born May 22, 1813, Leipzig [Germany]
died Feb. 13, 1883, Venice, Italy
German dramatic composer and theorist whose operas and music
had a revolutionary influence on the course of Western
music, either by extension of his discoveries or reaction
against them. Among his major works are The Flying Dutchman
(1843), Tannhäuser (1845), Lohengrin (1850), Tristan und
Isolde (1865), Parsifal (1882), and his great tetralogy, The
Ring of the Nibelung (1869–76).
The artistic and theatrical background of Wagner’s early
years (several elder sisters became opera singers or
actresses) was a main formative influence. Impulsive and
self-willed, he was a negligent scholar at the Kreuzschule,
Dresden, and the Nicholaischule, Leipzig. He frequented
concerts, however, taught himself the piano and composition,
and read the plays of Shakespeare, Goethe, and Schiller.
Wagner, attracted by the glamour of
student life, enrolled at Leipzig University, but as an
adjunct with inferior privileges, since he had not completed
his preparatory schooling. Although he lived wildly, he
applied himself earnestly to composition. Because of his
impatience with all academic techniques, he spent a mere six
months acquiring a groundwork with Theodor Weinlig, cantor
of the Thomasschule; but his real schooling was a close
personal study of the scores of the masters, notably the
quartets and symphonies of Beethoven. His own Symphony in C
Major was performed at the Leipzig Gewandhaus concerts in
1833. On leaving the university that year, he spent the
summer as operatic coach at Würzburg, where he composed his
first opera, Die Feen (The Fairies), based on a fantastic
tale by Carlo Gozzi. He failed to get the opera produced at
Leipzig and became conductor to a provincial theatrical
troupe from Magdeburg, having fallen in love with one of the
actresses of the troupe, Wilhelmine (Minna) Planer, whom he
married in 1836. The single performance of his second opera,
Das Liebesverbot (The Ban on Love), after Shakespeare’s
Measure for Measure, was a disaster.
In 1839, fleeing from his creditors,
he decided to put into operation his long-cherished plan to
win renown in Paris, but his three years in Paris were
calamitous. Despite a recommendation from the influential
gallicized German composer Giacomo Meyerbeer, Wagner could
not break into the closed circle at the Opéra. Living with a
colony of poor German artists, he staved off starvation by
means of musical journalism and hackwork. Nevertheless, in
1840 he completed Rienzi (after Bulwer-Lytton’s novel), and
in 1841 he composed his first representative opera, Der
fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman), based on the
legend about a ship’s captain condemned to sail forever.
In 1842, aged 29, he gladly returned
to Dresden, where Rienzi was triumphantly performed on
October 20. The next year The Flying Dutchman (produced at
Dresden, Jan. 2, 1843) was less successful, since the
audience expected a work in the French–Italian tradition
similar to Rienzi, and was puzzled by the innovative way the
new opera integrated the music with the dramatic content.
But Wagner was appointed conductor of the court opera, a
post that he held until 1849. On Oct. 19, 1845, Tannhäuser
(based, like all his future works, on Germanic legends) was
coolly received but soon proved a steady attraction; after
this, each new work achieved public popularity despite
persistent hostility from many critics.
The refusal of the court opera
authorities in Dresden to stage his next opera, Lohengrin,
was not based on artistic reasons; rather, they were
alienated by Wagner’s projected administrative and artistic
reforms. His proposals would have taken control of the opera
away from the court and created a national theatre whose
productions would be chosen by a union of dramatists and
composers. Preoccupied with ideas of social regeneration, he
then became embroiled in the German revolution of 1848–49.
Wagner wrote a number of articles advocating revolution and
took an active part in the Dresden uprising of 1849. When
the uprising failed, a warrant was issued for his arrest and
he fled from Germany, unable to attend the first performance
of Lohengrin at Weimar, given by his friend Franz Liszt on
Aug. 28, 1850.
For the next 15 years Wagner was not to present any
further new works. Until 1858 he lived in Zürich, composing,
writing treatises, and conducting (he directed the London
Philharmonic concerts in 1855). Having already studied the
Siegfried legend and the Norse myths as a possible basis for
an opera, and having written an operatic “poem,” Siegfrieds
Tod (Siegfried’s Death), in which he conceived of Siegfried
as the new type of man who would emerge after the successful
revolution he hoped for, he now wrote a number of prose
volumes on revolution, social and artistic. From 1849 to
1852 he produced his basic prose works: Die Kunst und die
Revolution (Art and Revolution), Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft
(The Art Work of the Future), Eine Mitteilung an meine
Freunde (A Communication to My Friends), and Oper und Drama
(Opera and Drama). The latter outlined a new, revolutionary
type of musical stage work—the vast work, in fact, on which
he was engaged. By 1852 he had added to the poem of
Siegfrieds Tod three others to precede it, the whole being
called Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung)
and providing the basis for a tetralogy of musical dramas:
Das Rheingold (The Rhine Gold); Die Walküre (The Valkyrie);
Der junge Siegfried (Young Siegfried), later called simply
Siegfried; and Siegfrieds Tod (Siegfried’s Death), later
called Götterdämmerung (The Twilight of the Gods).
The Ring reveals Wagner’s mature
style and method, to which he had found his way at last
during the period when his thought was devoted to social
questions. Looking forward to the imminent creation of a
socialist state, he prophesied the disappearance of opera as
artificial entertainment for an elite and the emergence of a
new kind of musical stage work for the people, expressing
the self-realization of free humanity. This new work was
later to be called “music drama,” though Wagner never used
this term, preferring “drama.”
Wagner’s new art form would be a
poetic drama that should find full expression as a musical
drama when it was set to a continuous vocal-symphonic
texture. This texture would be woven from basic thematic
ideas, which Wagner called “motives,” but which have come to
be known by the term invented by one of his
disciples—“leading motives” (German Leitmotive, singular
Leitmotiv). These would arise naturally as expressive vocal
phrases sung by characters and would be developed by the
orchestra as “reminiscences” to express the dramatic and
This conception found full
embodiment in The Ring, except that the leading motives did
not always arise as vocal utterances but were often
introduced by the orchestra to portray characters, emotions,
or events in the drama. With his use of this method, Wagner
rose immediately to his amazing full stature: his style
became unified and deepened immeasurably, and he was able to
fill his works from end to end with intensely characteristic
music. Except for moments in Das Rhinegold, his old
weaknesses, formal and stylistic, vanished altogether, and
with them disappeared the last vestiges of the old “opera.”
By 1857 his style had been enriched by the stimulus of
Liszt’s tone poems and their new harmonic subtleties, and he
had composed Das Rhinegold, Die Walküre, and two acts of
Siegfried. But he now suspended work on The Ring: the
impossibility of mounting this colossus within the
foreseeable future was enforcing a stalemate on his career
and led him to project a “normal” work capable of immediate
production. Also, his optimistic social philosophy had
yielded to a metaphysical, world-renouncing pessimism,
nurtured by his discovery of the philosophy of Arthur
Schopenhauer. The outcome was Tristan und Isolde (1857–59),
of which the crystallizing agent was his hopeless love for
Mathilde Wesendonk (the wife of a rich patron), which led to
separation from his wife, Minna.
Because of the Wesendonk affair,
life in Zürich had become too embarrassing, and Wagner
completed Tristan in Venice and Lucerne, Switzerland The
work revealed a new subtlety in his use of leading motives,
which in Das Rhinegold and Die Walküre he had used mainly to
explain the action of the drama. The impact of
Schopenhauer’s theory of the supremacy of music among the
arts led him to tilt the expressive balance of musical drama
more toward music: the leading motives ceased to remain
neatly identifiable with their dramatic sources but worked
with greater psychological complexity, in the manner of free
Return from exile
In 1859 Wagner went to Paris, where, the following year,
productions of a revised version of Tannhäuser were
fiascoes. But in 1861 an amnesty allowed him to return to
Germany; from there he went to Vienna, where he heard
Lohengrin for the first time. He remained in Vienna for
about a year, then travelled widely as a conductor and
awaited a projected production of Tristan. When this work
was not produced because the artists were bewildered by its
revolutionary stylistic innovations, Wagner began a second
“normal” work, the comedy-opera Die Meistersinger von
Nürnberg (The Meistersingers of Nürnberg), for which he
incorporated into his new conception of music drama certain
of the old “operatic” elements. By 1864, however, his
expenditure on a grand scale and inveterate habits of
borrowing and living on others had brought him to financial
disaster: he had to flee from Vienna to avoid imprisonment
for debt. He arrived in Stuttgart without a penny, a man of
51 without a future, almost at the end of his tether.
Something like a miracle saved him.
He had always made loyal friends, owing to his fascinating
personality, his manifest genius, and his artistic
integrity, and now a new friend of the highest influence
came to his rescue. In 1864 Louis II, a youth of 18,
ascended the throne of Bavaria; he was a fanatical admirer
of Wagner’s art and, having read the poem of The Ring
(published the year before with a plea for financial
support), invited Wagner to complete the work in Munich.
The king set him up in a villa, and
during the next six years there were successful Munich
productions of all of Wagner’s representative works to date,
including the first performances of Tristan (1865), Die
Meistersinger (1868), Das Rhinegold (1869), and Die Walküre
(1870)—the first two directed by the great Wagner conductor
Hans von Bülow. Initially a new theatre at Munich was
projected for this purpose, with a music school attached,
but this came to nothing because of the opposition aroused
by Wagner’s way of living. Not only did he constantly run
into debt, despite his princely salary, but he also
attempted to interfere in the government of the kingdom; in
addition, he became the lover of von Bülow’s wife, Cosima,
the daughter of Liszt. She bore him three children—Isolde,
Eva, and Siegfried—before her divorce in 1870 and her
marriage to Wagner in the same year. For all these reasons,
Wagner thought it advisable to leave Munich as early as
1865, but he never forfeited the friendship of the king, who
set him up at Triebschen on the Lake of Lucerne.
Last years in Bayreuth
In 1869 Wagner had resumed work on The Ring which he now
brought to its world-renouncing conclusion. It had been
agreed with the king that the tetralogy should be first
performed in its entirety at Munich, but Wagner broke the
agreement, convinced that a new type of theatre must be
built for the purpose. Having discovered a suitable site at
the Bavarian town of Bayreuth, he toured Germany, conducting
concerts to raise funds and encouraging the formation of
societies to support the plan, and in 1872 the foundation
stone was laid. In 1874 Wagner moved into a house at
Bayreuth that he called Wahnfried (“Peace from Illusion”).
The whole vast project was eventually realized, in spite of
enormous artistic, administrative, and financial
difficulties. The king, who had provided Wahnfried for
Wagner, contributed a substantial sum, and mortgages were
raised that were later paid off by royalties. The Ring
received its triumphant first complete performance in the
new Festspielhaus at Bayreuth on Aug. 13, 14, 16, and 17,
Wagner spent the rest of his life at
Wahnfried, making a visit to London in 1877 to give a
successful series of concerts and then making several to
Italy. During these years he composed his last work, the
sacred festival drama Parsifal, begun in 1877 and produced
at Bayreuth in 1882; he also dictated to his wife his
autobiography, Mein Leben (My Life), begun in 1865. He died
of heart failure, at the height of his fame, and was buried
in the grounds of Wahnfried in the tomb he had himself
prepared. Since then, except for interruptions caused by
World Wars I and II, the Festspielhaus has staged yearly
festivals of Wagner’s works.
Achievement and influence
Wagner’s single-handed creation of his own type of
musical drama was a fantastic accomplishment, considering
the scale and scope of his art. His method was to condense
the confused mass of material at his disposal—the
innumerable conflicting versions of the legend chosen as a
basis—into a taut dramatic scheme. In this scheme, as in his
model, the Oresteia of Aeschylus, the stage events are few
but crucial, the main part of the action being devoted to
the working out of the characters’ motivations.
In setting the poem he used his
mastery of construction on the largest scale, which he had
learned from studying Beethoven, to keep the broad outlines
clear while he consistently developed the leading motives to
mirror every shifting nuance of the psychological situation.
Criticism of these motives as arbitrary, factual labels
shows a misunderstanding of Wagner. He called them “carriers
of the feeling,” and, owing to their essentially emotional
character, their pliability, and Wagner’s resource in
alternating, transforming, and combining them, they function
as subtle expressions of the changing feelings behind the
The result of these methods was a
new art form, of which the distinguishing feature was a
profound and complex symbolism working on three indivisible
planes —dramatic, verbal, and musical. The vital
significance of this symbolism has been increasingly
realized. The common theme of all his mature works, except
Die Meistersinger, is the romantic concept of “redemption
through love”; but this element, used rather naively in the
three early operas, became, in the later musical dramas, a
mere catalyst for much deeper complexes of ideas. In The
Ring there are at least five interwoven strands of overt
meaning concerned with German nationalism, international
Socialism, the philosophy of Schopenhauer, Buddhism, and
Christianity. On another level, there is a prophetic
treatment of some of the themes of psychoanalysis: power
complex arising from sexual inhibition; incest; mother
fixation; and Oedipus complex.
Tristan stands in a line of
symbolism extending from the themes of “night” and “death”
explored by such German Romantic poets as Novalis
(1772–1801), through the Schopenhauerian indictment of life
as an evil illusion and the renunciation of the will to
live, to the modern psychological discovery of a close
connection between erotic desire and the death wish. Die
Meistersinger stands apart as a work in which certain
familiar themes are treated on a purely conscious plane with
mellow wisdom and humour: the impulsiveness of youth and the
resignation of age, the ecstasy of youthful love, the value
of music itself as an art. In Wagner’s last work, Parsifal,
the symbolism returns on a deeper level than before. He has
been much criticized for this strongly personal treatment of
a religious subject, which mingles the concepts of sacred
and profane love; but in the light of later explorations in
the field of psychology his insight into the relationship
between religious and sexual experience seems merely in
advance of its time. The themes of innocence and purity,
sexual indulgence and suffering, remorse and sexual
renunciation are treated in Parsifal with a subtle intensity
and depth of compassion that probe deeply into the
unconscious and make the opera in some ways the most
visionary of all Wagner’s works.
Wagner’s influence, as a musical
dramatist and as a composer, was a powerful one. Although
few operatic composers have been able to follow him in
providing their own librettos, all have profited from his
reform in the matter of giving dramatic depth, continuity,
and cohesion to their works.
In the purely musical field,
Wagner’s influence was even more far-reaching. He developed
such a wide expressive range that he was able to make each
of his works inhabit a unique emotional world of its own,
and, in doing so, he raised the melodic and harmonic style
of German music to what many regard as its highest emotional
and sensuous intensity. Much of the subsequent history of
music stems from him, either by extension of his discoveries
or reaction against them.
Deryck V. Cooke
That Wagner harboured anti-Semitic sentiments is both
well known and uncontested within the realm of musicological
inquiry. The composer openly articulated his views in a
number of publications, most notably Judaism in Music (Das
Judentum in der Musik; 1850), in which he identified Jewish
musicians as the ultimate source of what he perceived as
substanceless music and misplaced values in the arts as a
whole. What has remained a controversy, however, is the
extent to which Wagner’s anti-Semitism informed his musical
On the one hand, many have contended
that Wagner’s anti-Semitism was no more significant to his
musical creation than was any other peculiarity of his
personality. Indeed, the composer regularly found a
scapegoat—such as the Jewish population—to account for his
personal and musical misfortunes. Moreover, because Wagner
lived during an era of widespread resentment toward Jews in
Europe, it is not unusual that his dramatic works would
contain anti-Semitic nuances. Such elements, some have
argued, are superficial and should not be read as signs of a
deeper ideology of anti-Semitism that permeates the
composer’s work. By contrast, another school of thought has
maintained that much of Wagner’s music is an embodiment of
his anti-Semitic ideas and that a knowledge of the nature
and depth of his anti-Jewish sentiment is indispensable to
the understanding of his music. This perspective has been
used not only to explain Wagner’s position as a favourite
composer of Adolf Hitler but also to justify the unofficial
banning of Wagner’s music in Israel.
Despite the enduring controversy
over his religious and political views, Wagner’s works have
been performed by both Jewish and non-Jewish musicians since
the 19th century, although some performances—such as that
led by Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim in Jerusalem in
2001—have caused a public outcry. For some, Wagner’s
anti-Semitism diminishes or even invalidates his
accomplishment as a composer; for others, however, it is a
personality flaw that has no bearing on his landmark status
in the history of Western music. Whether inconsequential or
a detriment to his artistic legacy, Wagner’s anti-Semitism
and its role in his musical production will likely remain a
matter of dispute.
THE WAGNERIAN ROMANCES
by GERTRUDE HALL
The attempt has been made in the following to give an idea
of the charm and interest of the original text of the Wagner
operas, of Wagner's extraordinary power and fertility as a
dramatist. It is not critique or commentary, it is
presentation, picture, narrative; it offers nothing that is
not derived directly and exclusively from the Wagner
libretti and scores.
The stories of the operas are widely known already, of
course. As literature, however, one may almost say they are
not known at all, unless by students of German. The
translators had before them a task so tremendous, in the
necessity to fit their verse-rendering of the master's
poetry to extremely difficult music, that we respect them
for achieving it at all. None the less must the translations
included in our libretti be pronounced painfully inadequate.
To give a better, more complete knowledge of the original
poems is the object of these essays. The poems form, even
apart from the music, a whole beautiful, luminous, romantic
world. One would not lose more by dropping out of literature
the Idylls of the King than the Wagnerian romances.
The story of the Holy Grail and its
guardians up to the moment of Parsifal's appearance upon the
scene, is—we gather it from Gurnemanz's rehearsal of his
memories to the youthful esquires,—as follows: At a time
when the pure faith of Christ was in danger from the power
and craft of His enemies, there came to its defender,
Titurel, angelic messengers of the Saviour's, and gave into
his keeping the Chalice from which He had drunk at the Last
Supper and into which the blood had been gathered from His
wounds as He hung upon the Cross; likewise the Spear with
which His side had been pierced. Around these relics Titurel
built a temple, and an order of knighthood grew. The temple,
Monsalvat, stood upon the Northern slope of mountains
overlooking Gothic Spain. No road led to its doors, and
those only could find their way to it whom the Holy Spirit
guided; and those only could hope to be so guided, and could
belong to the brotherhood, who were pure in heart and clean
of the sins of the flesh. The knights were mystically fed
and strengthened by the vision of the Chalice—which is
called the Grail; the duties of the Order were "high deeds
of salvation," comprehending warfare upon Christ's enemies,
at home and in distant lands.
