Wagner will later, in "Twilight of the Gods," conflate the death potion which Mime tries, and fails, to get Siegfried to drink, with the love/forgetfulness potion and its antidote, the potion of remembrance, both of which Hagen does succeed in getting Siegfried to drink (the first with Gutrune’s collaboration), which will, indeed, lead to his death. It is no accident that one of Loge’s primary motifs, #35, gives musical birth not only to the two Tarnhelm Motifs (#42, and #43, sometimes called the Motif of Transformation), but also to the Motif of Hagen’s Potions of love/forgetfulness and remembrance, #154. Wagner dramatizes this link in many ways, but particularly in having Hagen give Siegfried the potion of remembrance, which will lead to Siegfried’s death, at the very moment Siegfried can’t remember anything later in his narrative of how he came to grasp the meaning of the Woodbird’s song, than Mime’s failure to get him to drink his potion of death, and Siegfried’s killing of Mime. In other words, Siegfried’s death by virtue of drinking Mime’s potion was only deferred.
Alberich: (#Dunning: music based on the harmonic progression heard during the debate between Alberich and Wotan over who ought to possess the ring in R.4:) Are you out pursuing new deeds of spite [“Neidthat”]? Don’t linger here! Betake yourself hence. Enough deceit has steeped this spot in suffering [“Genug des Truges traenkte die Staette mit Noth”] and so, brazen god [“du Frecher” – Spencer’s mistranslation here misrepresents Alberich’s innocuous description of Wotan as something like an impudent or brazen scoundrel: he does not call him a god], let the place alone [“lass’ sie jetzt frei!”]!
Wanderer: (#112:) I came to watch (:#112) and not to act: (#113:) who’d bar the Wanderer’s way (:#113)?
Wotan has, as even he himself confessed to Bruennhilde (his unconscious mind), based the gods’ rule on self-deceit and deceit of those who obey the gods’ rule. Alberich stands instead for acknowledgment of the bitter truth, that in this earthly life fear and the desire for power (i.e. egoism) are the primary human motives (something he has threatened to force all who depend on self-deception to acknowledge, in saying that all will renounce love and lust for gold as he has). Thus he tells Wotan that Fafner’s lair is steeped in the suffering (“Noth”) caused by Wotan’s deceit, and tries to warn Wotan away from this spot which we learned in V.3.1 Wotan shuns because it is taboo for him. Fafner guarding Alberich’s Ring, Tarnhelm, and Hoard, without making use of their power (thanks to Wotan’s contract with the giants of which Fafner now is the sole beneficiary), is Wagner’s metaphor for the notion that religious faith, fearful of the truth which would expose the self-deceit upon which it is based, has taken the human mind prisoner by prohibiting freedom of inquiry. Alberich (man’s propensity to seek knowledge of the objective truth, which is the sole source of real, palpable, worldly power) has watched and waited through the ages for his chance to breach this taboo, this stranglehold of faith on thought, in order to gain power and overthrow the gods, i.e., overthrow the beliefs and values predicated on those beliefs which stand in the way of the bald, egoistic acquisition of objective power.
But Wotan now says he comes not to act, but to watch. Similarly, where religion stakes a claim to the truth, by claiming that its illusions are the truth, secular art stakes no claim to the truth and its power because it confesses itself (as Wagner said, echoing Feuerbach) a fiction or game of play, and in music, which is non-conceptual, has no direct relationship either to scientific, objective truth (Alberich’s domain), or to religious falsehood which proclaims itself the truth (the gods’ domain). Siegfried is Wotan’s free hero because he seems to be beholden neither to Alberich’s bitter truth nor to the gods’ self-deception. Siegfried merely feels and acts upon this feeling with no conscious ulterior motive. It is Bruennhilde who holds, for Siegfried, his unconscious self-knowledge that he is in fact the heir to Wotan, that religious man’s longing for transcendent meaning and value lives on in the feeling which art expresses, while religion as thought, as a belief, as prose, dies out. But Bruennhilde (music) is the link between Wotan’s thought and Siegfried’s feeling. Wotan has renounced the worldly power of the Ring, in his hope that Siegfried will take aesthetic possession of it, and thereby keep Alberich from regaining its power.
