Wagner On The True Meaning Of: Reality, Love, The Ring, Wotan, Brunhilde and More

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday, 15 July 2017 | 2:55:00 pm

Wagner And Rockel - 1865
"But it is not the repulse of Alberich by the Rhine-daughters - the repulse was inevitable owing to their nature - that was the cause of all the mischief. Alberich and his ring would have been powerless to harm the gods had they not themselves been susceptible to evil."

Everything totters round Brunhilde, everything is out of joint; in a terrible conflict she is overcome, she is "forsaken of God."

"I cannot believe that you have misapprehended my meaning and intention: only it seems to me that you have attached more importance to the connecting links and parts of the great chain than they, as such, deserve; and as if you had been bound to do this, in order to read into my poem your own preconceived ideas"

"I was prepared to give up Art and everything if I could once more become a child of Nature. But, my good friend, I was obliged to laugh at my own naivete when I found myself almost going mad.".

Of course I do not mean my hero to make the impression of a wholly unconscious creature: on the contrary, I have sought in Siegfried to represent my ideal of the perfect human being, whose highest consciousness manifests itself in the acknowledgement that all consciousness must find expression in present life and action.

At the end of " Rhine Gold " when Loge watches the gods enter Walhalla and speaks these fateful words: " They hasten towards their end who, imagine themselves so strong in their might," he, in that moment, only gives utterance to our· own conviction; for any one who has followed the prelude sympathetically, and not in a hypercritical, cavilling spirit, but abandoning himself to his impressions and feelings, will entirely agree with Loge.

And now let me say something to you about Brunhilde. You misunderstand her, too, when you attribute her refusal to give the ring up to Wotan to hardness and obstinacy. Can you not see that it was for love's sake that Brunhilde sundered herself from Wotan and from all the gods because where Wotan clung to schemes, she could only-love?


Wagner was, of course, a prolific letter writer and essayist, yet it is letters to his friend - revolutionary, conductor, composer, Republican - August Röckel (while Rockel lay in solitary confinement for 13 years following his and Wagner's part in the Dresden uprising) that to me are some of the most interesting. This is especially when they relate to the Ring. In part, this is because Rockel asked many of the questions and raised many of the criticism of the cycle that critics and listeners have made since it was first performed. And Wagner was more than happy to answer him.  Reading the following - just one of many we shall publish over the next few months - sometimes feels as if we are having a Q&A session with Wagner, now, today. In these letters, Wagner is always at his clearest when he is discussing the Ring directly. Some readers may want to jump straight to this section and we have titled that section accordingly.


Zurich, 25th January 1854.

How I came to leave your letter unanswered for almost four· months is a matter easily explained to myself; but it will be more difficult to make it clear to you, my dearest friend. 

Anyhow, the chief blame is due to the importance and interest of your letter. To answer it in any way adequately was not so much a question of my will as of my power to do so. All last summer I was very unsettled. Liszt paid me a visit in July; later, I went to St. Moritz in the Grisons (6,000 feet above the sea) ; in the end of August to Italy-at least to such parts of it as are open to me, -Turin, Genoa, Spezzia: from there I intended to go to Nice and to remain there for some time; but in a strange land my sense of solitude so overwhelmed me that suddenly, and partly in consequence of a purely physical indisposition, I fell into a state of melancholia, and set out with what speed I could across Lago Maggiore and the St. Gothard, and came straight home. While I was recruiting here, your letter reached me, and at the same time, I heard from Liszt asking me to meet him in Paris. I spent the month of October there, which caused the newspapers to infer that Liszt and I had the intention of bringing out my operas on the Paris stage. During all this confusion I was unable to answer your letter and meant to do so on my return to Zurich. But once there, I was overcome with such an intense longing to get to work at the music of my " Rheingold " that  I was not in a proper frame of mind to reply to your critical remarks on my poem. No! really 

I could not. So I threw myself passionately - after an interval of six years - into music, and determined not to write till I had finished the composition of "Rheingold." Well, that is done, and now I understand my own reluctance to answer you sooner; for now, the work being accomplished, I am in a quite different position to reply to your criticism, or rather not to reply to it - that doubtless was best, for you are right in criticising; but I, too, am right in conceiving and carrying out the work as best I can and may. Therefore, I shall not quarrel with you about it, but I should like to talk it over a little with you.

