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I am a medievalist and an adjunct college instructor in the humanities at Union College. My research includes medieval theologies of history, text/image relationships in visionary and mystical texts, and the writings of the twelfth-century Doctor of the Church, St. Hildegard of Bingen. I am also a translator of medieval Latin and German texts, especially as relate to my research. I completed a Master's in Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame in 2010, a Fulbright Fellowship in Germany in 2008, and a B.A. in Classics and German at Boston College in 2007.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Der arme Heinrich, ll. 1-132

As some of you may know, for my Senior Thesis I am writing an English verse translation of the late 12th-century German didactic poem Der arme Heinrich by Hartmann von Aue, accompanied by a commentary. As I complete the translation of each chunk of the poem, I have decided to post each one here so that you can read them and give me feedback on them.

But first, some background. German vernacular literature experienced its first great Blütezeit in the period between ca. 1150 and ca. 1250, that is, under the Hohenstaufen dynasty of Friedrich Barbarossa and his successors. This period of literary output, all centered on the courtly society of the High Middle Ages, was to go unmatched in Germany until the Enlightenment under the likes of Goethe and Schiller and saw the production of such literary masterpieces as Das Nibelunglied, Tristan by Gottfried von Strassburg, and Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach. Two principle genres flourished under the patronage of the courts: Lieder, that is, songs; and works of epic. The Lieder were further categorized according to topic: political; courtly love, called minne; and Christian songs, especially focused on the Crusades, called Kreuzzuglieder.

One of the great poets of this period was Hartmann von Aue (ca. 1160 – post 1210). Hartmann was an accomplished poet in both of these genres; his epic works (Erec and Iwein) are especially notable for, as adaptations of the Arthurian romances of Chretien de Troyes, a French poet of the previous generation, they introduced the Arthurian romance to Germany. In addition to his epic romances and his Lieder, Hartmann wrote three other works: Gregorius, an epic, mediaeval Christian Oedipus tale; Diu Klage, a lamentatio on the nature of minne; and Der arme Heinrich. At 1520 lines, Der arme Heinrich is far longer than any Lied, yet far shorter than his epics, e.g. Erec at over 10,000 lines. Furthermore, the subject matter of Der arme Heinrich is unique among extant literature of any author from this period. It is the story of a great knight, Heinrich, who excelled in every aspect of knightly virtue, in youth, loyalty, good breeding, charity: in a word, honor. His pride in these virtues, however, became excessive, and God punished him accordingly: Heinrich was made a leper. The story follows his journey as he falls from grace and searches for a cure: according to the doctors, only the beating heart of a virgin willingly sacrificed can cure him. Such a girl is found in the most unexpected of places, but Heinrich loves her too much to allow her to make the sacrifice; in the end, their devout love for each other saves them both. In some ways a mediaeval take on the story of Job, it is both a theodicy and a presentation of mortal moral strictures. It explores the conflicts between a mediaeval courtly society that values virtues of honor and pride, and a Christian call, omnipresent in that same society, to humility. While other works of the day, most notably perhaps Parzival, also deal with this dichotomy, Der arme Heinrich is unique in that it does not fashion itself within the romance epic genre. It is, rather, a didactic poem fashioned in the form of a prayer; the poem begins and ends with an exhortation to the reader to (1) pray to God for the soul of the poet and (2) to use this poem as a didactic tool in living a moral life. In this way, it serves as perhaps the most striking example of the intersection of secular and sacred in this period of High Mediaeval courtly literature.

I present you now the first chunk of the translated text; if you are interested, the full Middle High German text can be found here, although it is not fully accurate to the most recent critical edition (which I am using); an online knowledge database can also be found here (it includes linear translation/grammar and context dictionaries).