Wanderer: Haggle with Mime, not with me: (lightly) your brother’s bringing you danger; he’s leading a youngster here who’s meant to kill Fafner for him. Of me he knows nothing; the Nibelung is using him for his own ends. And so I say to you, comrade: act in whatever way may suit you!
(#101 frag: Alberich’s gesture shows his violent curiosity.)
Wanderer: (#114 vari:) Mark me well and be on your guard: the boy doesn’t know of the ring (:#114 vari) but Mime’s found out about it.
Alberich: (forcefully: #101 frag) And would you withhold your hand from the hoard?
Wanderer: Him whom I love I leave to his own devices; [[ #127: ]] let him stand or fall, his own master is he: heroes alone can help me (:#127).
Alberich: With Mime alone would I vie for the ring?
Wanderer: Save you alone, only he desires the gold.
Wotan is here disavowing his prosaic self Mime in favor of his ideal, poetic self Siegfried, and saying that Wotan’s former desire for the power of the Ring (of the truth) no longer motivates him, since he consigns all that was prosaic in his former motives to destruction. Wotan will live on in Siegfried who does not consciously stake a claim to the power of the truth, the power of Alberich’s Ring. Thus Wotan severs religious faith and belief from what will become Siegfried’s art, proclaiming him independent of the gods.
Wotan: This one thing – I advise you – heed it well: (approaching him, confidingly: #2 >>:) all things go their different ways [“Alles ist nach seiner Art”]; you can alter nothing [“an ihr wirst du nichts aendern”]) (:#2). – I leave the field to you: stand firm! Try your luck with your brother, Mime; his kind you understand better. (turning to go: #127 vari: [as a triumphant horn theme]) As for the rest, learn that, too (:#127 vari horns)!
Here Wotan (Light-Alberich) confesses to Alberich (Dark-Alberich), his alter ego, that he has accepted Erda’s proclamation of the gods’ fate, that Wotan can alter nothing, since everything acts according to its own inherent nature, just as he confessed this to Bruennhilde in V.2.2, and yet in S.3.1, during Wotan’s final confrontation with Erda, he will inquire of her (presumably only rhetorically) how he can stop a turning wheel to, one presumes, alter the gods’ fate. He asks her this question after having rejected Erda’s offer that he can gain knowledge from her daughters the Norns, since, as Wotan complains, they weave their rope of fate according to the world. These two positions are contradictory. But if one of the two remains unconscious, this contradiction need not come to light. Thanks to Bruennhilde Wotan possesses knowledge of the bitter truth, yet remains unconscious of it, leaving him free (in his new incarnation as Siegfried) to live within the safe realm of unconscious and unwitting self-deception.
Siegfried: (who until now has been stretched out nonchalantly on the ground, raises himself quickly into a sitting position) (#119 chord:) Nothung (:#119 chord) I’ll thrust in the proud beast’s heart. Is that what people call fear? (#104>>:) Hey, old man, if that’s all that your cunning can teach me, then be on your way; I’ll not learn what fear is here (:#104).
Mime: (#34 >>:) Just wait awhile! For all that I say may seem to you empty sound: you have to see and hear him himself, then your senses will surely fail you! (#98 vari >>:) When your gaze grows blurred and the ground starts to shake and your heart is quaking with fear in your breast (:#34): - (#126 tympani: in a very friendly tone of voice) you’ll thank me that I brought you here and recall how much Mime loves you.
Wagner again reinforces our subliminal acceptance of an equivalence between Alberich’s Ring, Tarnhelm, and Hoard (which the Nibelungs under Alberich's direction mined in the earth, or Erda), which Fafner guards, and which embody Wotan’s fear of Erda’s prophecy that the gods’ end will come through Alberich’s curse on his Ring as represented in his son Hagen, and Bruennhilde’s possession of Wotan’s hoard of knowledge he gained through union with her mother Erda, which includes her prophecy of the inevitable twilight of the gods, since we hear Loge’s Motif #34, and #98, the motif associated with Bruennhilde’s fervent desire that her sleep be guarded by terrors in order to keep all but a great hero from waking and winning her, as Mime describes how Siegfried will learn fear from Fafner. He won’t, but he will learn fear from Bruennhilde, and for the same reason, since she holds for Siegfried Wotan’s knowledge of how Alberich’s Ring, Tarnhelm, and Hoard will bring about the twilight of the gods.
