Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Appendix B: the Dawn Songs of Wolfram von Eschenbach

The troubadours wrote their albas before the armies of the Pope and the French had come in to destroy the culture of both Cathars and troubadours. As such, their representations of the gilos are somewhat undeveloped, not yet enriched by bitter experience of the Catholic god. After the so-called Albigensian Crusade, the few remaining troubadours found the old forms too obscurely symbolic to convey what they felt must be said clearly; the preferred form was then the sirventes, or "argument," some examples of which we shall see in relation to King Lear. As things developed, the early troubadours had had good reason to be obscure, for throughout the 13th century the Inquisition distributed its penalties on a masssive scale, including burning at the stake, life sentences to disease-ridden prisons, confiscation of property and the wearing of the yellow cross by not only the offenders but their families and succeeding generations..

Yet the dawn song continued to grow with the times, only now in the German-speaking lands where the Inquisition did not yet rule. The specter of the Inquisition is particularly suggested in the songs of the Bavarian poet Wolfram von Eschenbach (ca. 1170-1220), who also wrote Parzival, a work permeated with troubadour values. Wolfram's dawn-songs reveal the gilos's new fearfulness during a time of persecution. Look, for example, at the opening lines of "An die Klawen":

I. "His claws through the sky he draws;                “Sine klawen durh die wolken
with great might aloft he soars;                               sint eslagen, er stiget uf mit
I see him growing gray,                                            grozer kraft;
dawnlike, as if about to dawn:                                  tagelich, als  er wil tagen,
   --the day,                                                                --den tac,…

The day has claws that seek one out, the claws of an eagle perhaps, or some other raptor, the  power of one who must kill to survive. The Christian rooster has been frighteningly transformed, and the troubadour's lark is a thing of the past. The late troubadours (Cardenal, Figueira) spoke of the Church as a "wolf in sheep's clothing," but that image is commonplace next to Wolfram's bird of prey.

A 15th century alchemical illustration strangely parallels this song. It is the first illustration in a series attached to an older text, the Aurora Consurgens, or "rising dawn."  A huge blue eagle stands over a naked couple that is partially merged from the waist down (Fig.  15).
What kind of dawn is this? The corresponding text speaks of a "wind from the south," a reference to the Holy Spirit (von Franz, 2000). We recognize it from the Song of Songs, where the “south wind and the north wind,” we have already seen, was interpreted as such in the Geneva Bible. In alchemy the eagle indeed represented sublimation, the process of vaporization, symbolically spiritualization. But this eagle is a fearful one, in the face of whom the couple appears to cower. It is hardly a dove, as the Holy Spirit was typically represented, or the comforter of whom Christ spoke. Conceivably, it represents the fearfulness of the ego when confronted with the need for transformation, which is how von Franz takes it. But the hermaphroditic pair is hardly a symbol of the ego. Incestuous coupling, although a favorite image of the alchemist, was anathema to the traditional ego, which the Church expressed. The eagle seems more likely that which would seize and destroy the beginnings of transformation--or vaporize it tied to a stake, as the Inquisition did to the Cathars.

In another Tagelied, "Den morgenblic," Wolfram uses a different image to similar effect:

The day thrust powerfully                                Der tac mit kraft,
      through the windows                                     al durh die venster warnen sanc
     Many locks they llocked,                                vil sloze si beslussen;

It did not help.                                                daz half niht
       Because of this,                                               des wart .

       care became known to them                           in sorge kunt
.. (Hatto 1965, 450)

The lovers try in vain to lock the gilos out, as though they thought he was sending his personal police to apprehend them. The gilos's forces enter everywhere, with a thoroughness surpassing even Jehovah in his Garden. Yahweh is now, thanks to the Inquisition's instruments of torture, a god who unlocks the human heart with his gaze.

Saville (1972) points out that the image of light passing through window panes-still a novelty at that time--was used by the painter Jan Van Eyck in his Annunciation to represent visually God's impregnation of Mary from a distance: The painter shows rays of light passing through a window, into Mary's ear, and thence to her womb (Fig.  16, Paecht 1994).

 Penetration of the womb becomes less mysterious when one is reminded that light penetrates glass. Mary’s penetration is taken as a good thing welcomed by her-although we cannot discount irony, because Flanders had been am important center of Catharism, which may simply have gone underground when suppressed. (It has been argued that the symbolism in Van Eyck’s compatriot Hieronymus Bosch should be interpreted in a Cathar way.) In Wolfram the rays are clearly an instrument of torture and murder. Here we can feel the same tension that forces Romeo and Juliet apart after their wedding night, as well as their anguish at parting.

The ability of God's gaze to pass through solid objects is also suggested in the first part of the last stanza of "An die klawen":

Because of  the glances that the day                      Vor den blicken die der tac
was sending through the window-panes,                 tet durh diu glas
for which the watchman sang his warning,               und do der wahter warnen sanc,
she had to become   alarmed                                     si muose     ershricken
for him who was there  beside her;                         durh den der   da bi ir was
her little breast to his she pressed.                         ir bruestelin an brust si dwan
The knight did not forget prowess                         Der riter ellens nit vergaz,
though the watchman wanted to forestall this:       des wolde in wenden wahters don!
Leave-taking, near and even nearer                      urloup nah und naher baz
with kisses and other things,                                   mit kusse und anders 

 gave them love's reward.                                       gab in mine lo.  
(Sigal 1996, 181)      

