Walther von der Vogelweide – Minnesinger
Excerpt, Edgar Taylor: “Lay of the Minnesingers, or German Troubadours of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries.” London: 1825.
Walther von der Vogelweide, one of the most distinguished of the Minnesingers, was born in the latter half of the Twelfth Century of a noble family belonging to the Upper Thurgau. The name Vogelweide (Bird-meadow) appears to have been taken from that of their castle. The poet led a wandering life; sometimes at the court of Frederic, the Duke of Austria and Stiria; then kindly received by Philip Augustus, King of France.
But he remained long at the magnificent court of the Landgrave of Thuringia, the great patron of the poets of his age, who instituted the poetical contest called the War of Wartburg, in which Walther took part. A work is still preserved called “The Wartburg War,” consisting of the alternate songs of the bards who took part in this poetical joust.
Tradition places the date of this tuneful tourney in the year 1207, the most brilliant epoch of ancient German poetry, not only for the illustrious names which have been handed down to our day, but for the impulse given to the ancient national and heroic poetry by unknown minstrels. Hermann, Landgrave of Thuringia, had gathered round his court many of the most famous Minnesingers, who had celebrated in lays and ballads the warlike deeds of his martial house.
Heinrich von Ofterdingen appears as the champion of the Austrian prince. He throws down the gauntlet to all the poets, and offers to maintain the virtues of his hero against all the singer tribe, under penalty of being hanged in case of defeat.
Walther, as court poet of the Thuringian prince, accepts the challenge, and enters the lists against Heinrich von Ofterdingen. Walther regrets that he is obliged to declare against the Duke of Austria and his brave cavaliers; then he praises the King of France, Philip Augustus, in whose reign the poetry of the North of France rivaled the glory of the Provençal muse.
This the poet could testify from his own knowledge, for he had crossed the Rhine and visited the banks of the Seine. But in the course of the contest he partially recants, and sets the gracious Duke above the monarch, calling him the Sun; but the Landgrave he compares to the brightness that precedes the Sun.
Ofterdingen complains of Walther, accuses him of playing an unfair game, and resorts to Klinsor of Hungary to sustain the supremacy of Austria. The other champions call for Stempfel of Eisenach, who stands ready the halter; but Ofterdingen is protected by the Landgravine, who intercedes in his defense.
The place of the scene was the great Wartburg castle, a hall that still exists, and is shown as a monument of the joust…
Walther seems to have adopted all the habits and manners of the wandering minstrels of the times. He traveled from court to court, generally received with honor, tarrying with the German princes who protected the arts of poetry and music, and sometimes at foreign courts, and was welcomed everywhere.
When from the sod and the flowerets spring,
And smile to meet the sun’s bright ray,
When birds their sweetest carols sing,
Is all the morning pride of May.
What lovelier than the prospect there?
Can earth boast anything more fair?
To me it seems an almost heaven,
So beauteous to my eyes
That vision bright is given.
But when a lady chaste and fair,
Noble, and clad in rich attire,
Walks through the throng with gracious sir,
As sun that bids the stars retire –
Then, where are all thy boastings, May?
What hast though beautiful and gay,
Compared with that supreme delight?
We leave thy loveliest flowers,
And watch that lady bright.
Wouldst thou believe me – come and place
Before thee all this pride of May;
Then look but on my lady’s face,
And which is best and brightest say,
For me, how soon (if choice were mine)
This would I take, and that resign,
And say, “Though sweet thy beauties, May
I’d rather forfeit all than lose my lady gay!”