Fafner: (in a weaker voice: #50 >>:; #126:) Who are you, valiant lad, who has wounded me to the heart (:#50; :#126)? Who goaded the mettlesome child to commit this murderous deed (:#? – [the peculiar four-note phrase])? (#51:) Your brain did not brood upon what you have (#92:) done (:#51).
Siegfried: (#92:) There is much that I still don’t know (:#92): (#92c?:) I still don’t know who I am (:#92c?): (#92:) to join in murderous fight with you you goaded me on yourself. (#? [the peculiar four-note phrase])
Fafner’s questions, i.e., who killed Fafner, and who goaded this murderer to kill Fafner, has of course (following the logic of our argument) two answers, one proximate, the other distant. In a concrete sense Mime has brought Siegfried to Fafner’s lair in the hope that Siegfried (the fearless Siegfried, since if Mime or Fafner taught Siegfried fear presumably he wouldn’t have the courage to kill Fafner) will kill Fafner and take possession of Alberich’s Ring, Tarnhelm, and Hoard, and that Mime can then give Siegfried a sleeping potion and kill him and take possession of them for himself. But Fafner’s question also embraces Wotan (Light-Alberich), who brought his Waelsung race into being in the first place in order that one of its heroes, either Siegmund or Siegfried, could somehow be subliminally prompted to do what the gods need, kill Fafner and take possession of Ring, Tarnheim, Hoard. But we can trace Siegfried’s motive even further, since Fafner’s remark “(#51) Your brain did not brood upon what you (#92) have done,” is accompanied by Alberich’s Ring Curse Motif. Anyone who longs for Alberich’s Ring, except Alberich himself, is destined by Alberich’s curse on the Ring to live in fear and ultimately to be destroyed by it. So even Alberich, Wotan’s alter ego, is a prior motivator of Siegfried’s murder of Fafner.
Siegfried’s answer to Fafner’s question about Siegfried’s identity is full of mystery and awe, for he says: “(#92) There is much that I still don’t know: I still don’t know who I am.” Siegfried doesn’t know who he is, but, as Bruennhilde tells Siegfried in S.3.3, “… what you don’t know I know for you,” Bruennhilde knows for Siegfried his true identity, as Wotan. Bruennhilde, who knew - when Siegfried’s literal birth-mother Sieglinde didn’t know - that Sieglinde was pregnant with Siegfried, who knew that the as-yet-unborn child would be the greatest of heroes, and who took a mother’s responsibility from Sieglinde by naming her child for her (as Siegfried’s Motif #92 was introduced in V.3.1), is Siegfried’s figurative or allegorical mother, a fact to which Wagner again draws attention when Siegfried in S.3.3 asks Bruennhilde if she is his mother. Bruennhilde is Siegfried’s mother allegorically because Wotan’s planting the seed of his fear of the gods’ fated end, and the seed of his hope that a free hero would redeem Wotan and the gods from their fear of their fated doom, in the womb of his wishes Bruennhilde, through his confession to her, allegorically gave birth to Siegfried who, for reasons aforementioned, can be understood as Wotan’s own self reborn, minus consciousness of his true identity and history. This is a metaphor for the notion that dying religious faith is figuratively reborn in inspired secular art, in which man’s religious longing for transcendent value lives on as feeling, minus religion’s conscious claim to represent the truth (Wotan’s claim to Alberich’s Ring of power).
It is for this reason that in S.3.3 Bruennhilde will tell Siegfried that “(#141) Your own self am I if you but love me in my bliss. (#87 Fate Motif) What you don’t know I know for you … .” Note that not only does Bruennhilde say that she is his “self” if he loves her in her bliss, but also that we hear the Fate Motif #87 as Bruennhilde tells Siegfried that what he doesn’t know (his true identity and history, i.e., the contents of Wotan’s confession of the gods’ fate to Bruennhilde, and Wotan’s longing to escape this fate, or at least to escape feeling fear of it), she knows for him.
Siegfried: It’s almost as though (#128:) the woodbirds were speaking to me. Was this brought about by the taste of blood? That strange little bird here. – Listen! What is it singing to me (:#128)?
The Woodbird: (from the branches of a lime-tree above Siegfried: #129/#11 >>>> Hey! Siegfried now owns the Nibelung hoard: o might he now find the hoard in the cave! If he wanted to win the Tarnhelm, it would serve him for wondrous deeds: but could he acquire the ring, it would make him lord of the world (:#129)!
