THE WAGNERIAN ROMANCES
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.
Henry the Fowler, the German King, coming
to Brabant to levy men-of-arms for assistance against the
Hungarian, has found the country distracted with internal
dissension, troubles in high places. These, as its feudal
head, he must settle before proceeding further. He summons
together the nobles of Brabant and holds his court in the
open, beneath the historical Oak of Justice, on the banks of
the Scheldt, by Antwerp.
He calls upon Friedrich von Telramund,
conspicuously involved in the quarrel disturbing the land,
to lay before him the causes of this. The subject complies:
The Duke of Brabant had on dying placed under his
guardianship his two children, the young girl Elsa and the
boy Gottfried. As next heir to the throne, his honour was
very particularly implicated in his fidelity to this trust,
the boy's life was the jewel of his honour. Let the King
judge then of his grief at being robbed of that jewel! Elsa
had taken her young brother to the forest, ostensibly for
the pleasure of woodland rambling, and had returned without
him, inquiring for him with an anxiety which Telramund
judged to be feigned, saying that she had accidentally lost
him a moment from sight and upon looking for him failed to
find trace of him. All search for the lost child had proved
fruitless. Elsa, accused and threatened by her guardian, had
by blanched face and terrified demeanour, he states,
confessed guilt. A fearful revulsion of feeling toward her
taken place in him; he had relinquished the right to her
hand, bestowed upon him by her father, and taken to himself
a wife more according to his heart, Ortrud, descended from
Radbot, Prince of the Frisians. Telramund presents to the
King the sombre-browed, haughty-looking Princess at his
side. "And now," he declares, "I here arraign Elsa von
Brabant. I charge her with the murder of her brother, and I
lay claim in my own right upon this land, to which my title
is clear as next of kin to the deceased Duke; my wife
belonging, besides, to the house which formerly gave
sovereigns to this land."
A murmur passes through the assembly, in
part horror, in part incredulity of so monstrous a crime.
"What dreadful charge is this you bring?" asks the King, in
natural doubt; "How were guilt so prodigious possible?"
Telramund offers as explanation a further accusation, and in
doing it gives a hint, not of his motive in accusing Elsa,
for the violent ambitious personage is honest in thinking
her guilty, but of the disposition of mind toward her which
had made him over-ready to believe evil of her: "This vain
and dreamy girl, who haughtily repelled my hand, of a secret
amour I accuse her. She thought that once rid of her brother
she could, as sovereign mistress of Brabant, autocratically
reject the hand of the liegeman, and openly favour the
secret lover." His excess of vehemence in accusation for a
moment almost discredits him. The King demands to see the
accused. The trial shall proceed at once. He apprehends
difficulty in the case: a charge so black against one so
young and a woman, made by a man so impassioned and almost
of necessity prejudiced, yet of long confirmed reputation
for stern integrity of honour as for bravery. "God give me
wisdom!" the King publicly prays.
The King's herald asks if the court of
justice shall be held on the spot? The King in answer hangs
his shield on the Justice-Tree, declaring that this
shield shall not cover him until he shall have spoken
judgment, stern yet tempered with mercy. The nobles all bare
their swords, declaring that these shall not be restored to
their scabbards until they shall have seen justice done. The
herald in loud tones summons the accused, Elsa von Brabant,
to appear before this bar.
There advances slowly, followed by her
women, a very young, very fair girl, whose countenance and
every motion are stamped with gentle modesty. Between the
dignity which upbears her and the sorrow which crushes her,
she is pathetic as a bruised lily. She looks dreamy withal,
as Telramund described her; her expression is mournfully
abstracted, her eyes are on the ground. The murmur passes
from lip to lip at sight of her: "How innocent she looks!
The one who dared to bring against her such a heavy
accusation must be sure indeed of her guilt."
She answers the King's first question, of
her identity, by a motion of the head alone. One divines
that she has wept so much she could only with difficulty
summon up voice to speak. "Do you acknowledge me as your
rightful judge?" the King proceeds. She lifts her eyes for a
moment to read his, and slowly nods assent. "Do you know,"
he asks further, "whereof you are accused?" Her eyes slide
for a second toward Telramund and Ortrud, and she answers by
an involuntary shudder. "What have you to reply to the
accusation?" With infinite dignity she sketches a meek
gesture signifying, "Nothing!"—"You acknowledge then your
guilt?" A faint cry, hardly more than a sigh, breaks from
her lips: "My poor brother!" and she remains staring
sorrowfully before her, as if upon a face invisible to the
Struck and moved, the good King, whom we
heard promise that his sentence should be streng und mild,
severe yet merciful, speaks kindly now to this strange girl,
standing in such danger, yet engrossed in other
things,—invites her confidence. "Tell me, Elsa, what have
you to impart to me?" With her eyes fixed upon vacancy, she
answers, almost as if she spoke in sleep: "In the darkness
of my lonely days, I cried for help to God. I poured forth
the deep lament of my heart in prayer. Among my moans there
went forth one so plaintive, so piercing, it travelled with
mighty vibrations far upon the air. I heard it resound at a
vast distance ere it died upon my ear. My eyelids thereupon
dropped, I sank into sweet slumber...."
All look at her in amazement. She stands
before a tribunal on a matter of life and death, and with
that rapt look offers a plea of such irrelevancy! "Is she
dreaming?" ask some, under-breath, and others, "Is she mad?"
The King tries to bring her to a sense of
reality, a sense of her peril. "Elsa!" he cries urgently,
"speak your defence before this court of justice!" But she
goes on, with an air of dreamy ecstasy: "All in the radiance
of bright armour, a Knight drew near to me, of virtue so
luminous as never had I seen before! A golden horn hung at
his side, he leaned upon his sword. He came to me out of the
air, the effulgent hero. With gentlest words and action he
comforted me. I will await his coming, my champion he shall
Her audience is impressed by the look of
inspiration with which she tells her tale of vision. "The
grace of Heaven be with us," they say, "and assist us to see
clearly who here is at fault!"
The King in doubt turns to Telramund:
"Friedrich, worthy as you are of all men's honour, consider
well who it is you are accusing!" "You have heard her," the
haughty lord answers excitedly; "she is raving about a
paramour! I am not deceived by her dreamy
posturing. That which I charge her with, I have certain
ground for. Her crime was authoritatively proved to me. But
to satisfy your doubt by producing testimony, that, verily,
would ill become my pride. Here I stand! Here is my sword!
Who among you will fight with me, casting slur upon my
honour?"—"None of us!" comes promptly from the Brabantians,
"We only fight for you!" The high-tempered gentleman turns
somewhat violently upon the King: "And you, King, do you
forget my services, my victories in battle over the wild
Dane?" The King answers pacifyingly that it would ill beseem
him to need reminding of these, that he renders to Telramund
the homage due to highest worth, and could not wish the
country in any keeping but his. God alone, in conclusion,
shall decide this matter, too difficult obviously for human
faculty. "I ask you, therefore, Friedrich, Count von
Telramund, will you, in life and death combat, entrust your
cause to the judgment of God?" Telramund gives assent. "And
you I ask, Elsa von Brabant, will you entrust your cause to
a champion who shall fight for you under the judgment of
God?" She assents likewise. "Whom do you choose for your
champion?" the King asks of her. "Now—" eagerly interjects
Telramund, "now you shall hear the name of her
lover!"—"Listen!" say the rest, with sharpened curiosity.
The girl has fixed her eyes again upon the vacancy which to
her apparently is full of things to see. "I will await the
Knight. My champion he shall be! Hear what to the messenger
of God I offer in guerdon. In my father's dominions let him
wear the crown. Happy shall I hold myself if he take all
that is mine, and if he please to call me consort I give him
all I am!"
Four trumpeters turn to the four points of
the compass and blow a summons. The herald calls loud: "He
who will do battle here, under judgment of God, as champion
van Brabant, let him appear,—let him appear!" The vibrations
die of horns and herald's voice. There is silence and
tension. No one appears, nothing happens. Elsa, at first
calm in her security of faith, gives evidence of anxiety.
Telramund calls attention to her: "Now witness, witness if I
have accused her falsely. Right, by that token, is on my
side!" Elsa with childish simplicity appeals to the King:
"Oh, my kind sovereign, let me beseech you, one more call
for my champion! He is far away, no doubt, and has not
heard!" At the King's command, the trumpets sound again, the
herald repeats his summons. There is no answer. The
surrounding stillness is unbroken by movement or sound. "By
gloomy silence," the men murmur, "God signifies his
sentence!" Elsa falls upon her knees: "Thou didst bear to
him my lament, he came to me by Thy command. Oh, Lord, now
tell my Knight that he must help me in my need! Vouchsafe to
let me see him as I saw him before, even as I saw him before
let him come to me now!" The women kneel beside her, adding
their prayers to hers.
Elsa's last word has but died when a cry
breaks from certain of the company standing upon an eminence
next the river. "Look! Look! What a singular sight!"—"What
is it?" ask the others. All eyes turn toward the river. "A
swan! A swan, drawing a skiff!... A knight standing erect in
it.... How his armour gleams! The eye cannot endure such
brightness.... See, he is coming toward us. The swan draws
the skiff by a golden chain! A miracle! A miracle!"
Elsa stands transfixed, not daring to look
around; but her women look, and hail the approaching figure
as that of the prayed-for champion. Amazement at sight of
him strikes Telramund dumb. Ortrud upon a glance at the swan
wears for one startled moment an expression of unconcealable
fear. He stands, the stranger, leaning on his sword, in the
boat; adorned with that excess of lovely attribute not
looked for save in figures of dream or of legend, knightly
in one and archangelic, with his flashing silver mail and
flowing locks and unearthly beauty. As the boat draws to
land all involuntarily bare their heads. Elsa at last finds
hardihood to turn; a cry of rapturous recognition breaks
from her lips.
He steps ashore. All in spell-bound
attention watch for his first action, his first words. These
are for the swan, and contain not much enlightenment for the
breathless listeners. "Receive my thanks, beloved swan.
Return across the wide flood yonder from whence you brought
me. When you come back, let it be to our joy! Faithfully
fulfil your service. Farewell, farewell, my beloved swan!"
The mysterious bird slowly draws away from shore and breasts
the river in the direction from whence it came. The Knight
looks after the diminishing form with such effect of regret
as would accompany the departure of a cherished friend.
Voices of wonder pass from person to
person; wonder at his impressive beauty, and at themselves
for the not unpleasant terror it inspires, the spell it
casts over them. He turns at last and advancing toward the
King salutes him; "Hail, King Henry! God's blessing stand by
your sword! Your great and glorious name shall never pass
from earth!" The King, who from his throne beneath the oak
has been able to watch the stranger from the moment of his
entering the story, is not of two minds concerning so
luminous an apparition. "If I rightly recognise the power,"
he speaks, "which has brought you to this land, you come to
us sent by God?"—"I am sent," replies the Knight, "to do
battle for a maid against whom a dark accusation has been
brought. Let me see now if I shall tell her from among the
rest." With but a passing glance at the group of women,
unhesitatingly he singles out Elsa, undistinguishable
from the others by any sign of rank. "Speak, then, Elsa von
Brabant! If I am chosen as your champion, will you without
doubt or fear entrust yourself to my protection?" Elsa, who
from the moment of seeing him has stood in a heavenly
trance, answers this with no discreet and grudging
acquiescence; she falls upon her knees at the feet of this
her deliverer and hero, and with innocent impetuousness
offers him, not assurance of confidence in his arm, or
gratitude for his succour, but the whole of herself, made up
solely of such confidence and gratitude. "Will you," asks
the Knight, while a divine warmth of tenderness invests
voice and face, "if I am victorious in combat for you, will
you that I become your husband?"—"As I lie here at your
feet," the girl replies with passionate humility, "I give
over unto you body and soul!" Full of responsive love as is
his face, bent upon so much beauty and innocence and
adoration, he does not at once gather her up from her knees
to his arms. Strangely, he stops to make conditions. "Elsa,
if I am to be called your husband, if I am to defend your
land and people, if nothing is ever to tear me from your
side, one thing you must promise me: Never will you ask me,
nor be concerned to know, from whence I came to you, nor
what my name and race."—"Never, my lord, shall the question
rise to my lips!" She has spoken too readily, too easily, as
if she scarcely considered. "Elsa, have you perfectly
understood?" he asks earnestly, and repeats his injunction
more impressively still: "Never shall you ask me, nor be
concerned to know, from whence I came to you, nor what my
name and race!" But she, how should she in this moment not
promise whatever he asked or do whatever be required? There
is no question of pondering any demand of this exquisite
dream made flesh, this angelic being come in the darkest
hour to make all the difference to her between life and
death. As he has asked more earnestly, she
replies more emphatically. "My defender, my angel, my
deliverer, who firmly believes in my innocence! Could any
doubt be more culpable than that which should disturb my
faith in you? Even as you will protect me in my need, even
so will I faithfully obey your command!" He lifts her then
to his breast with looks of radiant love, uttering the words
which confirm his action and make him her affianced. The
people around them gaze in moved wonder, confessing an
emotion at sight of the wonnigliche Mann beyond
natural, suggesting magic.
The Silver Knight steps into the midst of
the circle about the Justice-Oak, and declares: "Hear me! To
you nobles and people I proclaim it: Free from all guilt is
Elsa von Brabant. That you have falsely accused her, Count
von Telramund, shall now through God's judgment be confirmed
to you!" Telramund, obviously in grave doubt, gazes
searchingly in the face of this extraordinary intruder. He
is sure of his own integrity, relies perfectly on his
private information against Elsa; what then is an agent of
Heaven's doing on the opposite side? How can this be an
agent of Heaven's at all? While he hesitates, the Brabantian
nobles warn him in undertones: "Keep from the fight! If you
undertake it, never shall you come forth victorious! If he
be protected by supernal power, of what use to you is your
gallant sword?" But Friedrich, true to his stiff necked,
proud self, bursts forth: "Rather dead than afraid!" and
violently addresses the stranger: "Whatever sorcery have
brought you here, stranger, who wear such a bold front, your
haughty threats in no wise move me, since never have I
intended deceit. I accept your challenge, and look to
triumph by the course of justice!"
The lists are set, the ground of the duel
is marked off with spears driven into the earth. When all is
ready, the herald in solemn proclamation warns all present to
refrain from every sort of interference, the penalty for any
infringement of this rule to be, in the case of a noble, the
loss of his hand, in the case of a churl, the loss of his
head. He then addresses himself to the combatants, warning
them to loyally observe the rules of battle, not by any evil
art or trick of sorcery to disturb the virtue of the
judgment. God is to judge them according to custom in such
ordeals; in Him let them place their trust and not in their
own strength. The two champions with equal readiness declare
themselves prepared to obey this behest. The King descends
from his throne, removes his regal crown, and, while all
beside uncover and unite in his prayer, solemnly he makes
over, as it were, his function of judge to God. "My Lord and
my God, I call upon Thee, that Thou be present at this
combat. Through victory of the sword speak Thy sentence, and
let truth and falsehood clearly appear. To the arm of the
righteous lend heroic strength, unstring the sinews of the
false! Help us Thou, O God, in this hour, for our best
wisdom is folly before Thee!"
Each of the persons present feels certain
of victory for his own side, even dark Ortrud, with the
black secrets of her conscience, who believes in no
messengers from God, and pins her faith to the well-tested
strength of her husband's arm.
At the thrice-repeated blow of the King's
sword upon his shield, the combatants enter the lists. The
duel lasts but a moment. Friedrich falls, not from any
wound, but from the lightening flash of the adversary's
sword, brought down upon him with a great sweep. The
mysterious weight of it crushes him to the earth, overthrows
him, deprives him of force to rise again. The gleaming enemy
stands over him with sword-point at his throat: "By victory
through God your life now belongs to me. I give it you. Make
use of it to repent!"
In the rejoicings that follow, the
acclamations of the victorious champion of innocence, no one
takes any thought further of the vanquished. Unnoticed he
writhes, appalled at the recognition that very God has
beaten him, that honour—honour is lost! The wife struggles
with a different emotion. Her eyes, unimpressed by his
splendour, unconvinced by his victory, boldly scrutinise the
countenance of the Swan-brought, to discover the thing he
had forbidden Elsa to inquire, what manner of man he be. Who
is this, she asks herself, that has overcome her husband,
that has placed a term to her power? Is it one whom verily
she need fear? Must she give up her hopes because of him?