One thing is paramount-freedom! But what is freedom? Does one mean by it, as our politicians seem to hold, lawlessness? Certainly not! Freedom is sincerity. He who is sincere - that is, true to himself, in perfect harmony with his own nature - he is free

But in the first place, and in regard to my actual letter, let me tell you what a boon you conferred on me by the accounts you sent me of yourself and of your well-being. I come back to it: you strike me as being almost happier in your position than I am in mine. Every line of your letter bears witness to your perfect soundness and sanity. Now I admire you for this. The fact _that you are allowed to write me a letter of five sheets proves that there has been an improvement in the actual conditions of your life, for which I am indeed thankful ; though I must confess I can imagine circumstances under which I might have to forego every alleviation to existence, without suffering a pang on account of that which I was called on to renounce. One thing is paramount-freedom! But what is freedom? Does one mean by it, as our politicians seem to hold, lawlessness? Certainly not! Freedom is sincerity. He who is sincere - that is, true to himself, in perfect harmony with his own nature - he is free. Outward constraint is powerless unless it succeeds in destroying that sincerity in its victim, and inducing him to dissemble, and thus attempt to make himself and others believe that he is something different to what he really is. That alone is true servitude. But one need never submit to that. Let a man be actually in bondage, if he preserves this sincerity of soul, he keeps his essential freedom intact, at least in a higher measure than another who has ceased to feel that constraint - active every where in the world - simply because he has submitted wholly to its power, and for its sake has consented to play the hypocrite.


I believe that this sincerity is, in fact, no other than what philosophers and theologians mean when they talk of truth. The truth is an idea, and by its nature is nothing else than sincerity in concrete form. The simple meaning of this sincerity is nothing else than reality or, better still, the Real, the Actual; and that only is real which is appreciable to the senses (sensuous), whereas what is non-appreciable to the senses is unreal and merely abstract and imaginary. If therefore, I am right in considering sincerity as the most complete manifestation and expression of reality, Truth is nothing else than the abstract idea of this feeling, at least that is what it has become in philosophy. And yet this idea is as far removed from reality as sincerity, as I conceive of it, is akin to this latter, and consequently from all time no word has given rise to so much error as this word Truth, which gradually has become the source of every sort of fallacy, till finally the idea-as must always be the case with mere abstract ideas-has become nothing but a term (word), and out of terms one can always build up a system; but it is a very different matter to lay hold on reality. We have no certain experience of reality except through feeling, and feeling, be it remembered, is once and for all an affair of the senses.

It is clear that in using the word senses, the idea to be conveyed is not mere animal senses, as the term is contemptuously applied by philosophers and theologians, but the human senses capable of reaching to the stars and of measuring their courses. Having established this, I think we shall be at one in our views concerning the " World " (in so far as it is the domain for the exercise of this feeling of sincerity) if we allow ourselves to be guided exclusively by the one genuine source of experience, namely, sensation, and only pay attention to impressions derived from this source. Man, acting in conformity with his organisation, has recourse to endless expedients in order to grasp the Universe as a whole : these expedients in all their endless complexity are simply a group of concepts; and in our pride at having thus attained to a concept of the world in its entirety, we lose sight of our true position, forgetting that after all we have grasped nothing but the concept, and that consequently we are simply taking pleasure in the instrument of our own making, while all the time we remain further removed than ever from the reality of the world. But the man who can find no lasting delight in the phantasms of this illusion, at last, becomes conscious that his own mind rebels against its tyranny. He recognises the unreality of this barren illusion and feels impelled to turn to reality and to approach it by means of feeling. Then the question arises: how is this to be done, seeing that reality conceived of as a whole can only be made intelligible to the intellect, and cannot be brought into relation with feeling? It can only be done by recognising that the essence of reality consists of infinite multiplicity. This inexhaustible multiplicity, incessantly renewed and renewing, can only be apprehended by feeling, as the one ever-present though ever-varying element. This variability is the essence of the real; the unreal, or that which is imagined, alone being invariable and immutable. Nothing but what is variable can be real. To be real-to live-what is it but to be born, to grow, to bloom, to wither and to die? Without death as a necessary concomitant, there is no possibility of life: that alone has no end which has no beginning; but nothing real can be without beginning, only abstract ideas.

