Reflections of the Bards Sublime: Lumsk‘s Fremmede Toner (Part 2)

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For each of these 6 poems, I’ll provide brief context on the author, as well as the narrative/themes of the text. I’ll then analyze the connections between the songs and their associated poems, and between the mirrored song counterparts. (Reflecting the track list, the Norwegian translations will precede the originals throughout.) Many thanks to our very own Potates in TovH Discord for their help in checking my understanding of the original German lyrics, and providing translations of their own: Hans, EvilHenchman, DarthWTF, and Zocktol. Danke!

Here’s a link to Part I!

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
Avskjed” // “Abschied” (1884)
(“Farewell”)

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a highly influential German philosopher, cultural critic, prose poet, and edgelord magnet. His quote “God is dead” informs many of his philosophical ideas; in his lifetime, secularism was rising in Europe, and many feared that without religion, a lack of meaning would infect society—leading to a damaging nihilism. It’s a common misunderstanding that Nietzsche was somehow a proponent of this nihilism; in fact, he was dead set against what he saw as a wasteful ideology.

His concept of the Übermensch arose in direct opposition to nihilism; it was the concept of a new type of human that would forsake otherworldly religion in favor of a love of the planet and of the life that resides there, unfettered by concepts of “good” and “evil” and other forms of Christian morality. Naturally, the Nazis swooped in to appropriate this idea, creating an Untermensch character that has no connection to Nietzsche; he was critical of both antisemitism and German nationalism. (Time for an eternal return to the library, you utter dolts.)

Another subject of Nietzsche’s writings was classical Greek theatre—especially tragedies. He believed their unflinching focus on suffering was itself an affirmation of life, rather than a pessimistic or nihilistic aversion to the full range of the human condition. This focus on the tragic can be seen in his poem “Abschied,” which follows a hapless wanderer who has given up the comforts of home to suffer “tausend Wüsten stumm und kalt” (“a thousand deserts silent and cold”). Murders of crows appear in the opening and closing stanzas as deathly omens, and the protagonist appears “zur Winter-Wanderschaft verflucht” (“cursed to winter wanderings”) for their foolish act of leaving behind the warmth of familiarity.

I Sütterlin-ly can’t read this. The TovH potates tell me the top right stanzas show Nietzsche’s notes for “Abschied.”

Unlike the other song pairs on Fremmede Toner, “Avskjed” seems only loosely connected to its original language counterpart. (I’m not sure whether this was intentional on André Bjerke’s part or the translations I’ve seen are on the fritz, but we’ll make do.) There’s certainly a tragic theme in this song: the narrator bemoans the cruelty of winter and the “troløse sol” (“faithless sun”)  as a young violet emerges from the soil, only to be frozen by a cold snap. The repetition of “forbi!” (“past!”) in each stanza accentuates the loss of life; the gravity of the knowledge that our time is uncertain and in some cases, far too short.

Espen Hammer’s bass work lends a thumping, syncopated rhythm to the song, an immediacy largely absent from the album until this moment. At 2.5 minutes, it’s one of the shortest tracks on the record, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in attitude. As Klingen accuses the sun of treachery, a driving snare sets in, transforming the song into something akin to pop-punk in its propulsive energy. When she sneers “Mitt hjerte er blitt som bestøvet av sne” (“my heart became as dusted with snow”), we can hear the bitterness in her tone—a condemnation of the endless march of seasons.

The themes of loss and winter continue in “Abschied”, though at the song’s start, the first snows have not yet fallen: “Bald wird es schnei’n – Wohl dem, der jetzt noch – Heimat hat!” (“Soon it will snow—Happy are those who still have got a home!”). A poppy synth line, reminiscent of the quirkier side of alt rock, forms the last rays of the setting sun; as it disappears beneath the horizon, dark clouds of metal drumming and distortion mark the coming storm. When paired with an infernal synth, this section evokes the frosty tropes of black metal—fitting for our exile to the frozen wastes.

A flurry of piano arpeggios descends in the following section, calling snowfall to mind; maybe it’s the coldness of the instrument’s upper registers, the ephemeral quality of each rapid note, or visions of ivory keys. (Whatever the cause of this association, I’m sure the Christmas movie soundtracks of my youth are partially to blame. Thanks for this timeless, soul-crushing classic, Howard Blake!) The imagery of a frozen heart in the song’s final moments draws a parallel to “Avskjed,” but here, as opposed to an intrusion of bitterness, the frost acts as a shield against emotion: “Versteck’ du Narr, Dein blutend Herz in Eis und Hohn!” (“Hide, you fool, your bleeding heart in ice and scorn!”). Whether used as a driving force or as a numbing agent, the cold will always have a part to play in human tragedy.

