Arthurian Romances, Tales, and Lyric Poetry

By Hartmann von Aue


Copyright © 2001 The Pennsylvania State University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-271-02112-6

Chapter One


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Though a few of Hartmann's extant lyric poems may have preceded The Lament, scholars agree that it was most likely his first longer work and that it lacks the polish and maturity of his later works. For the modern reader it may prove difficult reading because it is neither narrative nor lyric poetry but belongs, rather, to a genre that has generally gone out of style. It is a dialogue or dispute between the knight's body and his heart on the nature and practice of courtly love. The origins of courtly love are obscure, but it arrived in Germany by way of the troubadour love poetry from the south of France. The most famous "theoretician" of courtly love was Andreas Capellanus, a chaplain at the French court of Marie de Champagne. Sometime between 1174 and 1186 he wrote his treatise The Art of Courtly Love (De arte honeste amandi). Though dialogues on courtly love existed in France before Hartmann's work, the Lament is the first such dialogue known in the German vernacular, and Hartmann is unique in choosing the body and the heart as the participants in place of the traditional body and soul. The extent of his dependence on French antecedents is a matter of dispute. Another point of contention is whether Hartmann borrows from the scholastic disputatio, a practice of the emerging universities in which two professors dispute some thorny problem of philosophy or theology, or whether he looked to legal disputes for his model.

After a brief introduction (lines 1-32), the body begins the dialogue with a long speech blaming his heart for all the suffering the body has had to endure because it has followed the heart's advice to enter the service of a lady as her courtly lover (lines 33-484). The heart defends its advice, maintaining that in all it undertakes it has the best interests of the body at heart, and it begins to instruct the body in the proper conduct of courtly love (lines 485-972). The body continues its complaints of being mistreated by the heart but softens its attitude by admitting that it is indeed completely devoted to the lady and recognizes the good that comes from this (lines 973-1125). The heart, too, then strikes a more conciliatory tone and praises the body for its change of attitude (lines 1126-68). There follow a hundred lines of stichomythic exchanges between the two in which the body abandons its defensive posture and begins to accept the heart's criticism of it (lines 1168-1268). In the longer exchanges that then follow, the heart explains what qualities the body must develop to be a successful courtly lover, whereas the body comes to see the wisdom of the heart's advice and ends up defending the lady against criticism leveled at her by the heart (lines 1269-1644). In a line of argument typical of Hartmann the heart places its instruction of courtly love in the context of one's ultimate goal of practicing Christian virtues and pleasing God. Finally, the body, now fully reconciled to its heart, addresses the lady and pleads their case in exemplary fashion (lines 1645-1914).

The Lament has survived in only one manuscript, the so-called Ambraser Heldenbuch, compiled with care by Hans Ried for Emperor Maximilian I about 1517, in other words more than three centuries after its composition. It is not surprising therefore that there are many problems with some individual lines and words. We are not infrequently dependent on editors' attempts to establish what this or that line or word originally was. With a few exceptions we have followed the emendations of Arno Schirokauer and Petrus Tax. These occasional uncertainties do not, however, seriously affect our ability to understand the overall meaning of the text. It is rather the meaning Hartmann attaches to individual words that may cause difficulty. Foremost among these, of course, are heart and body, and readers are urged to work out for themselves what aspects of the man each represents as well as their relationship to each other.


[Prologue] Love commands great power; it conquers the foolish and the wise, the young and the old, the poor and the rich. Overwhelmingly did it force a young man to surrender everything he had to its power and live according to its commands. And thus he began with proper moderation to love a woman for her beauty in both mind and body. But she did not accept his service, telling him he should let her be.

[17] Nevertheless he continued to pursue the matter, not daring to mention this distressing conflict to anyone, preferring to endure it alone with the idea that if he were to be successful in his request and she did what he wanted, it might remain a secret. He complained of his misery only to himself and saw to it, as best he could, that no one find it out. It was Hartmann von Aue who began this lament. Because of this unspoken distress his body said to his heart:

[33] "Alas, thinking heart, if you were at all something separate from me, you would have well deserved from me that I complain about you to all whom I trust to feel sorrow at my misfortune, so that they might take revenge on you for me. And if I had the opportunity, I would indeed kill you and pay you back with such afflictions as you often bring to me; alas, with your great strength you force me to do whatever you want. The power you have been given over me is so great that no man's ingenuity can gain peace for me in the face of it. I am forced to live in your power. That I cannot escape it causes me many an unhappy day. For it's not enough for you to inflict piercing sorrow on me. Since you have taken up dwelling within me and are carrying on your affairs in me, this is an act of disloyalty that has no place among friends, for it robs me of joy utterly.

