2. The Contest of Song and Love -
The Landgrave's gilded hall was all bedecked
In preparation for the minstrel knights
Who would contest in skill upon the harp.
Though named were all contestants long before,
Tannhauser's name was added to the list
In recognition of his marvelous skill
And, too, in honor of his coming home.
Before the minstrel hour the princess, fair
Elizabeth, came in the hall to feast
Her eyes upon the place where, long before,
Tannhauser's harp and voice awoke her heart
To such fond sympathy and ardent love.
When now at last he had returned her heart
Was beating fast with its tumultous joy,
And scarcely could await the hour when she
Could see her noble knight and hear his voice again.
At last the hour arrived, and to the hall
The princess came. Her white, soft draperies,
Embroidered in rich colors, fell around
Her graceful form in many folds, and on
Her brow a crown of fretted gold proclaimed
Thuringia's princess, fair Elizabeth.
She was of northern birth, in coloring
Was fair, and had the clear blue eyes with which
The daughters of the cold and far north skies
So often are endowed. And for her hand
The prince, brave knights and nobles from afar,
Came suing ardently. To all of whom
She was unfailing kind, but ever proud,
And cold and stately in her pride, the pride
In generations of her noble blood.
One knight alone had touched her heart, and while
He was away she turned her back upon
The gayeties of the realm. But once again,
Now that he had returned, her spirit thrilled
With quickened heartbeats of her happiness,
And sent its sparkling gleams to her blue eyes.
Into the minstrel hall the noble knights
Came, bearing each his harp. Elizabeth
In queenly beauty stood with welcome smiles,
But yet with searching eyes for one above
All other knights. He came, by Wolfram led,
In through a doorway at the side. " Ah, there
She is, — the princess, " Wolfram softly said,
And turned away, upon a pillar leaned
All richly carved, and fixed his gaze upon
The quiet beauty of the vale without.
" O! princess fair! " he heard Tannhauser cry,
And then her voice, with love, which softly said,
" You must not kneel to me. " He heard no more,
Save now and then a word, a phrase which filled
His heart with cold despair, for Wolfram, too,
The princess loved, but in his noble heart —
His heart as noble as his name — he now
Relinquished all his hopes for those he loved
And who would find their joy in mutual love.
The Landgrave, smiling, came into the hall,
And in her joy Elizabeth herself
Threw in his arms, so great her happiness.
Together mounted they the royal seat
To wait the coming of the knights and guests,
All bidden to the feast of love and song.
Four pages called the guests as they arrived;
The Landgrave, with all stately courtesy,
The princess, with the utmost graciousness,
Made welcome there the knights and all the guests,
Arrayed in rich medieval dress. There stood
Behind them all the men-at-arms; also
The Landgrave's brave retainers lined the wall.
The swinging lamps revealed the columns rich
In carving. When the guests had all arrived,
The Landgrave stood and said the contest was
Of love in song, and he who won should have
The hand of fair Elizabeth, he pledged;
Not doubting once that he would win in song
Who had already won Elizabeth
In ardent love. " All hail! Thuringia's lord! "
The minstrels cried in greeting to his speech.
Then came deep silence as the pages passed
The golden cup in which each minstrel dropped
A folded slip of paper with his name.
Then from the golden cup Elizabeth
Drew out a name and gave it to the page
Who raised his voice and cried,
" Herr Wolfram Eschenbach in song begin. "
Upon his feet Von Eschenbach arose
And to his harp's soft rippling cadences
Began to sing: first of brave knights and to
Fair ladies present in the hall. Then to
Elizabeth his pent-up soul in song
Poured out the mighty passion of his love.
He sang in noble fervor to the star
Of love embodied in the princess fair.
Applause from all the guests and minstrels rang
Save from Tannhauser, seeming lost in dreams,
From which he did not rouse until the page
Announced his name as next upon the slip
Drawn by the princess from the golden cup.
He took his harp, but hardly knowing what
He did, for wild excitement seized his mind.
Once more rose-colored mists before his eyes
Arose, and voices whispered in his ears.
He stood as blind, with throbbing heart, and swayed
As sways an oak with storm and tempest tossed.
" I, too, have seen the fount of love, " he cried,
And then his vow, back in the Venusburg:
That Venus, when he sang, should be his theme,
Enchained his memory. He smote his harp
And sang with stormy music till the roof
With praise of Venus rang. Still higher rose
His voice in eulogy of fairest, then,
Of all enchantresses. At last he flung
Away his harp and cried, " I fly, I fly
Back to the Venusburg. " Entranced, transfixed,
He stood, his harp unnoticed at his feet.
In horror-stricken tones the nobles cried,
" Hear him! Hear him! So to the Venusburg
This wandering knight has been. Press forward, all,
And in his blood bathe every sword. " With cries
The ladies hastened from the hall, save fair
Elizabeth, who stood there shuddering
Betwixt her horror and her mighty love.
Increased the clamor and the great tumult
From every side as came the cry, " Kill him! "
And, pressing on, the nobles drew their swords
To do their deadly work. " Brave knights, stop " cried
Elizabeth; " Or else kill me. Stand back! "
Her tones were full of mingled love and deep
Despair, and yet surcharged with dignity
And stern command. The nobles all fell back,
Amazed to see their princess shield a wretch
As was Tannhauser now. Her voice all full
Of piteous tragedy continued in
Her plea: " What is the wounds your swords could give
To this death-stroke which has been dealt to me? "
The nobles cried, " This fallen and false knight
You should be first indeed to scorn. " She said,
" Why do you speak of me? Of this poor knight,
Of him and his salvation, you should speak.
This knight, by dreadful magic bound, can yet,
Through sorrow and repentance, break his chains,
And win forgiveness from the pitying Lord.
I plead for him, for his dear life I plead. "
Tannhauser, softened by her pleading words
And his own deep remorse, bowed low his head
And wept. The knights, now softened by his grief,
More gently spoke, but still in deep reproach.
At last the Landgrave spoke with kindness and
Command, the course Tannhauser must pursue,
Because around him clung the magic spells
And dark enchantment lingered in his heart
He must go forth and not return again
To fair Thuringia till his soul was free
From all the spells of Venus. He advised
Tannhauser to unite himself with pilgrims,
Then setting out for Rome to seek the Pope
And pray for pardon for their sins. And while
He talked there came from far without the chant
Of voices sweet and low, which brought a peace
And gentle rest into the minstrel hall,
Which short before with strife and tumult rang.
Tannhauser heard the chant; with rising hope
And with a sudden impulse rose and said,
" I go to Rome. " " to Rome! " the nobles cried.
The nobles, Landgrave and Elizabeth,
All cried with one loud voice to speed him on
From the great doorway of the Hall, " To Rome! "
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