Therefore to be at one with truth is to give oneself up as a sentient human being wholly and entirely to reality- to encounter birth, growth, bloom, blight and decay frankly, with joy and with sorrow, and to live to the full this. life made up of happiness and suffering - so to live and so to die. This is "to be at one with truth." To make such a consummation possible we must entirely renounce the pursuit of the Universal. The Universal is made manifest to us. only in separate phenomena, for of such alone can we in the true sense of the word take cognisance. Now we can only fully grasp a phenomenon if we can at one and the same time completely absorb it, and be absorbed by it. Where must we look for the most complete example of this marvellous process? Ask Nature. We must look to love, and to love only. All that I cannot love remains outside myself, and I remain outside of it-a condition in which a philosopher perhaps, but not a sincere man, may imagine that he grasps phenomena. Love in its most perfect reality is only possible between the sexes; it is only as man and woman that human beings can truly love. Every other manifestation of love can be traced back to that one absorbingly real feeling, of which all other affections are but an emanation, a connection, or an imitation. It is an error to look upon this as only one of the forms in which love is revealed as if there were other forms co-equal with it, or even superior to it. He who after the manner of metaphysicians prefers unreality to reality, and derives the concrete from the abstract-and, in short, puts the word before the fact, - he may be right in esteeming the idea of love as higher than the expression of love, and may affirm that actual love made manifest in feeling is nothing but the outward and visible sign of a pre-existent, non-sensuous, abstract love ; and he will do well to despise that love and sensuous function in general. In any case, it was safe to bet that such a man had never loved or been loved as human beings can love, or he would have understood that in despising this feeling, what he condemned was its sensual expression, the outcome of man's animal nature, and not true human love. The highest satisfaction and expression· of the individual is only to be found in his complete absorption, and that is only possible through love. Now a human being is both man and woman, and it is only when these two are united that the real human being exists, and thus it is only by love that man and woman attain to the full measure of humanity. But when nowadays we talk of a human being, such heartless blockheads are we that quite involuntarily we only think of man.

It is only in the union of man and woman, by love (sensuous and super-sensuous), that the human being exists ; and as the human being cannot rise to the conception of anything higher than his own existence-his own being,-so the transcendent act of his life is this consummation of his humanity through love. He can only renew it, the whole of life being after all but a constant renewal of the multiplicity of vital phenomena; and it is this renewal which alone explains the true nature of love, approximating it to the ebb and flow of the tide-constantly changing, and ceasing only to begin afresh. It is, therefore, a grievous error to look upon that power in love, by virtue of which it constantly renews itself, as a weakness; and, on the other hand, to glorify as the real, lasting love that abstract, imaginary feeling, centred on God knows what, which after all is but the spectre of real love. The mere possibility of its indefinite continuance proves the unreal nature of this abstract sentiment. Eternal, in the true sense of the word, is that which annuls finiteness (or, better, the idea of finiteness). But between the real and finiteness, there is no connection to be established, for the real-namely, that which is characterised by change, renovation, and multiplicity-is the negation of what we imagine to ourselves as finite. The infinity of the metaphysician is eternal unreality. Finiteness is a mental image, which sure enough has power to strike terror into our souls; but it can only do this if we have lost our hold on reality. If, on the contrary, we are possessed by a sense of the reality of love,  that terror vanishes, for love annihilates the notion of limitation. To sum up, only that which is real can be eternal, and it is through love that we attain to the most perfect manifestation of reality; therefore Love only is eternal. The fact is, egoism ceases at the moment when the "I" passes into the "Thou." But it is impossible to keep a firm hold on the " I " and " Thou " if one is bewildered by notions of the Universal. "I" and the "Universe" merely mean " I " my own self, and the Universe is only then real to me when it passes into the " Thou," and this can only happen through the medium of the loved one. This process can be renewed through the medium of a child, or of a friend; but in order to love child or friend with a perfect love, a man must have first known what it is to lose himself in an all-absorbing feeling, and this he can only learn through his love to a woman. At the best, this feeling for child and friend is only a makeshift, a fact of which those are most conscious who have most fully realised the ecstasy of mutual love as between 'man and woman. All other affections are merely a proof of the multiplicity of our human nature, which brings to light strange anomalies, sometimes of an absurd, but equally often of a tragic, kind.