On the southern slope of the mountain,
facing Moorish or heathen Spain. Klingsor had gone into
hermitage, in an attempted
expiation of evil committed down in the heathen world. What
his sin had been, Gurnemanz says, he knows not; but he
aspired to become a holy man, he wished to join the
brotherhood of the Grail. Finding it impossible to subdue
sin in himself by the spirit, he sought, as it were, a
mechanical substitute for virtue, by which, however, he
failed to attain his object, for his sacrifice called forth
from Titurel only contempt, and he was rejected from the
Order. He turned all the strength of his rage then to
acquiring black arts by which to ruin the detested
brotherhood. On the southward mountainside, he created by
sorcery a wonderful pleasure-palace and garden, in which
uncannily beautiful women grew. This lay in the path of the
knights of the Grail, a temptation and a trap, and one so
effectual that he who permitted himself to be lured into it
was lost; there had been no exception, safety lay singly in
avoidance. Titurel having reached so great an age that he
had no longer strength to perform the service of the Grail,
invested with the kingly office Amfortas, his son. The
latter undertook at once the removal of the standing danger
to his knights, the destruction of Klingsor. Armed with the
Sacred Spear, he fared forth.... Alas! even before the walls
of the enchanted castle had been reached, his followers,
among whom Gurnemanz, missed him. A woman of dreadful beauty
had ensnared him. In her arms he forgot everything, he let
the Spear drop from his hand.... A great cry, as of one
mortally hurt, Gurnemanz relates, was suddenly heard. He
rushed to the rescue, and caught sight of Klingsor, laughing
as he disappeared carrying the Spear, with which he had
wounded Amfortas. And now, possessed of the Spear, it was
Klingsor's boast that he should soon be in possession of the
Chalice likewise, the Holy Grail itself. And the wound of
Amfortas would not heal, and an apprehension was that never
could it heal, save at the touch
of the Spear which made it. And this, who could conquer it
back? Yet the knights were not wholly without hope, for,
Amfortas once praying before the despoiled sanctuary, and
imploring a sign of pardon, a holy dream-face had appeared
to him and delivered the dim but comforting oracle: "Wise
through compassion.... The immaculate Fool.... Await him....
My appointed one...."
Thus matters stand when the curtain rises
for us upon the forest surrounding the Castle of the Grail.
The introductory music is wholly religious, composed
principally of the so moving phrase of the Last Communion,
the Grail-motif and the Faith-music. The latter opens with
what has the effect of a grand declaration, as if it might
be understood to say: "I believe in God the Father! I
believe in God the Son! I believe in God the Holy Ghost!"
and fell to worshipping prayer.
The grey-haired Gurnemanz and two young
boys of the Order are discovered sleeping. At the
clarion-call from the Castle, they start awake and kneel at
their morning devotions. The lake is near where the sick
King is carried daily for the bath. Forerunners of his
cortège pass, and are questioned by Gurnemanz concerning his
condition. No, the healing herb, obtained at such price of
courage and cunning, has not helped him. (For, though their
drugs prove still and ever useless, the devoted followers
will not give up the search for earthly relief.) This
discouraged answer is hardly given, when another appears who
has been ranging afar in search of a remedy—Kundry, arriving
like the whirlwind, on a mare that staggers reaching the
goal. Spent with speed, the strange wild woman totters to
Gurnemanz and presses on him a crystal phial: Balsam! If
this does not help, Arabia holds nothing more from which health can be hoped! Felled by
fatigue, she drops on the ground, refusing any further
speech. When the king is now brought in upon a litter and
halts on his way to the lake for a moment's rest, receiving
from Gurnemanz the balsam, he thanks the woman, as one who
has often before done him such service. She rejects his
thanks roughly, as if almost they hurt: "No thanks! No
thanks! What good will it do? Away! Away! To the bath!"
The young esquires, lingering after the
king has been borne onward, eye her as she lies on the
ground like a wild beast, and voice their suspicion of her,
founded, after the fashion of youth's judgements, upon her
looks. They believe those potions of hers will finally
destroy the king altogether. Gurnemanz checks them,
reminding them heatedly of her services, beyond all that any
other could perform. "Who, when we are at loss how to send
tidings to brethren warring in distant lands, we scarcely
even know where,—who, before we have come to any resolve,
flies to them and returns, having acquitted herself of the
task aptly and faithfully?..." "But," they object, "she
hates us! See how malignantly she glowers at us! She is a
heathen, a sorceress!" "One she may be, perhaps, labouring
under a curse," Gurnemanz goes thus far with them; "she
lives here, it may be, a penitent, to expiate some
unforgiven sin of her earlier life." He tells how, so long
ago as at the time of the building of the temple, Titurel
first found her among the tangled growth of the forest,
rigid in death-like sleep. "I myself," he continues,
"discovered her but recently in the like condition. It was
soon after the calamity had befallen, brought upon us by the
evil one over the mountain." And turning to Kundry, as if
the thought had but just occurred: "Hey! Tell me, you! Where
were you roaming when our master lost the Spear?" The woman
gazes gloomily, and preserves a
silence which we afterwards see to be significant. "Why did
you not help us at that time?" "I never help!" she exclaims
darkly, and turns away. "If she is as faithful as you say,
and as daring, and full of resource," suggests ironically
one of the young esquires, "why not send her after the lost
Spear?" "That!" Gurnemanz replies sadly, "is another matter.
That nobody can achieve!" And, the memory of the past rising
strong within him, he relates to the questioning young
fellows, new in the brotherhood and ignorant of its history,
the events set down in their order a little way back. He has
repeated to them the mysterious promise of help: "Wise
through compassion.... The immaculate Fool.... Await him....
My appointed one...." And they, impressed, are saying it
after him, when, at the words "Der reine Thor," the
pure—the clean-lived—the immaculate Fool, a commotion
develops in the direction of the lake-side, cries of "Woe! A
pity! A shame! Who did it?" A great wild swan flies in
sight, sinks to earth hurt to death by an arrow, and the
king's esquires bring in, chiding and accusing him, a tall,
innocent-eyed, fresh-cheeked boy, armed with bow and
arrows,—Parsifal. Rustic enough is his outfit, but his
bearing unmistakably that of the high-born, as Gurnemanz
does not fail to remark. A sturdy, brave, gay-hearted strain
has ushered him in, and for just a moment he stands quite
like a brother of Siegfried's, fearless, unconscious of
himself, as ignorant of the world as he is unspotted by it,
but engagingly wide-awake, serene in watching its mysterious
actions. "Are you the one who killed the swan?" Gurnemanz
asks him sternly. And he answers, unabashed, quite as
Siegfried might have done: "Certainly! Whatever flies I
shoot on the wing!" But at once after this the difference
between the two is manifest. To both whole regions of
emotion are unknown, but certain
emotions which are outside the nature of one, are
potentially the very strongest in the other. Siegfried is
not pitiful. The strong, radiant being is incomplete on that
side, so that the Christian heart winces a little, here and
there, at the bright resoluteness with which he pursues his
course when it involves, for instance, death to the little
foster-father, unrighteous imp though he be, or horror to
Brünnhilde, captured by violence and offered to his friend.
Whereas Parsifal, when Gurnemanz now makes plain to him the
cruelty of his thoughtless action, when he points out the
glazing eye, the blood dabbling the snowy plumage of the
noble swan, faithful familiar of the lake, killed as he
circled in quest of his mate, is seized with a passion of
realizing pity, impulsively breaks and flings from him his
bow, and hides his eyes from the work of his hands. "How—how
could you commit such a wrong?" Gurnemanz pursues
unrelenting, even after these expressions of contrition. "I
did not know," Parsifal answers. Then to the amazement of
all are revealed the most extravagant ignorance and
simplicity ever met. "Where do you come from?" "I do not
know." "Who is your father?" "I do not know." "Who directed
you here?" "I do not know." "What is your name?" "I have had
many, but no longer remember any of them." "Truly," grumbles
Gurnemanz, "I have so far never in my life met with any one
so stupid—except Kundry." Very sagely, he leaves off
questioning the fool; but when the others, after reverently
taking up the dead swan, have departed with it for burial,
he addresses him: "Of all I have asked you, you know
nothing. Now tell me what you do know! For it can hardly be
but that you know something." Whereupon very simply and
obediently the boy begins: "I have a mother. Her name is
Herzeleide. (Heart's-sorrow.) We lived in the woods and on
the wild moor...." And it appears from his own
ingenuous narrative and the additions of Kundry, who in her
rangings has seemingly had opportunities to watch him, that
he is the son of the hero Gamuret, slain in battle before
his birth, and that, in terror of a like early death for
him, his mother has reared him in solitude, far from arms
and reports of war, in absolute ignorance of the world. One
day, he tells in joyous excitement, bright-gleaming men
passed along the forest's edge, seated upon splendid
animals; his instant wish was to be like them, but they
laughed and galloped away. He ran after them, but could not
overtake them. Up hill and down dale he travelled, for days
and nights. With his bow he was compelled to defend himself
against wild beasts and huge men.... "Yes!" throws in Kundry
eagerly, as if at the recollection of splendid fights
witnessed, "he made his strength felt upon miscreants and
giants. They were all afraid of the truculent boy!" He turns
upon her a vaguely pleased wonder: "Who is afraid of me? ...
Tell me!" "The wicked!" He seems trying to grasp a wholly
new idea presented to him. "Those who threatened me were
wicked? Who is good?" Gurnemanz in reply reminds him of his
mother, who is good, and from whom he has run away; she no
doubt is seeking him in sorrow. Kundry brusquely interrupts:
"Her sorrow is ended. His mother is dead!" And, at his
incredulous cry of horror: "I was riding past and saw her
die. She bade me take to you, fool, her last blessing."
Parsifal springs upon this bearer of evil tidings with the
instinctive attempt to shut off the breath that could frame
such terrible words. Gurnemanz forcibly disengages her, and,
overpowered by the shock and weight of his pain, Parsifal
sinks in a swoon. Tenderly at once both servants of the
Grail care for him. Kundry hastens for water with which to
wet his temples, and, as he revives, offers him drink.
Gurnemanz is struck by the magnanimity of her action. "That is
right," he nods his approval, "that is in accordance with
the gracious spirit of the Grail. We banish evil when we
return good for it." Kundry turns sadly away: "I never do
good! ... All I desire is rest!... Rest!" And while
Gurnemanz is still occupied with restoring Parsifal, she
slowly walks, as if powerfully drawn and intensely
resisting, toward a tangled copse. She appears struggling
with inexpressible weariness; the music gives a hint of
something unnatural and evil in the spell of sleep falling
leadenly upon her, expressing at the same time an
irresistible element in it of attraction. The dark,
wild-haired messenger of the Grail, the despised
subordinate, suddenly assumes to our sense a much greater
importance than up to this moment. Her personality looms
large with an unexplained effect of tragedy. "Only rest!
Rest for the weary one!" she murmurs yearningly; "sleep! Oh,
let nobody wake me!" Terror checks her for a moment: "No!
No! I must not sleep!" she shudders, "I am afraid!" She
falls to violent trembling. But whatever it is compelling
her is too strong at last. Her arms fall unnerved, her head
bows languidly, and she moves feebly whither she is drawn.
"Useless resistance! ... The hour is come. Sleep....
Sleep.... I must!" Having reached the thicket she drops on
the earth among the bushes.
The sun is now high, the king is borne
homeward from the bath. The thought has struck Gurnemanz
that here under his hands is surely as exquisite a Thor
as could well be, and the experiment suggests itself of
taking him to the temple, where, as he tells him, if he be
pure, the Grail will be to him meat and drink. He places the
arm of the still strengthless youth about his neck, and
gently upholds him as they start on their way. "Who is the
Grail?" asks Parsifal, as they walk. "That may not be put
into words," replies Gurnemanz, "but, if you are of the
chosen, you cannot fail to learn. And, see now! I believe I
know who you are. No road leads through the land to the
Grail, and no one could find the way except Itself guided
him...." "I am scarcely moving," says the wondering boy,
"yet it seems to me we have already gone a long way...."
And, indeed, the forest has been
miraculously gliding past. It ends before a granite wall in
which a great portal stands open. This gives entrance into
ascending rocky galleries; sounds of clarions come stealing
to the ear; church-bells are heard—and we are presently
translated into the interior of the Castle of the Grail, the
great domed hall.
Parsifal entering with Gurnemanz stops
still beside the threshold, spell-bound in presence of all
the lofty beauty: "Now watch with attention," his guide
instructs him, before leaving him where he stands, "and let
us see, if you are a simple soul and pure, what light shall
be vouchsafed you."
The scene now enacting itself before him
is well calculated to strike the imagination of the boy from
the lonely moors. The knights of the Grail, beautiful in
their clear robes, enter in procession, chanting. When they
cease, the singing is taken up by younger voices, of
personages unseen up in the dome, and, after them, by
children's voices from the airy summit of the dome,
floating, angelic. The wounded king is brought in on his
litter, and laid upon the high canopied seat before the
altar, upon which the shrine is placed enclosing the Grail.
The knights have ranged themselves along tables prepared
with silver goblets. In the silence of recollection which
falls upon all, a voice is heard, as if from the grave: "My
son Amfortas, are you at your post?" It is the aged Titurel,
whose resting-place is a recess behind the altar and the
raised seat. There he is kept alive solely by the
contemplation of the Grail, mystical means of life and
strength. "Are you at your post? Shall I look upon the Grail
once more and live?" But long-gathering despair to-day
reaches its climax in Amfortas, at the necessity to perform
the rite required. The torture to him cannot be measured of
the vision which creates ecstasy in the others. "Woeful
inheritance fallen to me!" he complains, in his passion of
revolt against this divine infliction, "that I, the only
sinner among all, should be condemned to be keeper of
holiest holies, and call down blessings upon those purer
than I!" But the worst of his anguish is still that when the
holy blood glows in the Cup, and, in sympathy, the blood
gushes forth anew from the wound in his side—the wound made
by the same Spear—the consciousness ever returns to burning
life that, whereas those holy drops were shed in a heavenly
compassion for the misery of man, these are unregenerate
blood, hot with sinful human passion and longing, which no
chastening has availed to drive out. The wretched king is
praying for the mercy of deliverance through death, when,
from the high dome, the words rain softly of the promise of
redemption—through the Fool. Recovering courage, Amfortas
proceeds with the rite. While he kneels in prayer before the
Chalice, which young acolytes have taken from the shrine and
reverently uncovered, a mysterious darkness gathers over
all. A ray of light suddenly falls through this, upon the
Chalice, which begins softly to glow, and brightens to a
deep luminous purple-red. Amfortas lifts it and waves it
over the kneeling people. The words of the Last Communion
are heard, sung by the soaring voices in the dome: "Take my
body—Take my blood—For the sake of our love! Take my
blood—Take my body—And remember me!"
The ceremony accomplished, Amfortas sets
down the Cup, which begins to pale; as it fades, the
twilight lightens. When the common light of
day has completely returned, the knights sit down to the
repast of consecrated Bread placed for them, and Wine
poured, by the acolytes. At the end of it, they earnestly
grasp one another's hands in renewal of their bond of
Amfortas is perceived to be suffering from
the renewed bleeding of his wound. He is laid upon the
litter once more and borne away. The knights depart in
orderly procession, the hall is gradually deserted.
Parsifal remains standing on the same
spot. He has hardly moved, except, when Amfortas's anguished
cry rang out, to clutch at his heart. Gurnemanz, when he sat
down at the table with the other knights, signed to him to
come and share in the holy feast, but he did not stir. The
impression can be apprehended of the solemn scene upon the
white page of the boy's mind. A spirit of religion has
breathed through it all, so exalted, so warm, so personal;
the passionate mediæval Christianity which expressed itself
in crusades and religious orders and knight-errantry. The
cry of the Saviour (Erlösung's Held, Hero of
Redemption, the poet characteristically calls him) has rung
so piercingly, there seems but one answer from a humanly
constituted simple heart: "Did you indeed suffer so much and
die for love of me and my brothers? How then can I the most
quickly spend and scatter all my strength and blood in
gratitude to you?" Parsifal has brought to these things a
consciousness not blurred and overscored by worldly
knowledge and desires, a native capacity for love of others
uninterfered with by the developed consideration of self.
His fresh instinct has gathered the meaning of what he sees,
novel to him as it is; "wise through compassion," he has
gotten the measure and character perfectly of Amfortas's
sufferings, foreign as they are to his experience; he has
gotten the spirit of
Page 14 the facts of Christ. One especial
message, over and above the rest, he has received to
himself, shot into his heart upon a ray from the glowing
Grail held before his gaze by Amfortas: that the Saviour
embodied in the Grail must be delivered from the sin-sullied
hands now holding it. He has seemed to hear the appeal of
the Saviour, poignant, to be so delivered. He is left, when
the vision fades, with the sense of this necessity—involving
for himself, though he knows not how, a duty and a quest:
Amfortas must be healed, the Sacred Treasure must be taken
into keeping by purer hands.
Gurnemanz approaches him hopefully: "Well,
did you understand what you saw?" But Parsifal, still in his
trance of wonder, only shakes his head. It is too deep for
words, what he has felt.
To Gurnemanz he now seems a hopeless and
unprofitable fool, who has no place in the noble company.
"You are a fool, it is a fact, and you are nothing else!" he
declares. Opening a side-door, he without further ceremony
pushes him out by the shoulders, with a sour little joke:
"Take my advice: Let the swans alone hereafter, and, gander
that you are, find yourself a goose!" As he turns from the
door, there falls from above, as if some echo of it had
clung to the high dome after all the singers had left, the
strain: "Wise through compassion.... The immaculate
The next change of scene shows the
interior of the tower where Klingsor practises his dark
arts. A strain already known catches our attention (the
Sorcery-motif), and we become aware what influences were at
work in Kundry when her weariness succumbed to the lure of
sleep, what mesmeric call from Klingsor's hotly blooming,
godless pleasure-seat. The Klingsor-music introducing the
second act stands in picturesque contrast to the tender and
thoughtful music opening the first; curiously suggesting, as
it does, lawlessness, cold evil passions riding the soul
hideously at a gallop. It has something vaguely in common
with portions of the Venus-music in Tannhäuser,—perhaps its
effect at once unbridled and joyless.
The sorcerer has from the battlements seen
Parsifal approaching, who, thrust out from the Castle of the
Grail, had, by the peculiar magic of the place, found the
path to it obliterated. He had come forth with the exalted
but undefined sense of a great task to perform. But, even as
the road to the Castle of the Grail was difficult to find,
the road to Klingsor's castle was easy and overeasy; it
would seem that for the feet of a votary of the Grail all
roads led to it. Parsifal had seen it shining afar, and with
childish shouts of delight is drawing near. Klingsor,
divining in him an enemy more than usual dangerous, resorts,
to make his ruin altogether sure, to what are his supreme
methods. He calls to his assistance once more the ally by
whose help the great Amfortas had been vanquished. With
mysterious passes and burning of gums, he summons that
Formidable Feminine: "Nameless one!... Most ancient of
Devils!... Rose of Hell!... Herodias!..." and amid the blue
smoke-wreathes, uttering the wail of a slave haled to the
market-place, rises the form of Kundry. She appears like one
but half roused from the torpour of sleep, and struggling
with a terrible dream, or resisting some terrible reality.
All the answer she can give to his first words of ironical
congratulation, is in broken exclamations: "Oh! Oh! Deep
night.... Madness... Oh, wrath! Oh, misery!... Sleep! Sleep!
Deep sleep!... Death!..." and, in a subsequent outburst:
"The curse!... Oh, yearning!... Yearning!..."
