VI. — THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG. PART III. — SIEGFRIED. (1)
After his parting from Brynhild, Wotan truly is nothing but a departed spirit; his highest aim can only be to let things take their course, go their own gait, no longer definitely to interfere; for that reason, too, has he become the "Wanderer." Take a good look at him! He resembles us to a hair; he is the sum of the Intellect of the Present, whilst Siegfried is the Man of the Future, the man we wish, the man we will, but cannot make, and the man who must create himself through our annihilation. — Letter to August Roeckel, 1854.
In the wood where Sieglinde has taken shelter from Wotan's wrath, Mime, the brother of Alberich, has set himself to watch Fafnir's cave, in the hope of some day obtaining possession of the Ring. He finds Sieglinde and takes her to his cave, for he sees the broken sword and knows of the coming Siegfried. Dying she gives birth to the voting hero, whom Mime carefully rears for his selfish ends, and the boy grows up in close touch with nature.
The drama opens when Siegfried is of full age. Mime is vainly trying to forge a sword, but Siegfried laughingly breaks it every time. In his roamings through the forest the boy has seen the loving care of the birds and beasts for their young, he has seen, too, his own noble form in the shining water, and both these things stand out in sharp contrast to the ugliness and lovelessness of his dwarf companion. He extracts from the unwilling Mime the story of his parentage, the breaking of the sword and the death of his father. Then Siegfried knows that his deliverance is at hand. He commands Mime to reweld the broken sword and leaves him to his hopeless work; hopeless indeed, for the dwarf knows well that his base powers will never accomplish such a task.
In his despair the Wanderer (Wotan) comes to him and tells him that "he only who ne'er hath learnt to fear may weld Nothung's pieces together." Laughing the Wanderer leaves him and Siegfried returns with the Lebenslust-motif, full of the sheer delight of life. Mime craftily tells Siegfried he must learn to fear by facing the dread Fafnir who sleeps in the Cave of Envy. Siegfried agrees and demands his sword. But Mime has to confess that only the fearless can weld it, so Siegfried impatiently sets to work, grinds the pieces to powder, reforges the blade, and proves its worthiness by cleaving the anvil in twain, meanwhile the cunning dwarf brews a poisonous draught which he intends to offer to Siegfried after he has slain the Dragon and secured the Ring.
In this first act we see the Hero's contempt for the mean and crafty powers which seek the Soul's undoing, and how he learns from Mother Nature of that Love which they have cursed. Then he gathers his will (the sword Nothung) for the fulfilment of his destiny which as yet he feels rather than understands. Thus we see the import of Wagner's words, that Wotan, as the Wanderer, is a "departed spirit." His will has passed to a new and brighter birth in Siegfried, who has now become the chief actor, and who, with Brynhild, will become the Redeemer.
In the second act we find Alberich also watching near the Cave of Envy for the Ring and Hoard that once were his. The Wanderer appears and warns him that his brother Mime is plotting for the gold and that the hero Siegfried will slay Fafnir and obtain it. Then he awakens Fafnir and Alberich attempts to get the Ring by the cunning suggestion that Siegfried covets the Ring alone, and that if Fafnir will give it up to him (Alberich) he may keep the Hoard and live on in peace. But the wary old Dragon will not listen and Alberich retires baffled.
Siegfried, led by Mime, now approaches the Cave, and the merry notes of his horn soon reawaken Fafnir. After a short contest the Dragon is slain, and tasting by accident some blood which smears his hands, Siegfried immediately understands (where before he only felt) Nature's manifold voice. Overhead a wood bird sings to him, "Trust not Mime; hearken not to what he says but to what lies in his heart." So when Mime greets the returning Siegfried with the poisoned cup the latter sees his murderous design: Nothung swings aloft and another of the soul's fetters is cast aside. Thus freed the Soul is ready to press forward to higher deeds. The Dragon of Wisdom has yielded up his power and knowledge to the young warrior-soul, and now the wood bird cries, "Follow me. I can show you a wonderful wife," for Brynhild, the Spirit of Love, has yet to be awakened.
The lesson of this second act is that of the instinctive fulfilment of one's destiny; the first great conquest; the unfolding of the inner vision.
