NOTHING could have demonstrated more perfectly the righteousness of Wagner’s claim to the title of poet than his acceptance of the Greek theory that a people’s legends and myths are the fittest subjects for dramatic treatment, unless it be the manner in which he has re-shaped his material in order to infuse it with that deep ethical principle to which reference has several times been made. In “The Flying Dutchman,” “The Nibelung’s Ring,” and “Tannhauser” the idea is practically his creation. In the last of these dramas it is evolved out of the simple episode in the parent-legend of the death of Lisaura, whose heart broke when her knight went to kiss the Queen of Love and Beauty. The dissolute knight of the old story Wagner in turn metamorphoses into a type of manhood “in its passionate desires and ideal aspirations” the Faust of Goethe. All the magnificent energy of our ideal man is brought forward in the poet’s conception, but it is an energy which is shattered in its fluctuation between sensual delights and ideal aspirations, respectively typified in the Venus and Elizabeth of the play. Here is the contradiction against which he was shattered as the heroes of Greek tragedy were shattered on the rock of implacable Fate. But the transcendent beauty of the modern drama is lent by the ethical idea of salvation through the love of pure woman a salvation touching which no one can be in doubt when Tannhauser sinks lifeless beside the bier of the atoning saint, and Venus’s cries of woe are swallowed up by the pious canticle of the returning pilgrims.’
It will be necessary in the expositions of the lyric dramas of Wagner, which I shall attempt in these chapters, to choose only such material as will serve directly to help to an understanding of them as they move by the senses in the theatre, leaving the reader to consult the commentaries, which are plentiful, for deeper study of the composer’s methods and philosophical purposes. Such study is not to be despised ; but, unless it be wisely conducted, it is likely to be a hindrance rather than a help to enjoyment. It is a too common error of musical amateurs to devote their attention to the forms and names of the phrases out of which Wagner constructs his musical fabric, especially that of his later dramas. This tendency has been humored, even in the case of the earlier operas, by pedants, who have given names to the themes which the composer used, though he had not yet begun to apply the system of symbolization which marks his works beginning with “Tristan und Isolde.” It has been done with “Tannhauser,” though it is, to all intents and purposes, an opera of the conventional type, and not what is called a “music-drama.” The reminiscent use of themes is much older than Wagner. It is well to familiarize one’s self with the characteristic elements of a score, but, as I have urged in the book quoted above, if we confine our study of Wagner to the forms of the musical motives and the names which have arbitrarily been given to them, we shall at the last have enriched our minds with a thematic catalogue, and nothing else. It is better to know nothing about these names, and content ourselves with simple, sensuous enjoyment, than to spend our time at the theatre answering the baldest of all the riddles of Wagner’s orchestra: “What am I playing now?” In the studies of Wagner’s works I shall point to some of the most significant phrases in the music in connection with significant occurrences in the play, but I shall seldom, if ever, analyze the motival construction in the style of the Wolzogen handbooks.
There are texts in the prefatory excerpt for a discussion of “Tannhäuser” from all the points of view which might make such a discussion interesting and profitable. There is no doubt in my mind that it is the poet-composer’s noblest tragedy and, from a literary point of view, his most artistic. It is laid out on such a broad, simple, and symmetrical plan that its dramatic contents can be set forth in a few paragraphs, and we can easily forego a de-tailed description of its scenes. A knightly minstrel, who has taken part in one of the tournaments of song which tradition says used to be held at the court of the Landgrave of Thuringia in the early part of the thirteenth century, has, by his song and bearing, won the heart of Elizabeth, niece of the Landgrave. Unmindful of his great good fortune, he has found his way to the court held by the Goddess of Love within the hollow of the Horselberg, which lies across the valley and over against the Wartburg. Dame Venus herself becomes enamoured of the knight, who calls himself Tannhacuser, and for a year and a day he remains at her side and in her arms. At length, mind and senses surfeited, a longing seizes him for the world which he has abandoned, for the refreshing sights and sounds of earth, and even for its pains. Dame Venus seeks to detain him, but he is resolute to leave her and her realm. Like a true knight, however, he promises to sing her praises wherever he may go ; but when she offers to welcome him again if he should weary and sicken of the world and seek redemption from its hypocrisies, he replies that for him redemption rests only in the Virgin Mary. The invocation breaks the bonds of enchantment which have held him. The scenes of allurement which have so long surrounded him melt away, and he finds himself in an attitude of prayer in a blooming valley below the Wartburg. It is spring, and a shepherd lad, seated on a rock, trolls a lay to spring’s goddess. A troop of pilgrims passing by on their way to Rome suggest by their canticle the need of absolution from the burden of sin which rests upon him, but before he can join them, the Landgrave and a hunting party come upon him. He is recognized by his erstwhile companions in song, and consents to return to the castle on being told by one of the minstrels, Wolfram von Eschenbach, that his song had vanquished not only them, but the heart of the saintly Elizabeth as well.
