conquering fear;
When see, the fiendish Charmer
Himself comes piping near!
His sword to draw he essayeth,
And smite the caitiff dead;
But as the music playeth,
His strength is from him fled.
And from the mountains issue
Crowds of distorted forms,
Of Dwarfs a boundless tissue
Come simmering round in swarms,
The youths, possess'd, are running
As frantic in the crowd:
In vain is force or cunning;
In vain to call aloud.
And hurries on by castle,
By tower and town, the rout;
Like imps in hellish wassail,
With cackling laugh and shout.
He too is in the rabble;
May not resist their force,
Must hear their deafening babble,
Attend their frantic course.
But now the Hill appeareth,
And music comes thereout;
And as the Phantoms hear it,
They halt, and raise a shout.
The Mountain starts asunder,
A motley crowd is seen;
This way and that they wander,
In red unearthly sheen.
Then his broad-sword he drew it,
And says: "Still true, though lost!"
And with mad force he heweth
Through that Infernal host.
His youths he sees (how gladly!)
Escaping through the vale;
The Fiends are fighting madly,
And threatening to prevail.
The Dwarfs, when hurt, fly downward,
And rise up cured again;
And other crowds rush onward,
And fight with might and main.
Then saw he from a distance
The children safe, and cried:
"They need not my assistance,
I care not what betide."
His good broad-sword doth glitter
And flash i' th' noontide ray;
The Dwarfs, with wailing bitter,
And howls, depart away.
Safe at the valley's ending,
The youths far off he spies;
Then faint and wounded, bending,
The hero falls and dies.
So his last hour o'ertook him,
Fighting like lion brave;
His truth, it ne'er forsook him,
He was faithful to the grave.
Now Eckart having perish'd,
The eldest son bore sway;
His memory still he cherish'd,
With grateful heart would say:
"From foes and wreck to save me,
Like lion grim he fought;
My throne, my life, he gave me,
And with his heart's blood bought."
And soon a wondrous rumour
The country round did fill,
That when a desp'rate humour
Doth send one to the Hill,
There straight a Shape will meet him,
The Trusty Eckart's ghost,
And wistfully entreat him
To turn, and not be lost.
There he, though dead, yet ever<
True watch and ward doth hold;
Upon the Earth shall never
Be man so true and bold.
More than four centuries had elapsed since the Trusty Eckart's death, when a noble Tannenhäuser, in the station of Imperial Counsellor, was living at Court in the highest estimation. The son of this knight surpassed in beauty all the other nobles of the land, and on this account was loved and prized by every one. Suddenly, however, after some mysterious incidents had been observed to happen to him, the young man disappeared; and no one knew or guessed what was become of him. Since the times of the Trusty Eckart, there had always been a story current in the land about the Venus-Hill; and many said that he had wandered thither, and was lost forever.
One of those that most lamented him was his young friend Friedrich von Wolfsburg. They had grown up together, and their mutual attachment seemed to each of them to have become a necessary of life. Tannenhäuser's old father died: Friedrich married some years afterwards; already was a ring of merry children round him, and still he heard no tidings of his youthful friend; so that, in the end, he was forced to conclude him dead.
He was standing one evening under the gate of his Castle, when he perceived afar off a pilgrim travelling towards the mansion. The wayfaring man was clad in a strange garb; and his gait and gestures the Knight thought extremely singular. On his approaching nearer, Wolfsburg thought that he knew him; and at last he became convinced that the stranger was no other than his long-lost friend, the Tannenhäuser. He felt amazed, and a secret horror took possession of him, as he recognised distinctly these much-altered features.
The two friends embraced; then started back next moment; and gazed astonished at each other as at unknown beings. Of questions, of perplexed replies, were many. Friedrich often shuddered at the wild look of his friend, which seemed to burn as with unearthly light. The Tannenhäuser had reposed himself a day or two, when Friedrich learned that he was on a pilgrimage to Rome.