[61] "Indeed, it's your ruin if you are of no use to me. Don't let yourself feel joyful about that. You are firmly locked within my breast; you will reap no benefit from that. Believe me when I tell you that rather than bear this misery any longer I shall take my revenge on you, thrust a knife into you, and die along with you. That is better for me than to continue suffering this wretched business unwillingly. That would make my life much too long.

[75] "God knows, you are quite the deceiver. Often you have lied to me to the point that your evil suggestions have caused my wretched self under your spell to be hopelessly attracted to a woman. Your reasoning bids me serve her for the sake of love. You told me much of her goodness, as one does who wants to deceive another, saying how well things would turn out for me if she were to grant me her favor. Alas, she is too good for that. That is the cause of my misfortune. For there is no chance for me to benefit from it.

[90] "For so many a day I have heard so much of her goodness. Now I have come to a full understanding of things. Ever since she has rightly known that all my joy rests on receiving her favor, she doesn't care one bit how I feel. That is the attitude of a forceful woman. I don't know why I displease her.

[99] "All the while I kept my thoughts and feelings secret from her. I bowed often at receiving her greeting and considered myself the kind of man upon whom a woman bestows her favor. I imagined I could improve my chances of success, but then my lot worsened. I imagined I could approach her when I had made it clear to her that I had chosen no other woman in the whole world but her to be mistress over me. That is what caused me to lose her. May a man of good fortune benefit from this. Her attitude is a strange one: she pays back my good with evil. Justice is thus not well served. If she would consider me the same as she did before, I would ask for no other favor. Since I now have lost that which should benefit those who are rewarded according to their actions, my well-being concerns me not a bit.

[121] "Friend, if it were not for the fact that I should not revile a woman whom all the world speaks well of, I would say openly that she is the worst I have ever heard of, because she begrudges me the kindness-with no harm to her-of being relieved of my heavy burden and of taking me into her service, as would well befit a refined woman, that I might, by her leave, make her the object of my thoughts. Now thoughts are so free that she cannot keep me from being close to her, as a man in his thoughts can very well be to a woman. For whatever can happen in deeds I have already accomplished in thought, whatever, that is, well befits her honor. My intentions go no further than that. That is, after all, the total content of my joy: that I dare think of her. There is no greater joy than this. But now she wants to have the honor that I perish at her hands and in utter joylessness press my suit. Oh heart, it is your advice that keeps me from turning away from her.

[149] "Since I shall not be rewarded and cannot successfully escape suffering, I often try to imagine how good women are spoken of by those who know them. When these then name the best ones, describing what virtue this one has and criticizing the faults of that one, I keep perfectly silent. And if it were my wish that someone take revenge on her for me by speaking evil of her, so that I would hear something about her unbefitting a woman-some tales that would make her cheap in my eyes and make her my enemy-that person is not doing what I want. For I hear them speaking with a single voice: a better woman is not known to them. The only gain I have from this is that I am worse off than before. Before I had a state of mind that I now have lost because of my suffering.

[173] "Heart, if only your power would release me so that I, too, might be able to recognize a good woman as other men can. God knows, I can see nothing but good in her. If only she would abandon that single attitude she has had toward me for so long a time. Heart, speak, what is your counsel?

[181] "You bade me serve her always. That I would gladly do if I knew how. If only she were so well disposed toward me-but unfortunately she is not-that she were to speak thus to me: `I want you in my service.' No matter how this service were to be-pleasant or arduous-even if it were to last until death, it would seem to me a sweet distress. Never was there a peril so great that anyone was required to conquer that I would not be ready to face for her sake. Alas, that she does not tell me what she would have me do. If she would only test my constancy! But this, alas, is not to be. Indeed you know, my heart, what I suffer at your bidding. Now call to mind God, the Almighty, and tell me whether you know what purpose it serves-whether it is yet going to do me any good and turn out to be to my advantage. Do not keep me waiting any longer. From your response I shall have profit and honor.

[207] "And yet so good is she, God knows, if she really knew me-even if I were a heathen, cut off from Christianity-she would not act wrongly because of anyone's counsels, and once she perceived that she had never left my mind, even for half a day, she would express to me some gratitude for it.

