The Woodbird.

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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The Woodbird.

Postby WOLRAM » Sun Oct 20, 2013 3:30 am

After reading the reply to my post regarding possible symbolism behind Sieglinde, and reading the section on Siegried Act II, I have some further thoughts. Before reading the texts, I interpreted Siegried's understanding of the Woodbird's song as learning intuition, and possibly being at one with nature, or appreciating nature's beauty. In many ways this fits in with the interpretation presented in this website. I was interested to learn that the Woodbird's (pentatonic) themes are related to the Rheinmaidens' lullaby which suggests the connection with nature, innocence and instinct. The presence of the theme associated with Sieglinde amongst the 'forest murmurs' music is a bit more puzzling, but may suggest a further connection. I am reminded of the moment gestured with her eyes to the sword in the ash tree, possibly suggesting that Sieglinde is Siegmund's more intuitive half. If Wagner's creative process involved a 'marriage of himself to himself' as he said, then the combination of two halves of a personality (male - thinking, female - intuitive) might make the artistic genius, or metaphorically the offspring of Siegmund and Sieglinde, Siegfried the artist hero. The early separation of Siemund and Sieglinde could be taken literally, or could mean that early in the history of the human race, we were separated from our instinctive intuitive feeling, but it can be re-discovered in a moment of need (ie. Siegmunde beind lead to the Sword). Perhaps Siegfried discovers intuition in a different way to Siegmund - overcoming existential fear (the serpent), and living for the moment, at one with nature and instinct. This might explain why the Woodbird can tell Siegfried things that Sielglinde would not have known, and at the same time be closely related to Sieglinde. Are these ideas compatable with your interpretation?
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Re: The Woodbird.

Postby alberich00 » Tue Oct 22, 2013 1:38 pm

Thanks for the thoughtful piece on the Woodbird, Wolram.

The most coherent thing I can think of at the moment to say about Siegfried's understanding of the Woodbird's song is first, on the simplest level, this indicates that Siegfried, like the inspired genius that he is, but unlike the run-of-the-mill types, the majority of human souls, who get through their socialization having lost (if they ever had it) the instinctive aesthetic response to experience of childhood, that Siegfried has never lost that aesthetic, instinctive response which doesn't reckon practical advantages and disadvantages. But looking deeper, Siegfried as an unconsciously inspired artist is in possession of dangerous, repressed knowledge to which he instinctively responds aesthetically, healing with music, as it were, what can't be contemplated conceptually through conscious knowledge, without damage. In other words, the great inspired artist takes the stuff of life, even at its most terrible, and instinctively sublimates it aesthetically into beauty, as in Greek Tragedy. And of course the Woodbird's song, in my book, is Wagner's metaphor for the very special kind of music which he himself created for his music-dramas, which taps into these deep, unconscious, even dangerous roots. That the Woodbird's song is derived ultimately from Woglinde's Rhinedaughter Lullabye is testament to, among other things, Wagner's contention that music is what links us humans most closely and intimately to the life of feeling which preceded the evolution of thought. And yet, music, as Wagner himself said, is the last of the arts to evolve into a great art, and therefore in a sense the ultimate product of thinking man. It's a sort of restoration of innocence.

I often find it instructive to see Wagner's heroes and heroines as not solely loving couples, which of course is their self-evident nature, but specifically as Wagner's metaphor for the single human of genius who has both a conscious (usually represented as male) mind, and an unconscious mind or muse of inspiration (usually represented as female). Of course there is considerable evidence in Wagner's writings and recorded remarks for this reading as well.

I've long noted Wagner's own remarks that the Woodbird was to have represented the spirit of the dead Sieglinde trying to communicate with her son Siegfried, and to give him advice and warnings. This could make sense both of the Woodbird's advice that Siegfried watch out for Mime's treachery (surely Sieglinde grasped Mime's true nature instinctively, or perhaps through direct observation, prior to her death), and of her advice to seek out Bruennhilde (she had, after all, predicted that her child Siegfried would smile on Bruennhilde someday. But there seems little reason to suppose Sieglinde would have had any motive to suggest Siegfried take possession of Alberich's Hoard, Tarnhelm, and Ring. Only Wotan would have been motivated to do so. But you'll recall that in my interpretation Bruennhilde is Wotan's own unconscious mind, and later Siegfried, by virtue of his unique ability to woo her as his muse, proves she is his unconscious mind as well (Siegfried in effect being the reincarnation of Wotan, minus consciousness of his original identity as Wotan). And Bruennhilde is directly connected with the Woodbird in the sense I describe above, being Wotan's Will, which is sublimated into music, The Woodbird's music, which communicates Wotan's will to Siegfried subliminally, musically. The Woodbird's song represents ultimately Wagner's own musical motifs which, if interpreted, brought to consciousness, restore Wotan's confession to Bruennhilde to consciousness. This of course is the meaning of Siegfried's ultimate interpretation of the Woodbird's song for the Gibichung's, at Hagen's (the most conscious of men's) request. And this of course is Wagner's entire "Ring" in miniature, the play within the play which ends in Siegfried's death, a virtual death by suicide, for it is actually Siegfried who wakes himself up and restores his own memory.