The two friends by and by renewed their former intimacy; took up their old topics, and told stories to each other of their youth; but the Tannenhäuser always carefully concealed where he had been since then. Friedrich, however, pressed him to disclose it, now that they were once more on their ancient confidential footing: the other long endeavoured to ward off the friendly prayer; but at last he exclaimed:
— Well, be it so; thy will be done! Thou shalt know all; but cast no reproaches on me after, should the story fill thee with inquietude and horror.
They went into the open air, and walked a little in a green wood of the pleasure-grounds, where at last they sat down; and now the Tannenhäuser hid his face among the grass, and, with loud sobs, held back his right hand to his friend, who pressed it tenderly in his. The woe-worn pilgrim raised himself, and began his story in the following words:
— Believe me, Wolfsburg, many a man has, at his birth, an Evil Spirit linked to him, that vexes him through life, and never lets him rest, till he has reached his black destination. So has it been with me; my whole existence has been but a continuing birth-pain, and my awakening will be in Hell. For this have I already wandered so many weary steps, and have so many yet before me on the pilgrimage which I am making to the Holy Father, that I may endeavour to obtain forgiveness at Rome. In his presence will I lay down the heavy burden of my sins; or fall beneath it, and die despairing.
Friedrich attempted to console him, but the Tannenhäuser seemed to pay little heed to what he said; and, after a short while, he proceeded in the following words:
— There is an old legend of a Knight who is said to have lived many centuries ago, under the name of the Trusty Eckart. They tell how, in those days, a Musician issued from some marvellous Hill; and, by his magic tones, awoke in the hearts of all that heard him so deep a longing, such wild wishes, that he led them irresistibly along with his music, and forced them to rush in with him to the Hill. Hell had then opened wide her gates to poor mortals, and enticed them in with seductive music. In boyhood I often heard this story, and at first without particularly minding it; yet ere long it so took hold of me, that all Nature, every sound, every flower, recalled to me the story of these heart-subduing tones. I cannot tell thee what a sadness, what an unutterable longing used to seize me, when I looked on the driving of the clouds, and saw the light lordly blue peering out between them; or what remembrances the meadows and the woods would awaken in my deepest heart. Oftentimes the loveliness and fulness of royal Nature so affected me, that I stretched out my arms, as if to fly away with wings; that I might pour myself out like the Spirit of Nature over mountain and valley; that I might brood over grass and forest, and inhale the riches of her blessedness. And if by day the free landscape charmed me, by night dark dreaming fantasies tormented me; and set themselves in louring grimness before me, as if to shut up my path of life forever. Above all, there was one dream that left an ineffaceable impression on my feelings, though I never could distinctly call the forms of it to memory. Methought there was a vast tumult in the streets; I heard confused unintelligible speaking; it was dark night; I went to my parents' house; none but my father was there, and he sick. Next morning I clasped my parents in my arms, and pressed them with melting tenderness to my breast, as if some hostile power had been about to tear them from me. Am I to lose thee? said I to my father. O! how wretched and lonely were I without thee in this world! They tried to comfort me, but could not wipe away the dim image from my remembrance.
— I grew older, still keeping myself apart from other boys of my age. I often roamed solitary through the fields: and it happened one morning, in my rambles, that I had lost my way; and so was wandering to and fro in a thick wood, not knowing whither to turn. After long seeking vainly for a road, I at last on a sudden came upon an iron-grated fence, within which lay a garden. Through the bars, I saw fair shady walks before me; fruit-trees and flowers; and close by me were rosebushes glittering in the sun. A nameless longing for these roses seized me; I could not help rushing on; I pressed myself by force through between the bars, and was now standing in the garden. Immediately I sank on my knees; clasped the bushes in my arms; kissed the roses on their red lips, and melted into tears. I had knelt a while, absorbed in a sort of rapture, when there came two maidens through the alleys; the one of my own years, the other elder. I awoke from my trance, to fall into a higher ecstasy. My eye lighted on the younger, and I felt at this moment as if all my unknown woe was healed. They took me to the house; their parents, having learned my name, sent notice to my father, who, in the evening, came himself, and brought me back.