Her history and hints of her
extraordinarily complex personality are to be gathered from
the scene following and the scene later, with Parsifal. The
mysterious messenger of the Grail was anciently Herodias,
and meeting with the Man of Sorrows, she laughed. "Then,"
she herself relates, "He turned His eyes upon me...." Under
the curse involved in her action and the remorse generated
by that divine look, she cannot die, but goes, as she
describes it, seeking Him from world to world, to meet His
eyes again. She tries in every manner to expiate her sin, by
service to others, by subjugation of self, but the old
nature is still not well out of her, the nature of Herodias,
and, at intervals, an infinite weariness of welldoing
overtakes her, a revival of the passions of her old life,
and with the cessation of struggle against them she falls
into a death-like sleep. In this condition, as if it
represented a laying-off of the armour of righteousness, her
spirit is at the mercy of the powers of evil. The
necromancer Klingsor can conjure it up and force it to his
In the centuries she has lived, she has
borne many names. She has but recently been the temptress of
Amfortas, and at the reassumption of the higher half of her
dual nature, has, as the servant and messenger of the Grail,
striven to make amends, as far as she might, for the
mischief done by her in her other state. The curse under
which she lives has peculiar laws of its own, of which we
just vaguely feel the moral basis. In her character of
temptress, while desiring with intensity, in her Herodias
part, the surrender of the man to whose seduction she
applies herself, yet with the other side of her, the side of
the penitent, which never quite slumbers, she even more
ardently and fundamentally desires his victory over her
arts, for, wi
her own frustration, she would be delivered from her curse,
she could die; from the enormous fatigue of centuries of
tormented earthly existence, find rest. Which is to say,
perhaps, that if once more she could meet and look into the
eyes of complete strength and purity, see an adequate
approach to the Christ-spirit shining out of whatsoever
eyes, her redemption, so painfully worked toward through
centuries of alternate effort and relapse, would be
consummated; at that encounter, renewing, or confirming,
faith in the existence of perfect goodness, the evil within
her, so long vainly fought, would die, and her long trial be
at end. So she approaches every new adventure with, under
her determined wiles, the hope of failure; and when her
subject is still and ever found weak in her hands,
experiences despair. And when a hero such as Amfortas,
undertaken with the undercurrent sense that he perhaps is
the unconquerable, whose resistance shall make him her
deliverer, vulgarly falls in her arms, the triumph of one
side of her nature, and the despair of the other, express
themselves in terrible laughter. The fruit of her experience
with man is, as it affects the two sides of her, a mixture
of sinister cynicism and ineffable pity. "Woe! Woe!" she
laments, at Klingsor's mocking mention of Amfortas. "Weak,
he too! Weak—all of them! Through me, to my curse, all lost
as I am lost! Oh, eternal sleep, only balm, how, how shall I
One can suppose in this Kundry, setting
aside all details of personal history, an intended
personification of the abstraction—(Namenlose,—Nameless
One,) Eternal Feminine, with, set in the high light, two of
her broad traits, the best perhaps and the worst: the
passion for serving, tending, protecting, mothering, and the
passion for subduing man, proving herself more powerful than
the stronger, by remorseless practice upon his point of
least strength. This inveterate spirit of seduction it must be
which Klingsor apostrophises as "Most Ancient of Devils,"
and "Rose of Hell."
The character of Kundry has many aspects,
exhibited here and there by a flash, but, when all is said,
and before all else, what we are watching is an
upward-struggling human soul, whose storm-beaten progress
could never move us as it does did we not feel in her simply
We saw her, forspent, crawl into the
thicket to sleep. Now, Klingsor who can command her while in
that state, has compelled her to him to accomplish the
undoing of Parsifal. The idea is to her, all heavy and
clogged with sleep, the personality of the Gralsbotin
still in the ascendant, one of horror only. With wails of
protest at having been waked, and lamentation over what is
proposed, she refuses to obey, rejecting Klingsor's claim to
be her master. Even when he puts his request in the form of
the suggestion: "He who should defy you would set you free.
Try it then with the boy at hand!" she stubbornly refuses.
"He is even now climbing the rampart!" Klingsor persists.
Kundry wrings her hands. "Woe! Woe! Have I waked for this?
Must I, indeed?... Must I?" At which first intimation of
weakening, Klingsor ceases to press his authority, and
adopts a different method of persuasion. Climbing to the
battlement, he describes the approaching figure: "Ha! He is
beautiful, the boy!" "Oh! Oh!" moans Kundry, "woe is me!"
Klingsor blows his horn, to warn the
garrison of the palace—the host of the victims of folly, the
lost knights—of the approaching enemy. A commotion is heard
of arms caught up in haste and of fighting; Klingsor from
his post follows the contest, with glee in the daring of the
beautiful boy, who has snatched the sword from one of his
assailants and with it, one against the swarm, is cutting
his way through them. Kundry, ceasing from her
moans, has begun to laugh, and as Klingsor continues his
report of the skirmish laughs more and more uncontrollably.
"They yield, they flee, each of them carries home his wound!
Ha! How proudly he stands upon the rampart! How the roses
bloom and smile in his cheeks, as, in childlike amazement,
he gazes down upon the solitary garden! ... Hey! Kundry!"
But with her laughter ending in a scream, Kundry has
abruptly vanished. "What? Already at work?" muses Klingsor.
"Ha ha! I knew the charm which will always bring you back
into my service!" Then turning his attention once more to
the youthful intruder filling his eyes with the unimagined
glories of the garden: "You there, fledgling! Whatever
prophecy may have had to say concerning you, too young and
green you have fallen into my power. Purity wrested from
you, you will become my willing subject!"
The tower, with Klingsor, vanishes from
sight; there lies outspread before us the enchanted garden,
glowing, tropical, displaying the last luxuriance of
flowers; and we see for ourselves Parsifal standing upon the
wall, calmly gazing. A swarm of beautiful young creatures,
waked by the clash of arms have, even as their lovers turned
and fled to cover, rushed forth to discover what is the
matter. With confused cries they pour from the palace and,
recognising in Parsifal the whole of the enemy, assail him
with abuse scarcely more unendurable than a pelting with
thorny rose-buds. "You there! You there! Why did you do us
this injury? A curse upon you! A curse upon you!" As
Parsifal undismayed leaps down into the garden, they fall to
twittering like angry sparrows: "Ha! You bold thing! Do you
dare to brave us? Why did you beat our beloved?" And the raw
boy, acquitting himself rather neatly for such a beginner:
"Ought I not to have beaten them? They were barring my
passage to you!" "You wanted to come to us? Had you ever seen
us before?" "Never had I seen anything so pretty. I speak
rightly, do I not, in calling you lovely?" A rapid change
takes place in the attitude toward him of the exceedingly
pretty persons. They adorn themselves in haste,
fantastically, to charm him, with the flowers of the garden;
singing a wooing song, of the most melting, persuasive,
irresistible, they weave around him, circling as in a
child's game of ring-a-rosy, sweeping the heady perfumes of
their garlands under his nostrils. They do not appear wholly
human, but rather like strange tall-stemmed animated
flowers, swaying and jostling in the wind, and whose odor
should have turned into music; or, better still, like
incarnate emanations from the intoxicating flower-beds of
this magical Garden of the Senses. Parsifal stands in their
midst, pleased and watchful, fleetingly again like
Siegfried, with his cheerful calm and poise. "How sweet you
smell! ... Are you flowers?" They close around him more and
more smotheringly, with caresses more and more pressing. He
gently pushes them away. "You wild, lovely, crowding
flowers! If I am to play with you, let me have room!" As
they do not obey, and in addition fall to quarrelling among
themselves over him, half-vexed, he repels them and is
turning for retreat, when a voice is heard from a blossoming
thicket near-by: "Parsifal! Stay!..." The flowers, startled,
at once hold still. The youth stands still, too, struck.
Parsifal.... He remembers that as one of the names his
mother had called him by, once, as she lay asleep and
dreaming. The voice continues: "Here remain, Parsifal....
You simple light-o'-loves, depart from him. Early withering
flowers, he is destined to other things than dalliance with
you!" The flock of flowers, reluctantly, lingering as long
as they dare, withdraw, their last word one of derision:
"You beautiful one! You proud one! You... fool!" With whispered
laughter they vanish into the house, and Parsifal, in the
once more solitary garden, asks himself: "Was it all a
For the first time touched with timidity,
he turns towards the blossoming bower from which the voice
had come. The branches part, and reveal Kundry, youthful,
gorgeously apparelled and superlatively beautiful, lying
upon a flowery bank. "Did you mean the name you spoke for
me, who have no name?" Parsifal asks, standing shyly apart.
"I called you, guileless Innocent,
Parsifal.... By this name your father Gamuret, expiring in
Arabian land, called his unborn son. I have sought you here
to tell you this...."
"Never had I seen," sighs Parsifal, "never
dreamed, such a thing as I now see and am filled with
awe!... Are you, too, a flower in this garden of flowers?"
"No, Parsifal. Far, far away is my home. I came here only
that you might find me. I came from distant lands where I
witnessed many things...." With the calm notes of the
Arch-enchantress, perfectly sure of her power, she unfolds
to him the story of his own past further back than he can
remember, which is of the things she professes to have
ocularly witnessed,—his life with Herzeleide; she relates
the death of the latter from grief over his loss. She takes
him in hand with easy masterliness in the art of reducing a
youthful heart. She does not stint to appear to one so
boyish much older and very wise. Not one discomposing word
does she utter about love,—but she brings his heart to a
state of fusion by the picture of his mother's sorrowful
end, and when, overcome by anguish and remorse, he sinks at
her feet with the cry: "What have I done?... Sweetest,
loveliest mother! Your son, your son must bring about your
death!..." she gently places her arm about his neck
and administers needed comfort: "Never before had you known
sorrow, and so have not known either the sweetness of
consolation. Let sorrow and regret be washed away in the
consolation proffered to you by Love!" But Parsifal, the
compassionate, cannot so soon be diverted from the rending
thought of his mother, and continues despite the fair arm on
his neck and the balmy breath in his hair, with his
passionate self-reproach: "My mother! I could forget my
mother! Ha! What else have I forgotten? What, indeed, have I
ever remembered? Naught but utter folly dwells in me!"
Kundry again attempts setting him right with himself and
offers the cheer: "Acknowledgment of your fault will place a
term to remorse. Consciousness of folly will turn folly into
sense...." Then, not quite relevantly, "Learn to know the
love which enfolded Gamuret when Herzeleide's affection
burningly overflowed,..." With the assurance that she who
gave him life now sends him as a mother's last blessing the
First Kiss of Love, she bends over him and places her lips
upon his in a prolonged Wagnerian kiss. The sorcery-motif is
heard weaving its unholy snare. Of a sudden, with an
abruptness as unexpected as it is disconcerting, Parsifal
tears himself from her embrace, leaps to his feet, and
pressing his hands to his heart, as if there were the seat
of an intolerable pain, "Amfortas!" he cries, staring like
one who sees ghosts, "the wound! the wound!..." That has
been the effect of her kiss upon his innocence, to give him
sudden clairvoyance into her nature, to cast a lightning
flash upon the past. He feels himself for a moment
identified with Amfortas, whom the woman had kissed as she
kissed him. Amfortas's wound burns in his own side. Not only
that: the sinful, disorderly, unsubduable passion torturing
Amfortas, for a moment tortures equally Parsifal,
whose nature is thrown by it into a horror of self-hatred,
and casts itself upon frenzied prayer for deliverance and
pardon. Pardon, for although this experience can be thought
an effect of mysterious insight, Parsifal recognises as a
crime that he should be in these circumstances at all. He
remembers that he had known himself as one marked for a
sacred mission. He remembers the vision of the Grail, and
that the Saviour had seemed to speak from it to his inmost
soul: "Deliver me! Save me from sin-polluted hands!" "And
I," he groans, "the fool! the coward! I could rush to the
insensate exploits of a boy!"
Kundry has been amazed and somewhat
alarmed, but for a moment still, as it appears, has not
understood. She leaves her flowery couch and approaches
Parsifal, where he is kneeling in supplication to the Lord
of Mercy; with soft arts she attempts to reconquer his
attention, but with an effect wide of her expectation, for,
while she plies him with caresses, he is thinking, and we
hear him think: "Yes, that voice, even thus it fell upon his
ear.... And that glance, I recognise it clearly, which
smiled away his peace.... So the lip trembled for him. ...
So the throat arched.... So the tresses laughingly
gleamed!... So the soft cheek pressed close against his
own,... and so, in league with all the sorrows, so her mouth
kissed away his soul's salvation!" As if the reinforcements
from Heaven, which he prayed, had suddenly reached him, he
rises in inspired strength, frees himself and thrusts her
resolutely from him: "Destroyer, away from me! Forever and
From this onward he is a different
Parsifal, not in the least a boy any more. It is as if in
the storm which swept him he had found himself, his
anchorage and his strength. And now we gather that Kundry
really has had an inkling of what is at work in him. She drops
at once the fairly simple methods she has up to this used,
and, it is not quite clear at first whether still as a
mighty Huntress, discarding one weapon and taking another
better adapted to bring down the quarry, or at last in true
earnest, she invokes—pressing, not to be denied—his pity.
She reveals—and it is as if beauty and splendour should lift
the veil from a hidden ulcer—her strange history, the
ancient sin, the curse upon her, the despair that is denied
tears and can only voice itself in laughter. "Since your
heart is capable only of feeling the sorrows of others," she
pleads, "feel mine!" In him, as he has become within the
hour, she recognises a deliverer, but, illogically, thirsts
the more for his love. From this figure with the firm,
compassionate eyes and the exalted self-possession,
something breathes which associates him to her sense with
the figure, sought by her through the centuries, of the
derided Victim. She feels herself face to face once more
with the Christ-spirit. But the blind desire of her dual
personality is that pardon should wear the form of love.
Parsifal, with every moment more firmly established in his
strength and purpose, replies to her madness with a calm
homily,—his theme, how from the springs of passion flow
waters of thirst. Words of wisdom, eternal truths, drop from
the so young lips of the fool. Kundry, who has listened in
wonder, exclaims: "So it was my kiss which gave you
universal vision! The full cup of my love then would make
you to a god!" and coming back eagerly to her point:
"Deliver the world, if such is your mission. If an hour can
make you to a god, let me, for that hour, suffer
damnation...." "For you, too, sinner, I will find
salvation," is Parsifal's mild reply. "Let me love you in
your godlikeness, that shall be salvation for me!" "Love and
salvation both shall reward you, if you will show me the way
It will have been remarked that Kundry in her
singular rôle has been playing fair; that, though life for
her (which paradoxically is death) depends upon failure, she
has put forth her whole strength in the temptation. But it
is not at this juncture the penitent who is in the
ascendant, it is the evil side of Kundry, and at that last
request of Parsifal's, proving the vanity of her effort, a
great anger seizes her: "Never!" she cries, "never shall you
find him! The fallen king, let him perish! The wretch whom I
laughed and laughed and laughed at! Ha ha! Why—he was
wounded with his own spear.... And against yourself," she
follows this, "I will call to aid that weapon, if you give
that sinner the honour of your pity!" But, at the sound of
her own words, her anger dropping: "Ah, madness!... Pity! On
me, do you have pity! One single hour mine... and you shall
be shown on your way!" With a renewal of tenderness she
attempts to clasp him; but at his abhorrent, "Unhappy woman,
away!" furious beside all bounds, she falls to shouting for
help against him, help to prevent his going. "Help! Here!
Hold the audacious one! Bar the roads against him! Bar the
paths!..." Then, addressing him in the blaze of her
revengeful wrath: "And though you should escape from
here—and though you should find all the roads in the world,
the road which you seek you shall not find! For all roads
and paths which lead you away from me, I place a curse upon
them. Hopelessly—hopelessly shall you wander and stray!..."
At her wild summoning the women have come
running into the garden; Klingsor has appeared on the
threshold, armed with the Spear. This, with the words: "The
Fool shall be transfixed with his Master's Spear!" he hurls
at Parsifal. But the Spear stands miraculously poised above
the youth's head. He grasps it, with a face of ecstasy, and
draws in the air a great figure of the Cross.
"By this sign I dispel your sorceries! As this Spear shall
close the wound it made, let this lying splendour fall to
wreck and desolation!" As if shaken by an earthquake, the
palace crumbles to ruin; the garden withers away and turns
to a barren waste; like broken and wilted flowers the women
are seen bestrewing the ground; Kundry falls to earth with a
great cry. And Parsifal, departing, turns on the ruined wall
for a last word to her,—painfully she lifts her head for a
last look—"You know where, only, you may see me again!"
meaning, we are left to feel, a plane sooner than a place.
Again the Domain of the Grail, where, on
the outskirts of the forest, beside a spring, the old-grown
Gurnemanz has built himself a hermit's cell. It is long
after and much is changed. There is sadness in the air, but
it is of an unfretful gentle sort, almost sweet; the sadness
of a solitude visited by high thoughts, memories of calamity
softened in retrospect, present crosses made supportable by
faith and the light cast on the path already of an
approaching event which is to mark a new epoch in the life
of the Order. A sadness in the air and a something holy. It
is Spring-time and it is Good-Friday; the trees are in
blossom and the meadow at the forest's edge is spotted with
new flowers. We are never, through the first part of the
act, left unconscious for long of the sweetness of
surrounding nature and the hour; it comes like whiffs of
perfume, every now and then, reminding us that the earth has
renewed herself and the day is holy, until at last these
stray intimations have led to a clear and rounded statement
in the Good-Friday Charm.
Forth from his cell comes Gurnemanz, to be
recognized as a
knight of the Grail only by the straight under-tunic of the
Order. He has heard a groan, not to be mistaken for the cry
of a hurt animal. As it is repeated, it strikes his ear as a
sound known to him of old. Anxiously searching among the
matted thorn-trees, he discovers Kundry, as once before,
rigid and to all appearance dead. He chafes and calls and
brings her back to consciousness. She is the Kundry of the
first act, but so changed,—pale with the strained pallor of
one lately exorcised; the wildness and roughness all gone
out of her face, and in its place a strange rapt fixity; in
her bearing an unknown humility. In silence she recovers
remembrance of the facts of her existence; mechanically
orders her hair and garments, and without a word leaves
Gurnemanz to set about the work of a servant. As she is
moving towards the hut, he asks: "Have you no word for me?
Is this my thanks for having waked you once more out of the
sleep of death?" And she brings forth brokenly the last
words she is heard to utter: "To serve!... To serve!..." the
only need now of her being. "How different her bearing is,"
Gurnemanz muses, "from what it used to be! Is it the
influence of the holy day?" She brings from the cell a
water-jar, and, gazing off into the distance while it fills,
sees among the trees some one approaching, to which, by a
sign, she calls Gurnemanz's attention. He marvels at the
figure in sable armour; but we, saddened and slowed as it
is, have recognized the Parsifal-motif heralding it. The
sable knight is faring slowly on his way, with closed
helmet, bowed head and lowered spear, unconscious of his
observers, until, when he drops on a grassy knoll to rest,
Gurnemanz greets and addresses him: "Have you lost your way?
Shall I guide you?" Receiving no answer to this or the
questions which follow, save by signs of the head, he with
the bluffness we remember offers a reprimand: "If your vow
binds you not to speak to me, my vow obliges me
to tell you what is befitting. You are upon a consecrated
spot, it is improper here to go in armour, with closed
helmet, with shield and spear. And of all days upon this
one! Do you not know what holy day it is?" The knight gently
shakes his head. "Among what heathen have you lived, not to
be aware that this is the most holy Good-Friday? Lay down,
forthwith, your arms! Do not offend the Lord, who on this
day, unarmed in very truth, offered His sacred blood in
atonement for the sins of the world!" The knight upon this,
still without a word, drives the haft of his spear into the
ground, lays down his arms and sinks upon his knees in
prayer before the Spear. The removal of his helmet has
revealed the face of Parsifal, but another Parsifal, even as
Kundry is another. The stage-directions have no word
concerning it, but it must be in accordance with the custom
of Bayreuth that the latter Parsifal presents a resemblance
to the traditional representations of the Saviour; the idea
being, we must think, to indicate, stamped on the exterior
man, this soul's aspiration towards likeness with the Divine
Pattern; or, perhaps, visibly to state that here, too, is a
gentle and selfless lover of men, all of whose forces bent
on a mission of deliverance.
Gurnemanz, watching him attentively,
recognises the slayer, long ago, of the swan, the stupid boy
whom he had turned out of the temple. Then he recognises,
too, the Spear.