Well, of course all this is too complicated to analyze in the space of a few paragraphs, but in context it all makes sense (I hope).

I think you may well be on to something when you say Siegmund's and Sieglinde's separation and eventual reunion have something to do with humanity's loss of innocence (aesthetic intuition) and its temporary restoration by great artists.

I realize there's much more to say in response, but my fingers are tired so I'll add something more later if it dawns on me. Thank you again for your searching inquiry.

Your friend from Wagnerheim,

Paul
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Re: The Woodbird.

Postby A.C. Douglas » Wed Oct 23, 2013 12:02 am

On this matter, the following 2005 S&F entry might be of some little interest:

http://www.soundsandfury.com/soundsandf ... tle_1.html

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Re: The Woodbird.

Postby alberich00 » Wed Oct 23, 2013 3:08 pm

A.C's contribution above re Sieglinde and the Woodbird is of more than a little interest. I strongly recommend readers of this forum click on his link above and read his brief, suggestive essay on this problem.

I'll give two cents of my own also, and in that way continue where I left off in my response to Wolram. Needless to say, of course, readers might want to consult my chapters on this subject in my online book posted here at wagnerheim.com.

A very important question to consider is the fact that Siegfried kills Fafner, who is the virtual representative, in the "Ring," of self-interest and the existential fear described so well by Feuerbach, as a unique characteristic of the human species, unique among animals in having reflective consciousness and being able, therefore, to anticipate and reflect on death and its meaning, a key source of philosophizing and unconscious religion-inventing. Siegfried's aesthetic intuition, as an unconsciously inspired artist, grants him unique entre to what we might call mankind's collective unconscious, represented in the "Ring" by Bruennhilde, who is Wotan's (mankind's) unconscious mind. And Wotan has repressed thoughts, in his confession to Bruennhilde, so terrible, that, as he suggests to her himself, he can't bear to contemplate them aloud, in words. However, they can safely be contemplated if sublimated into feeling, into music, into an inspired work of art. It is this task which Siegfried unconsciously undertakes. It is the Woodbird's tune, Wagner's metaphor for music in general and for his unique music-drama music in particular, which leads Siegfried into the depths of his own unconscious, Bruennhilde. But in order to access these normally hidden, and forbidden depths, Siegfried must instinctively overcome fear of breaking the tabooes on self-knowledge which unconsciously guide the generality of human beings, who tend not to live lives of reflection. So Siegfried must be fearless of Fafner, the virtual embodiment of fear of death and fear of knowledge (as in his ability to break the taboo of religious faith on scientific inquiry), in order to access that forbidden, unconscious knowledge which was the original source of inspiration for mankind's collective invention of religion, and remains the source of inspiration for unconsciously inspired artists such as Siegfried.

Note that Siegfried wields his sword Nothung, whose motif #57 is directly derived from the Original Nature Motif, #1, with which the "Ring" begins, and out of which everything grows. This represents what Feuerbach called Natural Necessity, the creative spur in both biological and cultural evolution. But it also represents the time before the birth of mankind and his reflective consciousness, the time of innocence. Siegfried eliminates that existential fear which is born of man's gift of reflective consciousness, with a sword which represents, in a sense, preconscious feeling (like the Rhinedaughters, and like music itself). He also eliminates Wotan's prosaic self, the craven, fear-besotten Mime, with this sword, and of course the Woodbird's tune, once it becomes conceptually conscious for Siegfried (or at least for us, the audience), penetrates beneath the surface of Mime's treachery and hypocrisy to the truth about him.
Siegfried, in other words, kills Wotan's fear of the end (which Erda predicted), fear of Alberich's curse of consciousness, and Wotan's calculating, prosaic consciousness (Mime) with his gift of transforming thought back into feeling, aesthetically.