This end is still ignored by the majority of mankind; but I have indicated above what I understand it to be, namely, the perfect consummation of love as the fullest, most complete perception of reality, of truth;

But enough! I venture to intrude on your solitude with this confession of faith, for I feel sure that there is no fear of your saddening yourself by agreeing with me. Not only you but I - indeed, each one of us - live at the present moment under circumstances and conditions which we can only look upon as stop gaps and makeshifts; for each of us the only true, the only real life can only exist in the imagination as an unattained ideal. I had reached the age of thirty-six before I had divined the true meaning of my creative impulse; up till then, Art had seemed to me to be the end, life the means. But the discovery had come to me too late, and the result of following this new bent could not be other than tragic. A wider outlook into the actual world forces home the conviction that for the moment Love is impossible. It has come to this, that one of my friends, in addressing himself to Germans, could affirm with truth: " You do not know what Love means. How should men be capable of loving who have no initiative of Character? The thing is impossible." Therefore if we must put up with a makeshift, it seems to me it were best frankly to accept things as they are, and to abide by this acknowledgement of the truth, even if this avowal bring us no other good than the proud consciousness of having gained a knowledge by means of which we may be enabled to guide the wills and aspirations of mankind into the way of redemption. It is true that in doing this we are working for humanity as a whole, but we are driven to it by realising the fact that the individual cannot be happy by himself, but only when all are happy can he obtain perfect satisfaction. As. you perceive this is quite your point of view; only for me it is not a final standpoint-merely a temporary platform, a means to an end. This end is still ignored by the majority of mankind; but I have indicated above what I understand it to be, namely, the perfect consummation of love as the fullest, most complete perception of reality, of truth; but not an abstract, ideal, non·.sensuous love (such as alone is  possible in the present state of things), but the love of the "I" and the "Thou."


It follows that I look on all the prodigious efforts of the human race, and on all our actual science, as ways and means towards an end, which in itself is a very simple, but a very divine thing. I, therefore, respect all these efforts ; · I recognise a necessity in every onward step, and I rejoice heartily at each new advance ; but personally I cannot take part in all this striving (which, strangely enough, is ignorant of its gain), seeing that the simple end to which it all tends stands out so prominently before me that I cannot turn my eyes away from the object to the means.

 I, on the contrary, believe that  I am devoting myself to absolute Reality, in the most effective, deliberate, and determinate way 

Only the pressure of a great movement could bring about such an act of self-denial on my part, and I should hail that with joy as the sole means of redemption for me. And now, you must not take it ill if I  only smile at the advice you give me to tear myself away from dreams and egoistic illusions and to devote myself to what alone is real to life itself, and its aspirations. For I, on the contrary, believe that  I am devoting myself to absolute Reality, in the most effective, deliberate, and determinate way by carrying out my own views, even those that entail the. most suffering, and by dedicating every one of my faculties to this end. Surely you yourself must agree with me if, for example, I deny to Robespierre the tragic significance which hitherto he has had for you, or only admit it with considerable qualifications. This type is peculiarly unsympathetic to me because in individuals constituted as he is there is no trace to be discovered of that which constitutes the true end and aim of humanity since our degeneracy from Nature. The tragic element in Robespierre's character really consists in the spectacle he offers of utter helplessness, when, at the goal of his highest aspirations to power, he stands confronted by his own incapacity to make any sort of use of this power that he has attained. It is only in the confession of this helplessness that he becomes tragic, and in the fact that his own downfall is brought about by his inability to achieve anything towards the happiness of mankind.
I am thus of opinion that his case is the precise converse of what you conceive it to be. He had no high end in view for the sake of which he condescended to unworthy means; on the contrary, it was to disguise this absence of any such end, and to conceal his own want of resource, that he had recourse to the ghastly paraphernalia of the guillotine, for it has been proved that the "Terror" was carried out purely as a means of government, and in maintenance of authority, without any sort of genuine passion; it was conducted on purely political grounds-that is to say, in an ambitious and selfish spirit.
I maintain that my "Lohengrin," according to my own conception/ symbolises the most profoundly tragic situation of our age, namely, the longing which besets us to descend from the highest heights of mortal contemplation and to plunge into the depths of human affection 

In the end, this miserable being, who at last had no other recourse than to advertise his inept "vertu," put the means in place of the end, as happens with all these purely political heroes, who duly come to grief from their own incapacity with such uniformity that it is to be hoped the whole class is shortly destined to disappear from history. On the other hand, I maintain that my "Lohengrin," according to my own conception/ symbolises the most profoundly tragic situation of our age, namely, the longing which besets us to descend from the highest heights of mortal contemplation and to plunge into the depths of human affection - the desire to be immersed in feeling that desire which modern reality is as yet powerless to satisfy.

