And this fact offers us insight into another awe-inspiring feature of this passage, the fact that Siegfried, upon emerging from Fafner’s cave with Alberich’s Ring and Tarnhelm, though having just heard from the Woodbird that the Tarnhelm would serve him for wondrous deeds, and that the Ring would make him lord of the world, has already forgotten what the Woodbird told him, since he now says of the Ring and Tarnhelm “What use you are I do not know … .” Instead, as Siegfried says to himself that at any rate these two items will serve as mementoes that he killed Fafner yet did not learn the meaning of fear, we hear various motifs associated in R.1 and R.4 with the Rhinedaughters, including #12, the pre-Fall (pre-Ring) Rhinegold Motif, #16, the Rhinedaughters’ song and dance in celebration of the Rhinegold, and #59abc, the Rhinedaughters’ lament for the Rhinegold stolen from them by Alberich. So the word “use” here has two meanings, which contradict each other. One is use of Alberich’s Ring and Tarnhelm to perform wonders and to obtain worldly power, and the other is to restore the Ring to the Rhinedaughters so they can dissolve it in the Rhine and redeem the world from Alberich’s curse on it. Siegfried is consciously aware of neither alternative. However, as we will see, by taking Alberich’s Ring to Bruennhilde and leaving it with her in T.P, Siegfried will be able to temporarily end its curse, since Bruennhilde, his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, his music, will be for him a surrogate Rhine, a point which will be proved by Wagner’s subsequent association of Rhinedaughter motifs with her. Of course, in the distant future Bruennhilde will herself restore Alberich’s Ring to the Rhinedaughters, but in the meantime Bruennhilde will be a surrogate, temporary Rhine of redemption from Alberich’s curse on his Ring, which she will hold for Siegfried, keeping its power safe (i.e., safe from use).
It is also important to recall here three things of special note: (1) Woglinde’s Pre-Fall, Pre-Ring Lullabye #4 is the basis for the Woodbird Motif #129, and (2) near the finale of Siegfried’s S.3.3 love duet with Bruennhilde, whom he’s woken from sleep, Siegfried will indirectly reference both the fact that the Woodbird taught him the Tarnhelm’s and Ring’s use, which he forgot moments later, and the identity of Bruennhilde with this special, subliminal or unconscious quality of the knowledge the Woodbird imparts to Siegfried, when Siegfried tells Bruennhilde: “… the fear, ah! the fear that I never learned - the fear that you scarcely taught me: that fear - (#129b) I think - fool that I am, I have quite forgotten it now!” Siegfried’s remark is, unsurprisingly (given my thesis), accompanied by the Woodbird’s second motif, #129. Wagner clinches this link between Bruennhilde as Siegfried’s unconscious mind, who holds for him knowledge of Wotan’s hoard of forbidden knowledge, and the Woodbird, when in their T.P love duet Bruennhilde tells Siegfried that: “(#150) What gods [i.e., Wotan in his confession] have taught me I gave to you: a bountiful hoard [“Hort”] of hallowed runes … ,” and Siegfried answers her: “You gave me more, o wondrous woman, (#150) than I know how to cherish: (#150; #149) chide me not if your (#150) teaching left me untaught!” In other words, through his loving union with Bruennhilde Siegfried possesses knowledge which nonetheless leaves him untaught, which is to say, knowledge [of Wotan’s confession of his hoard of runes to Bruennhilde in V.2.2) of which Siegfried remains unconscious thanks to Bruennhilde.
Voice of the Woodbird: (#129/#11:) Hey! Siegfried’s now slain the evil dwarf! Now I know the most glorious wife for him. High on a fell she sleeps, fire burns round her hall: (#128b:) if he passed through the blaze (#128b:) and awakened the bride (:#128b), Bruennhilde then would be his!
Siegfried: What courses so swiftly through heart and senses (:#132b)? Tell me the answer, sweet friend! (He listens.)
Woodbird: (#11/#128b:) Delighting in sorrow, I sing of love; (#128b:) blissful I weave my lay from woe (:128b): lovers alone can know its meaning.