Lohengrins Ankunft in Brabant by Otto von
The Second Act shows the great court in
the citadel of Antwerp, bounded at the back by the Palace,
where the knights are lodged; at the left, by the Kemenate,
the women's apartments; at the right, by the Minster. It is
night. The windows of the Palace are brightly lighted;
smothered bursts of music from time to time issue forth from
them. Telramund and Ortrud, in the poor garb of plebeians,
sit on the church-steps. Excommunication and banishment,
following the condemnation of God signified by such defeat
as Telramund has suffered, have made of them beggars and
fugitives. Telramund is sunk in dark reflection. Ortrud,
half-crouched like a dangerous animal lying in wait, stares
intently at the lighted windows. With sudden effort of
resolve Telramund rouses himself and gets to his feet.
"Come, companion of my disgrace!" he speaks to the woman
beside him; "Daybreak must not find us here." She does not
stir. "I cannot move from here," she answers; "I am
spell-bound upon this spot. From the contemplation of
this brilliant banqueting of our enemies let me absorb a
fearful mortal venom, whereby I shall bring to an end both
our ignominy and their rejoicing!" Friedrich shudders, in
spite of himself, at such incarnate malignity as seems
represented by that crouching form, those hate-darting eyes.
The sense seizes him, too, in the dreadful soreness of his
lacerated pride, how much this woman is responsible for what
he has suffered. "You fearful woman!" he cries, "What is it
keeps me still bound to you? Why do I not leave you alone,
and flee by myself away, away, where my conscience may find
rest? Through you I must lose my honour, the glory I had
won. The praise that attaches to fair fame follows me no
more. My knighthood is turned to a mock! Outlawed,
proscribed am I, shattered is my sword, broken my
escutcheon, anathemised my house! Whatever way I turn, all
flee from me, accursed! The robber himself shuns the
infection of my glance. Oh, that I had chosen death sooner
than life so abject and miserable!..." With the agonised
cry, "My honour, oh, my honour! I have lost my honour!" he
casts himself face downward upon the ground.
Ortrud has not stirred, or taken her eyes
from the bright orange-gold windows. As Telramund's harsh
voice ceases, music is heard again from the banquet-hall.
Ortrud listens till it has died away; then asks, with cold
quiet: "What makes you waste yourself in these wild
complaints?"—"That the very weapon should have been taken
from me with which I might have struck you dead!" he cries,
stung to insanity. Scornfully calm and cold as before,
"Friedrich, you Count of Telramund, for what reason," she
asks, "do you distrust me?" Hotly he pours forth his
reasons. "Do you ask? Was it not your testimony, your
report, which induced me to accuse that innocent girl? You,
living in the dusky woods, did you not mendaciously aver to
me that from your wild castle you had seen the dark deed
committed? With your own eyes seen how Elsa drowned her
brother in the tarn? And did you not ensnare my ambitious
heart with the prophecy that the ancient princely dynasty of
Radbot soon should flourish anew and reign over Brabant,
moving me thereby to withdraw my claim to the hand of Elsa,
the immaculate, and take to wife yourself, because you were
the last descendant of Radbot?"—"Ha! How mortally offensive
is your speech!" she speaks, but suppresses her natural
annoyance to continue: "Very true, all you have stated, I
did say, and confirmed it with proof."—"And made me, whose
name stood so high in honour, whose life had earned the
prize due to highest virtue, made me into the shameful
accomplice of your lie!"—"Who lied?" she asks coolly. "You!"
he unceremoniously flings at her; "Has not God because of
it, through his judgment, brought me to shame?"—"God?..."
She utters the word with such vigour of derision that he
involuntarily starts back. "Horrible!" he shudders after a
moment; "How dreadful does that name sound upon your
lips!"—"Ha! Do you call your own cowardice God?" He raises
against her his maddened hand: "Ortrud!..."—"Do you threaten
me? Threaten a woman?" she sneers, unmoved; "Oh,
lily-livered! Had you been equally bold in threatening him
who now sends us forth to our miserable doom, full easily
might you have earned victory in place of shame. Ha! He who
should manfully stand up to the encounter with him would
find him weaker than a child!"—"The weaker he," Telramund
observes, ill-pleased, "the more mightily was exhibited the
strength of God!"—"The strength of God!... Ha, ha!" laughs
loud Ortrud, with the same unmoderated effect of scorn and
defiance, which sends her husband staggering back it step,
gasping. "Give me the opportunity," she proceeds, with a
return to that uncanny quiet of hers, "and I will show you,
infallibly, what a feeble god it is protects him!"
Telramund is impressed. She is telling him
after all that which he would like to believe. Still, the
impression of the day's events is strong upon him,—his
overthrow at God's own hand. After that, how dare he trust
her? And yet— But then again— "You wild seeress," he
exclaims, torn with doubt, "what are you trying, with your
mysterious hints, to entangle my soul afresh?" She points at
the Palace, from the windows of which the lights have
disappeared. "The revellers have laid them down to their
luxurious repose. Sit here beside me! The hour is come when
my seer's eye shall read the invisible for you." Telramund
draws nearer, fascinated, reconquered to her by this
suggestion of some dim hope rearising upon his blighted
life. He sits down beside her and holds close his ear for
her guarded tones. "Do you know who this hero is whom a swan
brought to the shore?"—"No!"—"What would you give to know?
If I should tell you that were he forced to reveal his name
and kind there would be an end to the power which
laboriously he borrows from sorcery?"—"Ha! I understand then
his prohibition!"—"Now listen! No one here has power to
wring from him his secret, save she alone whom he forbade so
stringently ever to put to him the question!"—"The thing to
do then would be to prevail upon Elsa not to withhold from
asking it!"—"Ha! How quickly and well you apprehend
me!"—"But how should we succeed in that?"—"Listen! It is
necessary first of all not to forsake the spot. Wherefore,
sharpen your wit! To arouse well-justified suspicion in her,
step forward, accuse him of sorcery, whereby he perverted
the ordeal!"—"Ha! By sorcery it was, and treachery!"—"If you
fail, there is still left the expedient of
violence."—"Violence?"—"Not for nought am I learned in the
most hidden arts. Every being deriving his strength from
magic, if but the smallest shred of flesh be torn from his
body, must instantly appear in his original weakness."—"Oh,
if it might be that you spoke true!" wistfully groans
Telramund. "If in the encounter you had struck off one of
his fingers," Ortrud continues, "nay, but one joint of a
finger, that hero would have been in your power!" Rage and
excitement possess Telramund at the retrospect of the combat
in which he had been beaten, not, as he had supposed, by
God, but by the tricks of a sorcerer, and at the prospect of
avenging his disgrace, proving his uprightness, recovering
his honour. But—he is checked by a sudden return of
suspicion of this dark companion and adviser. "Oh, woman,
whom I see standing before me in the night," he addresses
the dim figure, "if you are again deceiving me, woe to you,
I tell you, woe!" She quiets him with the promise of
teaching him the sweet joys of vengeance. A foretaste of
these they have, sitting on the minster-steps, gloating upon
the walls which enclose the unconscious foes. "Oh, you, sunk
in sweet slumber, know that mischief is awake and lying in
wait for you!"
A door opens in the upper story of the
Kemenate. A white figure steps out on to the balcony and
leans against the parapet, head upon hand. The pair in the
shade watch with suspended breath, recognising Elsa. She is
too happy, obviously, to sleep; her heart is too heavily
oppressed with gratitude for all that this wonderful day has
brought. The well-born gentle soul that she is must be
offering thanks to everything that has contributed to this
hour; and so, girlishly, she speaks to the wind: "You
breezes, whom I used so often to burden with my sadness and
complaints, I must tell you in very gratitude what happy
turn my fortunes have taken! By your means he came
travelling to me, you smiled upon his voyage, on his way
over the wild waves you kept him safe. Full many a time have
I troubled you to dry my tears. I ask you now of your
kindness to cool my cheek aglow with love!" Ortrud has kept
basilisk eyes fixed upon the sweet love-flushed face touched
with moonlight. "She shall curse the hour," speaks the
bitter enemy in her teeth, "in which my eyes beheld her
thus!" She bids Telramund under-breath leave her for a
little while. "Wherefore?" he asks. "She falls to my share,"
comes grimly from the wife; "take her hero for yours!"
Telramund slips obediently away into the black shadow.
Ortrud watches Elsa for a time breathing
her innocent fancies to the wind; then abruptly cuts short
the pastime, calling her name in a loud,
deliberately-plaintive tone. Elsa peers anxiously down in
the dark court. "Who calls me? How lamentably did my name
come shuddering through the night!"—"Elsa, is my voice so
strange to you? Is it your mind to disclaim all acquaintance
with the wretch whom you have driven forth to exile and
misery?"—"Ortrud, is it you? What are you doing here,
unhappy woman?"—"Unhappy woman?..." Ortrud repeats after
her, giving the turn of scorn to the young girl's pitying
intonation; "Ample reason have you indeed to call me so!"
With dark artfulness she rouses in Elsa more than
proportionate compassion for her plight, by casting upon the
tender-conscienced creature the whole blame for it. In no
scene does the youthfulness of Telramund's ward appear more
pathetically than in this. "In the solitary forest, where I
lived quiet and at peace, what had I done to you," Ortrud
upbraids, "what had I done to you? Living there joylessly,
my days solely spent in mourning over the misfortunes that
had long pursued my house, what had I done to you,—what had
I done to you?"—"Of what, in God's name, do you accuse me?"
asks Elsa, bewildered. Ortrud pursues in her chosen line of
incrimination at all cost: "However could you envy me the
fortune of being chosen for wife by the man whom you had of
your free will disdained?"—"All-merciful God," exclaims
Elsa, "What is the meaning of this?"—"And if, blinded by an
unhappy delusion, he attributed guilt to you, guiltless, his
heart is now torn with remorse; grim indeed has his
punishment been. Oh, you are happy! After brief period of
suffering, mitigated by conscious innocence, you see all
life smiling unclouded before you. You can part from me
well-pleased, and send me forth on my way to death, that the
dull shadow of my grief may not disturb your feasts."
Ortrud's policy is completely successful;
this last imputation is intolerable to the generous girl,
made even more tender-hearted than wont by her overflowing
happiness. "What mean sense of Thy mercies would I be
showing," she cries, "All-powerful, who have so greatly
blessed me, should I repulse the wretched bowed before me in
the dust! Oh, nevermore! Ortrud, wait for me! I myself will
come down and let you in!"
She hurries indoors. Ortrud has gained
what she wanted, intimate access to the young Duchess's ear,
that she may pour her poison into it. She has a moment's joy
of triumph, while the fair dupe is hastening down to her
within. We discover at this point that she is no Christian
like the rest; that the secret gods of the secret sorceress
are the old superseded ones, Wotan and Freia. For that
reason it was the Silver Knight did not impress her as he
did the others. She could not admit that he came from God,
the false god whose name we heard her pronounce with such
unconcealable scorn; but, herself a witch, supposed that he
performed the feat through wizardry. She had explained the
phenomenon to her husband in good faith; she believed what
she said, that were he forced to tell his name, or
might a shred of flesh be torn from him, he would stand
before them undisguised, shorn of his magic power. Wild with
evil joy at the success of her acting, she calls upon her
desecrated gods to help her further against the apostates.
"Wotan, strong god, I appeal to you! Freia, highest goddess,
hear me! Vouchsafe your blessing upon my deceit and
hypocrisy, that I may happily accomplish my vengeance!"
At the sound of Elsa's voice calling:
"Ortrud, where are you?" she assumes the last abjectness.
"Here!" she replies, cowering upon the earth. "Here at your
feet!" Simple Elsa's heart melts at the sight, really out of
all reason soft, out of all reason unsuspecting. Yet she is
infinitely sweet, in her exaggeration of goodness, when she
not only pardons, but begs pardon of this fiendish enemy for
what the latter may have had to suffer through her. She
eagerly puts out her hands to lift Ortrud from her knees.
"God help me! That I should see you thus, whom I have never
seen save proud and magnificent! Oh, my heart will choke me
to behold you in so humble attitude. Rise to your feet!
Spare me your supplications! The hate you have borne me I
forgive you, and I pray you to forgive me too whatever you
have had to suffer through me!"—"Receive my thanks for so
much goodness!" exclaims feelingly the accomplished actress.
"He who to-morrow will be called my husband," continues
Elsa, in her young gladness to heap benefits, "I will make
appeal to his gentle nature, and obtain grace for Friedrich
likewise."—"You bind me to you forever with bonds of
gratitude!" With light innocent hand Elsa places the
crowning one on top of her magnanimous courtesies. "At early
morning let me see you ready prepared. Adorned in
magnificent attire, you shall walk with me to the minster.
There I am to await my hero, to become his wife before God.
His wife!..." The sweet pride with which she says the word,
the soft ecstasy that falls upon her at the thought, stir in
Ortrud such hatred that she cannot forbear, even though the
time can hardly be ripe, taking the first step at once which
is to result in the quick ruin of the poor child's dreams.
"How shall I reward you for so much kindness, powerless and
destitute as I am? Though by your grace I should dwell
beside you, I should remain no better than a beggar. One
power, however, there is left me; no arbitrary decree could
rob me of that. By means of it, peradventure, I shall be
able to protect your life and preserve it from
regret."—"What do you mean?" asks Elsa lightly. "What I mean
is—that I warn you not too blindly to trust in your good
fortune; let me for the future have care for you, lest
disaster entangle you unaware." Elsa shrinks back a little,
murmuring, "Disaster?" Ortrud speaks with impressive mystery
close to her ear: "Could you but comprehend what marvellous
manner of being is the man—of whom I say but this: May he
never forsake you through the very same magic by which he
came to you!" Elsa starts away from Ortrud, in horror at
such impiety,—disbelief in the highest. But in a moment her
displeasure gives way to sadness and pity for the darkness
in which this other woman lives. "Poor sister!" she speaks,
most gently, "you can hardly conceive how unsuspecting is my
heart! You have never known, belike, the happiness that
belongs to perfect faith. Come in with me! Let me teach you
the sweetness of an untroubled trust. Let me convert you to
the faith that there exists a happiness without leaven of
regret!" This warm young generous sweetness which makes Elsa
open to any appeal, blind to grossest fraud, merely
exasperates Ortrud's ill-will. She reads in it plain pride
of superiority. As she could not admit in the Knight of the
swan a god-sent hero, she cannot see in Elsa an uncommonly
good-hearted girl. "Oh, that arrogance!" she
is muttering while Elsa is exhorting her; "It shall teach me
how I may undo that trustfulness of hers! Against it shall
the weapons be turned, her pride shall bring about her
fall!"—Elsa by gesture inviting, the other feigning
confusion at so great kindness, the two pass into the house
The first grey of dawn lightens the sky.
Telramund, who has been spying unseen, exults to see
mischief in the person of his wife entering the house of the
enemy. He is not an evil man, he cares beyond all for
honour, and his consciousness of a certain unfairness in the
methods his wife will use is implied in his exclamation; but
the violent man so rages under a sense of injustice that all
weapons to him are good which shall bring about the ruin of
those who have ruined him. "Thus does mischief enter that
house! Accomplish, woman, what your subtlety has devised. I
feel no power to check you at your work. The mischief began
with my downfall; now shall you plunge after me, you who
brought me to it! One thing alone stands clear before me:
The robbers of my honour shall see destruction!"
Daylight brightens. The warders sound the
reveillé from the turret. Telramund conceals himself behind
a buttress of the minster. The business of the day is
gradually taken up in the citadel court. The porter unlocks
the tower-gate that lets out on to the city-road; servants
come and go about their work, drawing water, hanging festive
garlands. At a summons from the King's trumpeters, nobles
and burghers assemble in great number before the Minster.
The King's herald coming out on the Palace-steps makes the
following announcements: Firstly: Banished and outlawed is
Friedrich von Telramund, for having undertaken the ordeal
with a knowledge of his own guilt. Any one sheltering or
associating with him shall according to the law of the
realm come under the same condemnation. Secondly: The King
invests the unknown God-sent man, about to espouse Elsa,
with the lands and the crown of Brabant; the hero to be
called, according to his preference, not Duke, but Protector
of Brabant. Thirdly: The Protector will celebrate with them
this day his nuptial feast, but they shall join him tomorrow
in battle-trim, to follow, as their duty is, the King's
arms. He himself, renouncing the sweetness of repose, will
lead them to glory.