In the Wartburg Tannhauser meets the maiden whose heart he has won just after she has apostrophized the walls which had echoed his voice ; and from him she learns the meaning of the strange emotion which fills her in his presence. Again minstrels gather before a company of great nobles for a contest in the Hall of Song. Love is to be the theme, and the hand of Elizabeth the reward of the victor. Spiritual love is hymned by Tannhauser’s companions. Wolfram von Eschenbach likens it to a pure fountain from which only high and sacred feelings can flow. Tannhauser questions the right of those who have not experienced the passion as he has felt it to define the nature of love. Goaded by the taunts and threats of rude Biterolf, he bursts forth in a praise of Venus. The assembly is in commotion. Swords are drawn. Sacrilege must be punished. Death confronts the impiously daring minstrel. But Elizabeth, whose heart has been mortally pierced by his words, interposes to save him. She has been stricken, but what is that to his danger of everlasting damnation? Would they rob his soul of its eternal welfare? The knight, in-different to a score of swords, is crushed by such unselfish devotion, and humbly accepts the Land-grave’s clemency, which spares his life that he may join a younger band of pilgrims and seek absolution at Rome. He goes to the Holy City, mortifying his flesh at every step, and humbles himself in self-abasement and accusation before the Pope; but only to hear from the hard lips of the Keeper of the Keys that for such sin as his there is as little hope of deliverance as for the rebudding of the papal staff.
The elder pilgrims return in the fall of the year, and Elizabeth eagerly seeks among them for the face of the knight whose soul and body she had tried to save. He is not among them. Gently she puts aside the proffered help of Wolfram, whose unselfish love is ever with her, climbs the hill to the castle, and dies. Famished and footsore, Tannhäuser staggers after the band of pilgrims who have returned to their homes with sins forgiven. His greeting of Wolfram is harsh, but the good minstrel’s sympathy constrains him to tell the story of his vain pilgrimage. Salvation forfeited, naught is left for him but to seek surcease of suffering in the arms of Venus. Again he sees her grotto streaming with roseate light and hears her alluring voice. He rushes forward toward the scene of enchantment, but Wolfram utters again the name of her who is now pleading for him before the judgment seat of God Himself ; and he reels back. A funeral cortège descends from the castle. With an agonized cry : “Holy Elizabeth, pray for me !” Tannhäuser sinks lifeless beside the bier just as the band of younger pilgrims comes from Rome bearing the crozier of the Pope clothed in fresh verdure. They hymn the miracle of redemption.
Wagner has himself told us what fancies he is willing shall flit through the minds of listeners to the overture to his opera. It was performed at a concert under his direction while he was a political refugee at Zurich, and for the programme of the concert he wrote a synopsis of its musical and poetical contents which I shall give here in the translation made by William Ashton Ellis, but with the beginnings of the themes which are referred to reproduced in musical notes.
To begin with, the orchestra leads before us the pilgrims’ chant alone it draws near, then swells into a mighty outpour and passes, finally, away. Evenfall; last echo of the chant. As night breaks, magic sights and sounds appear, the whirlings of a fearsomely voluptuous dance are seen.