The Woodbird's first instruction to Siegfried is to take possession of Alberich's Hoard, Tarnhelm, and Ring. As I've stated throughout my interpretation, Alberich's Hoard (and Alberich's and Wotan's contributions to it) represents man's acquisition of knowledge, the Tarnhelm represents imagination, so important in the evolution of religious belief, science, and art, and the Ring itself represents man's unique gift of consciousness, its power the power that this gift uniquely gives man, over his environment and even over himself. But Siegfried takes aesthetic possession of these items, neutralizing that about them which causes fear.

I'm going to save this portion of my response, and then continue with a new portion, as experience has taught me that one slip-up can zap the entirety of what I've written unless I save fairly frequently, ho ho ho.
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Re: The Woodbird.

Postby alberich00 » Wed Oct 23, 2013 3:47 pm

One of main points of this little essay is to suggest that Wotan's mysterious intent that a free hero enter the world who will instinctively do what Wotan wishes for him to do, without however being directly influenced by Wotan and his fear to do it (namely, redeem gods and world from Alberich's curse on his Ring), a hero who, in other words, will be unconsciously prompted by Wotan to do Wotan's wishes, is realized in Wotan's having repressed the knowledge of this intent into Bruennhilde, his unconscious mind, during his confession to her, so that Siegfried can fall heir to this intent, and act upon it, without however being consciously aware that he is ultimately prompted by Wotan's fear. This Wotan achieves by making his daughter Bruennhilde the repository for Wotan's secret intent, and by leaving Bruennhilde behind the ring of Loge's fire (the veil of Maya) to insure that only the authentically inspired artist-hero Siegfried will fall heir to this otherwise forbidden and dangerous self-knowledge, which will be the true but hidden source of Siegfried's artistic inspiration (secular art, you see, redeeming religious faith, the gods, from utter destruction by the scientific spirit in the modern world, a la Feuerbach's thesis). Thus, Siegfried falls heir to Wotan's forbidden, secret hoard of knowledge, via his lover Bruennhilde, who represents Siegfried's unconscious mind in turn.

Siegfried the artist hero is in possession of mankind's hidden hoard of dangerous knowledge and sublimates this knowledge into beauty, the beauty of art, through his loving union with his muse of art, his own unconscious mind, Bruennhilde. Though Bruennhilde, having been made the repository for Wotan's forbidden hoard of knowledge, in her sleep protects Siegfried from suffering its wounds, the wounds of foresight, and thus Siegfried doesn't fear killing Fafner (fear) and taking aesthetic possession of Alberich's Hoard, nonetheless after he's woken Bruennhilde and fallen heir to Wotan's unconscious knowledge, and is about to plunge into it for inspiration, Siegfried fears, subliminally (because he doesn't become conscious of the cause), that Wotan's dangerous self-knowledge might actually wake in Siegfried. In order to insure this knowledge doesn't wake in him, he must successfully draw unconscious artistic inspiration from the knowledge, possessed by his lover and muse Bruennhilde, and produce a redemptive work of art in order to protect himself and mankind from consciously suffering the unhealing wound this would cause. Wagner represented this achievement of redemptive art in his "Mastersingers."

Motif #66, of which A.C. speaks, and which is often called the Waelsungs' Bond of Union, is indeed heard, as A.C. says, many times during S.2.2-3, often in association with Sieglinde. Wagner I believe regarded this motif's use at this point as suggesting that through the Woodbird Sieglinde was warning Siegfried. But #66 has a broader meaning than Sieglinde, and in a sense stands for the "Noth," or existential anguish, to which the Waelsungs fall heir as unsuspecting agents of Wotan's (religion's) bid for redemption from the rise of scientific knowledge (represented in the "Ring" by Alberich, and particularly his son Hagen, who stands over against Siegfried as the proponent of objective knowledge, science, stands against feeling in religion (Wotan) and art (Siegfried's loving relations with his muse Bruennhilde). Siegfried is about to fall heir to that existential "Noth" or anguish too, in killing Fafner and taking possession of Alberich's gear.