Here we have the Woodbird, understood as music’s portal to the unconscious, guiding Siegfried to his own unconscious mind and source of that music, which is Wotan’s confession of forbidden, sacred knowledge (the religious mysteries, so to speak), sublimated from thought into feeling. When the Woodbird here answers Siegfried’s question, what is it he is feeling, the Woodbird is not only telling Siegfried what Sieglinde would have told him, that love is fraught with sacrifice and sorrow, but also telling us something about how through this process of repression of Wotan’s unbearable thoughts and their sublimation into redemptive music, through which we can forget fatal thoughts and forget the fear they inspired, great inspired secular art (religious longing freed from the gods, freed from belief) can come into being. It is Wotan’s woe, his divine “Noth,” his confession to Bruennhilde, which is the hidden, forgotten programme for the Woodbird’s music, which draws Siegfried into his own unconscious mind and muse of artistic inspiration Bruennhilde, who knows Wotan’s confession for Siegfried. The Woodbird is not addressing conventional romantic lovers, but Siegfried the artist-hero, and his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, Bruennhilde.
Siegfried: ([[ #132b: ]]) Exulting, it drives me away from here, out of the forest and on to the fell! – (#35:; #132b:) But tell me again, you lovely songster: shall I (#92:) break through the fire? Can I awaken the bride (:#92)?
(Siegfried listens again: #132b/#98)
Voice of the Woodbird: (#128b) He who wins the bride and awakens Bruennhilde shall never be a coward: (#129?) only he who knows not fear!
Siegfried: (exultantly:) The foolish boy who knows not fear, my woodbird, that is I! This very day I tried in vain to learn from Fafner what fear may be. Now I burn with longing to learn it from Bruennhilde: how shall I find my way to the fell?
Wagner makes it quite clear in this passage that he wishes us, his audience, to identify the fear Fafner (and also Alberich, since both Fafner and Alberich share the Dragon, or Fear, Motif #48) would have taught Siegfried, but could not (because Siegfried was already protected from Alberich’s curse on his Ring, the curse of consciousness, by his unconscious mind Bruennhilde, who figuratively gave birth to him), with the fear Bruennhilde will teach him (and which he will just as quickly forget, just as he quickly forgot the use he could make of Alberich’s Ring and Tarnhelm which the Woodbird had taught him), the fear engendered by Wotan’s confession of the inevitable twilight of the gods, knowledge which Erda had imparted to Wotan while giving birth to their child Bruennhilde.
Let me add, Siegfried’s fearlessness is the precondition to at least four separate actions which Siegfried alone can perform. Wotan said, after putting Bruennhilde to sleep in the finale of V.3.3, that only he who does not fear his spear can pass through Loge’s ring of fire around Bruennhilde (and thus wake and win Bruennhilde). That is to say, only he who can break Wotan’s law by killing Fafner and taking possession of Alberich’s Ring, Tarnhelm, and Hoard, which Fafner has guarded, can wake and win Bruennhilde, who is the repository for Wotan’s unspoken secret. Wotan/Wanderer told Mime in S.1.2 that only he who doesn’t know fear could reforge Nothung, and that the man who who doesn’t know fear will take Mime’s (wise) head. I have shown how these separate achievements are philosophically identical: to reforge the sword which represents the primal innocence before the Fall (the Sword Motif #57 incorporates the arpeggiated figure with which the "Ring" began, the Primal Nature Motif #1) is to destroy Wotan’s head (represented by Mime), in order to restore Wotan’s heart, Siegfried, the hero who is the product of the womb of Wotan’s wishes, Bruennhilde, Siegfried’s surrogate mother. And now the Woodbird echoes Wotan’s prior remark in saying that only a fearless hero can wake and win Bruennhilde. Siegfried is unconscious of who he is, and knows not Wotan’s fear, precisely because Bruennhilde, the womb of Wotan’s wishes, gave figurative birth to Siegfried. So Siegfried’s four unique abilities, which are consequences of his fearlessness, are ultimately one.
Wotan: (#38>>:) None there is wiser than you: to you is revealed what the depths conceal, what fills every hill and dale and moves through air and water. Where men have life your spirit moves (:#38); where brains are brooding your mind remains; all, it is said, is made known to you. (#133) That I may now gain knowledge, (#133:) I wake you from your sleep (:#133). (#21 vari)
Erda: (#97:) My sleep is dreaming, my dreaming brooding, (#59a:) my brooding the exercise of knowledge (:#59a). (#2:) But when I sleep, then Norns keep watch: they weave the rope and bravely spin whatever I know (:#2) - why don’t you ask (#2:) the Norns?