To the first scene of the third act great attention should be paid. The Wanderer has gone to a desolate spot; we hear the solemn, melancholy theme of the "Dusk of the Gods." By the might of his magic the Wanderer evokes Erda (Mother of Wisdom and of Brynhild) from sleep and questions her as to how he may "stay a rolling wheel" — the Curse of the Ring that lies heavy on his heart and binds him to the Law of Necessity. But Erda can tell him nothing, for her power and wisdom have reincarnated in Brynhild just as Wotan's will has in Siegfried. "Brave she is and wondrous wise. Why then wakest thou me instead of asking advice and knowledge of Erda's and Wotan's child?" Thus answered, Wotan condemns Erda to eternal sleep after telling her that "a Hero chosen by me, has won the Nibelungen Ring. Lacking of envy and joyful in love, on him must Alberich's Curse fall dead, for to him is fear a stranger. The Hero shall win for himself Brynhild, and through their love shall come the world's deliverance."
Siegfried now draws near, led by the wood bird towards the Valkyrie's Rock. He questions the Wanderer about his missing eye and the latter replies, "With the eye that I lack thou seest thyself." This refers to the "Third Eye" or organ of spiritual vision which man lost when he began to work for self instead of for the All. Now it is regained by Siegfried, the purified will, who cares nought for possessions and personal power. Then Wotan tries to rouse fear in him by telling of the terrible flames which surround the Rock.
"Fear the Rock's guardian!
My might it is that holds imprisoned the sleeping maid.
He who wakes her, he who wins her.
Makes me powerless forever!"
But Siegfried answers:
"There where the fire is burning,
To Brynhild must I go!"
Then the Wanderer outstretches his spear,
"If thou fearest not the fire,
My spear still will bar thy way!
My hand still holds the all-mastering shaft.
On which the sword thou swingest once was shattered;
Now again will it break on the eternal spear."
But the spear can no longer prevail against the advancing soul and its re-forged weapon. Nothung severs its shaft, thus shattering forever the old order of things, and Siegfried laughingly passes on to his bright goal.
Fearlessly he strides through Loki's flames, and with a kiss awakens his spiritual self, the sleeping Brynhild, in whose holy presence he now feels fear for the first time. Hear her words of greeting:
"Didst thou but know how I have ever loved thee!
Thou wert my thought and my care;
Before thy life began I cared for thee.
Thou thyself am I, if thou truly canst love me.
What thou knowest not I know for thee.
Wisdom have I gained but only for love of thee.
From me alone was Wotan's thought ne'er hid;
A thought I never dared to name,
For I reasoned not but only felt.
For it I fought, struggled and strove;
For it defied the God who made it;
For it suffered punishment.
For Wotan's thought it ever was,
That thou and I should love."
Then she senses the terrible Curse of Alberich, and recoils from Siegfried, possessor of the Ring, fearful of joining her lot with his.
"Sad darkness covers my sight;
My eyes grow dim; the light goes out!
Horrors surround me and enter my soul!"
But beyond the dark gate of suffering through which she knows she must pass, she sees the bright promise of the world's deliverance, which can only be attained through this union; so, following the "higher carelessness," she accepts her destiny with the cry,
"Light in Love and Laughter in Death!" (2)
Wagner has said that it is a mistake to intellectually interpret his dramas overmuch. We defer to his opinion. To use his own beautiful words, "Of a verity the poet's greatness is mostly to be measured by what he leaves unsaid, letting us breathe in silence to ourselves the thing unspeakable; the musician it is who brings this untold mystery to clarion tongue, and the impeccable form of his sounding silence is endless melody." Yet we cannot refrain from calling attention, at this juncture in the great Tetralogy, to the point which has been reached in the evolution of the soul. The great choice has now to be made, and in the final tragedy of the Dusk of the Gods we shall see how this choice is made in the right direction, and the Curse of the Ring is redeemed by Brynhild's final act of renunciation.
1. "He who through Victory (Sieg.) shall bring Peace (Friede)." — R. Wagner. (return to text)
2. The words "Love" and "Laughter" are of course used here in a broad and symbolical sense, the latter signifying the true joy of unselfish effort for the good of humanity. (return to text)
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