Kaiser Heinrich (1310-1330)
Lyric Poetry 277


Lyric Poetry


    Although many critics have postulated the existence of lyric poetry in Germany in the early Middle Ages by pointing out that all cultures have some forms of song transmitted in oral form, the fact remains that there are no true lyrics in German now extant that can be dated before the middle of the twelfth century. The earliest surviving works within the so-called «einheimische Lyrik», or native tradition, are anonymous. The first poems of known authors are of the so-called «Donauschule», or ‘Danubian School.’ Their authors lived in the southeastern part of the German-speaking area, and these Austro-Bavarian poets are not likely to have been influenced by the lyric poetry of France. The dates for their lives are largely unknown, but they do include Emperor Heinrich VI (1165-97), to whom three poems are ascribed. Der von Kürenberg is mentioned in one of the poems attributed to a knight of that name, and it was assumed by the compilers of the great medieval collections of lyric poetry that all the strophes written in the «Nibelungenstrophe» were composed by the same author, since this verse form is nowhere else used in lyric poetry and since the strophes do have a similar style. They are forceful and direct, and they express little of the yearning found in the more formalized «Minnesang». We know nothing of another poet, Meinloh von Sevelingen, or of Dietmar von Eist, to whom many strophes in the manuscripts are attributed.

    In the last thirty years of the twelfth century the centers of lyric activity were in the west, near the Rhine, and the influence of northern French and Provençal poetry, that is, of the Romance tradition, is unmistakable. The verse forms and themes are the same as those in Old French poetry, and it is probable that the tunes were also borrowed. Yet no German poet mentions that he copied Old French originals, and although there are a few German lyrics that seem to be dependent on extant Old French or Provençal poems, there are no examples of actual translation. The early German «Minnesänger» wrote in meters taken from the Romance languages, and it may well be that they borrowed melodies—the existence at the peak of «Minnesang» of many «contrafacta», that is, poetry that was fitted to existing melodies, attests to that—but we have no extant music for the early «Minnesang». The «Minnesänger» also used Old French imagery, yet their treatment of love is different from their Provençal predecessors. The typical «Minnesänger» possesses a more serious tone, and the poet seeks to analyze the phenomenon of love rather than praise an individual lady. The poet’s own emotions are stressed. The lady is not only anonymous, as she is in Romance lyric, but also shadowy. It is very hard to tell whether the lady really existed, but the poet’s interest in love is real, and, if in fact he did not suffer, it must be admitted that he convinces his audience that he did.

278 Lyric Poetry: The Native Tradition

    The most common type of lyric in the early period is the «Minnelied», a formal love poem based on the Provençal «canzon» and its tripartite structure. Although the earliest examples have a flexible strophic and metrical form, one type of strophe soon became customary for this type of poem. The «Aufgesang», or first part, was divided into two halves, each of which showed an exact correspondence with the other in length of lines and rhyme scheme. These two parts were called «Stollen». The third part or «Abgesang» was completely independent of the form of the first two. It could be very short, only two or three lines, or longer than the other two combined. There was usually a division of subject as well as of form. Thus a «Minnelied» might appear with the rhyme arrangement abab—cdc, whereby the scheme ‘abab’ constitutes the two «Stollen» of the «Aufgesang», and cdc the «Abgesang», as, for instance, in the first strophe of the following poem by Reinmar der Alte:

[a] ich wil allez gâhen 
Ich will immer zu der eilen,
[b] zuo der liebe die ich hân. 
die ich liebe. Doch ist das Ziel
[a] so ist ez niender nâhen, 
meiner Hoffnung noch keineswegs nahe.
[b] daz sich ende noch mîn wân. 
Aber ich strebe jeden Tag danach und
[c] doch versuoche ichz alle tage 
diene ihr so, daß sie gegen ihren Willen
[d] und diene ir sô dazs âne ir danc 
meinen Kummer
[c] mit fröiden muoz erwenden kumber den ich trage. 
in Glück verwandeln muß
    It is not uncommon to find between the «Stollen» and the «Abgesang» an unrhymed line called a «Waise» (‘orphan’), which sometimes rhymes with the corresponding line in the other strophes. The technical terms are those used by the «Meistersinger», not, as far as we know, by the «Minnesänger» themselves. It is, however, interesting to note that there appears to be a certain similarity to the classical sonnet.

The Native Tradition

I Stetit puella rufa tunica; I 
si quis eam tetigit, tunica crepuit. 
Stetit puella tamquam rosula: 
facie splenduit et os eius floruit. 
Stetit puella bi einem boume, 
scripsit amorem an eime loube. 
dar chom Uenus also fram; 
caritatem magnam, 
hohe minne bot si ir manne.
The Native Tradition 279



The Native Tradition

    The existence of anonymous poetry and an early Austro-Bavarian tradition suggest that there was a native lyric tradition which had developed independently of Romance courtly lyric. Anonymous, «einheimische» lyric appears to have been fostered by students attending the emerging centers of medieval learning beginning with the 11th century. Attracted by famous teachers, but often impoverished, these so-called wandering scholars travelled from city to city. Their best German lyrics are found interspersed with Latin poems, some in a collection known as the Carmina Burana after the monastery of Benediktbeuren near Bad Tölz in Upper Bavaria, where the Codex Buranus—probably compiled, according to most recent research, between 1217/19 and 1250 in South Tyrol (Steer)—was discovered in 1803, some in the chief manuscripts of «Minnesang»: the small Heidelberg (manuscript A), the Weingarten (manuscript B), and the large Heidelberg (manuscript C), also known as Manessische Liederhandschrift.1 In following, poems I, II, and V are from Carmina Burana, whereas III and IV are found in the «Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift».