Parsifal, rising from his prayer, gazes
quietly around him and recognises Gurnemanz. To the question
of the latter, how and whence he comes, he replies: "I am
come by ways of wandering and pain. Can I believe myself at
last delivered from them, since I hear once more the rustle
of this forest, and behold you, worthy elder? Or am I still
baffled in my search for the right road? Everything looks
"What road is it you seek?" Gurnemanz inquires. "The road to
him whose profound wail I heard of yore in wondering
stupidity, and the instrument of whose healing I now dare
believe myself elected to be...." All this long time he has
vainly sought the road back to the Grail, whether hindered
by Kundry's curse, or cut off by some stain left upon his
nature from his brief hour in the deadly garden, which must
be cleansed by such prolonged ordeal. He relates the
desperate battle in all his wanderings to keep safe the
Sacred Spear,—which, behold, he is now bringing home!
Gurnemanz's joy bursts forth unbounded. Then he, too, makes
his friend even over the past. Since the day of his presence
among them, the trouble then revealed to him has increased
to the last point of distress. Amfortas, revolting against
the torments of his soul, and desiring naught but death,
refuses to perform the office of the Grail, by which his
life would be prolonged. The knights, deprived of their
heavenly nourishment, deprived of a leader, have lost their
old strength and courage. They seek their sustenance of
herbs and roots, like the animals, in the forest. No longer
are they called to holy warfare in distant lands. Titurel,
unrenewed by the vision of the Grail, is dead.... At the
relation of these mournful events, grief assails Parsifal,
who holds himself responsible for all this wretchedness, by
reason of his long-delayed return, which he must regard as a
consequence of sins and folly of his own,—grief beyond what
the human frame is fitted to endure, and he is again
swooning, as at the evil news in the first act. Kundry
hurries with water from the cell, but Gurnemanz stops her;
he has in thought larger purifications for the pilgrim in
whom his prophetic mind discerns one ordained to fulfill
this very day a sacred office. "So let him be made clean of
all stain, let the dust be washed from him of his long
wandering." They ease him upon the moss beside the
consecrated spring, remove his greaves and coat of mail. As
he revives a little, he asks faintly: "Shall I be taken
to-day to Amfortas?" Gurnemanz assures him that he shall,
for on this day the burial of Titurel takes place, which
Gurnemanz must attend, and Amfortas has pledged himself, in
honour of his father, to uncover once more the Grail. Kundry
during this, on her knees, has been bathing the pilgrim's
feet. He watches her, at her devoted lowly task, in wonder:
"You have washed my feet," he speaks; "let now the friend
pour water on my head!" Gurnemanz obeys, besprinkling him
with a baptismal intention. Kundry takes from her bosom a
golden phial, and, having poured ointment on his feet, dries
them, in the custom of the day when she was Herodias, with
her long hair; by this repetition of a famous act intending
perhaps to signify that she is a sinner and that he has
raised her from sin. "You have anointed my feet," speaks
Parsifal again; "let now the brother-at-arms of Titurel
anoint my head, for on this day he shall hail me as king."
Whereupon Gurnemanz anoints him as king. Kundry has been
gazing with a devout hushed face. There is no sign that he
recognises her, but, as if his soul recognised some quality
of her soul, as if some need in her called to him, he dips
water from the sacred well and sprinkles her head: "My first
ministration shall be this: I baptize thee! Have faith in
the Redeemer!" And Kundry, the curse being lifted which had
dried up in her the fountain of tears, bows to the earth
At this point it is that the vague
waftures of sweetness which have been fitfully soliciting us
all through these scenes, concentrate themselves and make
their call irresistible. Parsifal becomes aware of it. With
his sense of the absolution from sin for both of
them, in baptism, invaded by deep peace, he gazes around him
in soft enchantment: "How more than usual lovely the meadows
appear to me to-day! True, I have known wonder-flowers,
clasping me with eager tendrils so high as my head; but
never had I seen blades, blossoms, flowers, so mild and
tender, nor ever did, to my sense, all nature give forth a
fragrance so innocently sweet, or speak to me with such
amiable confidence!" "That," explains Gurnemanz, "is
Good-Friday's Charm...." "Alas!" wails Parsifal, "that day
of supreme agony! Ought not on this day everything which
blooms and breathes to be steeped in mourning and tears?"
"You see," replies Gurnemanz, "that it is not so. They are
the sinners' tears of repentance which today bathe meadow
and plain with a holy dew; that is why they look so fresh
and fair. To-day all created things rejoice upon the earth
once trodden by the Saviour's feet, and wish to offer Him
their prayers. Beyond them it is to see Him upon the Cross,
wherefore they turn their eyes to redeemed man. Man feels
himself delivered from the burden and terror of sin, through
God's sacrifice of love made clean and whole. The grasses
and flowers become aware of this, they mark that on this day
the foot of man spares to trample them, that, even as God
with a heavenly patience bears with man and once suffered
for his sake, man in pious tribute treads softly to avoid
crushing them. All creation gives thanks for this, all the
short-lived things that bloom; for to-day all Nature,
absolved from sin, regains her day of Innocence." The
exquisiteness of this passage, the Good-Friday Spell (Charfreitag's
Zauber), can hardly be conveyed; if one says the music
is worthy of the theme, one has but given a hint of the
overearthly quality of its sweetness.
Kundry has slowly raised her head and
fixed upon Parsifal her prayerful wet eyes. Either from his
recent contemplation of the flowery lea, or some occult
association of her personality with the past, the flowers of
Klingsor's garden come into his mind. "I saw them wither who
had smiled on me. May they not also be hungering for
redemption now?... Your tears, too, are turned to blessed
dew.... You weep, and see, the meadow blooms in joy!" He
stoops and kisses her gently upon the forehead.
Bells are heard summoning the knights to
the Castle. Gurnemanz brings from the cell the mantle of a
knight of the Grail, and places it upon Parsifal's
shoulders. Parsifal grasps the Spear, and the three vanish
from sight among the trees. Again, but from the opposite
direction, we approach the Castle; the sound of bells
increases as we pass through the granite portal and the
vaulted corridors. We are once more in the domed hall. All
is as we left it, save for the tables, which, become
useless, are no longer there. Again the doors open at the
back and from each issues forth a company of knights, the
one bearing the bier of Titurel, the other carrying the
litter of Amfortas and the shrine of the Grail, while they
chant, in question and response, a song of reproachful
tenor. "Whom do you bring, with tokens of mourning, in the
dark casket?" "The funereal casket holds the hero into whose
charge the very God entrusted Himself. Titurel we bring."
"Who slew him, whom God Himself held in His care?" "The
killing burden of age slew him, when he no longer might
behold the Grail." "Who prevented him from beholding the
glory of the Grail?" "He whom you carry, the sinful Keeper."
The latter they now urge to fulfill his promise of exposing
the Grail, and, deeply moved by the sight of his father's
face and the outburst of lamentation which follows the
folding back of the pall from it, he appears on the point of
satisfying them; but, as in their
eagerness they hem him around with injunctions almost
threatening, he is seized with a revulsion once more against
the task imposed on him. He springs from his high seat and
stands among them begging that rather they will kill him.
"Already I feel the night of death closing around me, and
must I be forced back into life? You demented! Who shall
compel me to live? Death alone it is in your power to give!"
He tears open his garment and offers his breast. "Forward,
heroes! Slay the sinner with his affliction! The Grail
perchance will glow for you then of Itself!"
But the knights shrink away. Then it is
that Parsifal, who with Gurnemanz and Kundry has entered
unnoticed, advances and with the point of the Sacred Spear
touches Amfortas's wound. "One weapon alone avails. The
wound can be closed only by the Spear which made it. Be
whole, pardoned and absolved, for I now hold the office in
your stead!" Amfortas's countenance of holy ecstasy
proclaims the instant virtue of the remedy. As Parsifal
holds up to the enraptured gaze of the knights the Spear
which he has brought back to them, the Parsifal-motif is
heard again, for the last time, triumphant, broad, and
glorious. He proceeds to perform the rite which had been the
duty of Amfortas. A glory rains upon the altar. At the
glowing of the Grail, Titurel, returning for a moment to
life, lifts himself on his bier with a gesture of
benediction. As Parsifal moves the Chalice softly above the
kneeling assembly, a white dove descends from on high and
floats above his head. Kundry, with her eyes turned toward
all these luminous things, sinks softly upon the
altar-steps, the life-giving Grail having given her life
too, in the form of desired death. With the interwoven Grail
and Faith and Spear music letting down as if a curtain of
silver and azure and gold, the poem closes.
One has heard it objected, as at least
strange, that when the search after knowledge is so
unquestionably meritorious, and study, as we count it, one
of the conditions of progress, and learning a lamp to our
feet, an ideal should be made of total ignorance, such as
Parsifal's. But surely the point is a different one. The
point is not Parsifal's ignorance—except, perhaps, in so far
as it made for innocence—but the qualities which he
possessed, and which one may possess, in spite of ignorance.
It is a comparison of values which is established. Through
the object-lesson of Parsifal, Wagner is saying, after his
fashion and inversely, what Saint Paul says: "Though I speak
with the tongues of men and angels,... though I have the
gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all
knowledge,... and have not charity, I am nothing;... it
availeth me nothing." The supremacy of charity, love of
others, is the point illustrated.
One tributary to the mighty stream of our
interest in the opera of Parsifal has its spring in the date
of its appearance. It comes as the poet's last word. What a
procession of heroes has passed before us—beautiful, brave,
romantic,—how fit, every one, to capture the imagination!
Towering a little above the rest, Siegfried, the
Uebermensch, the Overman. But finally, with the effect
of a conclusion reached, a judgement, the hero whose heroism
differs in quality from that of the others, the lowly of
heart, whose dominant trait is Mitleid, compassion,
sympathy with the woes of others, who pities swans and women
and the sinful and the suffering, and gives his strength to
helping them, and sanctifies himself for their sake.
The Coming of
Within a noble stretch of
Primeval forest, deep and dark and grand,
There rose a glorious castle towering high,--
And at its foot a smiling, shimmering lake
Lay in the still lap of a verdant glade.
'T was daybreak, and the arrows of the dawn
Were shot in golden glory through the trees,
And from the castle came a trumpet blast
To waken life in all the slumbering host,--
Warriors and yeomen in the castle halls.
And at the trumpet Gurnemanz
Ancient and faithful servant of the Grail,--
Who sleeping lay under a spreading oak,
And called aloud to two youths sleeping yet:
"Hey! ho! ye foresters, loving the woods,
Loving your sleep as well. Wake with the day!
Hear ye the trumpet! Come, let us thank God
That we have power to hear the call of life,
And power to answer as the duty calls!"
And up they started, knelt in prayer with him,
And offered unto God their morning praise.
Then Gurnemanz: "Up now, my
Prepare the royal bath, and wait the King!...
Behold, his litter now is coming forth,
I see the heralds coming on before....
Hail, royal heralds! Hail and welcome both!
How fares my Lord Amfortas' health to-day?
I hope his early coming to the bath
Doth presage nothing worse. I fain had thought
The healing herb that Sir Gawain had found
With wisest skill and bravest deed might bring
Some quick and sure relief unto the King."
To whom the herald-knight did
"Thou knowest all of this dread secret wound,--
The shame, the sorrow, and the depth of it,
Its evil cause and the dark curse upon it,--
And yet forsooth thou seemest still to hope?...
The healing herb no soothing brought, nor peace.
All night the sleepless King has tossed in pain,
Longing for morning and the cooling bath."
Then Gurnemanz, downcast and
"Yea, it is useless, hoping thus to ease
The pain unless we use the one sure cure,--
Naught else avails although we search the world.
Only one healer and one healing thing
Can staunch the gaping wound and save the King."
And eagerly the herald asked:
"What cure is this,
And who the healer that can save the King?"
But Gurnemanz quick answered:
"See the bath
Is needing thee, for here doth come the King!"
But as he spake, e'er yet the
Another herald, looking far away,
Beheld a woman coming, riding wild,
And quick exclaimed: "See there, a flying witch!
Ha! how the devil's mare is racing fast
With madly flying mane! Nearer she comes!...
'Tis Kundry, wretched Kundry, mad old Kundry--
Perhaps she brings us urgent news? Who knows?
The mare is staggering with weariness,--
No wonder, for its flight was through the air,--
But now it nears the ground, and seems to brush
The moss with sweeping mane. And now, look ye!
The wild witch flings herself from off the mare
And rushes toward us!"
And Kundry came,
Her dark eyes flashing wildly, piercing
Her black hair loose; her rude garb looser still,
Yet partly bound with glittering skins of snakes;
And panting, staggering ran to Gurnemanz,
And thrust into his hands a crystal flask
With the scant whisper, "Balsam--for the King!"
And on his asking, "Whence this healing balm?"
She answered: "Farther than thy thought can guess.
For if this balsam fail, then Araby
Hath nothing further for the King's relief.
Ask me no further. I am weak and worn."
And now the litter of the King
Attended by a retinue of knights.
High on the couch the King Amfortas lay,
His pale face lined with suffering and care;
And looking toward the King, then Gurnemanz
Spake with his own sad heart: "He comes, my King,--
A helpless burden to his servitors.
Alas, alas! That these mine eyes should see
The sovereign of a strong and noble race,
Now in the very flower and prime of life,
Brought low, and made a bounden slave
Unto a shameful and a stubborn sickness!...
Ye servitors, be careful of this couch!
Careful! Set down the litter tenderly!
I hear the King, our Master, groan in pain."
Then they set down the couch,
and soon the King,
Raising himself a little, spake to them:
"My loving thanks, sir knights. Rest here awhile.
How sweet this morning and these fragrant woods
To one who tossed the weary night in pain.
And this pure lake with all its freshening waves
Will lighten pain and brighten my dark woe.
Where is my dear Gawain?"
And one spake up:
"My Lord Gawain has hasted quick away.
For when the healing herb that he had brought
After such daring toils, did disappoint,
Then he set forth upon another quest."
Then said the King: "Without
Alas that he should go on useless quests
And seem to do despite unto the Grail!
For it is ordered by divine command
That I should suffer for my grievous sin,
And naught can help me but one single thing.
O woe, if in his far-off quests for me
He is ensnared by Klingsor's hateful arts!
I pray you, sirs, venture no more for me,--
It only breaks my peace, and grieves my heart.
Naught will avail. I only wait for Him,--
'By pity 'lightened.'
Was not this the word?"
And Gurnemanz: "So thou hast
said to us."
And softly yet spake on the
"'The guileless One.'
Methinks I know him now!
His name is Death, for only Death can free me!"
Then Gurnemanz to ease the
King's sad thoughts
Held forth the crystal flask with soothing words:
"Nay, nay, my King. Essay once more a cure,--
A balsam brought for thee from Araby."
And the King asked: "Whence
came this balsam flask,
So strange in form, and who has brought it here?"
And Gurnemanz: "There lies the
The wild-eyed Kundry, weak and weary-worn,
As if the journey sapped her very life....
Up, Kundry! Here's his majesty the King!"
But Kundry would not rise, or
could not else.
Then spake the King: "O Kundry,
Am I again thy debtor for such help?
Yet I will try thy balsam for my wound,
And for thy service take my grateful thanks."
But Kundry muttered: "Give no
thanks to me.
What will it help,--or this, or e'en the bath?
And yet, away, I say! On to the bath!"
Then the King left her, lying on the ground,
And off he moved upon the couch of pain,
Longing to bathe him in the shining lake,
Hoping against all hope to ease his soul,
And quiet in his body the fierce pains.
And one spake up: "Why lies
that woman there,--
A foul and snarling thing on holy ground?
Methinks her healing balm is witching drug
To work a further poison in the King....
She hates us! See her now! How hellishly
She looks at us with hot and spiteful eyes!
She is a heathen witch and sorceress!"
But Gurnemanz, who knew her
"What harm has ever come to you from her?
And oft she serves us in the kindliest ways.
For when we want a messenger to send
To distant lands where warrior-knights in fight
Are serving God, she quick takes up the task;
Before you scarcely know is gone and back.
A marvel is her wondrous speed of flight.
Nor does she ask your help at any time,
Nor tire you with her presence, nor her words.
But in the hour of danger, she is near,--
Inspiring by her brave and fiery zeal,
Nor asking of you all one word of thanks.
Methinks a curse may still be on her life,--
She is so wild and strange, so sad her very eyes.
But now, whate'er the past, she is with us,
And serves us to atone for earlier guilt.
Perchance her work may shrive her of her sins.
Surely she does full well to serve us well,
And in the serving-help herself and us."
Then spake again a knight:
"Perchance her guilt
It was, that brought calamity on all our land."
But Gurnemanz: "My thought of
her goes far
In memory to days and years long past.
And it was always when she was away
And we alone, that sudden mishap fell.
This I have seen through many, many years.
The agèd King, our Titurel beloved,
He knew her well for many years beyond.
'Twas he who found her sleeping in these woods,
All stiff and rigid, pale and seeming dead,
When he was building yonder castle-towers.
And so did I myself, in recent days,
Find her asleep and rigid in the woods,--
'Twas when calamity on us had come
So evil and so shameful from our foe,--
That dread magician of the mountain heights.
Say, Kundry, wake and answer me this word?
Where hadst thou been in those dark evil days,--
At home, afar, awake or fast asleep,--
When our good King did lose the holy Spear?
Why were you not at hand to give us help?"
And Kundry muttered: "Never do
Then said a knight: "O brother Gurnemanz,
If she is now so true in serving us,
And if she does such strange and wondrous deeds,
Then send her for the missing holy Spear
For which the King and all the land are fain."
But Gurnemanz with gloomy
"That were a quest beyond her, beyond all--
That lies within the guarded will of God.
O how my heart leaps up in memory
Of that blest symbol of the Saviour's power!
O wounding, healing, wonder-working Spear,
Companion of the Grail in grace divine,
A radiant shaft for consecrated hands.
What saw I? Hands unholy snatched thee up,
And sought to wield thee in unholy ways.
I see it all again,--that dark and fatal day
When our good King Amfortas, all too bold,
Forgetful of the evil in the world,
Went straying far out from the castle walls,
And loitered through the green and shady woods;
And there he met a woman passing fair,
With great eyes that bewitched him with their light,
And as he stayed and lost his heart to her,
He lost the Spear. For on a sudden came
Athwart them that foul-hearted, fallen knight,
The evil-minded Klingsor, and he snatched
The holy Spear and mocking rushed away.
Then broke an awful cry from the King's lips;
I heard and hurrying fought the evil knight,
As did the King, parrying blow on blow,
And at the last the King fell wounded sore
By that same Spear that once was holy health.
This is the fatal wound that burns his side,--
This wound it is that ne'er will close again."
And when the knights asked
further of the deed
And what of Klingsor, the foul-hearted knight,
Then Gurnemanz sat down and told this tale,--
The four young knights ensconced around his feet,--
"Our holy Titurel knew Klingsor well.
For in the ancient days when savage foes
Distressed the kingdom with their heathen craft,
One mystic midnight came a messenger
Of God to Titurel, and gave to him
The Holy Grail, the vessel lustrous pure,
Wherein the crimson wine blushed rosy-red
At that Last Supper of the feast of love;
Wherein the later wine of His own blood
Was caught and cherished from the cruel Cross.
This gave the angel unto holy Titurel
And with it gave the radiant sacred Spear
That pierced the side and broke the suffering heart
Of Him, our heavenly Saviour on the Cross,
So that the water and the blood flowed forth
In mingled tide,--the sacrifice of love.