These proclamations are followed by
general assent and gladness. A small group there is,
however, of malcontents, former adherents of Telramund's,
who grumble: "Hear that! He is to remove us out of the
country, against an enemy who has never so much as
threatened us! Such a bold beginning is ill-beseeming. Who
will stand up against him when he is in command?"—"I will!"
comes from a muffled figure that has crept among them, and
Friedrich uncovers his countenance. "How dare you venture
here, in danger as you are from the hand of every churl?"
they ask him, frightened. "I shall dare and venture more
than this ere long, and the scales will drop from your eyes.
He who presumptuously calls you forth to war, I will accuse
him of treason in the things of God." The Brabantian
gentlemen, afraid of his being overheard or recognised,
conceal the rash lord among them, and compel him toward the
church, out of sight.
Forerunners of the wedding-procession,
young pages come from the Kemenate, and clear a way through
the crowd to the church-door. A long train of ladies walk
before the bride. There are happy cheers when she appears,
dazzling in her wedding-pomp; there are blessings and the
natural expressions of devotion from loyal subjects. The
pages and ladies stand massed at either side of the
Minster-door to give their mistress precedence in
entering. She is slowly, with bashful lowered eyes, mounting
the stairs, when Ortrud, who in magnificent apparel has been
following in her train, steps quickly before her, with the
startling command, given in a furious voice: "Back, Elsa! I
will no longer endure to follow you like a serving-maid!
Everywhere shall you yield me precedence, and with proper
deference bow before me!" This is, we believe, no part of
any deep-laid plan of Ortrud's, though it does in the event
help along her scheme; it is an uncontrollable outburst of
temper at sight of Elsa in her eminence of bridal and ducal
glory. "What does the woman mean?" ask the people of one
another, and step between Elsa and her. "What is this?"
cries Elsa, painfully startled; "What sudden change has
taken place in you?"—"Because for an hour I forgot my proper
worth," Radbot's daughter continues violently, "do you think
that I am fit only to crawl before you? I will take measures
to wipe out my abasement. That which is due to me I am
determined to receive!"—"Woe's me!" complains Elsa, "Was I
duped by your feigning, when you stole to me last night with
your pretended grief? And do you now haughtily demand
precedence of me, you, the wife of a man convicted by God?"
Ortrud sees here her opportunity again to introduce the
wedge of suspicion into her victim's mind. "Though a false
sentence banished my husband, his name was honoured
throughout the land, he was never spoken of save as the
pattern of virtue. His sword was well-tested and was
feared—But yours, tell me, who that is present knows him?
You cannot even yourself call him by his name!... Nay, but
can you?" she taunts the shocked, pale-grown bride, who has
found no more than force to gasp,—"What does she say? She
blasphemes! Stop her lips!"—"Can you tell us whether his
lineage, his nobility, be well attested? From whence the
brought him and whither he will go when he leaves? No, you
cannot! The matter, no doubt, would present difficulties,
wherefore the astute hero forbade all questioning!" Elsa has
found her voice at last, and speaks right hotly: "You
slanderer! Abandoned woman! Hear, whether I can answer you!
So pure and lofty is his nature, so filled with virtue is
that noblest man, that never shall the person obtain
forgiveness who presumes to doubt his mission! Did not my
hero overcome your husband by the power of God in singular
combat? You shall tell me then, all of you, which of the two
must lawfully be held true?"—"Ha! That truth of your
hero's!" mocks Ortrud, fearfully ready of tongue; "How soon
were it cast in doubt, should he be forced to confess the
sorcery by which he practises such power! If you fear to
question him concerning it, all may believe with good right
that you are not free yourself from the suspicion that his
truth must not be too closely looked into!" Elsa is near
fainting with the anguish of this encounter; her women
surround and comfort her.
The doors of the Palace have opened, the
King and the Knight of the Swan, with great retinue of
nobles, issue forth, bound for the church and
wedding-ceremony. They arrive upon the scene before the
confusion is allayed occasioned by the quarrel between
vulture and dove. Elsa runs to the arms of the Protector.
Receiving her and glancing naturally about for explanation,
he beholds the dangerous Ortrud, whom his clear eye reads,
restored to splendour, part of the wedding-train, and
remarks upon it with amazement to the trembling bride. "What
do I see? That unhappy woman at your side?"—"My deliverer,"
weeps Elsa, "shield me from her! Scold me, for having
disobeyed you! I found her in tears here before my door; I
took her in out of her wretchedness. Now see how dreadfully
she rewards my kindness!... She taunts me for my
over-great trust in you!" The Knight fixes his eyes sternly
upon the offender, who somehow cannot look back bold insult
as she would wish, but stands spell-bound under the calm
severity of his glance. "Stand off from her, you fearful
woman. Here shall you never prevail!—Tell me, Elsa," he
bends over her tearful face, "tell me that she tried vainly
to drop her venom into your heart?" Elsa hides her face
against his breast without answering. But the gesture with
its implied confidence satisfies him; the tears increase his
protecting tenderness. "Come!" he draws her toward the
church; "Let your tears flow in there as tears of joy!"
The wedding-train forms again and moves
churchward in wake of King and bride and groom. But the
wedding to-day is not to come off without check and
interruption—an ill omen, according to the lore of all
peoples. As the bridal party is mounting the Minster-steps,
there starts up in front of it, before the darkly gaping
door, the figure of Telramund. The crowd sways back as if
from one who should spread infection, so tainted did a man
appear against whom God through his ordeal had spoken
judgment. "Oh, King, oh, deluded princes, stand!" he cries,
barring their way. He will not be silenced by their
indignant threats; he makes himself heard in spite of
shocked and angry prohibitions. "Hear me to whom grim
injustice has been done! God's judgment was perverted,
falsified! By the tricks of a sorcerer you have been
beguiled!" The King's followers are for seizing and
thrusting him aside; but the soldier, famous no longer ago
than yesterday for every sort of superiority, stands his
ground and says what he is determined to say. "The man I see
yonder in his magnificence, I accuse of sorcery! As dust
before God's breath, let the power be dispersed which he
owes to a black art! How ill did you attend to the matters
of the ordeal which was to strip me of honour, refraining as
you did from questioning him, when he came to undertake
God's fight! But you shall not prevent the question now, I
myself will put it to him. Of his name, his station, his
honours, I inquire aloud before the whole world. Who is he,
who came to shore guided by a wild swan? One who keeps in
his service the like enchanted animals is to my thinking no
true man! Let him answer now my accusation. If he can do so,
call my condemnation just, but if he refuse, it must be
plain to all that his virtue will not bear scrutiny!" All
eyes turn with unmistakable interest of expectation toward
the man thus accused; wonder concerning what he will reply
is expressed in undertones.
He refuses point-blank, with a bearing of
such superiority as an attack of the sort can hardly ruffle.
"Not to you, so forgetful of your honour, have I need here
to reply. I set aside your evil aspersion; truth will hardly
suffer from the like!"—"If I am in his eyes not worthy of
reply," Friedrich bitterly re-attacks, "I call upon you,
King, high in honour indeed. Will he, on the ground of
insufficient nobility, refuse likewise to answer you?" Aye,
the Knight refuses again, with an assurance partaking in no
wise of haughtiness, but speaking a noble consciousness of
what he is which places him above men's opinions. "Yes! even
the King I must refuse to answer, and the united council of
all the princes! They will not permit doubt of me to burden
them, they were witnesses of my good deed. There is but one
whom I must answer. Elsa!" He turns toward her with bright
face of confidence, and stops short at sight of her, so
troubled, so visibly torn by inward conflict, her bosom
labouring, her face trembling. There is no concealing it,
she would have wished him to answer loudly and boldly, to
crush those mocking enemies, Ortrud and Telramund, with the
mention of a name, a rank, which should have bowed them
down before him in the dust, abject. There is silence, while
all, entertaining their respective reflections, watch Elsa,
and she struggles with herself, staring blindly ahead. His
secret no doubt,—thus run her pitiable feminine thoughts,—if
revealed publicly like this would involve him in some
danger. Ungrateful indeed were it in her, saved by him, to
betray him by demanding the information here. If she knew
his secret, however, she would surely keep it faithfully....
But—but—she is helpless against it, doubt is upheaving the
foundations of her heart!
It is the good King who speaks the right,
the pertinent word. "My hero, stand up undaunted against
yonder faithless man! You are too indubitably great to
consider accusations of his!" The nobles readily accept the
King's leadership, in this as in other matters. "We stand by
you," they say to the Knight. "Your hand! We believe that
noble is your name, even though it be not spoken."—"Never
shall you repent your faith!" the Knight assures them. While
the nobles crowd about him; offering their hands in sign of
allegiance, and Elsa stands apart blindly dealing with her
doubt, Telramund steals unperceived to her side and whispers
to her: "Rely on me! Let me tell you a method for obtaining
certainty!" She recoils, frightened, yet without denouncing
him aloud. "Let me take from him the smallest shred of
flesh," he continues hurriedly, "the merest tip of a finger,
and I swear to you that what he conceals you shall see
freely for yourself...." In his eagerness, forgetful really
at last of honour, he adds the inducement, "And, true to you
forever, he will never leave you!"—"Nevermore!" cries Elsa,
not so vigourously, however, but that he finds it possible
still to add: "I will be near to you at night. Do but call
me, without injury to him it shall be quickly done!" The
Knight has caught sight of him and is instantly at
Elsa's side, crying astonished, "Elsa, with whom are you
conversing?" The poor girl sinks overwhelmed with trouble
and confusion at his feet. "Away from her, you accursed!"
speaks the Knight in a terrible authoritative voice to the
evil pair; "Let my eye never again behold you in her
neighbourhood!" Gently he lifts the bride; he scans her face
wistfully: "In your hand, in your loyalty, lies the pledge
of all happiness! Have you fallen into the unrest of doubt?
Do you wish to question me?" He asks it so frankly and
fearlessly, albeit sorrowfully; he stands there so
convincingly brave-looking and clear-eyed, full of the calm
effect of power, that Elsa gazing at him comes back to her
true self and answers with all her heart: "Oh, my champion,
who came to save me! My hero, in whom I must live and die!
High above all power of doubt my love shall stand!" He
clasps her in his arms, solemnly saluting her....
And once more the wedding-party sets
itself upon the way to church. Organ-music pours forth from
the Minster-portals. With her foot on the threshold the
bride turns an eager, instinctive, searching, almost
frightened look upon the groom. In answer, he folds
reassuring arms around her. But, even so held, woman-like
she looks back, in spite of herself, over her shoulder,
toward Ortrud, who receives the timid glance with a
detestable gesture of triumph. Properly frightened, the
bride turns quickly away, and the procession enters the
It is night. The stately bridal apartment
awaits its guests. Music is heard, very faint at first, as
if approaching through long corridors. Preceded by pages
with lights, there enter by different doors a
train of women leading Elsa, a train of nobles and the King
leading the Knight.
The epithalamium is sung to its end. After
grave and charming ceremony, with blessings and good wishes,
all withdraw, leaving the bride and groom alone. Elsa's face
is altogether clear again of its clouds; all is forgotten
save the immeasurable happiness which, as soon as the doors
discreetly close, impels her to his arms; clasped together,
seated upon the edge of a day-bed, they listen in silence to
their wedding-music dying slowly away. When all is still at
last, in the dear joy of being "alone, for the first time
alone together since first we saw each other," life seems to
begin for each upon new and so incredibly sweeter terms. The
stranger knight, whom mystery enwraps, shows himself,
despite certain sweet loftiness which never leaves him, most
convincingly human. In the simplest warm way, a way
old-fashioned as love, we hear him rejoice: "Now we are
escaped and hidden from the whole world. None can overhear
the exchange of greetings between our hearts. Elsa, my wife!
You sweet white bride! You shall tell me now whether you are
happy!"—"How cold must I be to call myself merely happy,"
she satisfies him liberally, "when I possess the whole joy
of Heaven! In the sweet glowing toward you of my heart, I
know such rapture as God can alone bestow!" He meets her
gratitude with an equal and just a little over. "If, of your
graciousness, you call yourself happy, do you not give to me
too the very happiness of Heaven? In the sweet glowing
toward you of my heart, I know indeed such rapture as God
can alone bestow!" He falls naturally, happy-lover-like,
into talking of their first meeting and beginning love: "How
wondrous do I see to be the nature of our love! We had never
seen, but yet had divined, each other! Choice had been made
of me for your champion, but it was love showed me
my way to you. I read your innocence in your eyes, by a
glance you impressed me into the service of your grace!"—"I
too," she eagerly follows, "had seen you already, you had
come to me in a beatific dream. Then when wide-awake I saw
you standing before me, I knew that you were there by God's
behest. I would have wished to dissolve beneath your eyes
and flow about your feet like a brook. I would have wished
like a flower shedding perfume out in the meadow to bow in
gladness at your footfall. Is this love?... Ah, how do my
lips frame it, that word so inexpressibly sweet as none
other, save alas! your name... which I am never to speak, by
which I am never to call the highest that I know!" There is
no return indicated in this of any doubt of him. Elsa is in
this moment certainly all trust. It is but an expression of
love chafing a little at the reticence which seems a barrier
one must naturally wish away, if hearts are to flow freely
together. Hardly warningly, just lovingly, he interrupts
her: "Elsa!"—"How sweetly" she remarks enviously, "my name
drops from your lips! Do you grudge me the dear sound of
yours? Nay, you shall grant me this boon, that just in the
quiet hours of love's seclusion my lips should speak it...."
He checks her, as before, unalarmed, without reproach, by an
exclamation of love. "My sweet wife!"—"Just when we are
alone," she coaxes, "when no one can overhear! Never shall
it be spoken in hearing of the outside world." Instead of
answering directly, he draws her to him and turns to the
open casement overlooking the garden; he gazes thoughtfully
out into the summer night and answers by a sort of tender
object-lesson. "Come, breathe with me the mild fragrance of
the flowers.... Oh, the sweet intoxication it affords!
Mysteriously it steals to us through the air,
unquestioningly I yield myself to its spell. A like spell it
was which bound me to you when I saw you, Sweet, for the first
time. I did not need to ask how you might be descended, my
eye beheld you, my heart at once understood. Even as this
fragrance softly captures the senses, coming to us wafted
from the enigmatic night, even so did your purity enthrall
me, despite the dark suspicion weighing upon you!"
That she owes him much she is ready and
over-ready to own. It is almost embarassing to owe so much,
to owe everything, and no means of repaying, because the
whole of oneself is after all so little. "Oh, that I might
prove myself worthy of you!" she sighs, "that I need not
sink into insignificance before you! That some merit might
lift me to your level, that I might suffer some torture for
your sake! If, even as you found me suffering under a heavy
charge, I might know you to be in distress! If bravely I
might bear a burden for you, might know of some sorrow
threatening you! Can it be that your secret is of such a
nature that your lip must keep it from the whole world?
Disaster perhaps would overtake you, were it openly
published. If this were so, and if you would tell it to me,
would place your secret in my power, oh, never by any
violence should it be torn from me, for you I would go to
death!" The bridegroom cannot but be touched by such devoted
gallant words from the fairest lips. Off guard, he murmurs
fondly, "Beloved!"—"Oh, make me proud by your confidence,
that I may not so deeply feel my unworthiness!" she pleads,
eagerly following up the advantage of his not having yet
remonstrated; "Let me know your secret, that I may see
plainly who you are!" Wilfully deaf to his imploring, "Hush,
Elsa!" more and more urgently she presses: "To my
faithfulness reveal your whole noble worth! Without fear of
regret, tell me whence you came. I will prove to you how
strong in silence I can be!"
Her words, all at once, their significance
penetrating fully, have brought a change in him. Gravely he
moves apart from her, and his voice is for a moment stern as
well as sorrowful: "Highest confidence already have I shown
you, placing trust as I unhesitatingly did in your oath. If
you will never depart from the command you swore to observe,
high above all women shall I deem you worthy of honour." But
he cannot continue in that tone, the altogether human
bridegroom. At sight of the pained look his severity has
produced, he goes quickly again to her, he makes instant
reparation for his momentary harshness. "Come to my breast,
you sweet, you white one!" he profusely caresses and
consoles; "Be close to the warmth of my heart! Bend upon me
the soft light of your eye in which I saw foreshining my
whole happiness!..." And just to satisfy her so far as he
can, to prove still further his great love, he proceeds:
"Oh, greatly must your love compensate me for that which I
relinquished for your sake! No destiny in God's wide world
could be esteemed nobler than mine. If the King should offer
me his crown, with good right I might reject it. The only
thing which can repay me for my sacrifice, I must look for
it in your love. Then cast doubt aside forever. Let your
love be my proud security! For I came to you from no obscure
and miserable lot. From splendour and joy am I come to you!"