On all this, I have enlarged sufficiently in my, that is to say, not "Lohengrin " pruned down and distorted for the use of Opera Houses, preface. It would only remain to indicate what, situated as I am, I feel impelled to do in furtherance of the aim of bringing both myself and mankind nearer to that  which I recognise as the goal of human endeavour-a goal from which I, as an individual, am cut off, because the rest of mankind as yet deliberately cut themselves off from it-unless I was to have recourse to means which I can now no more bring myself to use. Here my art must come to my aid, and the work that I conceived under this influence is no other than my Nibelung poem; I am inclined to think that it was not so much the obscurity of my version of the poem, as the point of view which you persistently adopted in opposition to mine, which was the cause of your failing to understand many important parts in it. Such mistakes are of course only possible in the case of a reader who substitutes his own ideas for those of the poet, while the simple-minded reader, perhaps unconsciously to himself, takes in the matter more easily, just as it is. For myself, the poem can only be interpreted in the following way: - Presentment of reality in the sense in which I have interpreted it above. Instead of the words:

(The Ring)

"A fateful day is dawning for the gods, And Wilt thou not deliver up the ring? Then be assured thy race ere long shall end. Thy noble race -in shameful overthrow."

I now make Erda say merely-

All that is-ends:

A fateful day dawns for the gods:

l counsel you beware of the ring."


We must learn to die and to die in the fullest sense of the word. The fear of the end is the source of all lovelessness, and this fear is only generated when love itself begins to wane. How came it that this feeling which imparts the highest blessedness to all things living was so far lost sight of by the human race that at last, it came to this: all that mankind did ordered, and established was conceived only in fear of the end? My poem sets this forth. It reveals Nature in her undisguised truth, with all those inconsistencies which, in their endless multiplicity, embrace even directly conflicting elements. But it is not the repulse of Alberich by the Rhine-daughters - the repulse was inevitable owing to their nature - that was the cause of all the mischief. Alberich and his ring would have been powerless to harm the gods had they not themselves been susceptible to evil.

Wherein then is the root of the matter to be sought? Examine the first scene between Wotan and Fricka, which leads up to the scene in the second act of " The Walkure." The necessity of prolonging beyond the point of change the subjection to the tie that binds them - a tie resulting from an involuntary illusion of love, the duty of maintaining at all - costs the relation into which they have entered, and so placing themselves in hopeless opposition to the universal law of change and renewal,· which governs the world of phenomena - these are the conditions which bring the pair of them to a state of torment and mutual lovelessness.

The development of the whole poem sets forth the necessity of recognising and yielding to the change, the many-sidedness, the multiplicity, the eternal renewing of reality and of  life. 

The development of the whole poem sets forth the necessity of recognising and yielding to the change, the many-sidedness, the multiplicity, the eternal renewing of reality and of  life. Wotan rises to the tragic height of willing his own destruction. This is the lesson that we have to learn from the history of mankind: to will what necessity imposes, and ourselves to bring it about. The creative product of this supreme, self-destroying will, its victorious achievement, is a fearless human being, one who never ceases to love: Siegfried. That is the whole matter.

.As a matter of detail, the mischief-making power, the poison that is fatal to love, appears under the guise" of the gold stolen from Nature and misapplied-the Nibelungs' ring, never to be redeemed from the curse that clings to it until it has been restored to Nature and the gold sunk again in the depths of the Rhine. But it is only quite at the end that Wotan realises this when he himself has reached the goal of his tragic career; what Loge had foretold to him in the beginning with a touching insistence, the god consumed by ambition had ignored. Later in Fafner's deed he merely recognised the power of  the curse ; it is only when the ring works its destroying spell on Siegfried himself that he realises that only by restoration of what was stolen can the evil be annulled, and he deliberately makes his own destruction part of the conditions on which must depend the annulling of the original mischief.

Siegfried alone (man by himself) is not the complete human being: he is merely the half; it is only along with Brunhilde that he becomes the redeemer.