(Siegfried has listened with bated breath and a rapt expression on his face: #11)
Siegfried: (quietly and with emotion) My thanks for your good counsel, you dear little bird: (#92c or #71 vari?:) I’ll gladly follow your call (:#92c or #71 vari?). (He turns to the back of the stage and descends into the cave, where he soon disappears from sight.)
Alberich: (#17:) And yet it shall still (:#17) (#59a:) belong to its lord alone (:#59a)!
(He disappears into the cleft. During the foregoing, Siegfried has emerged from the cave, slowly and pensively, with the Tarnhelm and ring: sunk in thought, he contemplates his booty and again pauses on the knoll in the middle of the stage.)
Siegfried: What use you are I do not know: (#12) but I took you from the heaped-up gold of the hoard (#59b:) since goodly counsel counseled me to do so. (#16 >>:) May your trinkets serve as witness to this day’s events: may the bauble recall (:#59b; :#16) (#109:; #59c:) how, fighting, I vanquished Fafner but still haven’t learned the meaning of fear (:#109; :#59c)! (#11: He tucks the Tarnhelm under his belt and puts the ring on his finger. Silence.)
Here we find further proof that Siegfried is a possessor of unconscious, subliminal knowledge, and that his feelings (his music, if you will) link to thoughts which remain unconscious for him, just as Bruennhilde holds for him his knowledge of his true identity and history, so that he can remain unconscious of this knowledge. Note, first, that the Woodbird instructs Siegfried to take possession of Alberich’s Hoard, Tarnhelm and Ring. Granted, Mime wished for Siegfried to do this, but the Woodbird clearly doesn’t speak for Mime because, in just a moment, the Woodbird will tell Siegfried that if he listens closely to Mime he will hear what Mime thinks in his heart, and will become aware of Mime’s treachery, his intent to exploit Siegfried only in order to murder him. But the only other character in the Ring who had a motive for Siegfried to take possession of the sources of Alberich’s power was Wotan, who imparted this wish to Bruennhilde, Wotan’s unconscious mind, who in turn (as Siegfried’s figurative mother) can impart this knowledge and Wotan’s now subliminal motive to Siegfried. I will be quoting later Wagner’s remark that he regarded the Woodbird as, in a sense, the spirit of the dead Sieglinde, Siegfried’s mother, but if that is the case it can only account for two of the three things the Woodbird imparts to Siegfried, namely, the threat which Mime represents (which Sieglinde must have sensed in her dying moments, which Mime watched over), and the instruction to go to the sleeping Bruennhilde (Sieglinde in S.3.1 predicted that her son would smile on Bruennhilde someday). But Sieglinde had no knowledge of Alberich’s Ring, Tarnhelm, and Hoard, and would have no motive whatsoever to instruct Siegfried to take possession of them. Only Wotan had that motive. Therefore, it could well be that Bruennhilde, as in effect Sieglinde’s surrogate, Siegfried's allegorical mother, is the spirit of the Woodbird, or the spirit of music, which draws Siegfried to his future muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, Bruennhilde, who holds for him Wotan’s hidden hoard of knowledge and Wotan’s longing for redemption through a free hero. Hagen will hint at this equation of the Woodbird with Bruennhilde in T.3.2 when he says to Siegfried (in answer to Siegfried’s question: “Is Bruennhilde making him [Gunther] brood?”): “(#Remembrance Motif, a Motif #174b variant?) “If only he understood her as you do the singing of birds!”
The point of this is that inspired music (the Woodbird’s song) has a hidden programme, an original source of inspiration which either can’t, by its very nature, be grasped conceptually by the conscious mind, or should not become conscious at all because the conscious mind could not bear it. Such, for instance, is the self-knowledge which so troubled Wotan that, as he told Bruennhilde, he dare not speak it aloud lest it cause him to lose the grip sustaining his will. In other words, Wotan feared madness. Wotan told Bruennhilde just before making his confession that what he spoke to her (his will, his other self) would remain forever unspoken. It would remain forever unspoken in words, but not necessarily unspoken as music. Such hidden knowledge might, for instance, be the knowledge that inspired music is man’s substitute for dying religious faith. This offers us possible insight into the fact that Siegfried alone possesses the ability to grasp the hidden meaning of the Woodbird’s song, to understand it conceptually.
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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