These are the Venusberg’s seductive spells that show themselves at dead of night to those whose breasts are fired by daring of the senses. Attracted by the tempting show, a shapely human form draws nigh; ’tis Tannhauser, love’s minstrel. He sounds his jubilant song of love in joyous challenge, as though to force the wanton witchery to do his bidding. Wild cries of riot answer him ; the rosy cloud grows denser round him; entrancing perfumes hem him in and steal away his senses. In the most seductive of half-lights his wonder-seeing eye beholds a female form indicible ; he hears a voice that sweetly murmurs out the siren call, which promises contentment of the darer’s wildest wishes Venus herself it is, this woman who appears to him. Then the heart and senses burn within him; a fierce, devouring passion fires the blood in all his veins; with irresistible constraint it thrusts him nearer; before the goddess’s self he steps with that canticle of love triumphant, and now he sings it in ecstatic praise of her. As though at wizard spell of his, the wonders of the Venusberg unroll their brightest fill before him; tumultuous shouts and savage cries of joy mount up on every hand; in drunken glee bacchantes drive their raging dance and drag Tannhauser to the warm caresses of love’s goddess, who throws her glowing arms around the mortal, drowned with bliss, and bears him where no step dare tread, to the realm of Being-no-more.
A scurry, like the sound of the wild hunt, and speedily the storm is laid. Merely a wanton whir still pulses in the breeze, a wave of weird voluptuousness, like the sensuous breath of unblest love, still soughs above the spot where impious charms had shed their raptures and over which the night now broods once more. But dawn begins to break; already from afar is heard again the pilgrims’ chant. As this chant draws closer and closer, as the day drives farther back the night, that whir and soughing of the air which had erewhile sounded like the eerie cry of souls condemned now rises to ever gladder waves, so that when the sun ascends at last in splendor and the pilgrims’ chant proclaims in ecstasy to all the world, to all that live and move thereon, salvation won, this wave itself swells out the tidings of sub-Ernest joy. ‘Tis the carol of the Venusberg itself re-deemed from curse of impiousness, this cry we hear amid the hymn of God. So wells and leaps each pulse of life in chorus of redemption, and both dissevered elements, both soul and senses, God and nature, unite in the atoning kiss of hallowed love.
This description of the poetical contents of the overture to “Tannhäuser” applies to the ordinary form of the introduction to the opera which was used (and still is in many cases) until Wagner revised the opera for performance in Paris in 1861. The traditions of French opera called for a ballet in the third act. Wagner was willing to yield to the desire for a ballet, but he could not place it where the habits of the opera-going public demanded it. Instead, he remodelled the overture and, sacrificing the coda which brought back a return of the canticle of the pilgrims, he lengthened the middle portion to fit an extended choreographic scene, and with it led into the opera without a break. The neglect to provide a ballet in the usual place led to a tremendous disturbance in which the Jockey Club took the lead. Wagner’s purpose in the extended portion of the overture now called the “Bacchanale” may be read in his stage-directions for the scene.
The scene represents the interior of the Venusberg (Horselberg), in the neighborhood of Eisenach. A large cave seems to extend to an invisible distance at a turn to the right. From a cleft through which the pale light of day penetrates, a green waterfall tumbles foaming over rocks the entire length of the cave. From the basin which receives the water, a brook flows toward the background, where it spreads out into a lake, in which naiads are seen bathing and on the banks of which sirens are reclining. On both sides of the grotto are rocky projections of irregular form, overgrown with singular, coral-like tropical plants. Before an opening extending upward on the left, from which a rosy twilight enters, Venus lies upon a rich couch; before her, his head upon her lap, his harp by his side, half kneeling, reclines Tannhäuser. Surrounding the couch in fascinating embrace are the Three Graces; beside and behind the couch innumerable sleeping amorettes, in attitudes of wild disorder, like children who had fallen asleep wearied with the exertions of a struggle. The entire foreground is illumined by a magical, ruddy light shining upward from below, through which the emerald green of the waterfall, with its white foam, penetrates. The distant background, with the shores of the lake, seems transfigured by a sort of moonlight. When the curtain rises, youths, reclining on the rocky projections, answering the beckonings of the nymphs, hurry down to them; beside the basin of the waterfall the nymphs have begun the dance designed to lure the youths to them. They pair off ; flight and chase enliven the dance.
