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At the meeting of the Deutscher Verein last evening, Dr. Julius Goebel, editor of the Belletristische Journal, delivered an exceedingly interesting lecture on the "The Poetry of Walther von der Vogelweide." The speaker said that little is known of this poet-singer's life. It is probable that he was an Austrian by birth, that he lived in a village called Vogelweide, and that he imbibed from the deep twilight of the German forests that love of nature and legend which characterized his later writings. Until 1198 he lived at the Austrian court, but at the time of the feud between the Guelphs and Ghibelines, he became an enthusiastic supporter of the Hohenstaufens, and soon afterwards he was recognized by Frederick II., who showed him much favor and gave him a home. In 1228 Walther took part in the crusades, at the head of which was Frederick II., and soon after his return from the Holy Land Walther died.
Walther was one of the greatest of German lyrical poets, and his preeminence was recognized by the writers of the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. He was the master whom all aspiring lyrists took for their example. During the 16th and 17th centuries Walther, for some reason or other, was little read, but during the 18th century he came into favor again, and the 19th century has seen him re-established in popular estimation as one of the master German lyrists, and one of the truest poets of the world.
To understand the poetry of Walther one must understand the peculiar social and mental conditions of the century in which he lived. A great interest had just been aroused in the "new chivalry," as it was called-a chivalry in which the fundamental idea was "Frauendiens," the devotion of a knight to some married woman-a devotion which need not be, and was seldom, returned by the noble "Frau." At first this "Frauendiens" was very attractive to Walther, and he wrote many exquisite poems in praise of this love, which seemed so noble and unselfish. But later Walther saw the folly and immorality of the "Frauendiens." He saw that the highest and truest love was not the adoration of a man for the wife of another man, but that the truest love is that of a man for a beautiful girl who returns his affection, and does not demand weeping and sighing from her lover.
The love-songs which spring from this change in Walther's ideas exquisitely beautiful. They breathe forth tenderness and yearning which, though latent before, had been aroused by his new insight into the character of true love. At about this time, too, he wrote many songs against the Pope, and the corruptions which had been brought about by the papal policy, and although he indulged in occasional satire he never allowed satire to predominate in his writings. His patriotic songs and poems availed to a great extent to turn the thoughts of the Germans toward reform and a certain degree of national pride. And when we take into consideration the true and noble life of Walther von der Vogelweide, his admiration for noble womanhood, his exquisite lyrical power, and his lofty patriotism, we may well say with one of the 19th century poets, "He is one of those historical characters in whom the essence of a nation is concentrated."
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