[216] "Now it is, alas, a blow that a woman cannot know who sincerely loves her. Frequently, too, they are exposed at the hands of men to such trickery that quite rightly does us harm: men's solemnly swearing a promise that they have no intention of fulfilling. And so a woman is hesitant to risk committing her honor totally in the face of such uncertainty. Such misgivings do men harm because the woman fears that she will experience what befell many a woman before her who also, in the hope of a constant love, yet with much trepidation, gave in to the desires of a lover who considered himself worthy of such a reward. But then, when his wishes had been fulfilled, her reward from him was rude hostility. Then she thought it would have been better left undone.

[239] "His pleading of former times turned into spite, for it was not love of her that had driven him to toil so intensely in pursuit of her. As still happens to many, it was an ignoble attitude prompted by a morally dissolute heart that bade him play her honor false, so that he might boast about it. If many men find out about it, he considers this an honor and an advantage. May such a man and all like him, whether poor or rich, fall under the power of the devil, his forefather, even if I have to do penance for cursing him. Whether they be dead or alive, I shall hand them over to their master, so that he can well reward his servants as they deserve; and may God take from them the hope of ever being delivered from the pit of hell. Whatever blessings I may be able to bestow, I would gladly be their intercessor in this matter because I willingly grant them their due. May anyone who takes up this way of acting never find reward for it. So many have taken it as a model that deception seems appropriate to them. Such a man thinks himself a mighty lover when he seduces a woman, especially if he is able to deceive her.

[272] "Someone who had never previously learned to lie suddenly knows how to do so quite well when he sets out to bedazzle a woman. He calls it practicing a skill. May God make him suffer! They hinder many of life's joys and rob love of many a sweet playful encounter. Because of this, women lose heart, and no matter what someone says to them, they are ready to swear an oath that it is a complete falsehood and then pursue the matter no further. This causes us harm among women, since many lovers then go without a reward who rightfully deserved one. Day after day I hear the hearts of many men, who simply could not be of higher quality, lamenting this very thing.

[290] "My own care increases because of it, for I fear that she will treat me the same way. Come, Death, it is not too early. For, when I ponder the joys I have ever attained, they are completely extinguished and I lose all color; and as sudden as a thunderclap a mood grabs hold of me that is very hard on me. I don't rightly know what has happened to me or how, or what I should say to the person next to me when he asks what is wrong with me. I tell him simply this: `Friend, I am sick at heart.' I do so with this in mind: that no one find out what is the matter with me. I don't dare tell anyone. My heart has commanded me to endure it alone. This is the most telling point. I don't know what I am supposed to thank you for.

[313] "If I were to find the man who knew how to advise me, I would dare risk asking for advice. But that I may not lament my anguish among my relations-O heart, that is not nice of you, since you give me no help either. And so I would often reach out to where you lie and would willingly come to you with my lament. But as things stand, it is good for me to keep silent, because in this whole matter you behave-and this I call a lack of love-as cheerfully as a little bird. Now how could you be more faithless? You are supposed to be my refuge; and if it were not a breach of propriety, I would raise a cry `to arms' against you. Why, then, are you trying to kill me?

[331] "To my misfortune God has given me in you an unproductive life, though I know well how to conceal it. I am a joyless man. For only rarely during the day does this suffering leave me. But when it does forsake me-which, alas, seldom happens-and I give myself over to happy pursuits for other people's sake, my good humor lacks any real sincerity because it does not proceed from the heart. My disposition is such when I am so listless that all those who knew me previously are starting to say that I have lost my good sense and have become silly.

[350] "But they do not understand what is going on inside me and that my moods change just like the tides of the sea. When the steady wind stops and a calm prevails, it is good to be on the water. It can also easily happen suddenly-as all well know who have been in that situation-that the bottom of the sea moves and a wind rises up from the depths. They call this a tidal swell, and it causes huge crashing waves that have sent many to their death-a poor exchange for their life-and sunk many a sturdy ship into the maw of the sea. This is exactly how my life is. Whenever I think I'm in the midst of joy, the cares which I bear secretly move me and I heave a sigh from the depths with my mouth smiling, but my eyes grow dull. The facts cannot be denied: I could not keep from weeping except that it is not proper for a man.

[377] "But as things stand, I am in such anguish that I dare not spend more time among people. And so I make my way all alone to where there is no one but me (otherwise, I would have to be everybody's object of ridicule) until the sadness leaves me that till then held me in its clutches.


Excerpted from Arthurian Romances, Tales, and Lyric Poetryby Hartmann von Aue Copyright © 2001 by The Pennsylvania State University. Excerpted by permission.
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