And for these precious witnesses of God
That told to men of saving-health and power,
The holy Titurel did build an holy house,--
A sanctuary-stronghold on the heights
Of Monsalvat, forever given to God.
And ye, blest servants of the Holy Grail,
Ye know the sacred ways by which ye came
Into this holy service. Ye gave all
And purified your lives and hearts to God.
And with the consecration came the power,
By vision of the Grail, to do high deeds
And live the life of warriors of God.
This Klingsor came to holy Titurel
And asked to come into the company.
Long had he lived in yonder heathen vale
Alone, and shunned by all his kind.
I never knew what sin had stained his heart,
Or why he sought the castle of the Grail;
But holy Titurel discerned his heart
And saw the festering evil of his life,
And knew unholy purpose filled his soul
And steadfastly refused him at the gates.
Whereat in wrath the evil Klingsor swore
That if he could not serve the Holy Grail,
The Holy Grail should serve him by its power;
And he would seize it in his own right hand,
And some day be the master of them all.
Henceforth he waged a subtle, ceaseless war
Against Monsalvat and the holy knights.
He gave himself to dark and evil life
And learned the witchery of magic arts
To work the ruin of the Holy Grail.
Fair gardens he created by his art,
Through all the deserts, and therein he placed
Maidens of winsome witchery and power,
Who bloomed like flowers in beauty and in grace.
And in these subtle snares full many a knight
Was caught by magic wiles and lured and lost,
And no one knew where they had gone or why.
Then holy Titurel, grown old in years,
Gave up the kingdom to his only son,
The brave Amfortas. And by ceaseless quest
Amfortas learned the truth and waged fierce war
Against this Klingsor, evil to the heart,
Until at last in one unguarded moment,
As I have told you, e'en our noble King,
The good Amfortas, yielded to a sin,--
And lost the Spear, and had his fatal wound.
Now with the Spear within his evil grasp
Klingsor exults, and mockingly does tell
How his black fingers soon will hold the Grail."
Then the young knights who
listened to the tale
Upstarted with the cry: "God give us grace
To wrest that sacred Spear from impious hands!"
But Gurnemanz thus checked
them: "Listen yet!
Long did our King Amfortas kneel before
The sanctuary, praying in his pain
And seeking for a word of hope from God.
At length a radiance glowed around the Grail,
And from its glory shone a Sacred Face
That spake this oracle of mystic words:
"By pity 'lightened,
My guileless One,--
Wait for him,
Till My will is done!"
And as the knights repeated
these weird words,--
There came wild cries and shouting from the lake:
"Shame! shame! alas, the shame to shoot the swan!"
And as they looked, a wild swan came in sight;
It floated feebly o'er the flurried lake
And strove to fly, but wounded fluttered down
And sank upon the lake-shore, and was dead.
And Gurnemanz cried out: "Who shot the swan?
The King had hailed it as a happy sign,
Whene'er a swan came near him in its flight
For since the earliest ages has this bird
Meant hope and health and holiness to men.--
Who dared to do this dastard deed of shame?"
Then came a knight leading a
And said: "This is the one who shot the swan,--
And here more arrows like the cruel shaft
That hides itself within the bleeding breast."
To whom spake Gurnemanz: "What
mean'st thou, boy,
By such a cruel, shameless deed as this?"
But the boy answered: "Yea, it
was my shot.
I shot the swan in flight when high in air."
Then Gurnemanz: "Shame to
confess such deed!
Such sacrilege within these holy woods,
Where seems to dwell the perfect peace of God.
Were not the woodland creatures kind to thee,--
Did not the sweet birds sing their songs to thee,
When first thou camest to these leafy haunts?
And this poor swan, so mild and beautiful,---
How could thy heart determine on such deed?
It hovered o'er the lake in circling grace,
Seeking the dear companion of its love,--
For e'en the heart of bird doth know sweet love,--
And seeming to make sacred all the lake.
Didst thou not marvel at its queenly flight,
And feel a reverence in thine inmost soul?
What tempted thee to shoot the fatal shaft,
And slay the bird and grieve the loving King?...
See where the deadly arrow smote its breast!
Behold the snowy plumage splashed with blood!
The spreading pinions drooping helpless now,
And in its eye the agony of death!
Slain by thy cruel heart that knows no shame!
Dost thou not see how wicked is thy deed?"
Then was the young boy
stricken with remorse,
And drew his hand across his moistened eyes,
As if new pity dawned within his soul;
Then quickly snatching up his strong arched bow,
He broke it, and his arrows flung away.
And clutching at his breast as if in pain
He stood a time in conscious agony,--
Deep feeling surging through his stricken heart;
And then he turned again to Gurnemanz
With the brave words: "I did not understand
What evil I was doing with my bow."
"Whence art thou?" Gurnemanz
did ask of him;
And dazed he answered: "That I do not know."
"But who thy father?"--"That I do not know."
"Who sent thee here?"--"I do not know e'en that."
Then Gurnemanz: "Yet tell me but thy name."
And in a strange and dazed way
"Once I had many. Now, I do not know."
And Gurnemanz spake sharply, half in wrath,
"Thou knowest nothing. Such a guileless soul,--
So wisely foolish, and so foolish wise,--
A very child in heart, yet strangely strong,
Ne'er have I found, except in Kundry here....
Come, brother-knights, lift up the stricken swan
And bear it on these branches to the lake;
Nor speak of this sad sorrow to the King
To further grieve his deep-afflicted heart
Stricken the King and wounded to his death,
This omen he may dwell on to his hurt."
And back unto the King's bath
went the knights,
While Gurnemanz spake further to the lad:
"Speak out thy heart to me. I am thy friend.
Surely thou knowest much that thou canst say."
Then spake the boy and told
him of his life:
"I have a mother,--Heartsrue is she called.
And on the barren moorland is our home.
My bow and arrows have I made myself
To scare the eagles in the forest wilds."
Then Gurnemanz: "Yea, thou
hast told me true,
For thou thyself art of the eagle brood.
I see a something kingly in thy look.
Yet better had thy mother taught thy hands
To spear and sword than this unmanly bow."
Whereat the wild witch Kundry
From where she lay along the bosky woods,
And hoarsely broke in: "Yea, his noble sire
Was Gamuret, in battle slain and lost
A month before his child had seen the light.
And so to save her son from such a death,
The lonely mother reared him in the woods,
And taught him nothing of the spear and sword,
But kept him ever as a guileless child."
Then spake the lad: "And once
I saw a host
Of men pass by the borders of the wood,
A-glitter in the sun, and riding fast
On splendid creatures, prancing as they went.
Oh, I would fain have been like these fair men.
But, laughing gaily, on they galloped fast
And I ran after them to be like them,
And join the glittering host and see the world.
But though I ran, they faded from my sight
Yet have I followed, over hill and dale.
Day after day I follow on their track,
And here I am as now you see me here.
My bow has done me service on the way
Against wild beasts and savage-seeming men."
And Kundry added: "Yea, the
Has sent a terror into many hearts--
The wicked always fear the nobly good."
Then asked the boy in sweetest innocence:
"And who are wicked, tell me, and who good?"
And Kundry spake: "Thy mother,
she was good.
She grieved for thee, but now she grieves no more.
For as I lately rode along that way
Coming with haste from far Arabia,
I saw her dying, and she spake to me,
And sent her blessing to her darling boy."
At which the boy with sudden
"My mother dead! and sent a grace by thee,--
Thou liest, woman! Take thy false words back!"
And still impetuous and unreasoning,
Fighting the facts of life in rebel mood
(A child of sudden temper, guileless heart),
He seized her, struggling with a furious might
To make her unsay what her lips had told.
Perhaps he might have harmed her in his wrath,
Had not the agèd Gurnemanz come near,
And drawn him back, with the sharp-spoken words:
"Impetuous child, restrain thy violence!
This woman harms thee not. She speaks the truth!
Kundry has seen it, for she never lies."
And at the word, the lad grew
And silent stood with still and stony stare,
Until his heart broke out in woe afresh
(A guileless child, not knowing strong control),
And he was seized with trembling, and he swooned.
Then Kundry, bearing naught of
hate or spite,
Ran to a pebbly brook that flowed near by,
And brought cold water in an ancient horn,
Sprinkled the lad, and gave him some to drink.
And Gurnemanz, with kindly
look at her,
Spake out: "Thy deed is worthy of the Grail,--
A cup of water fails not of reward;
And sin is conquered by the deeds of good."
But Kundry muttered still: "I
do no good!"
Then in still lower tone to her own self:
"I do no good, I only long for rest.
O weary me! Would I might never wake!
Yet dare I sleep? It means calamity
To those whom I in vain have tried to serve.
Resist I cannot! Yea, the time has come!
I feel the awful spell upon mine eyes,--
Slumber I must! Slave of that evil one
Who wields his black art from the mountain height.
Sleep, sleep, to sleep! I must! I must! I must!"
With this she crept away and laid her down
Within a thicket of the forest woods.
Meanwhile the litter of the
King came back
With all its retinue of gallant knights.
And Gurnemanz held up the tottering lad,
Still sorrowing at the sad news come to him,
And slowly led him toward the castle gate,
While softly speaking to him graciously:
"See how our King Amfortas from the bath
Is carried by his loving servitors.
The sun is rising high. The time has come
When we shall celebrate our holy Feast.
There will I lead thee. If thy heart be pure,
The Grail will be to thee as food and drink."
Then asked the lad: "What is this thing, the Grail?"
And Gurnemanz: "I may not tell
But if to serve it thou art surely called,
Then shalt thou know its meaning to the full.
Somehow I feel and hope that thou shalt know,
Else what has led thy footsteps to this height.
Yet no one sees the glory of the Grail
Save those to whom it shall reveal itself."
Then on they moved, and softly
spake the lad:
"I scarcely move, and yet I seem to run,--
What is the meaning of this strange new thing?"
And Gurnemanz made answer:
"Here, my child,
There is no space and time, but all is one,--
For here we breathe the atmosphere of God,--
A boundless Here and an eternal Now."
Then on they went, and soon
were lost to view
Within the gateway of a rocky cliff;
Sometimes came glimpses of them as they climbed
The sloping passages within the cliff--
A cloistered corridor of carven columns--
And paused a moment at some rocky window
To see the grandeur of the mountain heights.
The soft notes of a trumpet called them up,
And silver bells were chiming melodies.
At length they reached the
noble pillared hall
Within the castle of the Holy Grail,
For here the sacred feast was always kept,--
And here were gathering the blessèd knights.
Clothed were they all in tunics of gray-blue,--
The color of the softened light of heaven,--
With mantles of pale scarlet, flowing free,--
The very tincture of the blood they served,--
And on the mantles snow-white soaring doves,
The symbol of the Holy Spirit's gift.
And with a solemn joy they took their place
Along the tables of communing love;
The while from the great vaulted dome above
Came ever-growing sound of chiming bells.
Then spellbound stood the lad
and gazed around,
Amazed at all the glory of the hall,
And all the solemn splendor of the scene,
Till Gurnemanz stooped down and whispered low:
"Now give good heed, and if thy heart be pure,
And thou art called, then surely thou shalt know."
Then sang the knights this
chorus soft and slow;
"O holy feast of blessing,
Our portion day by day;
In thee God's grace possessing,
That passeth not away.
Who doth the right and true,
Here findeth strength anew;
This cup his hand may lift,
And claim God's holiest gift."
And from the mid-height of the
The voices of the younger knights replied:
"As anguished and holy
The dear Saviour lowly,
For us sinners His own life
So with hearts pure and free,
Forever do we
Our lives unto Him gladly
He died--our sins atoned for
He died---yet liveth still in us!"
And from the topmost of the
A chorus of fresh boyish voices came:
"The faith doth live!
The Lord doth give
The Dove, His sacred token!
Drink at this board
The wine outpoured,
And eat the bread here
And as they sang their sweet
A long procession through the splendid hall
Wended slow way, and bearing in the King,
The suffering Amfortas in his pain,
Still lying listless on his royal couch.
Before him walked a company of boys
Clothed in pale blue, and bearing high aloft
A mystic shrine in cloth of deepest crimson,
To signify the royal blood beneath.
And others followed bearing silver flagons
With wine, and baskets of the finest bread.
Slowly the King was carried to a couch
Within the midst, high-raised and canopied,
And just before him, of a pure white stone,
Traced with faint figures of the passion-flower,
Stood the communion table where was placed
The sacred shrine, still covered, of the Grail.
And when the hymns were ended,
and the knights
Had taken their set places at the board,
Then there was silence. And from far away,
As if from some deep cavern of a tomb,
Behind the couch where King Amfortas lay
The muffled voice of agèd Titurel
Spake with long silences between the words:
"My son Amfortas, art thou at thy post?...
Wilt thou unveil the Grail and bid me live?...
Or must I die, denied the saving vision?"
And King Amfortas cried in
"O woe is me to bear the burning wound
That shames me in the office of the Grail!
O father, do thou take the sacred trust
And let thy holy hands reveal the Grail
Once more, and live! And let me quickly die!"
But answered him the agèd
"Nay, nay, too feeble I to serve again.
I live entombed with but a breath of life,
Saved by the remnant of the grace of God.
My strength all gone, but my poor yearning heart
Still eager for the vision of the Grail;
For this alone can bring me comfort now.
Thine is the office. O unveil the Grail!
For serving faithfully thou mayst atone
For all the grievous sin of thy sad life."
But quickly King Amfortas
stopped the knights
Who went to do his bidding at the shrine:
"Nay, leave the Holy Cup still unrevealed!
God grant that none of you may ever know
The torment that this vision brings to me
Which brings to you all rapture and all joy.
Here do I stand in office, yet accurst,--
My heart of lust to guard God's holiest gift,
And plead in prayer from lips all stained with
Pleading for you who purer are than I!
O direst judgment from the God of grace!
My inmost soul doth long for His forgiveness,
I yearn for sign of His compassion,
Yet cannot bear His mercy in the Grail....
But now the hour is nigh! I seem to see
A ray of glory fall upon the Cup!
The veil is raised! The sacred stream that flows
Within the crystal, gloriously shines
With radiance heaven-born. But as it glows,
I feel the well-spring of the blood divine
Pouring in floods into my anguished heart.
And then the full tide of my sinful blood
Ebbs out in tumult wild through this deep wound
Here in my side. It leaps in bounds of pain,
Like torments of the lowest depths of hell,--
Through this deep wound. Like His own wound it is,
Thrust through with bitter stroke of that same
And in the self-same place from which His tears
Of burning blood wept over man's disgrace
In holiest pity and divinest love;
And now from me, the highest office holding
And charged with holiest trust of God's good
From me the hot, impassioned blood is surging,
Renewed again by that first awful sin.
Alas, no deep repentance e'er can save
A sinner dyed in sins so scarlet red.
Naught can avail, but only one sure thing,
The healing touch of that thrice-sacred Spear,
Held in the pure hand of the guileless One.
Have mercy, O have mercy, pitying God!
Take back my birthright in the sacred trust!
Take back my life and all I hold most dear!
But give me healing, and Thy tender love,--
And let me die, and come to Thee pure-hearted!"
And as he ended in an
The boys' sweet voices chanted from the dome:
"By pity 'lightened,
My guileless One,--
Wait for him,
Till My will is done!"
Then softly all the knights
cried: "'Tis God's will
That thou shouldst wait in suffering, yet hope....
Fulfil thy duty: and reveal the Grail!"
While deep the voice of agèd
"Unveil the Grail! Sir knights, unveil the Grail!"
Then they took off the cloth
And slowly brought to light the golden shrine,
And from it took the antique crystal Cup,--
Forever cherished as the Holy Grail,--
And set it on the table near the King,
Who writhed in silent anguish on his couch.
Then agèd Titurel: "The
And King Amfortas bowed in
Before the Cup, while an increasing gloom
Spread through the room, and from the lofty dome
The voices of the boys sang soft and low:
"Take ye, and drink My blood,
In vow no death can sever!
Take ye, My body eat,
In love to live forever!
Remember ye My life and love,
And raise your hearts to Me above!"
And as the verse was ended,
came a ray
Of dazzling light upon the crystal Cup,
And filled it with a radiant purple glory.
And with it came a streaming splendor down
That flashed a lustrous beauty all around.
And King Amfortas, with a brightening face,
Upraised the Holy Grail, and gently waved
Its glory to all sides. And all did kneel,
And raised their eyes in joyous reverence
Toward that bright glory in the darkened room.
And once again the agèd
"O rapturous vision of the grace of God!"
Then King Amfortas placed the
Upon the altar-table of the shrine,
And it was covered with the crimson cloth.
And from the silver flagons of the wine
And from the baskets of the sacred bread,
New consecrated by the Grail's own light,
Each knight received his portion gratefully,
And all sat down to eat the feast divine.
Then Gurnemanz did beckon to the lad
To come and eat. But he was all amazed,
And silent stood, nor heeded the kind word.
While from the height, boys'
voices came again:
"Wine and bread of
Once the Lord for our salvation
Changed for love and pity's sake
To the blood which He did shed,
To the body which He brake."
And answering them, the
younger knights replied
In sweet antiphony amid the feast:
"Blood and body, gift of
Now He gives for your refreshing,
Changes by His spirit true
To the wine for you outpoured,
To the bread that strengthens you."
And still in answer did the
One group in joyous answer to the other:
"Take ye the bread,
Change it again,
Your powers of life inspiring;
Do as He said,
Quit you like men,
To work out the Lord's
"Take of the wine,
Change it anew
To life's impetuous torrent;
This be the sign,
Faithful and true,--
To fight as duty shall
Then all the knights, with
rapture in their hearts,
Rose joyfully and clasped each other's hands
And gave each other the blest kiss of peace,
And from their lips and from the dome's great
And from the younger knights the chorus broke:
Blessèd the loving!
Blessèd the loving!
But King Amfortas bowed his
And held his wound all broken out afresh.
Slowly they carried him from out the hall
And slowly marched the knights with solemn joy,
Bearing the Grail within the covered shrine,
While bells were chiming in the lofty dome.
And then the lad--for he was Parsifal--
Tight clutched his heart in sorrowful distress
As King Amfortas groaned in bitter woe.
He stood in utter anguish overcome,
Breathing impulsive with deep sympathy,
But spake no single word, nor gave one sign
That he had understood the solemn feast,
Or seen the glory of the Holy Grail.
And when the last knight left the festal hall
And all the doors were closed, then Gurnemanz
Came to the lad and shook him from the spell
And asked: "What sawest thou, what does it mean?"
And when he answered not, but shook his head,
Clutching his heart as if in agony,
The patient Gurnemanz had patience then no more,
But thrust him out and quick made fast the door,
With the scant words: "Begone, thou guileless lad!
Guileless thou mayst be; utter fool thou art!"
So Parsifal went forth into the world,
Naught knowing of the meaning of it all
Except the new-stirred pity in his heart.
And as the angry Gurnemanz returned,
And made his way along the pillared hall,
He stopped, amazed, and listened, for he heard
From far above a gentle voice that sang:
"By pity 'lightened,
My guileless One!"
the loftiest dome another voice:
The Tempting of
Klingsor the dread magician
plied his arts
And worked in shame his dastardly black deeds,
Within the inner keep of a great tower,--
The watch-tower of the grim and frowning castle.
Here in a dark and dismal rocky room,
Where Heaven's light could scarcely find a way,
And where around him lay his books and tools
Of hateful magic, littering the floor,
Steadfast he looked upon a metal mirror
That told the fates to him,--then muttered low:
"The time has come! Lo, how my tower entices
The guileless lad, who cometh like a child
With happy heart, and laughter on his lips.