Oh, the ill-inspired speech! What he dreamed must unite
closer, in the momentary mood of the incalculable feminine
being he is dealing with, divides further. The thought is
instantly back in her mind which she had smothered and then
forgotten, the idea suggested by Ortrud, implied by
Friedrich, that mysteriously as he came the unknown Knight
may presently be going away from her. The hour that should
have been so sweet and quiet in the "fragrant chamber
adorned for love" of the wedding-song, is turned to strain
dreadfulness. "God help me!" wails her passionate alarm,
"What must I hear? What testimony from your own lips! In
your wish to beguile me, you have announced my lamentable
doom! The condition you forsook, your highest happiness lay
bound in that. You came to me from splendour and joy, and
are longing to go back. How could I, poor wretch, believe
that my faithful devotion would suffice you? The day will
come which will rob me of you, your love being turned to
rue!"—"Forbear, forbear thus to torture yourself!"—"Nay, it
is you, why do you torture me? Must I count the days during
which I still may keep you? In haunting fear of your
departure, my cheek will fade; then you will hasten away
from me, I shall be left forlorn."—"Never" he endeavours to
quiet her, "never will your winning charm lessen, if you but
keep suspicion from your heart."—"How should I tie you to
me?" she pursues undeterred her fatal train of thought; "How
might I hope for such power? A creature of weird arts are
you, you came here by a miracle of magic. How then should it
fare but ill with me? What security for you can I hold?" She
shrinks together in sudden terror and listens. "Did you hear
nothing? Did you not distinguish footsteps?"—"Elsa!"—"No, it
is not that!... But there..." she stares vacantly ahead,
pointing,—her face how changed from the sweet, glowing face
of so short a time ago!—and describes what her over-excited
fancy paints on the empty air before her: "Look there! The
swan! The swan! There he comes, over the watery flood....
You call him, he draws the boat to shore...."—"Stop, Elsa!
Master these mad imaginings!" the poor lover strives with
her, in despair.—"Nay, nothing can give me rest," she
declares, wholly unmanageable, wholly unreasonable, "nothing
can turn me from these imaginings, but, though I should pay
for it with my life, the knowledge who you are!"—"Elsa, what
you daring to do?"—"Uncannily beautiful man, hear what I
must demand of you: Tell me your name!"—"Forbear!"—"Whence
are you come?"—"Alas!"—"What manner of man are you?"—"Woe,
what have you done?" Elsa utters a shriek, catching sight of
Telramund with a handful of armed men stealing in by the
door behind her husband's back,—the explanation of the sound
she had heard. With a cry of warning, she runs for her
husband's sword and hands it to him. Quickly turning he
rewards Friedrich's ineffectual lunge with a blow that
stretches him dead. The appalled accomplices drop their
swords and fall to their knees. Elsa, who had cast herself
against her husband's breast, slides swooning to the floor.
There is a long silence. The Knight stands, deeply shaken,
coming to gradual realisation of the whole sorrowful
situation. All the light, the bridegroom joy, have faded
from his face. With a quiet suggestive of infinite patience
and some strange superiority of strength, some unearthly
resource, he considers this ruin, his audible comment on it
a single sigh, more poignant than if it were less
restrained: "Woe! Now is all our happiness over!" Very
gently he lifts Elsa, sufficiently revived to realise that
she has somehow worked irreparable destruction, and
decisively places her away from him. By a sign he orders
Telramund's followers to their feet and bids them carry the
dead man to the King's judgment-place. He rings a bell; the
women who appear in answer, he instructs: "To accompany her
before the King, attire Elsa, my sweet wife! There shall she
receive my answer, and learn her husband's name and state."
At daybreak the Brabantian lords and
their men-at-arms are assembling around the Justice-Oak in
readiness to follow the King. The King, with noble
expressions of gratitude for their loyalty, takes
command of them. "But where loiters," he is inquiring, "the
one whom God sent to the glory, the greatness of Brabant?"
when a covered bier is borne before him and set down in the
midst of the wondering company, by men whom they recognise
as former retainers of Telramund's. This is done, explain
these last, by order of the Protector of Brabant.
Elsa attended by her ladies appears at the
place of gathering. Her pale and sorrow-struck looks are
attributed naturally to the impending departure of her
husband for the field.
Armed in his flashing silver mail, as he
was first seen of them, he now appears on the spot. Cheers
greet him from those whom he is to lead to battle and
victory. When their shouts die, he makes, standing before
the King, the startling announcement that he cannot lead
them to battle, the brave heroes he has convoked. "I am not
here as your brother-of-arms," he informs their
consternation; "You behold me in the character of
complainant. And, firstly..." he solemnly draws the pall
from the dead face of Telramund, "I make my charge aloud
before you all, and ask for judgment according to law and
custom: This man having surprised and assailed me by night,
tell me, was I justified in slaying him?"—"As your hand
smote him upon earth," the horrified spectators cry in a
voice, "may God's punishment smite him yonder!"—"Another
accusation must you hear," the Knight continues; "I speak my
complaint before you all. The woman whom God had given to my
keeping has been so far misguided as to forget her loyalty
to me!" There is an outcry of sorrowful incredulity. "You
all heard," he proceeds, steeled to severity, "how she
promised me never to ask who I am? She has broken that
sacred oath. To pernicious counsel she yielded her heart. No
longer may I spare to answer the mad questioning of her
doubt. I could deny the urgency of enemies,
but must make known, since she has willed it, my name,—must
reveal who I am! Now judge if I have reason to shun the
light! Before the whole world, before the King and kingdom,
I will in all truth declare my secret. Hear, then, if I be
not equal in nobility to any here!" There runs a murmur
through all the impressed multitude, not of curiosity, but
regret that he should be forced to speak; the uneasy wish is
felt that he might not.
His face has cleared wonderfully. As his
inward eye fixes itself upon images of the home, the
Glanz und Wonne, he is about to describe, memory lights
his countenance as if with the reflection of some place of
unearthly splendour. "In a far land," his words fall
measured and sweet, "unapproachable to footsteps of yours, a
fastness there stands called Monsalvat. In the centre of it,
a bright temple, more precious than anything known upon
earth. Within this is preserved as the most sacred of relics
a vessel of blessed and miraculous power. It was brought to
earth by a legion of angels, and given into the guardianship
of men, to be the object of their purest care. Yearly there
descends from Heaven a Dove, to strengthen anew its
miraculous power. It is called the Grail, and there is shed
from it into the hearts of the knights that guard it serene
and perfect faith. One chosen to serve the Grail is armed by
it with over-earthly power; against it no evil art can
prevail, before the vision of it the shades of death
disperse. One sent by it to distant countries to champion
the cause of virtue retains the holy power derived from it
as long as he remains unknown. Of nature so mysteriously
sublime is the blessing of the Grail that if disclosed to
the layman's eye it must withdraw. The identity of a Knight
of the Grail must therefore not be suspected. If he is
recognised—he must depart! Now hear my reply to the
forbidden question. By the Holy Grail was I sent to you
here. My father Parsifal in Monsalvat wears the crown. A
Knight of the Grail am I and my name is Lohengrin!"
The people gaze at him in awe and
worshipping wonder. The unhapppy Elsa, feeling the world
reel and grow dark, gasps for air and is falling, when
Lohengrin catches her in his arms, all his sternness melting
away, his grief and love pouring forth in tender reproach.
"Oh, Elsa, what have you done to me? From the first moment
of beholding you, I felt love for you enkindling my heart, I
became aware of an unknown happiness. The high faculty, the
miraculous power, the strength involved in my secret, I
wished to place them all at the service of your purest
heart. Why did you wrest from me my secret? For now, alas, I
must be parted from you!" She expends herself in wild
prayers to be forgiven, to be punished by whatsoever
affliction, only not to lose him. He feels sorrow enough,
immeasurable sorrow, heart-break, but not for an instant
hesitation. "The Grail already is offended at my lagging! I
must—must go! There is but one punishment for your fault,
and its hard anguish falls equally upon me. We must be
parted,—far removed from each other!" He turns to the King
and nobles imploring him to remain and lead them as he had
promised against the enemy. "Oh, King, I may not stay! A
Knight of the Grail, when you have recognised him, should he
disobediently remain to fight with you, would have forfeited
the strength of his arm. But hear me prophesy: A great
victory awaits you, just and single-hearted King! To the
remotest days shall the hordes of the East never march in
triumph upon Germany!"
From the river-bank comes a startling
voice: "The swan! The swan!" All turn to look. A cry of
horror breaks from Elsa. The swan is seen approaching,
drawing the empty boat.
Page 353 Less master of
himself than theretofore, Lohengrin, realising the last
parting so near, gives unmistakable outward sign of his
inward anguish. "The Grail already is sending for the
dilatory servant!..." Going to the water's edge he addresses
to the snowy bird words which no one can quite comprehend.
"My beloved swan, how gladly would I have spared you this
last sorrowful voyage. In a year, your period of service
having expired, delivered by the power of the Grail, in a
different shape I had thought to see you.—Oh, Elsa," he
returns to her side, "oh, that I might have waited but one
year and been witness of your joy when, under protection of
the Grail, your brother had returned to you, whom you
thought dead!... When in the ripeness of time he comes home,
and I am far away from him in life, you shall give him this
horn, this sword, this ring...." He places in her hands the
great double-edged sword, the golden horn from his side, the
ring from his finger. "This horn when he is in danger, shall
procure him help. This sword, in the fray, shall assure him
victory. But when he looks at the ringlet him think of me
who upon a time delivered you from danger and distress.
Farewell, farewell! My sweet wife, farewell! The Grail will
chide if I delay longer.... Farewell!" He has kissed over
and over again the face of the poor woman who, annihilated
by grief, has not the power to make motion or sound. He
places her, with terrible effort of resolution, in the arms
at last of others, and hastens, amid general lamentation, to
Ortrud, lost in the crowd, has watched
all. She has in reality gained nothing by the disaster to
Elsa, but she exults in it. Further revenge for what she has
suffered from Elsa's mere existence, for the bitterness of
her husband's death at the hand of Elsa's husband, she seeks
recklessly in a revelation which cannot but hold danger for
herself. In the insanity of her mingled
despair and gloating hate, her hurry to hurt, she does not
wait until the powerful antagonist be well out of the way of
retorting—Lohengrin has but one foot as yet in the
boat,—before she cries, "Go your way home, go your way, O
haughty hero, that gleefully I may impart to this fair fool
who it is drawing you in your boat. By the golden chain
which I wound about him, I recognised that swan. That swan
was the heir of Brabant!—I thank you," she mockingly
addresses Elsa, "I thank you for having driven away the
Knight. The swan must now betake himself home with him. If
he had remained here longer, that hero, he would have
delivered your brother too!" The whole dark scheme of
Ortrud's ambition now lies bare: She had compassed the
disappearance of the heir to the crown of Brabant, changing
him by magic art into a swan; had cast the guilt of his
disappearance upon Elsa, and married the man who upon Elsa's
condemnation would have become Duke. Through no neglect of
her own was Ortrud's brow still bare of the crown. At the
cry of execration that greets her revelation, she faces them
all, drawn up to her proud height, and announces: "Thus do
they revenge themselves, the gods from whom you turned your
But Lohengrin had not been too far, nor
too engrossed in going, to hear her words. The Knight of the
Grail has sunk on his knees and joined his hands in prayer.
All eyes are upon him, his eyes earnestly heavenward. For a
long moment all is in motionless suspense. A white dove
flies into sight, and hovers over the boat. With the
gladness of one whose prayer is heard, Lohengrin rises and
unfastens the chain from the swan; this vanishes from sight,
leaving in its place a beautiful boy in shining garments,
whom Lohengrin lifts to the bank. "Behold the Duke of
Brabant! Your leader he shall be!" At sight of him, Ortrud
utters a cry of terror, Elsa, drawn for a moment out of her
stupor, a cry of joy. She catches the brother in her
arms—But looking up, after the first transport of gladness,
and seeing the place empty where her husband had stood, his
boat gone from sight, forgetting all else, she sends after
him a despairing cry, "My husband! My husband!"
In the distance, at a bend of the river,
the boat reappears for a moment, drawn now by the dove of
the Grail. The Silver Knight is seen standing in it, leaning
on his shield, his head mournfully bowed. Sounds of sorrow
break from all lips. The sight pierces like a sword through
the heart of the forsaken bride. She sinks to the ground
Such figures as play their part in
this story, the Silver Knight, with his swan and faery
skiff, the fair falsely-accused damsel, the wicked
sorceress, could hardly be painted in flagrant life-colours.
The music of Lohengrin brings to mind pictures one seems to
remember on vellum margins of old books of legend, where
against a golden background shine forth vivid yet delicate
shapes, in tints brilliant yet soft as distance, the green
of April, the rose of day-break, the blue of remote
There is an older story on these same
lines, the story of Cupid and Psyche, an allegory, we are
told, of Love and the Soul. And an allegory is meant to
teach somewhat. And what does this teach—but that one must
be great? Not enough to be innocent, kind, loving, pure as
snow, like Elsa, a being golden and lovely through and
through, such as could lure down a sort of angel from his
heaven. Beside it all, great one must be. Life, the Sphinx,
requires upon occasion that one be great. Just a little
greatness, so to speak, and Elsa would first of all have
recognised the obligation to keep her word; would further
have trusted what must have been her own profound instinct
about the man she loved, rather than the suggestions of
others troubling her shallow mind-surface. Had she been
great, we may almost affirm, she would have known that he
was great; she would have trusted truth and greatness though
they came to her unlabelled.
But Life, the Sphinx, proposed to her a
riddle, and because she was no more than a poor, sweet,
limited woman she could not solve it, and Life ground her in
its teeth and swallowed her up.
"Lohengrin grew to
be a strong
and valiant man in whom fear was
never seen. When he was of an age
to have mastered the arts of chivalry
he distinguished himself in the
service of the Grail. "
Parzival, с 1200 by Wolfram von Eschenbach
The Swan Knight
Lohengrin, the Swan Knight, is
shown here as the very image of the
"parfit gentil knyght". He appears in
a vision to Elsa, and she becomes
convinced that he is her future
husband and will come to save her.
Elsa, Heiress to
As heiress to the Duchy of Brabant, Elsa
was a Princess of the Holy Roman Empire. In
the year 1204 (when Wolfram von Eschenbach
was probably at work on Parzival), Henry of
Brabant, who had no sons, received authority
from Emperor Philip to name his daughter
Maria as his heir, thus giving topicality to
von Eschenbach's use of the Lohengrin story.
Arthur Thiele (1841-1916)
Scene from Wagner's Lohengrin, as performed at the
Romantic opera in three acts
HENRY THE FOWLER, King of Germany (Bass)
ELSA OF BRABANT (Soprano)
DUKE GODFREY (silent)
FREDERICK OF TELRAMUND, a count of Brabant
ORTRUD, his wife (Soprano or Mezzo soprano)
KING'S HERALD (Baritone or Bass)
FOUR BRABANTINE NOBLES (Tenor/Bass)
FOUR NOBLE PAGES (Soprano/Contralto)
Saxon and Thuringian counts and nobles, Brabantine
counts and nobles,
noblewomen, pages, vassals, women, servants
A meadow on the banks
of the Scheldt near Antwerp.
King Henry, Saxon and Thuringian Counts, nobles
and horsemen, who form the royal armed levy.
Brabantine Counts and nobles, horsemen and people,
headed by Frederick of Telramund, with Ortrud at his
side. Retainers and servants. The King's herald and
four trumpeters, who sound the royal summons.
Hear ye, lords, nobles, freemen of Brabant!
Henry, King of Germany, comes hither
to parley with you as the law provides.
In peace will you hearken to his command?
In peace we will hearken to his command!
Welcome, welcome to Brabant, O King!
God save you, my loving subjects of Brabant!
Not idly have journeyed to you;
let me make known to you the Empire's need!
Shall I first relate to you the wrongs
wreaked on German soil from the East?