 

Walther von der Vogelweide
Under Linden” // “Under Der Linden” (c. 1200)
(“Under the Lime Tree”)

Walther von der Vogelweide was an influential Minnesänger (love poet) who revolutionized the style in the Middle High German period (c. 1050-1350). Despite the scant biographical details of his life, he was known as the first German to write political poetry, and nearly his entire works have been preserved in the Codex Manesse, a Liederhandschrift compiled between 1304 and 1340. Although the details of his early life will likely never be known, his career began when he was in his 20s (c. 1190), when he honed his craft under Reinmar the Old in the court of Duke Frederick I of the house of Babenberg. After the Duke’s death in 1198, Vogelweide appears to have wandered between various royal courts, performing for his lodgings and sustenance.

Vogelweide’s contributions to Minnesang and innovations in the concept of courtly love served to “increase the range of roles that could be adopted by the singer and his beloved, and to lend the depiction of the experience of love new immediacy and vibrancy” (Hasty 2006). “Under Der Linden”, one of his most popular works, recounts a tryst between a maiden and her beloved knight in the shaded flowerbeds of a forest. While there’s diffidence in her retelling (“Daz er bî mir læge, wesse ez iemen (nu enwelle got!), so schamte ich mich” / “If any knew He lay with me (May God forbid!), for shame I’d die”), there’s another side that wants to shout her love to the world: “kust er mich? wol tûsentstunt: seht wie rôt mir ist der munt” (“Had he kisses? A thousand some: See how red my mouth’s become”). This clash between the expectations of a proper, God-fearing lady and her carnal desires shows the complexity of emotions inherent to Vogelweide’s lyrics.

“The”

The lush acoustic intro to “Under Linden” summons images of ancient forests; intricate guitar lines weave together like lovers’ bodies in a “rede av brutte blomster og av strå” (“nest of broken flowers and of straw”). This natural imagery continues throughout the song with mentions of a nightingale, which sings a curious bit of onomatopoeia in every stanza: “Tandaradei”. (I’ll have whatever ergot Vogelweide was munching on, thanks. This sounds more like Sindarin than birdsong.) As with most love poetry, there’s an element of voyeurism involved; perched above this intimate meeting, we ourselves become the nightingale—literal peeping toms, if you will.

As the maiden lies with her knight in an elaborately decorated bower, the track blossoms into brisk, sun-drenched prog rock (Steven Wilson‘s solo efforts come to mind). This moment of infatuation, of excitement, quickly ebbs as a shadow of shame befalls her. The drums drop out, leaving behind the sober strings of a mellotron; throughout the record, and in this track especially, this instrument conveys antiquity; a thin coat of dust; faded memories and emotions. In the final stanza, the lady regains some of her feisty energy, raising her voice as layers of twanging guitar and synth overlap with cathartic crash cymbals. She implicates the nightingale (with a wink, I imagine) in her roll in the hay, stating that only she, her lover, and the bird know what took place in the clearing, and she hopes the bird will keep its beak shut.

“Under Der Linden” begins with Klingen’s silky delivery and muted piano; musically, this intro is the closest match to its mirrored track, trading acoustic guitar for keys. The first indication of a different trajectory comes from the mouth of the nightingale itself: initially, the 4 syllables of “tan·dar·a·dei” follow the singsong A#/G#/A#/G note pattern established in “Under Linden”; when the notes shift to A/G#/C#/G# in the second stanza, alongside stomping bass and cymbal chokes, the song takes on an urgent tone. What follows is no less than a proggy folk metal freak-out: spacey, oscillating synths warble over bouncy, palm-muted riffs, and start-stop organ stabs conjure thoughts of medieval Meshuggah with their stilted rhythms. (They wish their guitars could have as many strings as a humble harp.)

The uptempo rock rhythms that make up the song’s latter half embody the physical aspects (and acts) of the lyrics: as Klingen sings “Bî den rôsen er wol mac…merken wâ mirz houbet lac” (“By the roses well one may…mark the spot my head once lay”), there’s a sense of motion in her cadence, a sensual weight that presses in on the listener. If “Under Linden” represents the cerebral facets of connection and love, “Under Der Linden” revels in the pleasures of the flesh.

Join me for Part 3 on Friday (8/4)!

Works Cited:
Ansell-Pearson, Keith (1994). An Introduction to Nietzsche as Political Thinker: The Perfect Nihilist. Cambridge University Press. pp. 33–34.
Golomb, Jacob; Wistrich, Robert S., eds. (2002). Nietzsche, Godfather of Fascism?: On the Uses and Abuses of a Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Hasty, Will (2006). “Walther von der Vogelweide”. In Hasty, Will (ed.). German Literature of the High Middle Ages. Camden House History of German Literature, 3. Rochester, New York; Woodbridge Suffolk: Camden House. pp. 109–120.
Klaper, Michael. “Walther von der Vogelweide”. Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 11 August 2017.
Phillips, Walter Alison (1911). “Walther von der Vogelweide”. In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 28 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 299–300.
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