Come, I must work my work by her who sleeps
In heavy slumber underneath my spell;
For in the past she did my deadliest deeds."
And in the gloom he kindled
That filled the keep with blue unearthly smoke;
And sitting at the mirror once again,
He called with mystic gestures to the depths
That yawned beneath an opening in the floor:
"Uprise! Come forth! Draw near me at my will!
Thy master calls thee, nameless wanderer,
Rose-bloom of Hell, and ancient devil-queen!
A thousand times the earth has known thy face
In many forms of woman's wiles and sins,--
Herodias wert thou in ancient time,
And once again Gundryggia wert called
In old Norse days; but thou art Kundry now,
Symbol of woman's wile and cruel craft.
Come hither, Kundry, for thy master calls!"
Then in the blue light Kundry
Asleep she seemed, and dreaming in her sleep,
But sudden wakened with a dreadful cry,
A shuddering cry, half laughter, half in pain.
And Klingsor spake again: "Awakest
Again my spell is potent on thy life;
My will again shall use thee for my deeds."
But Kundry cried in bitter
And wailed in fear and anguish at his feet;
While Klingsor asked her in deep thunder tones:
"Where hast thou wandered since I used thee last?
I know. Among the brethren of the Grail,
Who thought thee but a witch and serving-wench.
Do I not treat thee with a better grace,
And use thee for the mightiest of deeds?
Since thou didst lure for me the brave Amfortas--
Chaste guardian (they thought him) of the Grail--
Thou hast deserted my high name and service.
What better hast thou found than me and mine?"
Then Kundry cried in hoarse
and broken speech:
"O dismal night and shame and wickedness!
Would I could sleep the deepest sleep of death!"
And Klingsor asked: "What has
there come to thee?
Has some one else awaked thee from thy sleep?"
And trembling Kundry answered: "Even so.
And, oh, the longing to redeem my life!"
Then Klingsor: "Yea, with
knights so pure in heart,
The evil Kundry would be Heaven-pure."
But Kundry answered all his
"Yea, I did serve them well and faithfully."
And Klingsor spake with a
great voice of scorn:
"Thou wouldst amend the mischief thou hast done?...
They are not worth it! They are fools and weak.
I buy them all for price of one sweet sin.
The strongest was the weakest in thine arms.
And so I ruined him, and won the Spear,
And left him with the ever-burning wound.
But now to-day another must be met,--
Most dangerous because so godlike pure,
For he is shielded by a guileless heart."
And Kundry cried: "Him will I
Thou canst not force me to the hateful deed."
But Klingsor answered: "Yea, thou shalt, thou must.
I am thy master and I have the power.
Thy charms and woes are nothing unto me.
Laugh at me, if you will. I have the power!
Yea, I remember all the days of yore,--
That once I sought the holier, happier life,
Within the service of the Holy Grail;
But it was mad ambition, desperate wish,
And thou didst quench it for me, devil's-queen,
And drown it in thy hellish arts of love.
But that is past. Now thou art but my slave.
And Titurel, who scorned me at the gates,
And all his knights with their proud King Amfortas,
Through thy dark wiles I ruined utterly.
And in my hand I hold their sacred Spear
And soon shall have their shining Holy Grail.
Remember now to use thy wiles again
As thou didst love Amfortas to his shame."
But Kundry cried: "O misery
That e'en their King should be so weak with me,
And all men weak. O hateful, hateful curse
That ruins them and me in sin together!
O for the sleep of death to end all this!"
And Klingsor then: "Perhaps
thy wish is near,
For he who can defy thee, sets thee free.
Go tempt the guileless boy, and win thy wish."
But Kundry answered still: "I
will not tempt him!"
Then Klingsor: "Yea, thou
must! It is my will.
For this I wakened thee. And fair is he.
See, from my window I can watch him come.
He scales the ramparts like a hero born.
This trumpet I will blow and wake the guards.
Ho! warders of the gates and walls! to arms!
A foe is near!... List to the clash of swords!
How my deluded vassals swarm the walls
To guard my castle and the maidens here--
Bewitching creatures fashioned by my art!
Behold! the guileless lad is not afraid!
He fights with bold Sir Ferris, wrests a sword,
And flashes it with fury in their midst."
And as he fought, Kundry
laughed loud and long,
And now she groaned in awful agony,
Then with a sudden shriek was lost to sight.
Still Klingsor spake: "How ill
his fiery zeal
Agrees with the weak spirit of these knights.
Wounded in arm and limb, they yield, they fly,
And carry off a multitude of scars.
But what care I, you puny, craven race?
Would that the weak knights of the Holy Grail
Might rise in wrath and slay each other thus!
How proudly stands the youth upon the walls!
How red the roses in his cheeks are laughing!
And how amazed he is, like some sweet child,
To see this wondrous garden at his feet!
Ho! Kundry! Hast thou gone? I thought I heard
Thy laughter, or a sudden cry of pain.
Doubtless already she is hard at work
To do my bidding, for she is my slave,
And what I tell her, she must surely do.
There, there, my gallant lad, so sweet and brave,
Thou art too young to understand these things.
But thou shalt learn,--my arts will teach thee well,
And when thy guileless heart shall be ensnared,
Then thou art weak, and lost,--and mine the Grail!"
Then, wondrous sight! the
Save here and there a distant battlement,
And through the foliage the palace walls,
And windows of Arabian tracery.
But everywhere were flowers--wondrous flowers--
Rising in terraces of tropic growth:
A splendid garden of luxuriant flowers
Created by dread Klingsor's magic art.
And Parsifal, astounded at the
Stood silently upon the castle walls,
As to his eye the great flowers seemed to wake,
And rush in airy garments here and there.
They seemed like maidens and they seemed like
So graceful and so beautiful were they.
And as they moved they spoke in rhythmic tones:
"Here was the tumult and
Here was the clashing of weapons!
"Horror! our lovers are
Here in the palace is carnage!
"Who is the foe that assails
Accurst shall he be by us all!"
But Parsifal leaped gaily to
And smiled upon them with unfeigned delight;
And cried: "Thus do I win my way to you,--
The loveliest maidens that mine eyes have seen."
And pacified they ask: "Thou
And wilt not harm us, but be kind to us?"
And Parsifal: "Nowhere such
Fair flowers of the garden of delight.
I could not treat you ill, you are so fair!
Again you bring sweet childhood's days to me,
For you are all so lovely and so bright."
And then the maidens welcomed
the gay youth
And spake to him: "If thou wilt be our friend,
Then art thou welcome in our happy garden.
We do not play for gold, but only love,--
The rosebud garlands of the joy of life."
Then other maidens came in
And danced around him with their laughing grace,
And sang in tones of winsome witchery:
"We are thy fragrant flowers,
Blooming alone for thee,
And full of love's own bliss
And life's deep mystery!
"Come, kiss our rosy lips,
For thou our lover art,
And taste the nectar sweet
Of nature's secret heart."
And Parsifal, still with the
And seeing all with only childlike eyes,
Untouched of evil, nor discerning sin,
Asked laughingly: "And are you really flowers?
I do not know. You are so beautiful."
Then crowded they around him
with their charms,
And pleaded with him, "Love us ere we die!"
Crowded each other, jealous of his smile,
And struggling eagerly to win his love.
But Parsifal repulsed their
too fond hearts,
And shunned their circle of entwining arms
With gentle gesture: "Sweetest sister-flowers,
I like ye better in the flowery dance,
And when ye give me space to see your charms.
Away, sweet sisters, leave me here alone!"
Then did they chide him: "Art
afraid of us,
Or art thou also cold, as well as coward?
Here butterfly is wooed by loving flowers,
And does not know enough to sip the sweet."
And Parsifal discerned them
then, and cried:
"Begone, false flowers, ye cannot snare my heart!"
But as he turned to leave the
He heard a sweet voice from a leafy bower
Say: "Parsifal! A moment! Parsifal!"
And quick he stopped and
Who calls me by that gentle mystic name,
That once my mother named me in her dreams?"
And the voice spake: "O tarry,
For I have joyous things to tell to thee.
Ye flowery children, leave him here in peace;
He came not here to waste his time in play.
Go to the wounded lovers waiting you."
And so they left him, singing
as they went:
"Must we leave thee, must we
Oh, the parting pain!
Gladly would we love thee ever
And with thee remain!
Fair one, proud one, now
Guileless, foolish heart,
And gaily laughing at the
They rushed into the palace and were gone.
And Parsifal spake slowly to himself:
"Was all this nothing but a passing dream?"
But looking whence the other
voice had come,
He saw the leafy bower had opened wide,
And on a flowery couch a maiden lay,
More beautiful than heart could ever dream,
Clad in some light gown of Arabian stuff.
And Parsifal, still standing high aloof,
Spake courteously: "Didst thou call to me
And name me who am nameless unto all?"
And she replied: "I named
thee, guileless lad,--
I named thee by thine own name, Parsifal.
For so thy father Gamuret named thee,
Before he died in that Arabian land,--
Named thee before thine eyes had seen the light,
Named thee with greeting in his dying breath.
Here have I waited thee to tell thee all.
What drew thee here but the desire to know?"
And Parsifal: "I never saw,
Such wondrous evil things as here to-day.
And art thou but another wanton flower
That bloomest in this evil garden here?"
But she: "O Parsifal, thou
Surely thou seest I am not as these.
My home lies far away in distant lands.
I did but tarry here to wait for thee
And tell thee many things about thyself.
I knew thee when thou wert a little babe,
Smiling upon thy loving mother's breast.
Thy earliest lisp still laugheth in my ear.
And thy dear widowed mother, sweet Heartsrue,
Although she mourned, smiled also in her joy
When thou wert come, a laughing new-born love.
Thy cradle was a nest of softest moss,
And her caresses lulled thee to thy sleep.
She watched thee lovingly through all thy sleep
And waked thee in the morning with her tears
Of mingled love and pain for him who died.
And that thy life should know no strife of men,
Nor care nor perils as thy sire had known,
Became her only care. So in the woods
She went with thee to hide in quiet there.
And there she hoped no evil of the world,
Nor ways of sinful men would come to thee.
Didst thou not hear her sorrowful lament
When thou didst roam too far or late from home?
Didst thou not hear her laughter in her joy
When she would give thee welcome home again,--
When her dear arms were close around thy neck
And her sweet kisses on thy loving lips?
But thou hast never known what I have known
Of those last days of thy dear mother's love.
Thou didst not hear the secret sighs and moans,
And at the last the tempest of her grief,
When after many days thou didst not come,
And not a trace of thee could e'er be found.
She waited through the weary days and nights,
And then her open tears and cries were stilled,
And secret grief was eating at her life,
Until at last her anguished heart did break,
And thy dear mother, gentle Heartsrue, died."
And Parsifal in tenderest
grief drew near,
And sank in sorrow at the maiden's feet,
And cried: "O woe is me! What have I done,
O sweetest, dearest, gentlest mother mine,
That I thy son shouldst bring thee to thy death?
O blind I was, and wretched, and accurst
To wander off and leave thy tender love.
O faithful, fondest, fairest of all mothers!"
And Parsifal was weak with
pain and grief,
And gently did the maiden bend to him
And wreathe her arms confiding round his neck.
And whisper to him: "Since thou knowest grief,
Let me be comfort to thy sorrowing heart.
And let thy bitter woe find sweet relief
In consolations of the tenderest love."
But Parsifal: "Yea, yea, I did
The mother that hath borne me in her love.
And how much else have I forgotten now!
What have I yet remembered to my good?
A blindness seems to hold me in its thrall."
Then said the maiden: "Thou
hast spoken true,
But full confession endeth sorrow's pain,
And sadness brings its fuller gift of wisdom.
Thy heart has learned its lesson of deep grief;
Now it should learn its lesson of sweet love,
Such love as burned in thine own father's heart
Whene'er he held dear Heartsrue to his breast.
Thy mother with her flaming heart of love
Gave thee her life,--it throbs within thee now,--
And thus she sends her blessing from above,
And gives to thee this sweetest kiss of love."
And at the words she held him
in her arms,
And pressed upon his lips a fervent kiss.
Then there was silence, deep
As if the destiny of all the world
Hung in the balance of that fervent kiss.
But still she held him in her clinging arms....
Then Parsifal, as if the kiss had stung
His being into horror of new pain,
Sprang up with anguish in his pallid face,--
His hands held tight against his throbbing heart,
As if to stifle some great agony,--
And at the last he cried with voice of pain:
"Amfortas! O Amfortas! O Amfortas!
I know it now! The Spear-wound in thy side!
It burns my heart! It sears my very soul!
O grief and horror in my being's depth!
O misery! O anguish beyond words!
The wound is bleeding here in mine own side!"
And as the maiden watched him
in her fear,
He spake again in fierce and awful strain:
"Nay, this is not the Spear-wound in my side!
There let the life-blood flow itself to death!
For this is fire and flame within my heart
That sways my senses in delirium,--
The awful madness of tormenting love!
Now do I see how all the world is stirred,
Tossed and convulsed, and often lost in shame
By the terrific passions of the heart!"
Then growing calmer, Parsifal
As if an echo of the wail of God
Over the world's sad suffering and sin:
"I seem to see the blessèd Holy Cup
And in its depths the Saviour's blood doth glow.
The rapture of redemption sweet and mild
Trembleth afar through all the universe,
Except within a sin-polluted heart.
Such is Amfortas whom I must redeem.
I heard the suffering Saviour's sad lament
Over His sanctuary shamed in sin;
I heard His words--'Deliver me from hands
That have profaned the holiest with guilt!
So rang the words within my very soul.
Yet I, forgetting what my Lord had said,
Have wandered off in boyish foolishness....
O Lord, behold my sorrow at Thy feet!
Have mercy on me, blest Redeemer mine,
And show me how my sin can be atoned!"
Then came the maiden near in
As if her wonder was to pity turned,
And spake: "My noble knight, fling off this spell!
Look up, and this heart's love shall comfort thee!"
But Parsifal with fixed look answered her:
"Ah, woman, now I know thee who thou art.
Thy voice it was that pleaded with Amfortas;
Thine eye that smiled away his peace of heart;
Thy lips that tempted him to taste of sin;
This same white throat was bending over him;
This proudly tossing head; these laughing curls;
So these fair arms were winding round his neck;
And every feature soft in flattery;
When thou didst bring him agony untold,
And stole his soul's salvation with thy kiss!
Out and away, destroyer of men's souls!
Take thy pernicious wiles and get thee gone!"
But Kundry--for 't was
she--cried out in grief:
"O heart, that feelest for Amfortas' woe,
Hast thou no feeling for my dire distress?
Thou camest here to save the King from sin,
Why not save me and bring me my redemption?
Through endless ages I have waited thee,--
For thou dost seem to me a very savior,
Like Him whom long ago I did revile.
O that thou knewest my story and the curse
Which waking, sleeping, joyous, or in woe,
Brings me forth sorrow and a deep despair.
This is my story. Once I saw the Lord
In those sad days of His sad earthly life,
For in a previous existence I
Was also living in fair Galilee;
These eyes did see Him on the dolorous way
That led His sorrowing feet to Calvary.
And in light scorn, I laughed at Him.... I laughed."
And when she spake these
She stopped in pain and for an awful moment
Her deed spake in the silence, horror-stricken.
And Parsifal deep shuddered at the word,
But she spake on: "I laughed at Him. Whereat
He looked at me. Ah! ne'er shall I forget!...
And now forever am I seeking Him,
From age to age and e'en from world to world,
To stand once more before Him in contrition.
Sometimes His eye doth seem to glance on me,
And then accursèd laughter seizes me,
And I am ready for the deeds of Hell.
I laugh and laugh, but never can I weep.
I wander storming, raving, but no tears.
The night of madness holds me, but no tears.
O could I weep, I know I would be saved.
Be pitiful, and be a savior to me!
For thee, like Him, I have derided oft.
Now do I come to thee with heart of love;
Let me but rest upon thy breast and weep,
Take me but to thyself for one short hour,
And thou shalt save eternity for me,
And in my tears my sin shall be atoned!"
But Parsifal: "Eternity were
For both of us, if even for an hour
I yielded to the sin of loving thee,
And in that hour forgot my holy mission.
For I am also sent to save thy soul
And to deliver thee from curse of lust.
The love that burns in thee is only lust.
Between that and the pure love of true hearts
There yawns abyss like that 'twixt Heaven and Hell;
Nor can the foul fount e'er be closed in thee,
Until the pure fount shall be opened wide;
Nor can thy sinful heart be ever saved
By heavy sorrow and much agony;
Nor e'en by service rendered unto others;
Only one way can save thy guilty soul--
Only by giving all to Christ's dear love.
The curse that rests upon the brotherhood
Is something different by another's sin.
They pine and languish for the Holy Grail,
And yet they know the wondrous fount of life.
But thou! what wouldst thou do to save thy soul?
O misery! O false and daring deed!
Thou wouldst see rest and Heaven's holy peace,
By way of Hell, and death's eternal night!"
Then Kundry cried in wildest
"And hath a single kiss from me conveyed
Such boundless knowledge to thine eager soul,
And given unto thee a world-wide vision?
O let my perfect love embrace thy heart,
And it shall quicken thee to godlike power!
Deliver sin-lost souls! It is thy work!
Stand as a god revealed! It is thy right!
Take thou my love, and take this godlike power,
And let me perish! Thou art all to me!"
Then Parsifal: "I offer thee
But not in this way, impious one."
But Kundry: "Let me love thee,
my divine one!
This the deliverance I ask of thee."
And Parsifal: "Love and
Shall come to thee in truest, noblest way,
If thou wilt guide me to Amfortas now."
Then Kundry into maddened fury
And cried: "No, never shalt thou find the King.
Let the doomed King go to his desperate shame.
Ah! hapless wretch whom I derided laughing,
He fell at last by his own sacred Spear."
Then Parsifal: "The King was
brave and good.
Who dared to wound him with the sacred Spear?"
And Kundry answered: "He has
He who can put my laughter into flight!
He who enslaves me to his utter will!
His spell is on me and doth give me might.
Yea, and the Spear shall also thrust thee through,
If thou wilt pity that poor craven's fate!
O Parsifal, pray give to me thy pity!
Let but one single hour be mine and thine,
And then thou shalt be guided as thou wilt!"
And as she spake, she sought
to hold him fast,
But off he thrust her with the last fierce words:
"Unhand me, wretched woman! Be ye gone!"
And Kundry beat her breast and
cried in rage:
"Hither, ye powers of darkness! Hither, help!
Seize on the caitiff who defies my will!
Guard ye the ways, and ward the passage there!
Ah, Parsifal, if thou shouldst fly from hence
And learn the ways through all the weary world,
The one Way that thou seekest to the King--
That thou shalt never find! So have I sworn!
So do I curse all pathways and all courses
That lead thee from me. Wander, then, I say!
Wander forever, but the King find never!
I give thee up to Klingsor as thy guide,--
Klingsor my royal Lord and magic Master."
And scarce the words had left
her cursing lips,
Than Klingsor's ugly form was on the wall.
In his black hands he swung the sacred Spear
And cried: "Halt there, thou cursèd guileless One!
Feel thou the keenness of thy Master's Spear!"
With that, he hurled it full
But miracle of miracles! it stopped
Above the head of Parsifal, and there
It floated in the radiant air, a glory.