From the distant background a procession of bacchantes approach, rushing through the rows of the loving couples and stimulating them to wilder pleasures. With gestures of enthusiastic intoxication they tempt the lovers to growing recklessness. Satyrs and fauns have appeared from the cleft of the rocks and, dancing the while, force their way between the bacchantes and lovers, increasing the disorder by chasing the nymphs. The tumult reaches its height, whereupon the Graces rise in horror and seek to put a stop to the wild conduct of the dancing rout and drive the mad roisterers from the scene. Fearful that they themselves might be drawn into the whirlpool, they turn to the sleeping amorettes and drive them aloft. They flutter about, then gather into ranks on high, filling the upper spaces of the cave, whence they send down a hail of arrows upon the wild revellers: These, wounded by the arrows, filled with a mighty love-longing, cease their dance and sink down exhausted. The Graces capture the wounded and seek, while separating the intoxicated ones into pairs, to scatter them in the back-ground. Then, still pursued by the flying amorettes, the bacchantes, fauns, satyrs, nymphs, and youths depart in various directions. A rosy mist, growing more and more dense, sinks down, hiding first the amorettes and then the entire background, so that finally only Venus, Tannhauser, and the Graces remain visible. The Graces now turn their faces to the foreground; gracefully intertwined, they approach Venus, seemingly informing her of the victory they have won over the mad passions of her subjects.
The dense mist in the background is dissipated, and a tableau, a cloud picture, shows the rape of Europa, who, sitting on the back of a bull decorated with flowers and led by tritons and nereids sails across the blue lake.
The rosy mist shuts down, the picture disappears, and the Graces suggest by an ingratiating dance the secret significance that it was an achievement of love. Again the mists move about. In the pale moonlight Leda is discovered reclining by the side of the forest lake; the swan swims toward her and caressingly lays his head upon her breast. Gradually this picture also disappears and, the mist blown away, discloses the grotto deserted and silent. The Graces courtesy mischievously to Venus and slowly leave the grotto of love. Deepest silence. (The duet between Venus and Tannhauser begins.)
The work which Wagner accomplished in behalf of the legend of Tannhäuser is fairly comparable with the tales which have been woven around the figure of King Arthur. The stories of the Knights of the Round Table are in the mouths of all English-speaking peoples because of the “Idylls of the King” ; the legend of Tannhäuser was saved from becoming the exclusive property of German literary students by Wagner’s opera. Like many folk-tales, the story touches historical circumstance in part, and for the rest reaches far into the shadowy realm of legendary lore. The historical element is compassed by the fact that the principal human characters involved in it once had existence. There was a Landgrave Hermann of Thuringia whose court was held in the Wartburg that noble castle which in a later century gave shelter to Martin Luther while he endowed the German people with a reformed religion, their version of the Bible and a literary language. The minstrel knights, which in the opera meet in a contest of song, also belong to history. Wolfram von Eschenbach wrote the version of the Quest of the Holy Grail which inspired Wagner’s “Parsifal” and which is morally the most exalted epical form which that legend ever received. His companions also existed. Tannhäuser is not an invention, though it is to Wagner alone that we owe his association with the famous contest of minstrelsy which is the middle picture in Wagner’s drama. Of the veritable Tannhäuser, we know extremely little. He was a knight and minstrel at the court of Duke Frederick II of Austria in the first decades of the thirteenth century, who, it is said, led a dissolute life, squandered his fortune, and wrecked his health, but did timely penance at the end and failed not of the consolations of Holy Church. After he had lost his estate near Vienna he found protection with Otto II of Bavaria, who was Stadtholder of Austria from A.D. 1246 till his death in 1253. He sang the praises of Otto’s son-in-law, Conrad IV, who was father of Conradin, the last heir of the Hohenstaufens. Tannhäuser was therefore a Ghibelline, as was plainly the folk-poet who made him the hero of the ballad which tells of his adventure with Venus. Tannhäuser’s extant