A knight there once was so learnèd,
That in all of the books he read
What’er he found scribed thereupon:
And callèd was his name Hartmann,
5 Vassal was he to Aue’s lord.
Many a glance took he toward
Varied volumes, some thick, some thin.
And he began to search therein,
If anything he might reveal
10 With which woeful times into weal
He might fashion, rough into silk,
And it would be of such an ilk
It would with God’s glory accord
And that therewith he might afford
15 Himself among the folk loved well.
Now he begins ye to retell
A tale, one which composed he found.
Therefore hath he his name made sound,
Lest he for his toiling passion,
20 Which he for it did so fashion,
Be from his great reward deprived,
And whoe’er after him hath lived,
Should read it or hear someone say,
That he for him might ever pray
25 To God hence for his soul’s probate.
They say he is his own legate
And doth thereby himself set free,
Whoe’er doth pay other’s sins’ fee.
He read that selfsame story’s word,
30 Of how there was a noble lord
Enthroned in Swabia, his seat:
For whom ne’er was any of meet
Virtue forgotten which is right
That in his youthful prime a knight
35 Should for complete esteem possess.
Then one did none so well address
In ev’ry corner of the lands.
He held quite fast in his own hands
Earthly power and noble birth:
40 His virtues, too, were of great girth.
Howe’er replete was his table,
Howe’er his birth impeccable
And well equal to princes’ pitch,
Not nearly ne’ertheless so rich
45 In lineage and property
As in bearing and dignity.
Far ev’rywhere wide was his fame:
Sir Heinrich was he called by name,
To Aue Manor was he born.
50 His noble heart hath e’er forsworn
Deceit and all ill-manner coarse
And to the oath hath held with force
Until his end steadfast perfect.
Without any stain or defect
55 His way of life and bloodline stood.
To him was giv’n all that one could
Wish of worldly honouring praise:
And this he knew how well to raise
With ev’ry kind of virtue clear.
60 He was of youth a flower dear,
A mirror of the joy earthly,
A diamond of fast loyalty,
A complete crown of good breeding.
He was refuge of those needing,
65 A buckler of all his kinsmen,
Of bounty a balance even:
Neither in want nor in excess.
He bore the burdensome oppress
Of all honour upon his back.
70 He was counsel’s connecting track
And sang full well of love a lay.
And so could he win in this way
The world’s great praise, glory, respect.
He was courtly and circumspect.
75 And when the noble Heinrich lord
Engaged himself so much toward
Trappings, honour, glory, esteem
And spirits that with joy do teem
And pleasure of the earthly sphere
80 (He did before his ev’ry peer
Receive honour and greatest praise),
Transformed now were his prideful ways
Into a humble life lowest.
In him was it made manifest,
85 As, too, with Absalom’s story,
That the haughty crown’s vainglory
Of ev’ry worldly pleasure sweet
Doth fall by far beneath the feet
From its exceeding high grandeur,
90 As telleth us Holy Scripture.
In one passage there doth it say:
Media vita
In morte sumus.
And this may be renderèd thus,
95 That hover we in death’s dark nest
When we think we live all the best.
This firmness of the worldly clime,
Its strong steadfastness and its prime
And its greatest power mighty:
100 It is beyond our mastery.
This in a candle can we see
Example happen verily,
That into ashes doth it turn
E’en while it doth a bright light burn.
105 We are of brittle substance made.
Come now, see how our smile doth fade
With flowing tears extinguishèd.
Our dulcet pleasure is mixèd
With bitterest acidic gall.
110 Our flower blossoming must fall
When it most verdant doth appear.
This in Sir Heinrich was so clear:
Whoe’er in highest station’s worth
Doth live upon this very earth,
115 He is ‘fore God a reprobate.
Down fall did he by God’s mandate
From his exceeding high grandeur
Into a despisèd dolour:
Of him did leprosy take hold.
120 When they God’s scourge e’er did behold,
The hard penalty corporal,
To man and woman general
Became he then quite repugnant.
Now see how charming and pleasant
125 He was to the world in the past,
And now become so foully cast
126a To hay his once green grass changed o’er,
126b Who one time the world’s banner bore.
That none gladly on him did glance:
As, too, it was Job’s circumstance,
That man, so rich and so noble,
130 Who, so wretched and so woeful,
Became a foul dung-hill’s portion
In the midst of his life’s fortune.

1 comment:

Mary in Monmouth said...

well done Michael. Excellent Work. Hartmann von Aue is an interesting author for many reasons. If you have finished your translation, I wouldn't mind a pdf (not to sell or anything) just to read. Thank you. Eve