Wanderer: (#53:) In thrall to the world (#19:) those wise women weave (:#53; :#19): (#37) naught can they make or mend; (#19:) but I’d thank the store of your wisdom (#133) to be told how to hold back (#133) a rolling wheel. (#133; #133)
Here is evidence that Wotan can’t bear Erda’s objective knowledge of all that was, is, and will be, which Erda tells Wotan her daughters the Norns weave into their rope of fate each night as she sleeps. For Wotan has come to her in person in quest of ultimate knowledge, just as he has wandered over the earth (Erde, i.e., Erda), in quest of knowledge (i.e., the historical experience through which we humans collectively obtain knowledge), and the knowledge she offers to Wotan is that provided by her daughters, the Norns. Wotan complains that he can’t obtain the knowledge he seeks from them because they weave (their rope of fate) in thrall to the world (i.e., in thrall to objective reality, the truth), and can’t “make or mend” (i.e., can’t, like a supernatural being, a god, make natural law or break it, to escape fate, through the miraculous). Wotan prefers to know how he can hold back a rolling wheel, which is another way of saying he is not content with the reality which the Norns weave, and prefers to somehow transcend the fate, the natural law, which they weave. As he says that they are in thrall to the world and can’t alter its truth (in spite of having admitted to Alberich in S.2.1 that all things act according to their nature and can’t be altered, accompanied, as here, by Motif #2), we hear Motif #53 (initially identified with Erda’s knowledge of all that was, is, and will be), Alberich’s Ring Motif #19, and #37, the so-called Loveless Motif which is a shorthand for, and segment of, Motif #18, the motif to which Alberich renounced love for the sake of acquiring the power of the Ring. We can construe Motif #18 and its variant Motif #37 as the motival symbol for man’s Fall through the acquisition of consciousness. Since Wotan is not content with this kind of objective knowledge of the real world, which Alberich owns, Bruennhilde will offer him an alternative kind of knowledge.
It is noteworthy, by the way, that Motif #38 accompanies Wotan’s first statement to Erda, his description of the breadth and depth of her sleeping knowledge which wakes in the Norns’ weaving of their Rope of Fate, which embraces everything, because #38 was first heard as Loge described in R.2 how, in water, earth, and air, none living would ever renounce love and woman. Loge lied, of course, because after this lyrical effusion he admitted that there was one exception, Alberich, who had renounced love for power. Of course, in my interpretation, Alberich’s forging of his Ring of power is Wagner’s metaphor for the evolution of mankind into the first reflectively conscious species, a consciousness which mankind ultimately could not bear. #38 is heard again in S.2.2, in answer to Siegfried’s longing to see the mother who died giving him birth, who is literally Sieglinde, but figuratively Mother Nature, Bruennhilde's mother Erda, against whose truth (Erda’s knowledge of all that was, is, and will be) Wotan sinned in co-opting the power of Alberich’s Ring.
Erda: (#19 varis:) Deeds of men becloud my mind: (#19:) wise though I am, (#37:) a ruler (#19:) once tamed me (:#37; :#19). (#20a:) A wish-maid I bore to Wotan: (#20b>>:) for him he bade her choose slain heroes (:#20ab). (#77) (#98:) She is brave and wise withal (:#98): (#87:) why waken me (#98) and not (#87) seek knowledge from Erda’s and Wotan’s child? (#20a)
Since Wotan could not handle the truth, Erda offers him here an alternative to her objective knowledge which is woven by the Norns into their rope of fate, their daughter Bruennhilde, from whom, as we will see, Wotan can obtain redemption from the objective truth in aesthetic intuition, unconsciousness of the bitter truth he fears. She is saying that Wotan doesn’t really want to wake her knowledge of fate, #87, but wants instead to retreat into the dreamlike world which Bruennhilde, Wotan’s unconscious mind, can provide. For Bruennhilde is now the safe repository of Wotan’s confession of the terrible knowledge which her mother Erda imparted to Wotan, knowledge about the inevitability of the gods’ twilight, who can protect Wotan’s heir Siegfried from suffering the wounds of consciousness of this knowledge which paralyzed Wotan into impotence and inaction. Note also that as Erda tells Wotan that a ruler once tamed her, we hear Alberich’s Ring Motif #19 and the Loveless Motif #37 (a shorthand for #18), before we hear #20a, the motif representing the gods’ realm Valhalla to which the Ring #19 gave musical birth, as if to remind us that as Dark-Alberich Wotan became conscious of Erda’s waking, objective knowledge of all that was, is, and will be, but as Light-Alberich wished to repress it in favor of another kind of knowledge.