Experience is everything. Moreover, Siegfried alone (man by himself) is not the complete human being: he is merely the half; it is only along with Brunhilde that he becomes the redeemer. To the isolated being, not all things are possible; there is need of more than one, and it is woman, suffering and willing to sacrifice herself, who becomes, at last, the real, conscious redeemer: for what is love itself but the "eternal feminine"


So much for the broad and general lines of the poem, which may be taken as summing up its more particular and special features.

I cannot believe that you have misapprehended my meaning and intention: only it seems to me that you have attached more importance to the connecting links and parts of the great chain than they, as such, deserve; and as if you had been bound to do this, in order to read into my poem your own preconceived ideas. As a whole I do not agree with your criticisms with regard to a certain want of lucidity and distinctness of statement: on the contrary, I believe that a true instinct has kept me from a  too great definiteness; for it has been borne in on me, that an absolute disclosing of the intention disturbs true insight. What you want in drama-as indeed in all works of Art-is to achieve your end, not by statement of the artist's intentions, but by the presentment of life as the resultant, not of arbitrary forces, but of eternal laws. It is just this that distinguishes my poetical material from all the poetical material which alone absorbs poets' minds at the present day.
After his farewell to Brunhilde, Wotan is in all truth a departed spirit; true to his high resolve, he must now leave things alone and renouncing all power over them, let them go as they will.
For example, by insisting, as you do, that the intention of Wotan's appearance on the scene in " Young  Siegfried" should be more clearly defined, you are prejudicing in a marked manner the fateful element in the development of the drama, which to me is so important. After his farewell to Brunhilde, Wotan is in all truth a departed spirit; true to his high resolve, he must now leave things alone and renouncing all power over them, let them go as they will.

For this reason, he is now only the "Wanderer." Look well at him, for in every point he resembles us. He represents the actual sum of the Intellisense of the Present, whereas Siegfried is the man greatly desired and longed for by us of the Future. But we who long for him cannot fashion him; he must fashion himself and by means of our annihilation. Taken in this way, Wotan is, you must

Look at him in his juxtaposition to Siegfried in the third Act. In presence of his impending destruction, the god has at last become so completely human that contrary to his high resolve - there is once more a stirring of his ancient pride,

acknowledge, highly interesting.; whereas he would seem to us most unworthy if he appeared as a subtle intriguer, which indeed he would be if he gave counsel apparently against Siegfried, though in reality favourable to Siegfried and consequently to himself. That were a deception worthy of our political heroes, but not of my jovial god, bent on his own annihilation. Look at him in his juxtaposition to Siegfried in the third Act. In presence of his impending destruction, the god has at last become so completely human that contrary to his high resolve - there is once more a stirring of his ancient pride, brought about by his jealousy for Brunhilde - his vulnerable point, as it has now become. He will, so to speak, not allow himself to be merely thrust aside; he chooses rather fall before the conquering might of Siegfried. But this part is so little premeditated and intentional, that in a sudden burst of passion the longing for victory overpowers him, a victory moreover which he admits could only have made him more miserable. Holding the views I do, I could only give the faintest and subtlest indication of my design. Of course I do not mean my hero to make the impression of a wholly unconscious creature: on the contrary, I have sought in Siegfried to represent my ideal of the perfect human being, whose highest consciousness manifests itself in the acknowledgement that all consciousness must find expression in present life and action.


The enormous significance that I attach to this consciousness which can scarcely ever find adequate expression in mere words, will be quite clear to you in the scene between Siegfried and the Rhine-daughters. Here we see that infinite wisdom has come to Siegfried, for he has grasped the highest truth and knows that death is better than a life of fear : knowledge of the ring, too, has come to him, but he does not heed its power, for he has something better to do; he keeps it only as a proof that he at least has never learnt what fear means. Confess, in the presence of such a being, the splendour of the gods must be dimmed.

What strikes me most is your question, "Why, seeing that the gold is restored to the Rhine, is it necessary that the gods should perish? " I feel certain that, at a good performance, the most simple-minded spectator will be left in no doubt on that point.