— From this day, the uncertain current of my life had got a fixed direction; my thoughts forever hastened back to the castle and the maiden; for here, it seemed to me, was the home of all my wishes. I forgot my customary pleasures, I forsook my playmates, and often visited the garden, the castle and Emma. Here I had, in a little time, grown, as it were, an inmate of the house, so that they no longer thought it strange to see me; and Emma was becoming dearer to me every day. Thus passed my hours; and a tenderness had taken my heart captive, though I myself was not aware of it. My whole destination seemed to me fulfilled; I had no wish but still to come again; and when I went away, to have the same prospect for the morrow.
— Matters were in this state when a young knight became acquainted in the family; he was a friend of my parents; and he soon, like me, attached himself to Emma. I hated him, from that moment, as my deadly enemy; but nothing can describe my feelings, when I fancied I perceived that Emma liked him more than me. From this hour, it was as if the music, which had hitherto accompanied me, went silent in my bosom. I meditated but on death and hatred; wild thoughts now awoke in my breast, when Emma sang her well-known songs to her lute. Nor did I hide the aversion which I felt; and when my parents tried to reason and remonstrate with me, I grew fierce and contradictory.
— I now roved about the woods and rocky wastes, infuriated against myself. The death of my rival was a thing I had determined on. The young knight, after some few months, made a formal offer of himself to the parents of my mistress, and she was betrothed to him. All that was rare and beautiful in Nature, all that had charmed me in her magnificence, had been united in my soul with Emma's image; I fancied, knew or wished for no other happiness but Emma; nay I had wilfully determined that the day, which brought the loss of her, should also bring my own destruction.
— My parents sorrowed in heart at such perversion; my mother had fallen sick, but I paid no heed to this; her situation gave me little trouble, and I saw her seldom. The wedding-day of my enemy was coming on; and with its approach increased the agony of mind which drove me over woods and mountains. I execrated Emma and myself with the most horrid curses. At this time I had no friend; no man would take any charge of me, for all had given me up for lost.
— The fearful marriage-eve came on. I had wandered deep among the cliffs, I heard the rushing of the forest-streams below; I often shuddered at myself. When the morning came, I saw my enemy proceeding down the mountains: I assailed him with injurious speeches; he replied; we drew our swords, and he soon fell beneath my furious strokes.
— I hastened on, not looking after him, but his attendants took the corpse away. At night, I hovered round the dwelling which enclosed my Emma; and a few days afterwards, I heard in the neighbouring cloister the sound of the funeral-bell, and the grave-song of the nuns. I inquired; and was told that Fräulein Emma, out of sorrow for her bridegroom's death, was dead.
— I could stay no longer; I doubted whether I was living, whether it was all truth or not. I hastened back to my parents; and came next night, at a late hour, to the town where they lived. Here all was in confusion; horses and military wagons filled the streets, soldiers were jostling one another this way and that, and speaking in disordered haste: the Emperor was on the point of undertaking a campaign against his enemies. A solitary light was burning in my father's house when I entered; a strangling oppression lay upon my breast. As I knocked, my father himself, with slow, thoughtful steps, advanced to meet me; and immediately I recollected the old dream of my childhood; and felt, with cutting emotion, that now it was receiving its fulfilment. In perplexity, I asked: Why are you up so late, Father? He led me in, and said: I may well be up, for thy mother is even now dead.
— His words struck through my soul like thunderbolts. He took a seat with a meditative air; I sat down beside him. The corpse was lying in a bed, and strangely wound in linen. My heart was like to burst. I wake here, said the old man, for my wife is still sitting by me. My senses failed; I fixed my eyes upon a corner; and, after a little while, there rose, as it were, a vapour; it mounted and wavered; and the well-known figure of my mother gathered itself visibly together from the midst of it, and looked at me with an earnest mien. I wished to go, but I could not; for the form of my mother beckoned to me, and my father held me in his arms, and whispered to me, in a low voice: She died of grief for thee. I embraced him with a childlike transport of affection; I poured burning tears on his breast. He kissed me; and I shuddered; for his lips, as they touched me, were cold, like the lips of one dead. How art thou, Father? cried I, in horror. He writhed painfully together, and make no reply. In a few moments, I felt him growing colder; I laid my hand on his heart, but it was still; and, in wailing delirium, I held the body fast clasped in my embrace.