And Parsifal, with upward look and prayer,
Grasped it and wielded with supremest joy,
And with it marked upon the air, the cross;
And cried: "This sign of holy
cross I make,
And ban thy cursèd magic evermore
And as it soon shall heal the burning wound,
So may it wound thy power to utter wreck!"
And as the words of Parsifal
An earthquake shook the castle to the ground,
The garden withered into desert waste
Strewn with the flowers, faded, desolate,--
And Kundry, crying loud, fell to the earth.
So Parsifal held high the holy
And left the garden-waste and broken tower,
And all the ruin of the haunts of sin,
But stood a moment on the shattered walls
And looked at Kundry lying on the ground,
And spake: "Thou knowest where we meet again!"
And as he went, sad Kundry raised herself
A little, and looked after him.
Sinful and yet desiring to be helped,
Enthralled of sin, yet seeking after God!
Thou art our human nature, after all,--
Strange contradiction, mingled love and hate,
Half demon and half angel in thy moods!
The Crowning of
Morning was breaking in the
Where rising meadows full of fragrant flowers
Skirt with their beauty the deep forest wilds,
That lead to rocky cliffs among whose peaks
Lies Monsalvat, the castle of the Grail.
Forth from a hut that leans
against the rock,
Close to a woodland spring, came Gurnemanz,
The faithful knight and noble counsellor,
But now a lonely hermit of the woods,
Clad in the sacred tunic of the Grail,
Grown very old and bent, and hair snow-white.
He listened for awhile, then
spake: "What moans
From yonder thicket come? No forest beast
Doth utter cry so piteous and sad.
This holy morn, the holiest of the year,
Doth bring to Nature a deep-thrilling joy.
'T is only humankind that can be sad.
Ah! there again the grieving and the moans,--
Methinks I know that sad despairing cry.
These brambles I will tear apart and see
What their thick undergrowth so well conceals.
Ah! Here she is again! The winter's thorn
Has been her grave these many weary years.
Wake, Kundry, wake! The winter long is past;
The spring has come! Awaken with the flowers!
How cold she is, and rigid as the dead!
I could believe her dead,--and yet I heard
Her groaning and her piteous moan erstwhile."
And kneeling down, he chafed
her hands and face,
Breathed on them to awaken life again;
And at the last a tremor thrilled her through.
In deep amaze she wakened from her sleep,
And opened her sad eyes, with startled cries.
Long did she gaze on agèd Gurnemanz;
Then she arose, but her whole mien was changed,--
The wildness of her former life was gone;
A tender softness shone forth from her eyes;
A gentle bearing lent an added grace;
And without word of question, or of thanks,
Away she moved as if a serving-maid.
Then Gurnemanz: "Hast thou no
word for me?
Are these my thanks, that from the sleep of death
I waked thee?"
Kundry slowly bent
And murmured brokenly the words: "To serve,--
O let me serve thee and the Holy Grail."
Then Gurnemanz again: "This
were light toil,--
For days of saddest peace have come to us,
And deeds of valiant arms no more are done.
A dark despair is over Monsalvat;
No messengers are sent to distant parts
To stir the hearts of fighting warriors;
Like every creature of the leafy woods,
Each man doth serve himself in daily needs."
But Kundry had perceived the hermit-hut,
And knew that she could serve in little things;
And unto it she went to find some task.
And Gurnemanz deep wondered,
and he spoke:
"How unlike days of yore her step and way,--
Grace in her step and grace in countenance.
Perchance God giveth grace to her sad heart.
Perchance this holy morn hath wrought the change.
O day of boundless mercy, 'twas for this--
Her soul's salvation and another life--
That I have wakened her from sleep of death!
See, with a pitcher comes she from the hut,
And fills it at the spring!... But who is this
That now I see approaching through the woods
And drawing slowly near the holy spring?
Yon knight is not a brother of the Grail,
With all that war accoutrement of gloom."
And one drew near, a splendid
His armor shining black as darkest night,
His helmet closed, and lowered was his spear.
Forward he walked as if he moved in dream,
As if a servant of some high emprise,
Neither to right nor left he turned his face,
But seated him beyond the holy spring.
And Gurnemanz close watched
him and his ways
And wondered who the splendid knight might be;
Then ventured near with courteous salute:
"All hail to thee, sir knight, and welcome here!
Art thou astray, and may I give thee aid?...
No word for me, but bowing of thy head?
Perchance my lord is under knightly vow
To perfect silence, as my vows bind me
To courtesy and service. Therefore hear
Where now thou art and what is due this place.
This is a holy woods and this a holy spring,
Within the domain of the Holy Grail,
Where in his armor none hath right to come
With helmet closed, and shield and shining spear.
Besides, dost thou not know what day this is?
Not know the day? From whence then hast thou come?
What heathen darkness hath been thine abode
That thou rememberest not this holy day,--
The ever-hallowèd Good-Friday morn?
Put off thy heavy armor, for the Lord,
Bare of defence, on this most holy day,
Did freely shed His blood to save the world,
And bring the time of kindness and of peace."
And silently, without an
The stranger knight fixed in the ground his spear,
And at its foot lay down his shield and sword,
Opened his helmet, placed it on the ground,
And knelt in silent prayer before the spear.
With wonder and deep feeling,
Had watched the knight, and as he saw him pray
And saw the face upturnèd to the light,
He knew him, and to Kundry softly spake,
Who now drew near: "Thou knowest him. 'T is he
Who long ago laid low the snow-white swan,--
He whom in anger I thrust out-of-doors.
Where has he wandered since that luckless day?
But look! Behold the spear! It is the Spear
For which my eager heart has longed and prayed!
O holy day, on which the Spear comes home!
O happy day to which my soul awakes!"
And when the knight had ended
all his prayer,
He slowly rose, and looked about and saw
The agèd hermit, snowy-crowned with age;
And suddenly he knew that kindly form,
And rushed to Gurnemanz with eager face,
And crying: "Good my friend, all hail to thee!
Thank Heaven that I find thee once again!"
And Gurnemanz: "Dost thou
After so many long and weary years,
And bent with grief and care as now I am,
And covered with the clustering snow of age?
But tell me, what has passed since last we met?
And how didst thou come here, and whence, and why?"
And Parsifal--for it was
"Through error and through sufferings I come,
Through many failures and through countless woes.
Thus was the guileless One at last enlightened,
And taught the depths of pity and of love.
And can it be that now the trials are ended
And peace has come, and holiness at last?
Yet here I am within this holy wood,
And here art thou, dear servant of the Grail.
But, do I err, this place seems somehow changed
From what it was in days of yore? The life,
The joy seem to have vanished, and I feel
As if a cloud hung over Monsalvat."
Then Gurnemanz: "Too true
thine every word,
But tell me, pray, for whom thou here dost seek?"
And with a wondrous light
within his eyes,
Did Parsifal with earnest words reply:
"I come to him whose piteous moans of pain
I heard long years ago, nor understood.--
The guileless One went forth from thee a boy,
Impetuous, fierce, who did not know himself;
He comes again a man with tenderest pity,
And deep experience and heart enlightened,
To be the healer of the stricken King.
But long the course by which I learned the way,
And bitter all the wanderings, where sin
Had laid its snares, and sought to curse my soul.
Many the perils and right fierce the strife,
Yet clung I to the pathway of the right.
And at the last I won the sacred Spear
By God's good mercy and His boundless love.
But even with the Spear within my hands
Oft came a fearful dread upon my heart,
Lest I might lose this treasure that He gave
Into my keeping, for never durst I use
This sacred Spear in battle-blows or strife,--
It was for healing wounds, not making them,--
And so in many a fight I took the wounds
From other weapons, but profaned this never.
I bring it home virgin and undefiled,
And consecrate it to its healing work.
Thus does it gleam before thee, even now,--
The wonder-working power, the sacred Spear!"
And Gurnemanz, with joyous
"O grace and glory, blessèd gift of God!
O miracle of holy healing power
That thou hast brought us in the sacred Spear!
Sir knight, if it were once a cruel thing
That drove thee wandering in the evil world,
And if it ever were a curse to strive
In subtle snares and temptings manifold,
Believe me, now the spell is surely broken.
Here thou art now within the Grail's dominion.
Here wait for thee an eager band of knights.
Ah! how they need the blessing that thou bringest.
For since that morning when thou first wert here,
The sorrow and the anguish that thou heard'st
Have grown until the woe has covered all.
And King Amfortas, soul and body wracked,
Did crave in desperation only death,
And so refused to show the Holy Grail.
No prayer, no sorrow of his brother-knights
Could move him to fulfil his sacred trust.
Close in its shrouded shrine the Cup remained.
For King Amfortas hopes that if his eyes
Shall see the Grail no more, that he may die,
And with his life thus end his bitter pain.
The holy Supper also is denied us,--
Our daily portion only common food.
Thereby exhausted is our former strength.
No more the cry for succor comes to us,
Nor call to holy war from distant lands;
But pale and wretched wander forth the knights,
Hopeless and leaderless in these dark days.
Here in the forest I myself have hid,
In quiet waiting for the hour of death,
Already come unto my warrior-lord,
The agèd Titurel. For when no more
He could behold the vision of the Grail,
Then did his sad heart fail him, and he died."
And Parsifal in sudden sorrow
"What have I done to let this curse go on?
Why have I wasted all these precious years
In wandering, while here was deepest woe?
Why did I never see the needed truth
That no repentance can assuage the grief,
No expiation can atone the wrong,
Until another feels the bitter pain,
And takes it willingly to his own heart?
Here I was chosen to redeem the wrong,
And save the anguish of the stricken King,
And yet how blind has been my foolish heart!
Can blindness mean impurity and sin,
And may it be that I am all deceived,--
My way all lost, my hopes forever gone?"
And in the bitter struggle of
And in the self-abasement of his heart,
And in the strong reaction that oft comes
To spiritual natures, deep and fine,
He would have fallen helpless to the ground;
But Gurnemanz quick caught him in his arms,
And led him sinking to a grassy mound,
And Kundry ran with water for his brow.
But Gurnemanz: "Not so. The
Shall now revive our pilgrim's waning strength.
My heart sees noble work for him to-day.
A sacred mystic duty doth await him.
He shall be pure as light, and all the dust
Of travel and of error washed away!"
Then from his limbs they took
the mighty greaves,
And loosed the woven corselet from his side,
And bathed his feet and brought him to himself.
And straight he asked: "And
shall I see the King?"
And Gurnemanz: "Thou shalt
behold the King
This very day and speak thy word to him.
The death-rites of mine agèd warrior-lord,
The noble Titurel, doth call me to the court;
And there again the Grail shall be revealed.
For King Amfortas hath by solemn vow
Promised once more to open up the shrine,
Sworn to fulfil the long-neglected office,
To sanctify the saintly father's end,
And expiate the deep unfilial crime,
The added sin, that broke his father's heart."
And as he spoke, the kindly
The feet of Parsifal, who looked at her
With gentle wonder and a pitying love,
And said: "So humbly hast thou washed my feet,
Perchance the good and faithful Gurnemanz
May sprinkle my poor head with holy water,
And give my soul his gracious benediction."
And Gurnemanz took water from
And sprinkled Parsifal in holy rite,
And uttered over him the benediction:
"O guileless One, thrice blessèd be and pure,
And free forever from all care and sin!"
Then Kundry from her bosom
drew a vial,
A golden vial, full of perfumed oil,
And poured its soothing fragrance on his feet
And dried them with her flowing unbound hair.
And Parsifal reached out and
took the vial,
And gave it unto Gurnemanz and said:
"This woman hath anointed these my feet;
Let now the faithful servant of the Grail,
And minister of sainted Titurel,
Anoint my chosen head with holy oil,
That I may take the office, as God will,
And you to-day may greet me as your King."
So Gurnemanz performed the
Anointing Parsifal with holy oil,
And laid the hands of blessing on his head,
And said: "So came the ancient word to us;
So with my blessing do I greet thee now,
And hail thee as the God-elected King!
Thou art His guileless One, by pity 'lightened,
Patient in suffering, and taught by woe.
Much hast thou suffered to redeem another;
God give thee now the grace for crowning all."
Then Parsifal took water from
And came to Kundry kneeling at his feet,
And sprinkled her with solemn mystic rite,
And said: "This be the first work of my trust.
Kundry, in Christ's dear name I sprinkle thee.
Be thou redeemed and holy evermore!"
And in a passion of rejoicing
She kneeled there and her voice gave praise to God.
And Parsifal looked on the
fields and woods,
So fair and radiant in the morning light,
And uttered forth the rapture of his heart:
"How beautiful these morning meadows are!
So fresh, so sweet, so radiantly pure!
Full many a flower in other days I saw,
But full of subtle poison was their breath
And they were snares of baneful witchery.
But these are God's own blossoms full of grace.
These twining vines that burst with purple bloom,
These fragrant flowers, so innocent and fair,--
They speak to me of loving childhood's days,
And tell me of the boundless love of God."
Then Gurnemanz: "On fair
All nature seems a-thrill with new delight."
And Parsifal: "Yet strange
that it is so.
That darkest day of agony divine
Might well have cast a pall of gloom o'er all,
And plunged all Nature into deepest woe."
"No, no," the gentle Gurnemanz
"The Saviour's work hath wrought a miracle,
And now the grateful tears of penitence
Are holy dew that falls upon the world,
And makes it bloom in fair and lustrous beauty;
And all creation knows God's saving work,
And praises Him for His redeeming grace.
No more the agony of that grim Cross,
But now the joy of man redeemed and saved,
Freed from the load of sin by conquering faith,
And purified by Love's great sacrifice.
Each sprouting blade and meadow-flower doth see
Something of God's grace in the heart of man;
For as the Lord was tender unto man,
So man in turn will love God's flowering earth.
The whole creation therefore doth rejoice,
And every bird and flower is full of praise,
And Nature everywhere is full of God,
And sweet has dawned this day of innocence."
Then Kundry, with the tears
still in her eyes,
Looked up at Parsifal, and soft he spake:
"I saw the hearts that mocked us fade away,
But love shall bloom eternal in God's grace.
Blest tears that speak the blessing in thy heart.
But weep no more. God's grace is full of joy,--
Smile with all Nature, joyously redeemed!"
And down he bent, and on her
pure white brow
Printed the kiss of God's redeeming love.
Then chimed the distant bells,
and louder yet
The gradual growing music of sweet sounds.
And Gurnemanz: "The hour has
Permit me now to lead thee to the Grail!"
And Parsifal was clothed in
The dove-embroidered mantle of the Grail,--
Which Gurnemanz had brought him from the hut,
And grasped the sacred Spear and followed on.
Again they climbed the rocky
And reached at last the castle's pillared hall,
Crowned with the mighty dome of blazing light.
Slowly the knights in mourning garb marched in,
Bearing the corpse of saintly Titurel.
Slowly the servitors marched sadly in,
Bearing the pale Amfortas on his couch.
And going on in front the acolytes
Bore in the Grail in heavy covered shrine.
And as they marched, they sang this solemn hymn:
"Here do we bear the Holy
Long hidden in this shrine;
No more its wondrous grace is
No more its glories shine!
"Here saintly Titurel we bear,
The faithful knight and king;
When he no more the Grail
He died in sorrowing!
"And here Amfortas now we
God shrive him from the past;
For he has sworn to do his
And show the Grail at last!"
And suffering Amfortas turned
And raised himself a little on his couch,
And cried: "O woe is me! O woe is me!
My tears are flowing from my very heart.
Would I had died before I saw this hour.
Yet death is mercy that I cannot hope."
Then solemnly the knights,
with sacred awe,
Uncovered saintly Titurel, and looked
Once more upon that well-belovèd face,
And there was sound of weeping everywhere.
And sadly did Amfortas speak the words:
"My father, blest among God's heroes ever!
Thou before whom the angels loved to bow,
Forgive me for my most unfilial sin,--
I sought for death, yet struck thee to the heart,
By holding back the vision of the Grail.
O thou who now in radiance divine
Dost see the blest Redeemer face to face,
Beseech for me that when I show the Grail
It may give life anew to these dear knights--
But death to me--sweet death for which I long.
O death, kind mercy of the living God,
Stifle this heart and rid me of my pain!
Father, I plead with thee to cry to Him:
'Redeemer, give my son release and peace!'"
Thereat the knights came
pressing up and cried:
"Unveil the Grail and do thine office now!
The death-rite of thy father doth demand it!"
But in a mad despair Amfortas
And wildly rushed among the startled knights,
And cried: "No, no, I cannot do it now!
Death is so near me, only let me die!
Why should I turn again to dreadful life?
Rather I plead with you to slay me here!
See, here I stand, the open wound is here!
Thus am I poisoned, here flows forth the blood!
Draw ye your swords and plunge them to the hilt!
Kill both the sinner and his awful pain!
Then will the Grail forever shine for you,
And blessing come to you for evermore!"
But all shrank back in terror
from the King,
Who stood in frenzied madness there alone.
Then Parsifal drew near, and
"Only one weapon serves to kill that pain.
The one that struck can staunch thy wound again!"
And with the sacred Spear he
touched the King.
And lo! a miracle of healing power!--
The wound was staunched and a deep thrill of love
Changed agony to rapture all divine.
And Parsifal spake on: "Thou
Body and soul are cleansed by God's free grace
Thy life for evermore shall happy be
Within the service of the Holy Grail.
But never more as King, for I have come
To take thy place as God hath so decreed.
Thy sorrows shall be blessings unto thee,
For thus by pity was the guileless 'lightened,
And God's own Son was perfect made by pain.
Knights of the Grail, behold the sacred Spear!
God gave it me but to restore to you!"
And all with reverent joy
beheld the Spear,
And thanked the Lord that it had come again
To bring the golden days of health and power.
And as they looked in rapture and in awe,
The Spear-point seemed to glow with holy fire
And sparkled, turning red like flowing blood.
And Parsifal spoke on: "O
And marvel of the holy power of God.
This sacred Spear is flowing with the blood,
The very blood of that same wondrous Saviour,
That floweth in the crystal of the Grail.
The double blessing shall its glory give.
Open the shrine! Reveal the Holy Grail!"
And quick the sacred shrine
was opened wide
And Parsifal long knelt in silent prayer,
Absorbed in holy rapture at the sight.
Then suddenly the heavenly
And flamed and glowed within the sacred Cup,
While wondrous glory flooded all the hall
And filled each heart with deep and holy joy.
And from the lofty dome a dove descended,
And hovered lovingly o'er Parsifal.
Thus Parsifal was crowned of
God and man,
And slowly did he lift the Holy Grail,
The red blood glowing with its wondrous light,
And waved it in the air before the knights,
Who knelt around him, praising God on high.
And there had Kundry come with new-found faith
And crept within the splendor of the Grail
And, with its light upon her, died,--redeemed!
And still did Parsifal hold up
Seeming a vision of the very Christ,
His crimson mantle changed to lustrous whiteness.
His lips seemed speaking loving benediction;
And marvellous the red glow of the Grail;
And beautiful the white dove soaring there.
While from the heights the softest voices sang:
"Highest wonder! blest
Praise the Lord for our redemption!"
STORIES OF THE WAGNER OPERA
BY H.A. GUERBER
It was while he was searching for the material
for Tannhäuser, that Wagner came across Wolfram von
Eschenbach's poems of ‘Parsifal’ and ‘Titurel,’
and, as he reports, ‘an entirely new world of
poetical matter suddenly opened before me.’ Wagner
made no use of this idea, however, until 1857, some
fifteen years later, when he drew up the first
sketch of his Parsifal, during his residence at
Zurich; twenty years later he finished the poem at
Bayreuth. He then immediately began the music,
although he was sixty-five years of age. That same
year, while he was making a concert tour in London,
he read the poem to a select audience of friends, by
whose advice it was published.