    What is so peculiar about the anonymous German lyric is the fact that the poems are written in the first person, a characteristic which is also reflected by the «Wechsel», a poem of alternating monologues between a man and a woman, thus bearing testimony to what Colin Morris calls the "emerging self" in The Discovery of the Individual. Latin penitential hymns of the eleventh century began to be composed in the first person. Also typical is their affinity to the more sensuous aspects of love and that there is never even a remote allusion to married women.


(I) The following pastoral poem illustrates how Middle High German and Latin were often interspersed rather effectively. The Carmina Burana show ample notation in the form of staffless neumes—with no indication of pitch or intervals—which no longer allow us to determine exactly the actual melodies, although musicologists have succeeded in adequately reconstructing some of them.2

Es stand ein Mädchen in einem roten Hemdchen; wenn es jemand berührte, raschelte das Hemdchen.
Es stand ein Mädchen, sah aus wie ein Röslein: leuchtend sein Gesicht und blühend seine Lippen.
Es stand ein Mädchen unter einem Baum, es schrieb seine Liebe auf ein Blatt. Da kam unverzüglich Venus herbei. Große Liebe, hohe Minne schenkte sie ihrem Mann.

280 The Native Tradition: Anonymous Poetry

II Chume, chume geselle min, II 
ih enbite harte din! 
ih enbite harte din, 
chum, chum, geselle min! 
Suozer roservarwer munt, 
chum unde mache mich gesunt! 
chum unde mache mich gesunt, 
suozer roservarwer munt! 
III Der walt in grüener varwe stât: III 
wol der wunneclîchen zît! 
mîner sorgen wirdet rât. 
sælic sî daz beste wîp, 
5 diu mich trœstet sunder spot. 5 
ich bin vrô. dêst ir gebot. 
Ein winken unde ein umbesehen 
wart mir do ich si nâhest sach. 
dâ moht anders niht geschehen 
10 wan daz si minneclîche sprach: 10 
"Vriunt, du wis vil hôchgemuot." 
wie sanfte daz mînem herzen tuot! 
"Ich wil weinen von dir hân", 
sprach daz aller beste wîp, 
15 "schiere soltu mich enpfân 15 
unde trôsten mînen lîp." 
swie du wilt, sô wil ich sîn, 
lache, liebez vrowelîn. 
IV Du bist mîn, ich bin dîn: IV 
des solt dû gewis sîn. 
        dû bist beslozzen 
        in mînem herzen: 
verlorn ist daz sluzzelîn: 
dû muost ouch immêr darinne sîn. 
V Tougen minne diu ist guot, V 
si chan geben hôhen muot. 
        der sol man sich vlîzen. 
        swer mit triuwen der nit pfliget, 
deme sol man daz wîzen.
Native Tradition: Anonymous Poetry 281



(II) As in the previous poem, the frequent epithets of courtly lyric poetry for mouth and cheeks are already employed here; they possibly stem from the medieval Latin tradition.

Komm, ach komm, mein liebster Freund, ich warte so sehr auf dich! Ich warte so sehr auf dich, komm, ach komm, mein liebster Freund!

Süßer, rosenfarbener Mund, komm und mach mich gesund! Komm und mach mich gesund, süßer rosenfarbener Mund.



(III) The following poem describes how a maiden might acknowledge with a very personal response the entreaties of an admiring suitor, illustrating once again the rather sensuous tone of these anonymous poems.

Der Wald steht in grüner Farbe, oh, wie herrlich ist diese Zeit! Meinen Sorgen wird abgeholfen. Gesegnet sei die beste der Frauen,
(5) die mich tröstet und nicht zum Narren hält. Ich bin glücklich, sie will es so.

Ein Winken und Umschauen erhielt ich, als ich sie kürzlich sah. Da konnte es denn nicht anders sein,
(10) als daß sie liebevoll sagte: "Freund, sei recht glücklich!" Wie wohl das meinem Herzen tut!

"Ich werde deinetwegen weinen", sagte die allerbeste der Frauen.
(15) "So bald es geht, sollst du mich zu dir kommen lassen und mich glücklich machen." "Ich will, wie du willst. Lach doch, liebes Mädchen!"



(IV) This vignette dates from the second half of the twelfth century; it represents the summary of a Latin love letter—in which the exact words of the Middle High German verses have been written in Latin prose: "ad te [...] quem teneo medullis cordis inclusum"—composed most likely by a nun and discovered inside a manuscript from the monastery of Tegernsee in southern Bavaria.

Du bist mein, ich bin dein: dessen sollst du ganz sicher sein. Du bist in meinem Herzen verschlossen—das Schlüsselchen ist verloren: du mußt für immer drinnen bleiben.


(V) Verschwiegene Minne3—die ist gut; sie kann hohen Mut verleihen, sie soll man mit Eifer pflegen. Wenn einer unzuverlässig ist in der Minne, dann soll man ihn dafür tadeln.