— As it were a gleam, like the first streak of dawn, went through the dark room; and behold, the spirit of my father sat beside my mother's form; and both looked at me compassionately, as I held the dear corpse in my arms. After this my consciousness was over: exhausted and delirious, the servants found me next morning in the chamber of the dead.
So far the Tannenhäuser had proceeded with his narrative: Friedrich was listening to him with the deepest astonishment, when all on a sudden he broke off, and paused with an expression of the keenest pain. Friedrich felt embarrassed and immersed in thought; they both returned in company to the Castle, but stayed in the same room apart from others.
The Tannenhäuser had kept silence for awhile, then he again began:
— The remembrance of those hours still agitates me deeply; I understand not how I have survived them. The world, and its life, now appeared to me as if dead and utterly desolate; without thoughts or wishes I lived on from day to day. I then became acquainted with a set of wild young people; and endeavoured, in the whirl of pleasure and intoxication, to lay the tumultuous Evil Spirit that was in me. My ancient burning impatience again awoke; and I could no longer understand myself or my wishes. A debauchee, named Rudolf, had become my confidant; he, however, always laughed to scorn my longings and complaints. About a year had passed in this way, when my misery of spirit rose to desperation; there was something drove me onwards, onwards, into unknown space; I could have dashed myself down from the high mountains into the glowing green of the meadows, into the cool rushing of the waters, to slake the burning thirst, to stay the insatiability of my soul: I longed for annihilation; and again, like golden morning clouds, did hope and love of life arise before me, and entice me on. The thought then struck me, that Hell was hungering for me, and was sending me my sorrows as well as my pleasures to destroy me; that some malignant Spirit was directing all the powers of my soul to the Infernal Abode; and leading me, as with a bridle, to my doom. And I surrendered to him; that so these torments, these alternating raptures and agonies, might leave me. In the darkest night, I mounted a lofty hill; and called on the Enemy of God and man, with all the energies of my heart, so that I felt he would be forced to hear me. My words brought him: he stood suddenly before me, and I felt no horror. Then in talking with him, the belief in that strange Hill again rose within me; and he taught me a Song, which of itself would lead me by the straight road thither. He disappeared, and for the first time since I had begun to live, I was alone with myself; for I now understood my wandering thoughts, which rushed as from a centre to find out another world. I set forth on my journey; and the Song, which I sang with a loud voice, led me over strange deserts; but all other things besides myself I had forgotten. There was something carrying me, as on the strong wings of desire, to my home: I wished to escape the shadow which, amid the sunshine, threatens us; the wild tones which, amid the softest music, chide us. So travelling on, I reached the Mountain, one night when the moon was shining faintly from behind dim clouds. I proceeded with my Song; and a giant form stood by me, and beckoned me back with his staff. I went nearer: I am the Trusty Eckart, said the superhuman figure; by God's goodness, I am placed here as watchman, to warn men back from their sinful rashness. I pressed through.
— My path was now as in a subterraneous mine. The passage was so narrow, that I had to press myself along; I caught the gurgling of hidden waters; I heard spirits forming ore, and gold and silver, to entice the soul of man; I found here concealed and separate the deep sounds and tones from which earthly music springs: the farther I went, the more did there fall, as it were, a veil from my sight.
— I rested, and saw other forms of men come gliding towards me; my friend Rudolf was among the number. I could not understand how they were to pass me, so narrow was the way; but they went along, through the middle of the rock, without perceiving me.
— Anon I heard the sound of music; but music altogether different from any that had ever struck my ear before. My thoughts within me strove towards the notes: I came into an open space; and strange radiant colours glittered on me from every side. This it was that I had always been in search of. Close to my heart I felt the presence of the long-sought, now-discovered glory; and its ravishments thrilled into me with all their power. And then the whole crowd of jocund Pagan gods came forth to meet me, Lady Venus at their head, and all saluted me. They have been banished thither by the power of the Almighty; their worship is abolished from the Earth; and now they work upon us from their concealment.