On our furthest borders women and children prayed:
"Protect us, God, from the Hungarians' rage!"
But it behoved me, as head of the realm,
to find a way to end such shameful outrage;
by force of arms I won a nine-year truce
and used it for the kingdom's defence:
I had fortified towns and castles built,
I trained an army in resistance.
The truce has now expired, tribute is refused -
with savage threats the enemy makes ready.
Now is the time to defend the kingdom's honour;
let it equally concern you all, whether of east or
Wherever is German soil, raise troops,
then none shall dare insult our German realm!
SAXONS AND THURINGIANS
Arise! For God and the honour of our German realm!
I come to you now, people of Brabant,
to summon you to my standard at Mainz;
yet to my sorrow and grief I find you
living in discord, without a chief!
I learn of disorder, bitter feuds;
therefore I call upon you, Frederick of Telramund!
I know you as the crown of all virtues;
now speak, that I may know the cause of this
Our thanks to you, O King, that you have come to set
I will tell you the truth; falsehood I disdain.
On the death of the Duke of Brabant
he entrusted to my protection his children,
the maiden Elsa and the boy Godfrey;
I tended him faithfully as he grew through
his life was the jewel of my honour.
judge then, O King, the bitterness of my grief
when I was robbed of my honour's jewel!
One day Elsa took the boy for a stroll
in the woods, but returned home without him;
with feigned anxiety she asked about her brother,
since she by chance had become separated from him
and then could find, she said, no trace of him.
Fruitless were all our searches for the lost one;
then when I questioned Elsa threateningly
her pallor and her trembling revealed to us
her confession of her hideous crime.
I was seized with horror of the maid;
the right to her hand, granted me by her father,
I there and then willingly renounced
and took a wife more to my taste,
Ortrud, daughter of Radbod, prince of Friesland.
Now I charge Elsa von Brabant
and accuse her of her brother’s murder.
And I claim this land for my own by right
as the Duke’s next of kin;
moreover, my wife is of the race
that once gave this land its rulers.
You hear my charge, O King! Judge aright!
ALL THE MEN
Telramund accuses her of a grave crime!
I hear the charge with horror!
What a fearful charge you have brought!
How could so heinous a crime be possible?
My lord, the maid who haughtily refused
my hand is empty-headed and lost in dreams.
I accuse her of a secret passion:
she thought perchance that, rid of her brother,
as Queen of Brabant she could deny her hand
to the subject with a right to it
and openly harbour her secret paramour.
Summon the accused here!
The trial shall begin forthwith!
God grant me wisdom!
Shall a judgment by right and might be held here?
solemnly hanging his shield on the oak tree
This shield shall no more protect me
until I have given judgment severe but merciful!
ALL THE MEN
drawing their swords, the Saxons and Thuringians
thrusting theirs into the earth, the Brabantines
laying theirs flat on the ground before them
Our swords shall not return to their sheaths
until justice has pronounced judgment!
Where you behold the royal shield
there shall you see justice in judgment!
Then loud and clear I issue my summons:
Elsa, appear before us!
Elsa and her women
See, she comes to answer her heavy charge!
Ah, how candid and pure she seems!
He who dared so gravely to accuse her
must indeed be certain of her guilt!
Are you Elsa of Brabant?
Elsa inclines her head in affirmation
Do you accept me as your judge?
Elsa turns her head towards the King, looks into
his eyes and then assents with a trusting gesture
Then I ask you further:
do you know the grave charge
that is laid against you?
Elsa looks at Frederick and Ortrud, shudders,
droops her head sadly and assents
What is your answer to the charge?
Elsa indicates "Nothing" by a gesture
Then you admit your guilt?
My poor brother!
ALL THE MEN
How strange! What curious behaviour!
Speak, Elsa! What have you to confide to me?
Alone in troubled days
I appealed to God
and poured out in prayer
my heart's deepest anguish.
Then from my laments
arose a cry so piteous
that it filled the air far and wide
with its vast reverberation.
I heard it echo far away
until it barely reached my ear;
then my eyelids closed
and I sank into a sweet sleep.
ALL THE MFN
How strange! Is she dreaming? Is she distracted?
Elsa, defend yourself before your judge!
Arrayed in shining armour
a knight was approaching,
more virtuous and pure
than any I had yet seen,
a golden horn at his hip
and leaning on his sword.
Thus was this worthy knight
sent to me from heaven;
with courteous bearing
he gave me consolation;
that knight will defend me,
he shall be my champion!
ALL THE MEN
May heaven's grace guide us, that we
may plainly see where lies the guilt!
Frederick, honourable man,
consider well whom you accuse!
I am not misled by her dreamy manner;
you hear, she rambles about a lover!
For what I accuse her of I have firm grounds.
Her offence is proved to me beyond doubt;
but to dispel your doubts by calling a witness
would truly wound my pride!
Here I stand, here is my sword! Which of you
will venture to contest the price of my honour?
None of us! We will only fight on your behalf!
And do you, O King, recall my service
when in battle I smote the savage Dane?
It would be poor if I needed you to remind me!
Gladly I grant you the highest prize of virtue;
I would not have this country
in any other's care but yours.
God alone must now decide this case!
ALL THE MEN
May God decide! May God decide!
So be it!
drawing his sword and solemnly thrusting it
into the ground before him
I ask you, Frederick, Count of Telramund,
are you willing by mortal combat
to submit your cause to God's judgment?
And now I ask you, Elsa of Brabant,
are you willing that in mortal combat
a champion shall defend your cause for God's
Whom do you choose as your champion?
You will now hear the name of her lover!
Mark it well!
That knight will defend me,
he shall be my champion!
Hear what I offer as guerdon
to the one sent by God:
in my father's domains
he shall wear the crown;
I shall consider myself happy
if he accepts my property,
and if he wishes to make me his bride
I will give him myself as I am!
ALL THE MEN
A goodly prize, if he stands in God's grace!
The contender plays for high stakes!
The sun already stands high at noon:
now is the time to issue the challenge.
The herald advances
with the four trumpeters, whom he stations at
the four points of the compass on the outside
edge of the judgment circle and there bids them
blow the challenge
He who in heaven's name will do battle here
for Elsa of Brabant, let him stand forth!
ALL THE MEN
The challenge dies away unanswered.
It bodes ill for her cause.
pointing to Elsa
Observe, did I charge her wrongly?
Right is on my side!
Gracious king, let me beg you,
summon my knight once again!
Perhaps he dwells far off and did not hear.
to the herald
Once more call him to the court!
At a sign from the
herald the trumpeters take up their positions
again at the four points of the compass
He who in heaven's name will do battle here
for Elsa of Brabant, let him stand forth!
ALL THE MEN
God gives judgment by this doleful silence!
Elsa falls on her
knees in fervent prayer. Her women, anxious for
their mistress, move slightly nearer into the
Thou didst bear to him my lament,
to me he came at Thy behest.
O Lord, tell my knight
to help me in my need!
Let me see him as I saw him;
as I then saw him let him appear to me!
on their knees
Lord, send Thy aid!
Lord God, hear us!
visible in the distance in a boat on the river,
drawn by a swan
See! See! What a strange and wondrous sight!
What? A swan?
A swan is drawing a boat here!
A knight is standing upright in it!
How brightly shines his armour! My eye is
by its gleam! - See, he is already drawing
The swan draws him by a golden chain!
See, still nearer he comes towards the shore!
Behold him! He comes! A miracle has transpired,
A miracle such as we have not heard nor seen!
We thank Thee, Lord, who dost protect the weak!
The afore-mentioned, Lohengrin
ALL THE MEN AND WOMEN
Greetings, O hero sent by heaven!
The boat, drawn by
the swan, reaches the bank, centre back;
Lohengrin in gleaming silver armour, helmet on
his head, shield on his back, a small golden
horn at his side, is standing in it, leaning on
his sword. Frederick stares at him in speechless
astonishment, Ortrud, who during the hearing has
retained a cold, haughty attitude, is struck
with fearful terror at the sight of the swan.
All uncover their heads in profound awe. As
Lohengrin makes the first move to leave the
boat, the most intense silence falls on all.
one foot still in the boat, bending over the
My thanks to you, dear swan!
Glide back over the wide water to the place
from which your boat brought me;
return to where alone lies our happiness!
Then will your task be faithfully fulfilled.
Farewell, farewell, beloved swan!
The swan slowly
turns the boat and swims back up the river.
Lohengrin gazes sadly after it for a time.
MEN AND WOMEN
What sweet blissful awe seizes us! What gracious
holds us in thrall! How handsome and noble of
aspect is he
whom such a miracle brought to our land!
who has left the bank and advanced slowly and
solemnly to the front, making obeisance to the
Hail, King Henry! May God
ever give His blessing to your sword!
Renowned and great may your name be,
never to vanish from this earth!
My thanks! lf I rightly recognise
the power that brought you to this land,
you were sent to us by God?
I am sent to stand champion
for a maid calumnied
by a grievous charge. Now let me see
if I find favour in he sight.
Then speak, Elsa of Brabant:
if I am appointed your champion,
will you without doubts or fears
entrust yourself to my protection?
My hero, my rescuer, take me!
I give myself wholly to you, as I am.
If I am victorious for you in the combat,
will you take me for your husband?
As I lie at your feet,
so I freely give you my life and being.
Elsa, if I am to be your husband
and defend your land and people,
and nothing is ever to tear me from you,
one thing you must solemnly promise me:
you must never ask me
or be at pains to discover
from whence I journeyed here,
nor what is my name and lineage!
My lord, never shall this question come from me!
Elsa, have you understood me well?
You must never ask me
or be at pains to discover
from whence I journeyed here,
nor what is my name and lineage!
My shield! My angel! My deliverer,
who firmly believes in my innocence!
How could there be greater guilt
than a doubt that shakes my faith in you?
As you defend me in my need,
so will I honour your command!
Elsa, I love you!
MEN AND WOMEN
What tender marvel do I see?
Is it a spell which binds me?
I feel my heart grow faint
at the sight of this noble, radiant knight!
Now hear! To you, people and nobles, I proclaim:
Elsa of Brabant is free of all guilt!
Heaven's judgment shall make it known
that your charge is false, Count of Telramund!
Call off the fight! If you challenge him,
you will never succeed in conquering him.
If he is protected by heaven's might,
then what avails your valiant sword?
Give up! We counsel you sincerely.
Disaster awaits you, and bitter regret.
Far sooner die than turn tail!
Whatever sorcery has brought you here,
stranger with so bold a front,
your proud threats will never daunt me,
for I have never stooped to tell a lie.
Therefore I accept combat with you,
and may victory attend the cause of right!
Now, O King, arrange the combat!
Then let three stand forth for each champion
and measure well the ring for the fray!
Three Saxon nobles
step forward for Lohengrin, three Brabantines
for Frederick: solemnly they pace out the field
of combat and mark it out, forming a complete
circle, with their spears
Now hear me and heed my words:
none with this fight shall interfere;
all shall remain outside the lists.
For whoever disturbs the peace,
if a freeman he shall lose a hand,
if a serf he shall forfeit his head!
ALL THE MEN
A freeman shall lose a hand,
a serf forfeit his head!
to Lohengrin and Frederick
Hear me too, you who fight this cause!
Faithfully observe the rules of combat.
Do not deflect the course of justice
by evil magic arts or guile.
May God Judge you according to the right;
trust in Him, not in your strength!
LOHENGRIN AND FREDERICK
May God judge me according to the right;
I trust in Him, not in my strength!
O Lord God, on Thee I call
All bare their heads and give themselves over
to earnest devotion
to preside over this combat!
Through victory by the sword let Thy will be
and falsehood and truth be clearly revealed!
Grant the righteous arm a hero's might
and let the strength of the wrong falter!
O help us, God, at this time,
for our wisdom is but foolishness!
ELSA AND LOHENGRIN
Thou wilt reveal Thy just decree, O Lord
and God, therefore I do not fear!
I go forth, trusting in Thy decree!
Lord God, let me not be dishonoured!
I place my trust in his strength,
which brings him victory whenever he fights.
HERALD AND ALL THE MEN
Grant the righteous arm a hero's might
and let the strength of the wrong falter!
Then reveal to us Thy just decree,
O Lord our God, do not delay!
ALL THE WOMEN
O Lord our God, favour him!
All return to their
places in deep and solemn emotion. The six
combat witnesses stand by their spears next to
the ring, the other men crowd closely round
them. Elsa and her women in the foreground with
the King. At the herald's signal the trumpeters
sound the call to combat: Lohengrin and
Frederick complete the preparation of their
The King pulls his
sword from the ground and with it strikes three
times on his shield, which is hanging on the
oak-tree. At the first stroke Lohengrin and
Frederick take up their positions for the fight,
at the second they draw their swords and
brandish them; at the third stroke they set to.
Lohengrin attacks first. After several violent
passages, Lohengrin with a tremendous blow fells
his opponent. Frederick attempts to rise again,
staggers a few paces backwards and falls to the
ground. The King takes down his shield from the
holding his sword to Frederick's throat
By God's victory your life is forfeit to me:
I grant you it; devote it to repentance!
All the men return
their swords to their scabbards: the combat
witnesses take their spears from the earth. All,
nobles and men alike, joyfully break into the
former combat circle.
KING, MEN AND WOMEN
Hail! Hail! Hail to the hero!
The King leads Elsa
O that I could find songs of rejoicing
to match your fame,
worthy to acclaim you,
rich in highest praise!
In you I am lost,
before you I am as naught;
if I am to be blessed,
take me wholly, as I am!
I gained the victory
only through your purity;
now shall you be richly recompensed
for all that you have suffered!
Alas, God has struck me down;
through Him I am defeated.
I must despair of salvation,
I am ruined and disgraced.
Who is it who has struck me down,
before whom I am helpless?
Must I despair before him
and all my hopes be dashed?
KING AND MEN
Raise a song of victory
loud in highest praise to the hero!
Acclaimed be your journey!
Praised be your coming!
Hail to your name,
protector of virtue!
You have defended
the right of the innocent;
praised be your coming!
Hail to your race!
To you alone we sing in celebration,
to you our songs resound!
Never will a hero like you
come to this land again!
O that I could find songs of rejoicing
to match his fame,
worthy to acclaim him,
rich in highest praise!
You have defended
the right of the innocent;
praised be your
Hail to your journey!
Young Saxons raise
Lohengrin on his shield, and Brabantines Elsa on
the King's shield, on which several have
previously spread their cloaks; in this manner
both are carried off amid rejoicing. Frederick
falls unconscious at Ortrud's feet.
Lohengrin postcard from around 1900, unknown
In the citadel of
In the background,
centre, the Palas (the knights' quarters), in
the left foreground the Kemenate (the women's
quarters), in the right foreground the gates of
the cathedral. It is night. The windows of the
Palas are brightly lit; from the Palas can be
beard festive music, horns and trombones
On the steps by the cathedral gates sit
Frederick and Ortrud, both in dark, mean attire.
Ortrud, resting her arm on her knee, gazes
unwaveringly at the brightly lit windows of the
Palas; Frederick looks gloomily at the ground.
Arouse yourself, companion of my shame!
The dawning day must not find us here.
I cannot stir; I am bound here.
From this lustre of our foes' revels
let me suck a fearful deadly poison
which will end our shame and their joy!
Fiend in woman's shape, what is it
that still binds me to your side?
Why do I not leave you alone
and flee far, far away,
where my conscience could again find rest?
Through you I have lost
my honour and all my reputation;
never more shall praise crown me,
my heroism is dishonoured!
Banishment is pronounced on me,
my sword lies shattered,
my escutcheon stained,
my father’s home accursed!
Wherever I turn now
I am shunned and set apart;
even robbers avoid me
so that I shall not offend their sight.
Would that I had found death,
since I am so wretched!
I have lost my honour;
my name, my name is disgraced!
What makes you waste yourself in such wild
That I have lost even the weapon
with which to strike you down!
Why, great Count of Telramund,
have you lost faith in me?
You ask me that?
Was it not your testimony, your story,
that inveigled me into accusing the innocent
Did you not lie to me that from your secluded
castle home in the gloomy wood
you with your own eyes saw
the crime committed, how Elsa herself
drowned her brother in the pool? And did you
not seduce my proud heart with your prediction
that Radbod's ancient royal race soon
would flourish again and rule in Brabant?
Did you not thus induce me to renounce the hand
of the innocent Elsa and take you as wife,
as being Radbod's last descendant?