poems, when not in praise of princes, are gay in character, with the exception of a penitential hymn a circumstance which may have had some weight with the ballad makers. There is a picture labelled with his name in a famous collection of minnesongs called the Manessian Manuscript, which shows him with the Crusaders’ cross upon his cloak. This may be looked upon as evidence that he took part in one of the crusades, probably that of A.D. 1228. There is no evidence that the contest of minstrelsy at the Wartburg ever took place. It seems to have been an invention of mediaeval poets. The Manessian Manuscript is embellished with a picture of the principal personages connected with the story. They are Landgrave Hermann, the Landgravine Sophia, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Reinmar der Alte, Heinrich von Rispach, Biterolf, Heinrich von Ofterdingen, and Klingesor. The subject discussed by the minstrels was scholastic, and Ofterdingen, to save his life, sought help of Klingesor, who was a magician and the reputed nephew of Virgilius of Naples; and the Landgravine threw her cloak around him when he was hardest pressed. This incident, its ethical significance marvellously enhanced, is the culmination of Wagner’s second act.
Instead of the historical Sophia, however, we have in the opera Hermann’s niece, Elizabeth, a creation of the poet’s, though modelled apparently after the sainted Elizabeth of Hungary, who, however, had scarcely opened her eyes upon the world in the Wartburg at the date ascribed to the contest, i.e. A.D. 1206. Wagner has given the rôle played by Heinrich von Ofterdingen (also Effterdingen) to Tannhäuser apparently on the strength of an essay which appeared about the time that he took up the study of the mediaeval legends of Germany, which identified the two men. Ofterdingen himself is now thought to be a creation of some poet’s fancy; but the large part devoted to his adventure in the old poem which tells of the contest of minstrelsy led the mediaeval poets to attribute many great literary deeds to him, one of them nothing less than the authorship of the Nibelungenlied.
Wagner seems to have been under the impression that there was an old book of folk-tales (a so-called Volksbuch) devoted to the story of Tannhäuser and his adventure with Dame Venus. This is a mistake. The legend came down to modern times by way of popular ballads. One of these, which was printed by Uhland, consists largely of the dialogue between Tannhäuser and his enslaver, as does also the carnival play which Hans Sachs wrote on the subject. The writer of the ballad was so energetic an enemy of the Papal power that he condemns Urban IV to eternal torment because of his severe judgment of the penitent sinner :
Do was er widrumb in den berg und het sein lieb erkoren, des muoss der vierde babst Urban auch ewig sein verloren.
A ballad which was sung in one Swiss district as late as the third decade of the nineteenth century gives the story of the knight and his temptress in fuller detail, though it knows as little of the episode of Elizabeth’s love as it does of the tournament of song. In this ballad Tannhäuser (or “Tannhäuser”) is a goodly knight who goes out into the forest to seek adventures, or “see wonders.” He finds a party of maidens engaged in a bewildering dance, and tarries to enjoy the spectacle. Frau Frene, or, as we would write it now, Freya (the Norse Venus whose memory we perpetuate in our Friday), seeks to persuade him to remain with her, promising to give him her youngest daughter to wife. The knight remains, but will not mate with the maiden, for he has seen the devil lurking in her brown eyes and learned that once in her toils he will be lost forever. Lying under Frau Frene’s fig tree, at length, he dreams that he must quit his sinful life. He tears himself loose from the enchantment and journeys to Rome, where he falls at the feet of the Pope and asks absolution. The Pope holds in his hand a staff so dry that it has split. “Your sins are as little likely to be forgiven as this staff is to green,” is his harsh judgment. Tannhäuser kneels before the altar, extends his arms, and asks mercy of Christ; then leaves the church in despair and is lost to view. On the third day after this the Pope’s staff is found to be covered with fresh leaves. He sends out messengers to find Tannhäuser, but he has returned to Frau Frene. Then comes the moral of the tale expressed with a naïve forcefulness to which a translation cannot do justice :
Drum soll kein Pfaff, kein Kardinal, Kein Sunder nie verdammen; Der Sunder mag sein so gross er will, Kann Gottes Gnad erlangen.