Wotan: what the lord of the battle longed to do but what he forbade – in spite of himself – his dissident daughter, all too conversantly [“allzu vertraut wagte die trotzige”], dared in the heat of that battle (#77) to do for herself. War-father punished the maid; (#94:) he closed her eyes in sleep; on yonder fell she’s sleeping soundly (:#94): (#21:; #19:) the hallowed maid will awaken only (:#21; :#19) (#37:) to love a man as his wife (:#37). (#21 frag) (#87 frag:) what use would it be to question her (:#87 frag)? (#99)
Wotan significantly says here that Bruennhilde “all too conversantly” did what he wanted to do but forbade himself to do. In other words, Bruennhilde’s sin against Wotan was in acting openly, in the real, waking, objective world on behalf of his ideal hero Siegmund, who was to stake a claim for Wotan’s ideal within the objective world, when what Wotan needed was for her to act in his behalf in her newfound role as his unconscious mind, subliminally. Note also that Wotan here echoes his earlier remark to Bruennhilde in his V.2.2 confession to her, when he asked what use his “will” could be to him, since he couldn’t create a free hero, by asking Erda now (accompanied by the Fate Motif #87) what use Bruennhilde it would be to question Bruennhilde, whom he has punished with sleep to be woken only be a man whom she must love as his wife, as we hear Alberich’s Ring Motif #19 and the Loveless Motif #37. Bruennhilde’s use to Wotan was precisely that, in confessing his fear of the inevitable end of the gods, and his futile longing for a hero who, freed from the gods’ rule, could redeem the gods from their fate, to the womb of his wishes Bruennhilde, she figuratively gave birth to that hero, Siegfried, who is Wotan reborn minus consciousness of his true identity, which is known for Siegfried by Bruennhilde (as she will tell him in S.3.3).
Wotan: Primevally wise you thrust ere now the thorn of care into Wotan’s venturous heart: (#2:) with fear of (:#2) (#54:) a shamefully adverse end your knowledge filled him till dread enmeshed his mind. (#82) (#112:) If you are the world’s wisest woman, then tell me now (:#112): how can the god (#21) overcome his care?
Erda: You are not (#19:) what you say you are (;#19)! Stubborn and wild-spirited god [“god” is not even hinted at in the German: “Was kam’st du stoerrischer Wilder, zu stoeren der Wala Schlaf?,” and Spencer’s use of it destroys the meaning of this passage, in which Erda is telling Wotan that he is not what he calls himself, a god!!!], why have you come (#37:) to disturb the vala’s sleep (:#37)? (#47)
This is a strikingly resonant passage. Wotan has basically repeated here the same two questions he had for Erda in R.4 when she first confronted him to persuade him to shun Alberich’s Ring and its curse, and prophesied the twilight of the gods, namely, that he wished to obtain full knowledge from Erda of what she’d made him fear, and that he wished to learn from her how to end his fear. It is of the highest import that just before he asks her how he, the god, can overcome his care, we hear #82, the Motif known as “Wotan’s Revolt,” which was also heard in V.2.2 just before he confessed the fateful knowledge which Erda had taught him to their daughter Bruennhilde. To even more definitively seal this impression, we hear the motif which was the basis for Motif #82, the motif known as Alberich’s Revolt, #47, just after Erda makes the drastic statement that Wotan is not what he says he is, i.e., he is not a god, which is precisely the import which Motif #47 carried when Alberich described in R.3 how he would destroy the gods. How, after all, could a true god have fears, or be subject to death and destruction? The only kind of god who could fear the gods’ end is a god who is the product of human self-deception, who would fear being exposed as being mortal, not a god.
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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