Ah, how grievously you wound me!
Yes, all this I recounted and said to you.
And made me, whose name was highly honoured,
whose life was the acme of all virtue,
the base accomplice of your lies?
You! Did not God in his judgment
strike me down because of this?
How hideous that name sounds from your lips!
Ah, do you call your cowardice God?
Would you threaten me? Threaten me, a woman?
Coward! If you had so fiercely threatened
him who now brings this misery on you,
victory, not shame, would have been yours.
Ah, one who knew how to oppose him
would find him weaker than a child!
The weaker he is, the more
did God exert his might.
His might? Ha ha!
Give me the power, and I will show you plainly
how feeble is the God who protects him.
You heathen sorceress, would you once again
mislead my spirit by your arcane arts?
The sated revellers are stretched out in sleep.
Sit here by me! The hour has come
for my prophetic vision to enlighten you.
During the following, Frederick comes closer
and closer to Ortrud as if drawn to her in some
sinister way, and bends his ear attentively to
Do you know who this hero is,
who was brought to this land by a swan?
What would you give to learn it
if I told you that, were he forced
to disclose his name and race,
all his power, which a spell alone lends him,
would be at an end?
Ah! Now I understand his prohibition.
Now listen! No one has the power
to wrest his secret from him
but she whom he so firmly forbade
ever to question him.
Then Elsa must be induced
not to refrain from asking him.
Ah, you are quick to understand!
But how can this be brought about?
Above all, it is necessary not to fly
from here: so sharpen your wits!
To arouse her just suspicion
stand forth, charge him with sorcery,
by which he perverted the course of justice!
Yes, fraud and sorcery!
If that fails, there remains a means by force!
I have not delved deep
into the secret arts in vain;
so heed well what I tell you.
Any person deriving his strength from a spell
must at once, if he should lose
even the smallest part of his body,
reveal himself in all his weakness.
O that what you say were true!
Oh, had you in the fight cut off
only a finger, yes, even a finger-joint,
the hero would have been in your power!
O horror! What are you telling me!
I thought I was struck down by God -
so His judgment was duped by a trick,
and my honour lost through magic's guile!
Then I could avenge my disgrace,
if I could attest my honesty!
I could break her lover's fraud
and retrieve my reputation!
O wife, whom I see before me in the darkness,
if this be further deceit, then woe to you! Woe!
Oh how you rave! Be calm and reasonable!
I will teach you the sweet bliss of vengeance!
himself slowly at Ortrud's side on the steps
ORTRUD AND FREDERICK
Let the act of vengeance be conjured up
from the stormy darkness of my bosom!
Know, you who are lost in soft sleep,
that disaster awaits you!
Elsa appears on the balcony in a white robe:
she comes forward to the balustrade and leans
her head on her hand.
Frederick and Ortrud are sitting opposite her on
the cathedral steps.
You breezes, that my lamentation
often filled so sadly,
I must gratefully tell you
of the dawn of my happiness!
By you he was wafted here,
you smiled upon his journey:
you faithfully kept him safe
upon the stormy waves.
I often besought you
to dry my tears;
now come and cool
my cheeks, that burn with love!
It is she!
She shall tue the hour in which
she now meets my eye. - Keep back!
Withdraw a while from here!
Leave her to me - her hero shall be your
and disappears in the background
remaining in the same place
Who calls? - How sinister and mournful
is the sound of my name in the night!
Is my voice so unknown to you?
Will you quite disown the wretch
you have consigned to utmost woe?
Ortrud! Is it you?
What are you doing here, hapless woman?
… "Hapless woman!"
You are indeed right to call me so!
In the lonely remoteness of the woods
where I lived quietly and in peace,
how, how did I harm you?
Joyless, only bewailing the ill-fate
which so long dogged my race,
how, how did I harm you?
Before God, why do you reproach me?
Was it I who brought this grief upon you?
How indeed could you envy my fortune
that the man you so lightly rejected
should choose me for his wife?
Gracious heaven! Why this to me?
Misled by some fatal delusion, he was led
to bring a charge against your innocence;
now his heart is rent with remorse,
and he is condemned to fearful punishment.
O righteous God!
Ah, you are happy!
After brief undeserved suffering
you see life only smiling on you;
you can calmly turn away from me
and consign me to the road to death,
so that the sad sound of my distress
shall never cloud your rejoicing!
How little would I prize Thy blessings,
Almighty God, who hast been so gracious to me,
if I thrust from me the adversity
which kneels before me in the dust!
O never! Ortrud! Wait there for me!
I myself will let you in!
She hurries back
into the Kemenate
springing up from the steps in fierce
Now aid my vengeance, ye dishonoured gods!
Punish the disgrace brought upon you here!
Strengthen me in the Service of your holy cause!
Destroy the vile beIiefs of the apostates!
Wodan the mighty, I call on thee!
Freia the sublime, hear me!
Bless me with guile and deceit,
that my revenge may be sweet!
Ortrud, where are you?
Elsa and two
maidservants with candles come out of the lower
door of the Kemenate
humbly throwing herself at Elsa's feet
Here at your feet.
Great heavens! Must I now see you thus,
whom I have seen only in pride and pomp?
My heart will be choked
to see you so humbled near me!
Arise! Spare me your entreaties!
If you bore me hate, I forgive you;
for what through me you have already suffered
I beg you to forgive me too.
O thank you for all your goodness!
I will implore the loving heart of him
who tomorrow is to be my husband
to show mercy to Frederick too.
You bind me in bonds of gratitude!
Early tomorrow let me see you ready -
decked in fine raiment
you shall go with ine to the cathedral.
There I am to await my hero,
to be bis lawful wife in the sight of God.
How can I, powerless and desolate,
repay such graciousness?
If I may dwell within your mercy
I will always be your humble debtor!
One power only was given me
that no decree of law could take from me:
by it perhaps I can protect your welfare
and preserve it from grief and distress.
What do you mean?
It were well I should warn you
not to trust too blindly in your happiness;
lest some misfortune should befall you,
let me look into the future for you.
Have you never reflected
that he of such mysterious lineage
might leave you in the same way
as by magic he came to you?
Poor woman, you can never measure
how free of doubt is my heart!
You have indeed never known the happiness
that only faith can give.
Come in with me! Let me teach you
how sweet is the bliss of perfect trust!
Let yourself be converted to faith:
it brings happiness without alloy!
Ha! This pride of hers shall teach me
how to undermine her trust!
Against it I will turn her own weapon:
through her pride shall come her pain!
Led by Elsa, she
enters through the little door with feigned
reluctance; the servants light the way and close
the door behind them
coming forward from the background
Thus disaster enters this house!
Accomplish, wife, what your cunning devised;
I have no power to hinder your design!
The disaster began with my defeat;
now let those who brought me down be overthrown!
Only one goal I see before me -
the despoiler of my honour shall be destroyed!
Day gradually dawns. Two watchmen blow a
reveille from the tower: an answer is heard from
a distant tower. Retainers. The four royal
trumpeters. Brabantine nobles and soldiers.
NOBLES AND SOLDIERS
The early summons assembles us;
the day is rich in promise.
He who wrought such mighty marvels
may bring about many fresh deeds.
The herald marches
out of the Palas, preceded by the four
trumpeters. The royal fanfare is sounded again.
I now proclaim the King's decree and will;
so heed well what he pronounces through me!
Frederick of Telramund is banished and outlawed
for faithlessly daring God's ordeal.
By the law of the kingdom the same ban falls
on whoever harbours him or consorts with him.
A curse on him, the traitor,
whom God's judgment struck down!
Let all honest men shun him,
and may he find no rest or sleep!
And further the King proclaims
that he appoints the God-sent stranger
who seeks Elsa as his consort
to the land and crown of Brabant.
But since the hero does not wish the title of
you shall call him Protector of Brabant!
Hail the man we have longed for!
Hail to him, sent by God!
Loyally will we serve
the Protector of Brabant!
Now hear what he proclaims through me.
Today he celebrates his wedding feast with you,
but tomorrow you shall come prepared for war,
to serve in the forces of the King;
he himself disdains to seek soft rest
but will lead you to fame and glory!
To battle without delay
our hero leads us on!
The path to glory awaits
those who bravely fight with him.
He is sent by God
for the greatness of Brabant!
While the people are
surging about joyously, four nobles,former
adherents of Frederick, together move to the
You hear, he will lead us away from our land!
Against a foe who never threatened us?
So rash a beginning is not meet for him!
Who will oppose him if he orders us to set
who has appeared among them unperceived
he uncovers his face
THE FOUR NOBLES
falling back, startled
Ha, who are you? - Frederick!
Do I see aright?
THE FOUR NOBLES
You venture here, a prey to any serf?
Soon I will venture much further yet;
before your eyes daylight shall shine!
He who so rashly summons you to the campaign
will be accused by me of sorcery!
THE FOUR NOBLES
What do I hear? You are raving! What do you
You are lost if you are overheard!
They hurry Frederick
towards the cathedral, where they try to hide
him from the sight of the crowd. Four pages
enter through the door of the Kemenate on to the
balconv, run gaily down the stairway and station
themselves in front of the Palas on the terrace.
Make room for our lady Elsa,
who is on her way to the cathedral!
They move forward,
making a broad passage through the nobles, who
readily yield, to the steps of the cathedral
where they take up their positions. Four other
pages advance with measured and solemn steps
from the Kemenate to the balcony and station
themselves there, ready to accompany the
expected procession of ladies.
A long procession of ladies in splendid
attire advances slowly from the door of the
Kemenate on to the balcony: it turns left past
the stairway of the Palas and thence forward
again to the cathedral, on the steps of which
the first comers arrange themselves.
NOBLES AND SOLDIERS
Blessed be her steps
who so long suffered in humility!
May God guide her
and lead her on her way.
The nobles, who have
involuntarily pressed forward, again give way
before the pages, who make room for the
procession, which has almost arrived before the
Palas. Elsa, magnificently dressed, has appeared
in the procession and has now reached the
terrace in front of the Palas: the path is again
open, and all can see Elsa, who lingers awhile.
She approaches, the
glowing with radiant purity!
MEN AND WOMEN
Hail, Elsa of Brabant,
rich in virtue!
Here, as well as the
pages, the foremost ladies have almost reached
the steps of the cathedral. As Elsa, amid loud
acclamation from the crowd, is about to set her
foot on the first step of the cathedral, Ortrud,
who has hitherto walked among the last ladies in
the procession, breaks forward violently,
advancing towards Elsa and stationing herself on
the same step, confronting her, thus forcing her
Stand back, Elsa! No longer will I endure it,
that I should follow you like a menial!
At all times you owe me precedence,
and must humbly bow before me!
PAGES AND MEN
What does the woman want? Get back!
Great heaven! What is this?
What sudden change has come over you?
Because for an hour I forgot my position
do you think that I must only cringe before you?
I intend to have revenge for my suffering;
I demand what is mine by right!
Ah! I was misled by your deceit
when last night you crept lamenting to me.
How can you now arrogantly walk before me,
the wife of one condemned by God?
Although false judgment has condemned my
his name was highly honoured in the land;
he was called the crown of all virtue,
his valiant sword was known and feared.
But yours, who here can know him
if you yourself may not call him by his name?
What is this? What is she saying?
WOMEN AND PAGES
This is slander!
Close her mouth!
Can you name him? Can you tell us
whether his lineage, his nobility, is well
from whence the waters brought him to you,
when he will leave you again, and for where?
Ah no! It would bring disaster on him –
so the crafty hero forbade the question!
MEN, WOMEN AND PAGES
Does she speak the truth? This is a serious
She slanders him! How can she dare?
Slanderer! Wicked woman!
Hear, if I can trust myself to answer!
So pure and noble is his nature,
so virtuous this exalted being,
that none who can doubt his mission
shall ever be free from ill-fortune.
Did not my dear hero, with God's help,
strike down your husband in the combat?
Now let all say, in justice,
which alone can be innocent?
Only he! Only he!
WOMEN, PAGES AND MEN
The hero alone!
Ha, how soon would this innocence
of your hero be besmirched
if he had to reveal the magic craft
by which he wields such power here!
If you do not dare to question him
we shall all believe, with right
that you yourself falter in misgiving,
and have little confidence in his innocence!
Shield her from this wildcat's hate!
The Palas is opened;
the four trumpeters of the King appear and blow
Make way! Make way! The King approaches!
The King, Lohengrin and the Saxon Counts and
nobles advance in solemn procession from the
Palas, their progress is hindered by the
confusion in the foreground.
The King and Lohengrin press forward quickly
through the disordered crowd.
Hail! Hail to the King!
Hail to the Protector of Brabant!
What is this strife?
My lord! O my master!
What is it?
Who dares to bar our path to the church?
THE KING'S FOLLOWERS
What is the strife whose sound has reached us?
What do I see? That fatal woman by you?
My rescuer! Protect me from this woman!
Chide me if I disobeyed you!
I saw her lamenting before these doors
and in her distress took her in with me.
Now see how ill she requites my kindness –
she taunts me with trusting you too much!
You evil woman, stand away from her!
Here you shall never triumph! –
Tell me, Elsa, has her poison
succeeded in entering your heart?
Elsa, weeping, hides her face against his
Come, let these tears flow in joy within!
He turns with Elsa
and the King at the head of the procession
towards the cathedral; all prepare to follow in
an orderly manner. Frederick appears on the
cathedral steps; the ladies and pages, as they
recognise him, shrink back from him in horror.
O King! Deluded nobles! Stay your steps!
What would he here?
What would he here?
Away, accursed one!
O hear me!
Back! Away with you!
Away! Your life is forfeit!
Hear me! You have done me grievous wrong!
Away! Be off with you!
God's judgment was profaned and cheated!
You have been deluded by a sorcerer’s craft!
Seize the criminal!
Seize the criminal!
Hark, he blasphemes God!
They set on him from
with frantic efforts to make himself heard,
fixing his eyes only on Lohengrin and ignoring
those pressing about him
He whom I see gleaming there before me
I accuse of sorcery!
Like dust before the winds of God shall the
he won by guile be blown away!
How ill you considered the judgment
that deprived me of my honour,
since one question you spared him
when he entered the lists.
That question you cannot prevent me
from putting to him now:
loudly before the whole world I ask
his name, rank and lineage!
Who is he who was drawn by a wild swan
swimming to the land?
I regard the purity of one who avails himself
of such familiars as an illusion!
Now let him answer my charge;
if he does, I was rightly judged -
if not, then it is clear to see
his innocence has no foundation!
KING AND MEN
A weighty charge!
MEN, WOMEN AND PAGES
What will be his answer?
I am not answerable to you,
who so forgot your honour!
I may disregard the doubts of evil men,
before which innocence shall never weaken.
If I am considered unworthy by him,
I will invoke you, revered King!
Will he also call you degraded
and forbid you to question him?
Yes, I would deny even the King
and the noble assembly of all the princes!
They need not bear the burden of any doubt,
for they saw the worth of my deed!
There is one only to whom I am bound to answer:
Elsa - why are you trembling?
I see her sunk in gloomy brooding:
has hate's lying tongue deceived her?
O heaven! Shield her heart from dangers!
Never let doubt penetrate her innocence!
FREDERICK AND ORTRUD
I see her sunk in gloomy brooding,
the seeds of doubt are sown in her heart;
he who has brought me low in this country
is undone if she puts the question to him!
KING AND ALL THE MFN
What a secret the hero must conceal!
If it brings him ill let bis lips guard it
We will protect him, this noble knight, from
through his deeds he has shown his nobility.
What he conceals would certainly bring him into
if his lips were to utter it here before all the
I, whom he saved, ungrateful that I am,
would be betraying him to have him make it
If I knew bis destiny I would keep the secret
yet doubt stirs in the depths of my heart.
My hero, boldly defy this traitor!
You are too noble to let his charge dismay you!
pressing round Lohengrin
We stand by you; we shall not regret
having recognised in you the crown of heroism!
Give us your hand! We have faith in you,
and noble is your name, though it be unknown to
You heroes, you shall not regret your faith,
though my name and lineage never be made known
surrounded by men, each of whose outstretched
hands he shakes, remains rather more in the
background, Frederick creeps unobserved up to
Elsa, who has hitherto through agitation,
confusion and shame not been able to look at
Lohengrin and so, struggling with herself, still
stands alone in the foreground.
softly, breaking in on Elsa with passion
Trust in me! Let me tell you a way
of obtaining certainty.