Although the music for this opera, which is
designated as ‘a solemn work destined to hallow the
stage,’ was finished in 1879, the instrumentation
was completed only in 1882, at
Palermo, a few months before its first production at
This opera, which Wagner himself called a
religious drama, is intended as the ‘Song of Songs
of Divine Love, as Tristan and Ysolde is the Song of
Songs of Terrestrial Love.’ The performance was
repeated sixteen times at Bayreuth, where many
people had come from all parts of the world to hear
and see it, and has since been revived a number of
times. It is the most difficult and least easily
understood of the master's intricate works, and
bears the imprint not only of his philosophical
studies, but also of the spirit of Oriental
mysticism, in which he delighted, and which he at
one time intended to make use of for the stage.
The opera opens in the forest, where Gurnemanz,
an old servant of Amfortas, guardian of the Holy
Grail, is lying asleep with two squires. Suddenly,
reveille sounds from the top of Mount Salvat, the
sacred hill upon which the temple stands. Gurnemanz,
springing to his feet, rouses the squires, and bids
them prepare the bath for their ailing master, who
will soon appear as is his daily custom.
This Amfortas, whose coming they momentarily
expect, is the son of Titurel, the founder of the
temple erected on Mount Salvat for the
reception of the Holy Grail, a vessel in which
Joseph of Arimathea caught a few drops of blood from
the dying Redeemer's side, after it had served as
chalice during the Last Supper. Titurel, feeling too
old to continue his office as guardian of the Grail,
appointed Amfortas as his successor, giving him the
sacred lance which pierced the Saviour's side, and
told him that none could resist him as long as he
wielded it and kept himself perfectly pure.
During many years Amfortas led a stainless life,
defending the Holy Grail from every foe, performing
all his sacred offices with exemplary piety, and
teaching the Knights of the Grail to fight for the
right, and rescue the feeble and oppressed. He also
sent out messengers to all parts of the world to
right the wrong, whenever called upon to do so, by
the words which suddenly appeared and glowed like
fire around the edge of the mystic vase. All the
knights who served the Holy Grail were not only fed
with celestial viands by its power alone, but were
endowed with resistless might, which assured their
victory everywhere as long as they remained unknown.
They had moreover the privilege of recovering, as if
by magic, from every wound. Of course, many knights
were desirous of being admitted into the temple,
but none except those whose lives were pure and
whose purposes lofty were ever accepted. When
Klingsor, the magician, attempted to enter,
therefore, he was repulsed. In his anger he
established himself upon the other side of the
mountain, where, summoning all the arts of magic to
his aid, he called up delusions of every kind. Thus
he beguiled many of the knights in search of the
Holy Grail, caught them in his toils and led them on
to sin, until they were unfit for the holy life to
which they had once aspired.
Amfortas, hearing of this, and too confident in
his own strength, sallied forth one day, armed with
the sacred lance, determined to destroy Klingsor,
and put an end to his magic. But alas! he had no
sooner entered the magician's garden, where roamed a
host of lovely maidens trained to lure all men to
sin, than he yielded to the blandishments of the
fairest among them. Carelessly flinging his sacred
lance aside, he gave himself up to the delights of
passion. Such was his bewitched condition that he
never even noticed the stealthy approach of the
magician, who seized the lance and thrust it into
his side. This deep wound, which had refused to heal
ever since, caused him incessant tortures, which
were increased rather than diminished whenever he
uncovered the Holy Grail.
Although no remedy could allay this torture, the
Holy Grail decreed that it should be stilled by a
guileless fool, who, enlightened by pity, would find
the only cure. But, as he tarried, many knights
travelled all over the world in search of simples,
and Kundry, a wild, witch-like woman, also sought in
vain to relieve him.
While the squires, in obedience to Gurnemanz's
orders, prepare the bath, Kundry comes riding wildly
on the scene. In breathless haste she thrusts a
curious little flask into Gurnemanz's hand, telling
him it is a precious balsam she has brought from a
great distance to alleviate Amfortas's suffering.
She is so exhausted by her long ride that she flings
herself upon the ground, where she remains while a
little procession comes down the hill. It is
composed of knights bearing the wounded Amfortas,
and they set the litter down for a moment, as the
king gives vent to heart-rending groans. To soothe
him, his attendants remind him that there are many
more remedies to try, and Gurnemanz adds that,
failing all others, they can always rely upon the
promise of the Holy Grail, and await the coming of
the guileless fool. When Amfortas learns that Kundry
has made another attempt to help him, he thanks her
kindly, but his gentle words only seem to increase
distress, for she writhes uneasily on the ground and
refuses all thanks.
When the king and his bearers have gone down the
hill, and have passed out of sight, the squires
begin chaffing poor Kundry. She gazes upon them with
the wild eyes of an animal at bay, until Gurnemanz
comes to her rescue, and chides the youths. He tells
them that although she may once have been, as they
declare, under a curse, she has repented of her
sins, and serves the Holy Grail with a humility and
singleness of purpose which they would do well to
imitate rather than deride.
In answer to their questions, he then goes on to
describe how Amfortas received the grievous wound
which causes him such intolerable pain, and lost the
sacred spear, which only enhances Klingsor's power
for evil, and which none but a stainless knight can
ever recover. Their quiet conversation is brusquely
interrupted by the heavy fall of a swan, which lies
dead at their feet. This arouses their keenest
indignation, for the rules of the order forbid any
deed of violence within sight or hearing of the
sacred edifice containing the Holy Grail. Gazing
around in search of the culprit, they soon behold
the youth Parsifal, clad in the rough and motley
garments of a fool, and when Gurnemanz angrily
reproves him, and questions him concerning his name
and origin, he is amazed by the ignorance the lad
By the help of Kundry, however, who, having
travelled everywhere, knows everything, Gurnemanz
finally ascertains that the youth is a descendant of
the royal family, his father, Gamuret, having died
when he was born. His mother, Herzeloide (Heart's
Affliction), has brought him up in utter solitude
and ignorance, to prevent his becoming a knight and
leave her perchance to fall in battle:—
father his mother bore him.
For in battle perished Gamuret:
From like untimely hero's death
To save her offspring, strange
She reared him a witless fool
The youth, however, pays no heed to Kundry's
explanations, but goes on to tell Gurnemanz that he
saw some men riding through the forest in glittering
array, and followed them through the world with no
other weapon than the bow he had manufactured. But
when Kundry again interrupts him, declaring that his
sudden disappearance has caused his mother's death,
he shows the greatest sensibility, and even faints
While the squires gently bathe his face and
hands to bring him back to life, Kundry, feeling the
sudden and overpowering desire for sleep which often
mysteriously overpowers her, creeps reluctantly into
a neighbouring thicket, where she immediately sinks
into a comatose state. In the mean while, the king's
procession comes up from the bath, and slowly passes
across the stage and up the hill. Gurnemanz, whose
heart has been filled with a sudden hope that the
youth before him may be the promised guileless fool
who alone can cure the king, puts an arm around him,
gently raises him, and, supporting his feeble
footsteps, leads him up the hill. They walk along
dark passages, and finally come into the great hall
on the top of Mount Salvat, which is empty now, and
where only the sound of the bells in the dome is
heard as Gurnemanz says to Parsifal:—
good heed, and let me see,
If thou 'rt a Fool and pure
What wisdom thou presently
Parsifal, the unsophisticated youth, stands
spellbound at the marvels he beholds, nor does he
move when the great doors open, and the Knights of
the Grail come marching in, singing of the mystic
vessel and of its magic properties.
This strain is taken up not only by the youths who
follow them, but also by a boy choir in the dome
which is intended to represent the angels. When the
knights have all taken their places, the doors open
again to admit the bearers of the sacred vessel,
which is kept in a shrine. They are followed by
Amfortas, in his litter, and when he has been
carefully laid upon a couch, and the vessel has been
placed upon the altar before him, all bow down in
silent prayer. Suddenly the silence is broken by the
voice of the aged Titurel. He is lying in a niche in
the rear of the hall, and calls solemnly upon his
son to uncover the Holy Grail, and give him a sight
of the glorious vessel, which alone can renew his
failing strength. The boys are about to remove the
veil when Amfortas suddenly detains them, and begins
a passionate protest, relating how his sufferings
increase every time he beholds the Grail. He
implores his father to resume the sacred office, and
wildly asks how long his sufferings must endure. To
this appeal the angels' voices respond by repeating
the prophecy made by the Holy Grail:—
The guileless Fool—
Wait for him
My chosen tool.’
Strengthened by this reminder of ultimate
relief, and by the voice of the knights and of
Titurel again calling for the uncovering of the
Grail, Amfortas takes the crystal cup from its
shrine, bends over it in devout prayer, while the
angel voices above chant a sort of communion
service, and the hall is gradually darkened.
Suddenly a beam of blinding light shoots down
through the dome and falls upon the cup, which
‘glows with an increased purple lustre,’ while
Amfortas holds it above his head, and gently waves
it to and fro, so that its mystic light can be seen
by all the knights and squires, who have sunk to
Titurel hails the sight with a pious ejaculation,
and when Amfortas has replaced the vessel in the
shrine the beam of light disappears, daylight again
fills the hall, and knights and squires begin to
partake of the bread and wine before them, a feast
to which Gurnemanz invites the amazed Parsifal by a
mute gesture. The youth is too astonished to accept;
he remains spellbound, while the invisible choir
resume their chant, which is taken up first by the
youths' voices, and then by the knights, and ends
only as the meal draws to a close, and Amfortas is
borne out, preceded by the Holy Grail and followed
by the long train of knights and squires.
Gurnemanz and Parsifal alone remain. The Fool,
though guileless, has not been enlightened by pity
to inquire the cause of Amfortas's wound. He has
thus missed his opportunity to cure him, and
Gurnemanz, indignant at his boundless stupidity,
opens a side door, and thrusts him out into the
forest, uttering a contemptuous dismissal.
then nothing but a Fool!
Come away, on thy road be gone
And put my rede to use:
Leave all our swans for the
And seek thyself, gander, a
The second act represents the inner keep of
Klingsor's castle, the magician himself being seated
on the battlement. He is gazing intently into the
magic mirror, wherein all the world may be seen, and
comments with malicious glee upon Parsifal's
ejection from the temple of the Holy Grail and his
approach to his enchanted ground.
Laying aside his magic mirror, Klingsor then
begins one of his uncanny spells, and in the midst
of a bluish vapor calls up Kundry from the enchanted
sleep into which his art has bound her. He tells her
that, although she has succeeded in escaping his
power for a short time, and has gone over to the
enemy whom she has done all
in her power to serve, he now requires her to
exercise all her fascinations to beguile Parsifal
away from the path of virtue, as she once lured
Amfortas, the king and guardian of the Holy Grail.
In vain the half awakened Kundry struggles and
tries to resist his power, Klingsor has her again in
his toils, and once more compels her, much against
her wishes, to execute his will. Just as Parsifal,
overcoming all resistance, drives away the guards of
the castle and springs up on the ramparts, the
magician waves his wand. He and his tower sink from
view, and a beautiful garden appears, in which
lovely damsels flit excitedly about in very scanty
attire. After a few moments spent in motionless
admiration of the scene before him, Parsifal springs
down into the garden, where he is immediately
surrounded by the fair nymphs. They pull him this
way and that, tease and cajole him, and use all
their wiles to attract his attention and win his
admiration. Seeing him very indifferent to their
unadorned charms, a few of them hastily retire into
a bower, where they don gay flower costumes, in
which they soon appear before him, winding in and
out in the gay mazes of the dance.
Their youthful companions immediately follow
their example, and also try to beguile Parsifal
by their flower hues, their kisses and caresses, but
he stands stolidly by until Kundry, who is now no
longer a terrible and haggard witch, but a fair
enchantress reclining upon a bed of roses, calls him
to her side.
As in a dream, Parsifal obeys her summons, while
the flower nymphs flit away to their respective
bowers. Wonderingly he now inquires how Kundry knows
his name, and again hears her relate how she was
present at his birth, watched over his childhood,
and witnessed the death of his mother. At this
mention the youth is again overcome with grief. To
comfort him, Kundry, the enchantress, tenderly
embraces him, and lavishes soft words upon him, but
all her caresses have no effect, except to awaken in
his heart a sudden miraculous comprehension of all
he has seen. Love is suddenly born in his heart, but
it is not the evil passion which Kundry had striven
to bring to life, but the pure, unselfish feeling
which enables one human being to understand and
sympathise with another. He now knows that Amfortas
yielded to passion's spell, and in punishment
suffered the spear wound in his side, and realizes
that he alone could have given him relief. Moved to
sudden indignation by his compassion, he flings
Kundry's caressing arms aside, promising, however,
her win her own redemption, if she will only tell
him how to save Amfortas, and will reveal who
wielded the spear which dealt the fatal wound. But
Kundry, who is acting now entirely under Klingsor's
influence, and not by her own volition, seeing she
cannot lure him to sin, and that he is about to
escape forever, shrieks frantically for help,
cursing him vehemently, and declaring that he will
have to wander long ere he can again find a way to
the realm of the Holy Grail. Her piercing screams
bring the flower damsels and Klingsor upon the
scene, and the latter, standing upon the rampart,
flings the holy spear at Parsifal, expecting to
wound him as grievously as Amfortas. But the youth
has committed no sin, he is quite pure; so the spear
remains poised above his head, until he stretches
out his hand, and, seizing it, makes a sign of the
cross, adjuring the magic to cease:—
‘This sign I
make, and ban thy cursed magic:
As the wound shall be closed
Which thou with this once
To wrack and to ruin
Falls thy unreal display!’
At the holy sign, the enchanter's delusions
vanish, maidens and gardens disappear, and Kundry
sinks motionless upon the arid soil, while Parsifal
springs over the broken wall, calling out that they
shall meet again.
The third act is played also upon the slopes of
the mountain, upon which the temple stands. Many
years have elapsed, however, and Gurnemanz, bent
with age, slowly comes out of his hut at the sound
of a groan in a neighbouring thicket. The sounds are
repeated until the good old man, who has assumed the
garb of a hermit, searches in the thicket, and,
tearing the brambles aside, finds the witch Kundry
in one of her lethargic states. He has seen her so
before in days gone by, and, dragging her rigid form
out from the thicket, he proceeds to restore her to
life. Wildly as of old her eyes roll about, but she
has no sooner come to her senses than she clamours
for some work to do for the Holy Grail, and proceeds
to draw water and perform sundry menial tasks.
Gurnemanz, watching her closely, comments upon her
altered behaviour, and expresses a conviction that
she will ultimately be saved, since she has returned
to the Grail after many years on the morning of Good
He is so occupied in examining her that he does
not notice the approach of Parsifal, clad in black
armour, with closed helmet and lowered spear, and it
is only when Kundry calls his
attention to the stranger that he welcomes him, but
without recognizing him in the least.
Parsifal, however, has not forgotten the old man
whom he has sought so long in vain, and is, so
overcome by emotion that he cannot speak. He obeys
Gurnemanz's injunctions to remove his arms, as none
dare enter the holy precincts of the Holy Grail in
martial array, and, planting the spear he recovered
from Klingsor into the ground, he bends the knee
before it, and returns silent thanks that his quest
is ended, and he may at last be vouchsafed to quiet
the pain which Amfortas still endures. While he is
wrapt in prayer, Gurnemanz, staring at him, suddenly
recognizes him as the Guileless Fool who came so
long ago, and imparts his knowledge to Kundry, who
confirms it. Parsifal, having finished his prayer,
and recovered the power of speech, now greets
Gurnemanz, and in answer to his question says that
he has wandered long, and expresses a fervent hope
that he has not come too late to retrieve his former
error and through suffering lay my pathway;
May I believe that I have freed
me from it,
Now that this forest's murmur
Falls upon my senses,
And worthy voice of age doth
Or yet—is 't new error?
All's altered here meseemeth.’
Gurnemanz is almost overcome with joy when he
hears the young man declare that he has brought back
the sacred lance undefiled, although he has suffered
much to defend it from countless foes who would fain
have wrested it from him. As Parsifal now begins
eagerly to question him, he mournfully relates that
times have changed indeed. Amfortas still lives, and
suffers untold tortures from his unhealed wound, but
Titurel, the aged king, no longer quickened by the
sight of the Holy Grail, (which has never again been
unveiled since his unhappy visit,) has slowly passed
away, and has closed his eyes in a last sleep. At
these sad tidings Parsifal faints with remorse, and
Gurnemanz and Kundry restore him with water from the
holy spring, with which they also wash away all the
soil of travel. As he comes to life again, inquiring
whether he will be allowed to see Amfortas,
Gurnemanz tells him that the knights are to assemble
once more in the temple, as of old, to celebrate
Titurel's obsequies, and that Amfortas has solemnly
promised to unveil the Holy Grail, although at the
cost of suffering to himself. He wishes to comfort
the knights, who have lost all their courage and
strength, and are no longer called upon to go forth
and battle for the right in the name of the Grail.
To enable Parsifal to appear in the temple,
Gurnemanz now baptises him with water from the
spring, and Kundry, anointing his feet with a costly
perfume, wipes them with her hair. Parsifal rewards
her for this humble office by baptising her in his
turn. Then Gurnemanz anoints Parsifal's head with
the same ointment, for it is decreed he shall be
king, and after he and Kundry have helped him to don
the usual habit of the servants of the Holy Grail
they proceed, as in the first act, to the temple,
and once more enter the great hall.
As they appear, the doors open, and two
processions enter, chanting a mournful refrain. Ten
knights bear the bier containing Titurel's corpse,
the others carry the wasted form of the wounded
king. The chorus ended, the coffin is opened, and at
the sight of the dead Titurel all the assistants cry
out in distress. No wail is so bitter, however, as
that of Amfortas, who mournfully addresses his dead
father, imploring him to intercede for him before
the heavenly throne, and to obtain for him the long
hoped for and long expected release.
Then he bids the knights uncover the Holy Grail;
but ere they can do so he bursts out into a paroxysm
of grief, exposing his bleeding and throbbing wound,
and declaring he has not
the courage to endure the sacred beam of light from
the Holy Grail. But, unnoticed by all, Parsifal,
Gurnemanz, and Kundry have drawn near. Suddenly the
youth extends the sacred spear, and, touching
Amfortas with its point, declares that its power
alone can stanch the blood and heal the wounded
side, and pronounces the absolution of his sin:—
unsullied and absolved,
For I now govern in thy place.
Oh blessed be thy sorrows,
For Pity's potent might
And Knowledge's purest power
They taught a timid Fool.’
No sooner has the sacred point touched the wound
than it is indeed healed, and while Amfortas sinks
tottering with emotion into the arms of Gurnemanz,
all the knights gaze enraptured at the spear. Then
Parsifal announces that he is commanded by Divine
decree to become the guardian of the Grail, which he
unveils and reverently receives into his hands.
Once more the hall is darkened, once more the
beam of refulgent light illumines the gloom, and, as
Parsifal slowly waves the vessel to and fro, a snowy
dove, the emblem of the Holy Grail, hovers lightly
over his head.
Suddenly the beam of light falls across the
face of the dead Titurel, who, coming to life again
in its radiance, raises his hand in fervent blessing
ere he sinks back once more to peaceful rest.
Kundry, too, has seen the Holy Grail before her eyes
closed in death, and Amfortas, cured and forgiven,
joins the knights and invisible choir in praising
God for his great mercy, which endures forever.