Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, OSWALD, THE MINNESINGER, by JOHN LAWSON STODDARD

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OSWALD, THE MINNESINGER, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Oswald von wolkenstein! / last of a gifted line
Last Line: God rest his soul!
Subject(s): Death; Legends; Life; Love; Dead, The

Oswald von Wolkenstein, the Last of the Minnesingers, loved a beautiful woman,
named Sabina, who proved faithless to him, thereby causing the poet great mental
suffering. He avenged his wrongs by writing poems on her coquetry and cruelty.
Years later, Sabina, who had never forgiven him his satirical verses, became the
favorite of the Tyrolese prince, "Frederick, of the Empty Purse", who also hated
Oswald for opposing his political plans. Accordingly, Sabina plotted with her
lover to induce the poet to come to her under a pretence of renewing their
former love. To effect this, she wrote him a letter expressing her undying
affection for him, and begging him to meet her near Meran. The plot was
successful, and Oswald fell completely into their power. By Frederick's orders
he was at once imprisoned in the dungeon of Schloss Forst, and subjected to
tortures which crippled him for the rest of his life.

"Oswald von Wolkenstein!
Last of a gifted line,
Years have gone by since we parted in hate;
What have they taught to me?
This, that all's naught to me
Save what you brought to me, --
Love and love's fate.
Can you that love forget?
Know that I love you yet!
If you my passion share,
Linger no longer there;
Fearless to do and dare,
Come, ere too late!

"Near the old Roman Road
Up which the legions strode,
Where the first vine-covered terraces rise,
Stands a grim fortress tall,
Which, like a mountain wall,
Though scarred by many a ball,
Capture defies!
'Forst' is the name it bears;
Brilliant the fame it wears;
Thither, -- our trysting place --,
Ride at your swiftest pace;
Come to my fond embrace!
My love your prize!"

Who could such words suspect?
Who could that call reject?
Surely not Wolkenstein, ardent of soul!
Gone is the pain of years;
Vanished his jealous fears;
Smiles have replaced his tears;
Lost self-control;
Slave to his passion's past,
Vows to the winds are cast;
Faithless, she holds him still;
Absent, she sways his will;
Traitress, with subtle skill
Plavs she her role.

Where Etsch and Eisack meet,
Mingling their waters fleet,
Opens the valley that leads to Meran;
As its red cliffs divide,
Castles on either side
(Each a strong chieftain's pride)
Threaten his plan;
Yet, where the shadows sleep
Under each dungeon keep,
Up through the land of wine,
Blest with both palm and pine,
Oswald von Wolkenstein
Rides to Terlan.

Here falls his gallant horse,
Killed by his headlong course;
Is it a warning to halt and retreat?
Yet who, when passion pleads,
Ever such warning heeds?
What though a dozen steeds
Drop at his feet?
Hence, while the peasants stare,
Buys he their swiftest mare;
And, as the pavement rings
With the bright gold he flings,
He to the saddle springs,
Never so fleet!

Now, lover, pause for breath!
Folly may here mean death!
Yon gleam the lights of the capital's towers;
Here let thy pace be slow;
Frederick, thy crafty foe,
Plots there to lay thee low,
Fearing thy powers;
He of the "empty purse",
Stung by thy biting verse,
Using a woman's hate,
Offers a tempting bait;
Both thy approach await,
Counting the hours!

Dark is the starless night;
Only one feeble light
Burns at the grating surmounting the door;
Has his advance been heard?
Was that a whispered word?
What in that shadow stirred?
Shall he explore?
Fie! when a prize so fair
Doubtless awaits him there,
Shall he now hesitate
Here, at Forst's very gate,
Fearing to test his fate?
No, nevermore!

Hark! 'tis a gruff command,
Loosing an ambushed band;
Seizing, they drag him, disarmed, to the court;
Brightly the torches flare,
Flinging a ruddy glare
On a proud, mocking pair,
Watching the sport;
God, can this thing be true?
She with this hostile crew!
"Faithless and shameless one,
Thou hast my life undone"!
"Poet, thy race is run",
Is her retort.

Barred is the iron door!
On the damp dungeon floor
Oswald the Troubadour, gifted and strong,
Lies in a loathsome cave,
Dark as a living grave,
No one to care or save,
Silenced his song;
And while they leave him there,
Crushed by profound despair,
Princelet and paramour,
Knowing their prey secure,
Feeling their vengeance sure,
Laugh loud and long.

Who can in words relate
Oswald's unhappy fate,
Left to these monsters, whose hate was ablaze?
Both on revenge were bent;
He for a menace sent,
She for the merriment
Caused by his lays.
"Dungeon and torture-rack,
These shall now pay thee back!
Minstrel and poet rare,
Rave in thy mad despair,
And in that fetid lair
Finish thy days!"

Vainly he pleads with her;
No prayer succeeds with her;
Useless the joys of their past to rehearse;
For to increase his woe,
Frederick, his jealous foe,
Shares in this cruel show, --
Fit for God's curse;
Shameless and treacherous,
Heartless and lecherous,
Sabine with fiendish glee,
Deaf to his every plea,
Watches his agony,
Quoting his verse!

Broken at last his chain!
Ended the poet's pain!
Freed by a ransom (his relatives' dole),
Humbled by grief and shame,
Injured in name and fame,
Drags he his crippled frame
Back through Tyrol.

Then, in a plaintive song
Chanting his grievous wrong,
Oswald von Wolkenstein,
Last of his gifted line,
Dies in Schloss Hauenstein;
God rest his soul!

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