Two other sources supplied Wagner with material for as many effective scenes in his drama. From E. T. A. Hofmann’s “Der Kampf der Sanger” he got the second scene of the first act, the hunt and the gathering in the valley below Wartburg; from Ludwig Tieck’s “Der getreue Eckhart und der Tannhäuser” the narrative of the minstrel’s pilgrimage to Rome.
Students of comparative mythology and folklore will have no difficulty in seeing in the legend of Tannhäuser one of the many tales of the association during a period of enchantment of men and elves. Parallels between the theatre and apparatus of these tales extend back into remote antiquity. The grotto of Venus, in which Tannhäuser steeps himself with sensuality, is but a German variant of the Garden of Delight, in which the heroes of antiquity met their fair enslavers. It is Ogygia, the Delightful Island, where Ulysses met Calypso. It is that Avalon in which King Arthur was healed of his wounds by his fairy sister Morgain. The crozier which bursts into green in token of Tannhauser’s forgiveness has prototypes in the lances which, when planted in the ground by Charlemagne’s warriors, were transformed overnight into a leafy forest ; in the javelins of Polydore, of which Virgil tells us in the “AEneid” ; in the staff of St. Christopher, which grew into a tree after he had carried the Christ Child across the river; in the staff which put on leaves in the hands of Joseph, wherefore the Virgin Mary gave him her hand in marriage ; in the rod of Aaron, which, when laid up among others in the tabernacle, “brought forth buds and bloomed blossoms and yielded almonds.”
There are many parallels in classic story and folklore of the incident of Tannhäuser’s sojourn with Venus. I mention but a few. There are the episodes of Ulysses and Calypso, Ulysses and Circe, Numa and Egeria, Rinaldo and Armida, Prince Ahmed and Peri Banou. Less familiar are the folk-tales which Mr. Baring-Gould has collected of Helgi’s life with the troll Ingibjorg, a Norse story; of James Soideman of Serraade, “who was kept by the spirits in a mountain during the space of seven years, and at length came out, but lived afterwards in great distress and fear lest they should again take him away”; of the young Swede lured away by an elfin woman from the side of his bride into a mountain, where he abode with the siren forty years and thought it but an hour.
There are many Caves of Venus in Europe, but none around which there clusters such a wealth of legend as around the grotto in the Horselberg. Nineteen years ago the writer of this book visited the scene and explored the cave. He found it a decidedly commonplace hole in the ground, but was richly rewarded by the results of the literary explorations to which the visit led him. Before Christianity came to reconstruct the folk-tales of the Thuringian peasants, the Horselberg was the home of Dame Holda, or Holle, and the horde of weird creatures which used to go tearing through the German forests on a wild rout in the Yuletide. Dame Holle, like many another character in Teutonic mythology, was a benignant creature, whose blessing brought forth fruitfulness to fields and vineyards, before the Christian priests metamorphosed her into a thing wholly of evil. She was the mother of all the fays and fairies that followed in the train of the Wild Huntsman, and though she appeared at times as a seductive siren and tempted men to their destruction, she appeared oftener as an old woman who rewarded acts of kindness with endless generosity. It was she who had in keeping the souls of unborn children, and babes who died before they could be christened were carried by her to the Jordan and baptized in its waters. Even after priestly sermons had trans-formed her into a beauteous she-devil, she still kept up her residence in the cave, which now, in turn, took on a new character. Venturesome persons who got near its mouth, either purposely or by accident, told of strange noises which issued from it, like the rushing of many waters or the voice of a subterranean storm. The priests supplied explanation and etymology to fit the new state of things. The noise was the lamentation of souls in the fires of purgatory, to which place of torment the cave was an opening. This was said to account for the old German name of the mountain ”Hor-Seel-Berg” that is, “Hear-Souls-Mountain.” To this Latin writers added another, viz. “Mons Horrisonus” “the Mountain of Horrible Sounds.” The forbidding appearance of the exterior in which some fantastic writers avowed they saw a resemblance to a coffin was no check on the fancy of the medieval story-teller, however, who pictured the interior of the mountain as a marvellous palace, and filled it with glittering jewels and treasures incalculable. The story of Tannhauser’s sojourn within this magical cavern is only one of many, nor do they all end like that of the minstrel knight. Undeterred by the awful tales told by monks and priests, poets and romancers sang the glories and the pleasures of the cave as well as its gruesome punishments. From them we know many things concerning the appearance of the interior, the cave’s inhabitants, and their merry makings. I cannot resist the temptation to retell one of these old tales.