Away from me!
Let me but wound the smallest part of him,
a finger tip, and I swear to you
that what he hides will be made plain to you,
and he will be faithful and never leave you!
Ah! No more!
I shall be near you tonight;
shouldst thou call, ‘tis quickly done without
Elsa, with whom are you speaking?
Elsa turns away from Frederick with a look
full of doubt and distress and falls at
Lohengrin's feet, deeply affected. To Frederick
Away from her, traitors!
Let me never again
see you near her!
Elsa, arise! In your hands, in your trust
lies the guarantee of all out happiness.
Are you not yielding to the power of doubt?
Do you wish to question me?
My saviour, who rescued me!
My hero, in whom is my whole life!
My love shall stand high
above all the power of doubt!
Beloved Elsa! Now let us go before God!
See, he is sent by heaven!
WOMEN AND PAGES
leads Elsa past the nobles to the King. As
Lohengrin comes by with Elsa, the people make
Hail to the pair! Hail, Elsa of Brabant!
Conducted by the King, Lohengrin and Elsa
slowly advance to the cathedral
Heaven bless your steps!
May God guide you!
MEN, WOMEN AND PAGES
Hail, flower of virtue!
Hail, Elsa of Brabant!
As the King reaches
the highest step with the bridal pair, Elsa
turns in deep emotion to Lohengrin, who takes
her in his arms. From his embrace she turns in
modest confusion, and looking down the steps to
the right sees Ortrud, who raises her arm
against her as if she had gained a victory; Elsa
averts her face in terror.
Lohengrin by Ferdinand Leeke
music depicts the brilliant bustle of the
wedding feast. The stage shows the bridal
chamber: in the background, centre, the richly
decorated bridal bed; by an open bay-window a
low couch. Music behind the scenes: the choir is
distant at first, then draws nearer.
In the middle of the song doors right and
left in the background are opened: from the
right enter ladies conducting Elsa, from the
left men, including the King, conducting
Lohengrin. Pages go ahead with lights.
by men and women
Guided in faith, enter within,
where may the blessing of love attend you!
Victorious valour and the prize of love
unite you in trust as a blessed pair.
Champion of virtue, advance!
Flower of youth, advance!
Let the sound of revelry be shut out
and your heart's bliss be attained!
Now, removed from sight, take possession
Of this perfumed chamber, decked for love.
Guided in faith, now enter within,
where may the blessing of love attend you!
Victorious valour and pure love
unite you in trust as a blessed pair.
As the two trains
meet in the middle of the stage Elsa is led to
As God has given you His blessing
we too wish you happiness.
Long remember this hour
in the course of love's Joy!
The King embraces
and blesses Lohengrin and Elsa. The pages give
the signal to leave. The processions re-form and
during the following pass by the newly married
pair so that the men leave the chamber on the
right, the ladies on the left.
Guided in faith, stay within,
where may the blessing of love attend you!
Victorlous valour, love and happiness
unite you in trust as a blessed pair.
Champion of virtue, here remain!
Flower of youth, here remain!
Let the sound of revelry be shut out
and your heart's bliss be attained!
Now, removed from sight, take possession
of this perfumed chamber, decked for love.
The sweet song dies away; we are alone,
alone for the first time since we saw each
Now we can be remote from the world,
no listener near our heart's avowals.
Elsa, my wife! Sweetest, purest bride!
Confide to me now whether you are happy!
How cold I would be to call myself merely happy,
when I possess all heaven's bliss!
When I feel my heart so sweetly inflamed for
I breathe a rapture only God can grant!
Fair one, you may indeed call yourself happy,
since you bestow me heaven's bliss too!
When I feel my heart so sweetly inflamed for
I breathe a rapture only God can grant!
How wondrous do I find the course of our love!
We had never met, yet each knew the other;
if I was selected for your champion,
love had prepared my way to you.
Your looks proclaimed you free from guilt –
your gaze compelled me to serve your grace.
But I had already seen you before;
in a blissful dream you had appeared to me;
when I awoke and saw you standing before me
I knew that you had come by God's command.
Then I wished I could melt before your gaze
and like a stream flow round about your steps;
like a flower scenting the meadow, I wished
enraptured to bend before your tread.
Is this but love? What can I call it,
this word so inexpressibly blissful,
like your name, ah! which I may never know,
by which I may never call my dearest!
How sweetly my name glides from your lips!
Do you grudge me the dear sound of yours?
Only when we have attained the silence of love
shall you permit my lips to utter it.
My dearest wife!
… Alone, when no one is awake,
never to be breathed to the world's ear!
gently embracing her and pointing through the
open window to the flower garden
Do you not breathe, with tue, those sweet
O how they intoxicate the senses!
In secret they approach on the air
and unquestioningly I surrender to their spell.
Such is the spell that binds me to you,
sweet one, since first I saw you;
I needed not to know your station;
my eyes fell on you and my heart went out to
As these scents bewitch my senses,
though they rise from the mysterious night,
so did your innocence enchant me
though I saw you suspected of a heinous crime.
Ah, if I could appear worthy of you
my life would not be in vain;
could some service bind me to you
I would gladly suffer for you!
As you found me in grievous plight
O could I know you too in need!
Would that I knew a danger threatening you,
so that I might courageously share your cares!
Is your secret such
that your lips are closed to all the world?
Perhaps some peril awaits you
were it made known to all the world?
O were it so and I allowed to know it,
if it were given into my keeping,
no threat could tear it from me;
for you I would gladly die!
O make me proud by your confidence,
that I may not die untrusted!
Let your secret be revealed to me,
that I may fully know who you are!
Ah, silence, Elsa!
O reveal your noble worth
to my trust!
Tell me without demur from whence you came -
let me prove my power of silence!
You have already to thank nie for the utmost
when I gladly put my faith in your word;
if you will never waver from my behest
I will esteem you high above all women!
Upon my breast, sweet innocent,
draw near to my glowing heart;
softly shine on me your eyes,
in which I saw all my happiness!
O grant me the rapture
of breathing your breath;
let me press you ever closer to me,
that in you I may find my happiness!
Your love will amply requite me
for what I gave up for your sake;
no fortune in God's wide world
could be called nobler than mine.
Were the King to offer me his crown
I would rightly disdain it.
The one thing to repay my sacrifice
I find in your love!
Then cast away all doubt;
let your love be my proud surety!
For I come not from night and woe
but from light and bliss!
O heaven, what must I hear?
What have your lips revealed?
You wished to beguile me
but now bring me misery!
The life you had forsaken
was filled with perfect joy;
for me you gave up bliss
and you yearn to go back!
How can I believe
that my poor trust is sufficient?
One day regret for your love
will take you from me!
Do not torment yourself like this!
But you torment me!
Must I count the days
that you will still remain with me?
In anxiety over your staying
my cheeks will fade;
then you will hasten from me
and I be left in despair!
Never will your charms fade
while you remain free from doubt!
Ah, how can I obtain the power
to bind you to me?
Magical in your being,
by magic you came here;
how could I free myself from it?
Where could I find reassurance? –
Do you hear nothing? Nothing approaching?
Yet there - the swan, the swan!
There it comes gliding across the water -
you call it - it draws the boat hither!
Elsa! No more! Calm these fancies!
Nothing can bring me calm,
nothing can banish my fancies
save - though it cost my life –
to know who you are!
Elsa, heed my warning!
Dear man of dread,
hear what I must ask you!
Tell me your name!
Whence have you come?
What is your lineage?
Alas! What have you done?
Elsa, standing in
front of Lohengrin, who has his back to the
rear, notices Frederick and his four companions,
who break in with drawn swords through a rear
giving a fearful cry
Save yourself! Your sword, your sword!
She hurriedly hands
Lohengrin his sword, which is resting against
the couch, so that he can swiftly draw it from
the scabbard, which she holds. Lohengrin strikes
Frederick, who has raised his arm to him, dead
on the ground with one blow; the terrified
nobles let fall their swords and sink on their
knees at Lohengrin's feet. Elsa, who had thrown
herself upon Lohengrin's breast, slowly sinks
unconscious to the ground.
Alas, now all our happiness is over!
He bends down to
Elsa, gently picks her up and places her on the
Eternal Father, have mercy on me!
Day is gradually
beginning to break: the candles, which have
burned down low, are about to go out. At a sign
from Lohengrin the four knights rise.
Carry the dead man to the King's judgment seat!
Array Elsa, my sweet bride,
to be led before the King.
There I will prepare to answer her,
that she may know her husband's lineage!
Change of scene
The meadow on the
banks of the Scheldt.
Rosy dawn; full daylight breaks gradually.
A Count enters with his followers, dismounts
from his horse and entrusts it to a squire. Two
pages bring him his shield and spear. He sets up
his standard, around which his followers
assemble. As a second Count appears on the
meadow in the same way as the first, the
trumpets of a third are already heard
approaching. A third Count enters in similar
fashion with his train. The new troops gather
round their standards; the Counts and nobles
greet each other, examine and admire their
weapons, etc. A fourth Count enters from the
right with fis followers and stations himself
centrally in the background. On hearing the
trumpets of the King all hasten to range
themselves round their banners. The King with
his Saxon forces enters from the left.
ALL THE MFN
Hail, King Henry!
King Henry, hail!
I thank you, my loving subjects of Brabant!
How I would feel my heart swell with pride
to find in every German land
so many valiant forces!
Now let out kingdom's foe draw near
and we will boldly meet him:
from his Eastern desert he shall never more
dare to venture here!
For German land the German sword!
Thus may our kingdom's strength be ensured!
ALL THE MEN
For German land the German sword!
Thus may our kingdom's strength be ensured!
Where lingers he whom God sent
for the glory and greatness of Brabant?
A slight stir has
occurred; the four Brabantine nobles bring in
Frederick's covered body on a bier and put it
down in the middle of the stage. All gaze at it
uneasily and questioningly.
What have they brought?
What is their news?
A THIRD GROUP
They are Telramund's men!
Whom have you brought here? What must I see?
Your look fills me with dread!
THE FOUR NOBLES
Thus wills the Protector of Brabant:
he will make known who this is.
followed by a long train of ladies
See! The virtuous Elsa approaches!
How pale and troubled her face is!
Why do I see you so sad?
Does parting grieve you so?
Make way for the hero of Brabant!
ALL THE MEN
Hail to the hero of Brabant!
The King has resumed
his place under the oak. Lohengrin, in armour
exactly as in Act 1, enters solemnly and sadly,
Welcome, dear hero!
Those whom you so faithfully called to the field
await you, eager for action,
sure of victory with you to lead them.
We await you, eager for action,
sure of victory with you to lead us.
My lord and King, I must declare
that I may not lead those I summoned,
these valiant heroes, into battle!
KING AND MEN
Heaven preserve us! His words fall heavy on our
Heaven preserve us!
I have not come here as your companion in arms:
behold me now as a plaintiff before you.
He uncovers Frederick's body, from the sight
of which all turn away in aversion
Firstly, I appeal aloud to you all
and ask your judgment according to right and
this man fell upon me by night;
say if I was right to strike him dead?
KING AND ALL THE MEN
As your hand struck him on earth,
so may God's punishment be visited on him!
Yet another charge I must bring before you
and now proclaim to all the world,
that the wife whom God gave to me
let herself be misled into betraying me.
Elsa! How could you commit this wrong?
Elsa! How could this happen?
How could you commit this wrong?
Woe on you, Elsa!
You all heard how she promised me
never to ask who I was?
Now she has broken her solemn oath
and given her faith to perfidious counsel!
To reward the wild questions of her mistrust
let the answer be kept from her no longer:
an enemy's pressure I withstood -
now I must disclose my name and rank.
Now mark well whether I need shun the daylight:
before the whole world, before King and kingdom
I will reveal my secret in all frankness.
Then hear whether I am not as noble as any of
KING AND ALL THE MEN
What wondrous story shall we now hear?
O could he spare himself this enforced avowal!
In a distant land, unapproachable to your steps,
lies a castle called Montsalvat;
within it stands a gleaming temple
whose like for splendour is unknown on earth;
therein is kept as the holiest of treasures
a vessel blessed with miraculous powers:
it was brought down by an angelic host
to be tended in purity by men.
Each year a dove descends from heaven
to renew its wondrous strength.
It is called the Grail, and blessed pure faith
is bestowed by it on its votaries.
He who is chosen to serve the Grail
it arms with supernatural might;
against him all evil deceit is vain,
before him even the darkness of death yields.
Even one sent by it into distant lands,
called upon as champion for the cause of virtue,
does not lose its holy power
if he remains there unknown as its knight.
Of so rare a nature is the Grail's benediction
that it must be veiled from profane eyes:
you must not then harbour doubts of its knight,
and if he is recognised he must leave you.
Now hear how I answer the forbidden question!
I was sent here among you by the Grail:
my father Parzival wears its crown;
his knight am I, and Lohengrin my name.
KING, MEN AND WOMEN
As I hear his lofty calling
my eyes burn with tears of holy joy.
The earth is reeling! All is dark!
Air! Give me air, wretch that I am!
O Elsa! What have you done to me?
When my eyes first lighted on you
I felt myself burning with love for you
and swiftly learned a new happiness.
The sacred power, the wonder of my order,
the strength with which my secret arms me,
I wished to dedicate to the service of that
Why did you wring that secret from me?
Now, alas, I must be parted from you!
KING AND ALL THE MEN
Alas! Must you leave us,
noblest of men, heaven-sent?
If heaven's blessing is taken from us
where then shall we find consolation?
My husband, no! I cannot let you go!
Stay and witness my contrition!
You cannot disregard my bitter remorse:
at your feet I await my punishment!
Alas! Now he must leave you!
I must, I must, sweetest wife!
The Grail is already wroth that I stay away so
If you are as godlike as I know you to be,
do not thust heaven's mercy from you!
If the culprit bitterly repents her deep
do not deny her the grace of your presence!
Do not spurn me, however great my crime!
Do not forsake me in my wretchedness!
There is but one punishment for your offence –
ah! its sharp pain strikes me along with you!
We are to be separated and parted:
this must be our punishment, this our penance!
KING AND NOBLES
O stay! Do not forsake us!
Your soldiers await their leader!
Hear, O King! I cannot go with you!
A knight of the Grail, once recognised,
were he disobediently to fight for you,
would be deprived of all his manhood's strength!
Yet, great King, let me prophesy to you:
a great victory will be granted to your just
Eastern hordes shall never, even in the furthest
days to come, win victory over German lands!
Great excitement. On
the river the swan is seen arriving with the
empty boat, in the same way as at Lohengrin's
The swan! The swan!
See it coming back!
The swan! Alas, it approaches!
O horror! The swan!
The Grail has sent for its loitering knight!
Amid intense suspense from the rest,
Lohengrin goes towards the bank and bends down
to the swan, gazing at it sadly
Ah, how gladly would I have spared you
this last sad journey!
A year hence, when your term
of service would have been at an end,
I would have seen you again,
transformed and freed by the Grail's might!
He turns back to Elsa in an outburst of
O Elsa! Had I but for a year at your side
been witness of your happiness!
Then would your brother, whom you believed dead,
have returned, safe in the Grail's keeping.
handing his horn, sword and ring to Elsa
If he returns, though I shall be living far
you shall give him this horn, this sword, this
This horn will bring him aid in danger,
in the heat of battle this sword will grant him
as for the ring, let it remind him of me,
who once freed you from shame and distress!
Farewell! Farewell, my sweetest wife!
Farewell! The Grail will be wroth if I stay
KING, MEN AND WOMEN
Alas! Noble, gracious knight!
What hardship you cause us!
Go home! Go home, proud hero,
and let me joyfully tell your foolish bride
who it is that draws your boat!
From the chains I wound around him
I knew full well who this swan was:
he is the heir of Brabant!
My thanks for driving the knight away!
The swan is carrying him homeward:
had the hero stayed longer
he would also have freed your brother!
Monster of womankind! What a crime
you have admitted in your shameless exultation!
See how the gods take their revenge
for your having turned away from them!
She remains standing
erect in savage ecstasy. Lohengrin, who has
already reached the bank, has listened intently
to Ortrud and now solemnly sinks to his knees in
silent prayer. All eyes are fixed on him in
breathless anticipation. - The white dove of the
Grail descends and hovers over the boat.