An interesting point is that the Woodbird tells Siegfried the use which can be made of the Tarnhelm and Ring, But upon emerging from Fafner's cave with them, Siegfried confesses he doesn't know their use. The fascinating (and, as A.C. puts it, subtle) point that Wagner is making is that we, the audience, have been granted knowledge of their use, but clearly Siegfried has learned these things only musically, feelingly, subliminally, which is why he doesn't remember what he was told. In the same manner, when Bruennhilde alludes to Wotan's confession to her, in S.3.3, Siegfried says he doesn't understand her but only feels her singing. In the same manner Bruennhilde tells Siegfried in T.P.2 that she's taught him the runes the gods taught her (she alludes here, again, to Wotan's confession), but Siegfried tells her that in spite of her teaching he remains untaught. The point is that both Bruennhilde, as Siegfried's unconscious mind, and the language of the unconscious mind, music, allow Siegfried to possess knowledge unconsciously. Thus Bruennhilde and the Woodbird protect him from wounds.

A.C. is absolutely right to emphasize that we first hear #66 in S.2.2 when Siegfried wonders aloud what his mother might have looked like (after having meditated on the father who died before he was born). Note that Sieglinde died giving him birth, just as Tristan's mother did. Siegfried also, as A.C. notes, imagines that the Woodbird may tell him about his mother. So this link with Sieglinde is clear, but there's also more. Note that Siegfried confuses Bruennhilde with his mother. In "Tristan" Act 3 Wagner employs musical motifs, in particular the alte Weise, to link Tristan's remembrance of how his mother died giving him birth, with the healing love which Isolde bestowed upon Tristan. The alte Weise is the motif or melody in Tristan which is the conceptual equivalent to the Woodbird tune in the "Ring" (both stemming ultimately from the Shepherd's tune to which Tannhaeuser wakes after his visit to the Venusberg, where he likewise obtained unconscious artistic inspiration from his muse Venus). Both represent music and its link to our unconscious mind. And of course, Parsifal confuses his potential (and prior, in former lives) lover Kundry with his mother, who died through Parsifal's neglect (and thus equating Parsifal's relationship with his mother, with that of Siegfried and Tristan to their mothers, who died giving them birth. Parsifal, like Siegfried with respect to Bruennhilde, also confuses his potential lover with his mother.

Well, since Bruennhilde is Wotan's and Siegfried's unconscious mind, she links them both with Mother Nature, her own mother Erda, and this is the ultimate reference for Siegfried's remark that he wonders what his mother looked like, and what the Woodbird might tell him of her. For Siegfried's loving relationship with Bruennhilde is based squarely on Wotan's relationship (an exhange of knowledge) with Bruennhilde's mother Erda. Note also that after Siegfried gives up trying to grasp the meaning of the Woodbird's song by playing his makeshift flute, he strives to communicate with the Woodbird with his horn, and this wakes up Fafner, i.e. mankind's existential fear. And Wotan describes Mother Nature, Erda, as Mother Fear, when consigning her and the fear she instilled in him through her prediction of the gods' twilight, to oblivion, in S.3.1.

One last point of interest is A.C.'s quotation of the Woodbird's final communication to Siegfried, who asks the Woodbird what force surges through him (at the news of Bruennhilde, and that he should seek her out). "Gaily in grief I sing of love, blissfully from woe I weave my lay: only lovers know its meaning." A.C. is right to say that Wagner wishes for us to interpret this. You may recall that Bruennhilde predicted Sieglinde would give birth to the greatest of heroes in Fafner's forest, in great anguish, and Sieglinde predicted that Siegfried would smile on Bruennhilde someday. This quote, above, can be taken, in one sense, for a direct allusion to this prediction. It is interesting, isn't it, that Bruennhilde, Siegfried's surrogate mother, had to inform Sieglinde that she, Sieglinde, was pregnant with Siegfried, and it is likewise significant that Bruennhilde, not Sieglinde, names this child. Siegfried, as I've explained elsewhere at length, is metaphysically the product of Wotan's having stored the seed of his longing for a free hero of redemption, and his fear of the end, in the womb of his wishes, Bruennhilde, who figuratively gives birth to Siegfried herself. For Siegfried is Wotan reincarnate, minus consciousness of who he is, knowledge which Bruennhilde holds for Siegfried.

On another level this beautiful quote describes the nature of the unconsciously inspired artist hero, who, in loving union with his second self, his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, creates redemptive works of art by aesthetically taking possession of the horror of this world and transforming it into beauty, thus neutralizing, for a time, Alberich's curse of consciousness, the Ring curse. Thus the artist weaves his lay from woe, gaily in grief singing of love.

Thus my thoughts for the day.
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Re: The Woodbird.

Postby WOLRAM » Tue Oct 29, 2013 1:31 pm

Thanks for the very comprehensive responses!
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