The knight's strength is apparent in the middle of this stanza; he is not some effeminate courtier, but a fighter, like Romeo slaying Paris to get to Juliet's body, or Juliet plunging the dagger into her heart. For another illustration of this same determination to be at one with the beloved, consider this stanza from another of Wolfram's Tagelieder :

The sad man swiftly took his leave like this:       Der truric man nam urloup balde alsus:
Their smooth bright skins came nearer;               ir liehten vel die slehten komen naher,
Thus the day shone in.                                          us der tac erschein.
Crying eyes--a sweet woman's kiss!                     weindiu ougen, suezer frouwen kus!
Thus they could then intertwine                             Sus kunden si do vlehten,
their lips, their breasts, their arms,                        ir munde, ir bruste, ir armen,
 their white thighs.                                                   ir blankiu bein.
Whichever painter were to portray  it                   Swelh schiltaere entwurfe daz
companionably as they lay,                                    geselleclichen als si lage
Although their joy [love] bore them many sorrows,   Ir beider liebe doch vil sorgen truoc
they cultivated love without any hate. =                    i phlagen minne an allen haz. 

(Sigal 1996, 44-45
This Tagelied's images are similar to the Gnostics' light-sparks in the darkness: the "smooth bright (liehten) skins" and "white (blankiu) thighs," reminiscent of Juliet's "lovers can see by their own beauties" and the images of each as light on dark. The contradictoriness of love (evident in Romeo and Juliet):comes out here as well: the "love without any hate" is a joy that brings sorrows.

I have not spoken about the relationship of the watchman to the lovers in these dawn songs, which is the subject of the intermediate stanzas. In "An die Klawen" the Lady is the one to whom the watchman sings, and she replies often and sharply. In answer to the watchman's warning, she accuses him in the second stanza of disloyalty for bringing her such unwelcome news:

You must shut up about such things,                Diu solt du mir verseigen gar,
I order you by your loyalty to me,                  daz gebiute ich den triuwen din.
I will pay you well, as much as I dare,              des lone ich dir als ich getar;
just to keep my companion here.                       So belibet hie der selle min.    
(Sigal 1996, 38)

If the knight comes out, then he will be with the watchman, and not with the lady; this gives her grounds for accusing the watchman of disloyalty to her. At the same time she tries to buy off the watchman to keep him quiet--as though a bribe could make the sun rise later! She implies that such an expenditure is risky for her, because her lord might question where his money went. In Stanza III, the watchman is offended at the lady's tone and accuses her of bewitching his friend:

He entrusted himself to my sacred promise           er gab sich miner triuwe also
that I would bring him out again;                     daz ich in braehte ouch wider dan.
now it is day; it was night then,                              es ist nu tac: naht was ez do.
and you pressed him to your breast;                                  mit drucke an brust
your kiss won him from me.                                           din kus mirn an gewan. 
(Hatto 1965, 452)

There is not a little jealousy in the watchman's last line. Not one to let an accusation pass, the Lady fires back her countercharge:

By your racket he and I                                          Von dinem schalle ist er und ich
            are ever startled:                                          erschocken ie;/ so ninder 
so while the morning-star has nowhere yet arisen      morgensterne uf gienc uf in
over him, who came here seeking love,                      der her nach minne ist  kommen,
nor gleamed there any light of day.                              noch ninder luhte tages lieht
You have often stolen him away                                du hast in dicke mir benomen
from my white arms,                                                 von blanken armen, 

but never from my heart.”                                           und us herzen nieht
(Both Sigal 1996, 40)
She is saying that the watchman often yells that it is dawn; but then she and the knight find out that dawn was not at all near: to get the knight back, the watchman had taken advantage of his trust. All of this is quite amusing, but what is there underneath? My theory is that watchman in the Provencale alba has the role of Christ, allowing soul--the knight--to commune with spirit--the Lady (and also, for the lady, vice versa). He is the intermediary, the messenger, between heaven and earth, like Hermes in Greece, or the priest in any religion. The Cathar perfecti in particular were famous for their faithfulness and willingness to bear hardship, staying up nights to administer the Consolomentum rites to the dying, so as to gain them admission to the heavenly realms. Similarly in de Bornelh's alba, the watchman  calls himself  the knight's "faithful messenger," with him in "loyal companionship," suffering in the cold on the knight's behalf, and patiently repeating his warning when the knight makes no reply to the his entreaties.

 Wolfram's Lady, I think, has this priest and this Christ confused with his imitation, the false Christ and the false priests of Catholicism. It is the Catholics who accept bribes to exercise their alleged influence on heaven--the infamous practice of selling indulgences. Moreover, it is again the Catholics who have been scaring people with talk of Judgment Day being at hand, especially given the passing of the millennium. They are the ones who constantly sing of Judgment Day, just to scare people, calling their opponents, such as the Holy Roman Emperor, the Antichrist, citing lines from the Book of Revelation and implying the nearness of Judgment Day. The Lady is rightfully indignant at such false warnings of Doomsday. But the Cathars, and their Christ, were never known to be influenced by money. As for Judgment Day, the Cathars simply did not speak of it; historically, the Gnostic Christ is famous for having said, when the disciples asked when the Kingdom of God is to come, that "the Kingdom of the father is spread upon the earth, and men do not see it" (Robinson 1988, 138) There is no Judgment; it is simply a matter of seeing or not seeing what is in front of everyone already. If at some point time should come to an end, as some Gnostic teachers seemed to suppose, that would only be a danger for one totally in such a temporal world, from which the Gnostic by his very way of seeing is already partly removed.

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