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Walther von der Vogelweide

Minnesinger and gnomic poet, b. about 1170; d. in 1228

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Walther von der Vogelweide, minnesinger and gnomic poet, b. about 1170; d. in 1228. Only one old document mentions the name of the poet and an unimportant event of his life; in the record of the travelling expenses of Wolfger von Ellenbrechtskirchen, Bishop of Passau, there is an entry under November 12, 1203, which says that five solidi for a fur coat were given as a present to the singer Walther von der Vogelweide. The only authorities for anything more than a conjectural decision as to his place of birth are his poems, especially two in imperfect rhyme. As he was in other cases very exact as to rhyme, this faultiness can only be explained on the theory that they are in the Bavarian-Austrian dialect. Austria, therefore, is probably his birthplace. On one occasion also Walther speaks of Duke Leopold VI as the ruler of his native country, and proclaims the fact that he learned to read and sing in Austria, and that he always feels himself drawn to go to Vienna. The Tyrolese, however, claim him as a countryman, as do also the Bohemians, and both have erected monuments to his memory. It is not possible to arrange his songs in chronological order with any certainty; consequently they cannot be interpreted with reference to the poet’s life. All that is certain is that Walther developed artistically the knightly Minne poetry, and introduced the real love song into the artistic court poetry, and this is his particular merit as a minnesinger.

Walther’s didactic poetry, a form of the poetic art that generally belonged to the wandering scholar, stands on the same high level as his love lyrics. Ruler and people listened attentively to his earnest words of exhortation. Unfortunately, in this era of violent struggle the volatile poet allowed himself to be carried away by his passions. He was especially severe against the pope, and frequently unjust to his policy. Otherwise, these apothegms give an animated picture of the tumultuous era of the unhappy struggle over the imperial election. In this way Walther’s didactic poetry is of value both for the history of his times and for that of civilization. He composed also a number of didactic apothegms that might be styled gnomic poetry, which show many sides of the poet’s character. Dr. A. Schonbach, Walther’s latest biographer and the best critic of Middle-High-German literature, devotes a special section of his work to “Walther’s religion”. This is necessary to confute the Protestant conception and account of Walther, but for the scholar without prejudice it is needless because entirely self-evident. The great singer probably did not live to see the Crusade of Frederick II, for which he had written so devout a song. At least he ceases to sing in the year 1228. Where he died and where he was buried are as little known as the place of his birth.

N. SCHEID


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