Lohengrin, perceiving it, springs up with a look
of gratitude and unfastens the chain from the
swan, whereupon it immediately plunges beneath
the water. In its place Lohengrin lifts a
handsome youth in gleaming silver garments -
Godfrey - from the river on to the bank.
Behold the Duke of Brabant!
Let him be proclaimed your leader!
At the sight of
Godfrey, Ortrud sinks down with a shriek.
Lohengrin quickly springs into the boat, which
the dove has seized by its chain and now draws
away. Elsa, with a sudden access of joy gazes at
Godfrey, who comes forward and makes obeisance
to the King. All watch him in delighted
surprise, the Brabantines bowing the knee to him
in homage. Then Godfrey hastens into Elsa's
arms: she, after a brief transport of joy,
quickly turns her gaze towards the shore, where
Lohengrin is no longer to be seen.
My husband! My husband!
visible again in the distance. He is standing
with drooping head in the boat, sadly leaning on
KING, MEN AND WOMEN
Elsa slowly sinks
lifeless to the ground in Godfrey's arms
STORIES OF THE WAGNER OPERA
During a summer vacation at Teplitz in Bohemia,
in 1845, Wagner wrote the first sketch of the opera
of ‘Lohengrin.’ The poem was written at Dresden in
1845, but the score was finished only in 1848. The
opera was first performed at Weimar in 1850, under
the leadership of Liszt, who was greatly interested
in it, and determined to make it a success.
The poet composer had taken the idea for this
poem from a mediæval legend, based upon the old
Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche. Its poetical and
musical possibilities immediately struck him, and
when the opera was first played to an audience
composed of musical and literary people from all
parts of Europe, whom Liszt had invited to be
present, it produced ‘a powerful impression.’ From
the memorable night of its first performance ‘dates
the success of the Wagner movement in Germany.’
During the next nine years this opera was given in
fourteen different cities, and Wagner, who was then
a political exile, is reported to have sadly
‘I shall soon be the only German who has not heard
Lohengrin.’ It was in 1861, eleven years after its
first performance, that he finally heard it for the
first time in Vienna.
This opera won for Wagner not only lasting fame,
but also the enthusiastic admiration of the young
Ludwig of Bavaria. Such was the impression this work
made upon the young prince, who first heard it when
he was only sixteen, that he resolved to do all in
his power to help the composer. Three years later he
succeeded to the throne of Bavaria as Ludwig II.,
and one of the first independent acts of his reign
was to send a messenger to invite the master to come
and dwell at his court, and to assure him a yearly
pension from his private purse. The young king was
so infatuated with the story of ‘Lohengrin’ that he
not only had his residence decorated with paintings
and statues representing different episodes of the
opera, but used also to sail about his lake, dressed
in the Swan Knight's costume, in a boat drawn by
ingeniously contrived mechanical swans. The story of
this opera is as follows:—
Henry I., the Fowler, Emperor of Germany, about
to make war against the Hungarians who threaten to
invade his realm, comes to Antwerp to collect his
troops, and to remind
all the noblemen of Brabant of their allegiance to
The opera opens with the trumpet call of the
heralds, and by Henry's speech to the assembled
noblemen, who enthusiastically promise him the
support of their oft-tried arms. The king, who is
pleased with their readiness to serve him, then
informs them that he has heard rumours of trouble in
their midst, and that by right of his office as high
justice of the realm he would fain bring peace among
them. He therefore summons Frederick of Telramund,
the guardian of the dukedom of Brabant, to state the
cause of dissension. This nobleman relates how the
dying Duke of Brabant confided his children, Elsa
and Godfrey, to his care, how tenderly he watched
over them, and how much sorrow he felt when the
young heir, having gone out in the forest to walk
with his sister one day, failed to return. Frederick
of Telramund then goes on, and tells how he could
not but suspect Elsa of her brother's murder. He had
therefore renounced her hand, which he had once
hoped to win, had married Ortrud, daughter of
Radbod, the heathen king and former possessor of all
this tract of land, which he now claims as his own
by right of inheritance.
The people at first refuse to believe his dark
accusation against Elsa; but when Frederick declares
she murdered her brother so as to become sole
mistress of the duchy, and to bestow it upon some
unworthy lover, the king sends for the maiden, and,
hanging his shield upon an oak, declares he will not
depart until he has tried this cause:—
Now shall the
cause be tried as ancient use requires.
my shield to wear
Till judgment is pronounced, I
The people receive this decree with joy, and the
men, drawing their swords, thrust them into the
ground as they form a circle around the king. These
preparations for a solemn court of justice are
scarcely ended when Elsa appears, all in white, and
attended by her ladies, who stand in the background
while she timidly advances and stands before the
king. Her youth, beauty, and apparent innocence
produce a great effect, not only upon the
bystanders, but also upon the king, who gently
begins to question her.
But, instead of answering him, the fair maiden
merely bows and wrings her hands, exclaiming,
‘My hapless brother!’ until the king implores her to
confide in him. Suddenly her tongue is loosened, and
she begins to sing, as if in a trance, of a vision
with which she has been favoured, wherein a handsome
knight had been sent by Heaven to become her
‘I saw in
A knight of glorious mien,
On me his eye inclining
With tranquil gaze serene;
A horn of gold beside him,
He leant upon his sword.
Thus when I erst espied him
'Mid clouds of light he soared;
His words so low and tender
Brought life renewed to me.
My guardian, my defender,
Thou shalt my guardian be.’
These words and the maiden's rapt and innocent
look are so impressive, that the king and people
utterly refuse to believe the maiden guilty of
crime, until Frederick of Telramund boldly offers to
prove the truth of his assertion by fighting against
any champion whom she may choose. Elsa accepts this
proposal gladly, for she hopes her heaven-sent
champion may appear. The lists are immediately
prepared, while the herald calls aloud:—
‘He who in right of Heaven
comes here to fight
For Elsa of Brabant, step forth
The first call remains unanswered; but, at Elsa's
request, the king commands a second to be made,
while she sinks on her knees and ardently begins
praying for her champion's appearance. Her prayer is
scarcely ended when the men along the bank become
aware of the approach of a snowy swan, drawing a
little skiff, in which a handsome young knight in
full armour stands erect.
Amid the general silence of the amazed
spectators, Lohengrin, the Swan Knight, springs
ashore, and, turning to his swan, dismisses it in a
beautiful song, one of the gems of this opera:—
‘I give thee
thanks, my faithful swan.
Turn thee again and breast the
Return unto that land of dawn
Where joyous we did long abide.
Well thy appointed task is
Farewell, my trusty swan.’
Then, while the swan slowly sails down the river
and out of sight, the Swan Knight announces to the
king that he has come as Elsa's champion, and,
turning to her, asks whether she will be his wife if
he proves victorious. Elsa
gladly promises him her hand, nor does she even
offer to withdraw this promise when he tells her
that she must trust him entirely, and never ask who
he is or whence he comes:—
thou understand me?
Never, as thou dost love me,
Aught shall to question move
From whence to thee I came,
Or what my race and name.’
Elsa faithfully promises to remember all these
injunctions, and bids him do battle for her,
whereupon he challenges Telramund, with whom he
begins fighting at a given signal. The Swan Knight
soon defeats his enemy, who is thus convicted of
perjury by the judgment of God, but he magnanimously
refuses to take his life.
Then, turning to Elsa, who thanks him
passionately for saving her, he clasps her in his
arms, while Telramund and Ortrud, his wife, bewail
their disgrace, for, according to the law of the
land, they are doomed to poverty and exile. Their
sorrow, however, is quite unheeded by the
enthusiastic spectators, who set Elsa and Lohengrin
upon their shields, and then bear them off in
triumph, to the glad accompaniment of martial
to thee,—we praise thee,
To highest honour raise
Stranger, we here greet
Wrong thou hast righted;
We gladly greet thee here.
Thee, thee we sing alone. Thy
name shall live in story.
Oh, never will be one to rival
thee in glory!’
It is night when the curtain rises upon the
second act; the knights are still revelling in the
part of the palace they occupy, while the women's
apartments are dark and still. The street is
deserted, and on the steps of the cathedral sit
Frederick and Ortrud, who have been despoiled of
their rich garments, and are now clad like beggars.
Frederick, who feels his disgrace, bitterly
reproaches his wife for having blasted his career,
and seeks to induce her to depart with him ere day
breaks; but Ortrud refuses to go. She is not yet
conquered, and passionately bids him rouse himself,
and listen to her plan, if he would recover his
honour, retrieve his fortunes, and avenge himself
for his public defeat. She first persuades him that
the Swan Knight won the victory by magic arts only,
which was an unpardonable offence, and then declares
that, if Elsa could only be prevailed upon to
her champion's injunctions and ask his name, the
spell which protects him would soon be broken, and
he would soon become their prey.
Telramund, overjoyed at the prospect of wiping
out his disgrace, acquiesces eagerly, and as Elsa
just then appears at her window and softly
apostrophises the evening breeze, Ortrud creeps out
of the shadow and timidly addresses her, simulating
a distress she is far from feeling.
Moved by compassion at the sight of the haughty
woman thus laid low, and touched by the pretended
repentance she shows, Elsa, whom happiness has made
even more tender than usual, eagerly hastens down
with two of her attendants, and, opening the door,
bids her come in, promising to intercede in her
behalf on the morrow. During the subsequent brief
conversation Ortrud artfully manages to make Elsa
vaguely uneasy, and to sow in her innocent mind the
first seeds of suspicion.
Frederick of Telramund, in the mean while, has
watched his wife disappear with Elsa, and, hiding in
a niche of the old church, he sees the gradual
approach of day, and hears the herald proclaiming
through the streets the Emperor's ban upon him:—
‘Our king's august decree
through all the lands
I here make known,—mark well
what he commands:
Beneath a ban he lays Count
For tempting Heaven with
Whoe'er shall harbour or
By right shall share his doom
with life and limb.’
The unhappy man also hears the
herald announce Elsa's coming marriage with the
heaven-sent Swan Knight, and grimly tells the
bystanders he will soon unmask the traitor. A few
minutes later, when he has returned to his hiding
place, he sees Elsa appear in bridal array, followed
by her women, and by Ortrud, who is very richly
clad. But at the church door Ortrud insolently
presses in front of Elsa, claiming the right of
precedence as her due, and taunting her for marrying
a man who has won her by magic arts only, and whose
name and origin she does not even know.
This altercation is interrupted by the appearance
of the king and his attendants, among whom is the
Swan Knight. He hastens to Elsa's side, while the
monarch imperiously demands the cause of strife.
Lohengrin tenderly questions Elsa, who tells him
all. As Ortrud's venomous insinuations have had no
apparent effect upon her, he is about to lead her
into the church, when Telramund suddenly steps
declaring that the Swan Knight overcame him by
sorcery, and imploring Elsa not to believe a word he
These accusations are, however, dismissed by the
king and his men, since Elsa passionately refuses to
credit them, and the wedding procession sweeps into
the church, followed by the vindictive glances of
Telramund and Ortrud,—glances which the trembling
Elsa alone seems to perceive.
The third act takes place on that selfsame
evening. The festivities are nearly ended, and
through opposite doors the wedding procession enters
the nuptial chamber to the accompaniment of the well
known Bridal Chorus. The attendants soon depart,
however, leaving Elsa and Lohengrin to join in a
duet of happy married love. Now that they are alone
together for the first time, Elsa softly begins
chiding her lover for not showing more confidence in
her, and revealing who he is. In spite of his tender
attempts to turn aside the conversation into a less
dangerous channel, she gradually becomes more
‘Oh, make me
glad with thy reliance,
Humble me not that bend so low.
Ne'er shalt thou rue thy dear
Him that I love, oh let me
Seeing her husband does not yield to her tender
pleading, Elsa then redoubles her caresses. Her
faint suspicions have taken such firm root, and grow
with such rapidity, that she is soon almost wild
with suspense. All his attempts to soothe her only
seem to excite her more, and suddenly, fancying that
she hears the swan boat coming to bear him away from
her, she determines to break the magic spell at any
cost, as Ortrud cunningly advised her, and demands
his name. Just as Lohengrin is gazing upon her in
heart-rending but mute reproach, Telramund bursts
into the room, with a band of hired assassins, to
take his life. A quick motion from Elsa, whose trust
returns when she sees her beloved in danger, permits
Lohengrin to parry the first blow with his sword,
and Frederick of Telramund soon lies dead upon the
floor, while his accomplices cringe at Lohengrin's
feet imploring his pardon. Day is dawning, and
Lohengrin, after caring tenderly for the
half-fainting Elsa, bids the would-be assassins bear
the corpse into the presence of the king, where he
promises to meet Elsa and satisfy all her demands:—
the corpse into the king's judgment hall.
Into the royal presence lead
Arrayed as fits so fair a
There all she asks I will
Nor from her knowledge aught
At the last scene the king is again near the
river, on his judgment throne, whence he watches the
mustering of the troops which are to accompany him
to the war, and makes a patriotic speech, to which
they gladly respond. Suddenly, however, the four men
appear with the corpse of Frederick of Telramund,
which they lay at the king's feet, declaring they
are obeying the orders of the new lord of Brabant,
who will soon come to explain all. Before the king
can question further, Elsa appears, pale and
drooping, in spite of her bridal array, and just as
the king is rallying her at wearing so mournful an
expression when her bridegroom is only leaving her
for a short time to lead his troops to the fray, the
Swan Knight appears, and is enthusiastically
welcomed by his men. Sadly he informs them he can no
longer lead them on to victory, and declares that he
slew Frederick of Telramund in self-defence, a crime
for which he is unanimously acquitted.
Then he sadly goes on to relate that Elsa has
already broken her promise, and asked the fatal
question concerning his name and origin. Proudly he
tells them that he has no cause to
be ashamed of his lineage, as he is Lohengrin, son
of Parsifal, the guardian of the Holy Grail, sent
from the temple on Mount Salvatch to save and defend
Elsa. The only magic he had used was the power with
which the Holy Grail endowed all its defenders, and
which never forsook them until they revealed their
‘He whom the
Grail to be its servant chooses
Is armed henceforth by high
All evil craft its power before
The spirit of the darkness
where he dwells takes flight.
Nor will he lose the awful
charm it lendeth,
Although he should to distant
When the high cause of virtue
While he's unknown, its spells
he still commands.’
Now, he adds, the sacred spell
is broken, he can no longer remain, but is forced to
return immediately to the Holy Grail, and in
confirmation of his word the swan and skiff again
appear, sailing up the river. Tenderly the Swan
Knight now bids the repentant Elsa farewell, gently
resisting her passionate attempts to detain him, and
giving her his sword, horn, and ring, which he bids
her bestow upon her brother when he returns to
protect her. This boon is denied him, because she
could not keep faith with him for one short year, at
the end of which time he
would have been free to reveal his name, and her
missing brother would have been restored to her by
the power of the Holy Grail.
Placing the fainting Elsa in her women's arms,
Lohengrin then goes down toward the swan boat, amid
the loud lamentations of all the people, One person
only is glad to see him depart, Ortrud, the wife of
Telramund, and, thinking he can no longer interfere,
she cruelly taunts Elsa with her lack of faith, and
confesses that her magic arts and heathen spells
have turned the heir of Brabant into the snowy swan
which is even now drawing the tiny skiff.
These words, which fill the hearts of Elsa and
all the spectators with horror and dismay, are
however overheard by Lohengrin, who, accustomed to
rely upon Divine aid in every need, sinks upon his
knees, and is rapt in silent prayer. Suddenly a beam
of heavenly light streams down upon his upturned
face, and the white dove of the Holy Grail is seen
hovering over his head. Lohengrin, perceiving it,
springs to his feet, looses the golden chain which
binds the swan to the skiff, and as the snowy bird
sinks out of sight a fair young knight in silver
armour rises out of the stream. Then all perceive
that he is in truth, as Lohengrin proclaims, the
missing Godfrey of Brabant, released from bondage by
the power of the Holy Grail. Elsa embraces her
brother with joy, the king and nobles gladly welcome
him, and Ortrud sinks fainting to the ground.
Lohengrin, seeing that his beloved has now a
protector, springs into the skiff, whose chain is
caught by the dove, and rapidly drawn out of sight.
As it vanishes, Elsa sinks lifeless to the ground
with a last passionate cry of ‘My husband!’ and all
gaze mournfully after him, for they know they will
never see Lohengrin, the Swan Knight, again.