— All pleasures that Earth affords I here possessed and partook of in their fullest bloom; insatiable was my heart, and endless my enjoyment. The famed Beauties of the ancient world were present; what my thought coveted was mine; one delirium of rapture was followed by another; and day after day, the world appeared to burn round me in more glorious hues. Streams of the richest wine allayed my fierce thirst; and beauteous forms sported in the air, and soft eyes invited me; vapours rose enchanting around my head: as if from the inmost heart of blissful Nature, came a music and cooled with its fresh waves the wild tumult of desire; and a horror, that glided faint and secret over the rose-fields, heightened the delicious revel. How many years passed over me in this abode I know not: for here there was no time and no distinctions; the flowers here glowed with the charms of women; and in the forms of the women bloomed the magic of flowers; colours here had another language; the whole world of sense was bound together into one blossom, and the spirits within it forever held their rejoicing.
— Now, how it happened, I can neither say nor comprehend; but so it was, that in all this pomp of sin, a love of rest, a longing for the old innocent Earth, with her scanty joys, took hold of me here, as keenly as of old the impulse which had driven me hither. I was again drawn on to live that life which men, in their unconsciousness, go on leading: I was sated with this splendour, and gladly sought my former home once more. An unspeakable grace of the Almighty permitted my return; I found myself suddenly again in the world; and now it is my intention to pour out my guilty breast before the chair of our Holy Father in Rome; that so he may forgive me, and I may again be reckoned among men.
The Tannenhäuser ceased; and Friedrich long viewed him with an investigating look, then took his hand, and said:
— I cannot yet recover from my wonder, nor can I understand thy narrative; for it is impossible that all thou hast told me can be aught but an imagination. Emma still lives, she is my wife; thou and I never quarrelled, or hated one another, as thou thinkest: yet before our marriage, thou wert gone on a sudden from the neighbourhood; nor didst thou ever tell me, by a single hint, that Emma was dear to thee.
Hereupon he took the bewildered Tannenhäuser by the hand, and led him into another room to his wife, who had just then returned from a visit to her sister, which had kept her for the last few days from home. The Tannenhäuser spoke not, and seemed immersed in thought; he viewed in silence the form and face of the lady, then shook his head, and said:
— By Heaven, that is the strangest incident of all!
Friedrich, with precision and connectedness, related all that had befallen him since that time; and tried to make his friend perceive that it had been some singular madness which had, in the mean while, harassed him.
— I know very well how it stands, exclaimed the Tannenhäuser. It is now that I am crazy; and Hell has cast this juggling show before me, that I may not go to Rome, and seek the pardon of my sins.
Emma tried to bring his childhood to his recollection; but the Tannenhäuser would not be persuaded. He speedily set out on his journey; that he might the sooner get his absolution from the Pope.
Friedrich and Emma often spoke of the mysterious pilgrim. Some months had gone by, when the Tannenhäuser, pale and wasted, in a tattered pilgrim's dress, and barefoot, one morning entered Friedrich's chamber, while the latter was in bed asleep. He kissed his lips, and then said, in breathless haste:
— The Holy Father cannot, and will not, forgive me; I must back to my old dwelling.
And with this he went hurriedly away.
Friedrich roused himself; but the ill-fated pilgrim was already gone. He went to his lady's room; and her maids rushed out to meet him, crying that the Tannenhäuser had pressed into the apartment early in the morning, with the words: She shall not obstruct me in my course! Emma was lying murdered.
Friedrich had not yet recalled his thoughts, when a horror came over him: he could not rest; he ran into the open air. They wished to keep him back; but he told them that the pilgrim had kissed his lips, and that the kiss was burning him till he found the man again. And so, with inconceivable rapidity, he ran away to seek the Tannenhäuser, and the mysterious Hill; and, since that day, he was never seen any more. People say, that whoever gets a kiss from any emissary of the Hill, is thenceforth unable to withstand the lure that draws him with magic force into the subterraneous chasm.