Adelbert, Knight of Thuringia, was one of those who experienced the delights of the Cave of Venus, yet, unlike Tannhäuser in the original legend, was saved at the last. He met Faithful Eckhart at the mouth of the cave, who warned him not to enter, but entrancing music sounded within and he was powerless to resist. He entered. Three maidens came forward to meet him. They were airily clad, flowers were twisted in their brown locks, and they waved branches before them as they smiled and beckoned and sang a song of spring’s awakening. What could Sir Adelbert do but follow when they glanced coyly over their white shoulders and led the way through a narrow passage into a garden surrounded with rose-bushes in bloom, and filled with golden-haired maidens, lovelier than the flowers, who wandered about hand in hand and sang with sirens’ voices ? In the middle of the rose-hedged garden stood a red gate, which bore in bold letters this legend:
HERE DAME VENUS HOLDS COURT
The gate-keeper was the fairest of the maidens, and her fingers were busy weaving a garland of roses, but she stopped her work long enough to smile a welcome to Sir Adelbert. He thanked her gallantly and queried : Was the pretty sight a May Day celebration ? Replied the winsome gate-keeper : “Here Dame Venus holds court in honor of the noble knight Sir Tannhäuser”; and she opened the gate and Adelbert entered. Within he beheld a gay tent pitched in a grove of flowering shrubs, and out of it emerged a beauteous creature and advanced toward him. Her robe was rose color, adorned with strings of pearls and festooned with fragrant blossoms. A crown which glistened with gems rested lightly on her head. In her right hand a dainty hand she carried a tiny kerchief of filmy white stuff embroidered with gold, and in her left a lute, She sate herself down on a golden chair, bent her head over her left shoulder. A dreamy, tender light came into her eyes, and her rosy fingers sought the strings of her lute strings of gold. Would she sing? Just then one of the maidens approached her, lisped musically into her ear, and pointed to the approaching knight. Almost imperceptibly, but oh, so graciously, the lips of the vision moved. As if in obedience to a command, the maiden approached, and said in rhythmical cadence : “Greetings, Sir Knight, from Dame Venus, who sends you message that all who love gaming and fair women are welcome at her court.” She gave him her hand to escort him, and when the knight pressed her fingers in gratitude he felt a gentle pressure in return. The knight approached the dazzling queen of the palace and fell upon his knee ; but she gave him her hand and she bade him arise, which he did after he had kissed her fingers. And she called to a maiden, who fetched a golden horn filled to the brim with wine and handed it to the knight. “Empty the goblet, like a true knight, to the health of all fair women who love and are be-loved,” said the queen. Sir Adelbert smiled obedience : “To love, fair lady,” he said and drank the wine at a draught. And thus he became a captive and a slave.
Long did he sojourn within the magic realm, in loving dalliance with Venus and her maidens, until one day a hermit entered the cave in the absence of the queen and bore him back to the outer world, where penance and deeds of piety restored him to moral health and saved him from the fate of Tannhauser.