What strikes me most is your question, "Why, seeing that the gold is restored to the Rhine, is it necessary that the gods should perish? " I feel certain that, at a good performance, the most simple-minded spectator will be left in no doubt on that point. Certainly, the downfall of the gods is no necessary part of the drama regarded as a mere contrapuntal nexus of motives. As such, indeed, it might have been turned, twisted, and interpreted to mean any conceivable thing-after the manner of lawyers and politicians. No, the necessity for this downfall had to arise out of our own deepest convictions, as it did with Wotan. And thus it was all important to justify this catastrophe to the feelings of the spectator, and it is so justified to any one who follows the course of the whole action with all its simple and natural motives. When finally Wotan gives expression to this sense of necessity, he only proclaims that which we have all along felt must need be. At the end of " Rhine Gold " when Loge watches the gods enter Walhalla and speaks these fateful words: " They hasten towards their end who, imagine themselves so strong in their might," he, in that moment, only gives utterance to our· own conviction; for any one who has followed the prelude sympathetically, and not in a hypercritical, cavilling spirit, but abandoning himself to his impressions and feelings, will entirely agree with Loge.

She knows also that one thing alone is god-like, and that is Love; therefore let the splendour of Walhalla fall in ruins,

And now let me say something to you about Brunhilde. You misunderstand her, too, when you attribute her refusal to give the ring up to Wotan to hardness and obstinacy. Can you not see that it was for love's sake that Brunhilde sundered herself from Wotan and from all the gods because where Wotan clung to schemes, she could only-love? Above all, from the moment that Siegfried had awakened her, she has no other knowledge than the knowledge of love. Now the symbol of this-after Siegfried's departure-is the ring. When Wotan claims it from her, one thing only is present to her spirit-what it was that originally alienated her from him, her having disobeyed for Love's sake; and this alone she is still conscious of, that for Love she has renounced her godhead. She knows also that one thing alone is god-like, and that is Love; therefore let the splendour of Walhalla fall in ruins,  she will not give up the ring (her love). Just consider how poor, avaricious and common she would have stood revealed to us, if she had refused the ring because she had learned (possibly from Siegfried) of its magic, and the power of gold. Surely you did not seriously think such a thing of so grand a woman? But if you shudder because, being the woman she is, she should have preserved as a symbol of love just this ring on which the curse lay, then you will have penetrated my meaning, and will have understood the curse of the Nibelungs in its most terrible and tragic significance ; then you will admit the necessity of the whole of the last drama of" Siegfried's death." That had to be compassed in order that the malign influence of the gold should be fully revealed. How did it, come about that Brunhilde yielded so readily to the disguised Siegfried? Simply because he had wrested the ring from her, in which her whole strength lay. The terror, the fatality that underlie the whole of that scene seems entire to have escaped you. Through the fire which it had been foreordained that none but Siegfried should pass, which actually none but he had passed, another has made his way to her with but little difficulty.


Everything totters round Brunhilde, everything is out of joint; in a terrible conflict she is overcome, she is "forsaken of God." And moreover it is Siegfried in reality who orders her to share his couch; Siegfried whom she (unconsciously and thus with the greater bewilderment) almost recognises, by his gleaming eye, in spite of his disguise. You must feel that something is being enacted that is not to be expressed in mere words-and it is wrong of you to challenge me to explain it in words.

Well, I have certainly expanded pretty freely; the fear of doing so was really the cause of my delay in writing. I was perturbed to find that you had so completely misunderstood certain features of my drama. This has made clear to me, that only in its complete form and under favourable circumstances would the work be safe from misapprehension, and as I was seized with a violent longing to begin the musical composition, I gladly gave myself up to my desire, before writing to you. The completion of the music of "Rhine Gold," at once so difficult and so important, has restored my sense of security, as you perceive. I now realise myself how much of the whole spirit and meaning of my poem is only made clear by the music; I cannot now for my life even look at the words without the musical accompaniment. In the course of time, I hope to send you the score. For the present, all I need say is that it has worked up to a perfect unity; there is scarcely a bar in the orchestra which is not developed out of preceding motifs. But it is difficult to enter fully upon this in a letter.

What you say as to the carrying out a performance of the whole work meets with my full approval; on these points your judgement is infallible. I shall certainly follow your advice. 

Of course, I must look to young artists who have not been already entirely ruined by our present Opera system. I don't even in my dreams think of so-called "stars."

How I arrive ever to bring about a complete representation of the cycle is still a grave problem. But when the time comes I shall attack it, for otherwise I should be deprived of my one serious aim in life. I believe there would be no difficulty about the merely mechanical part of the undertaking; but how about my performers? The very thought makes me groan. Of course, I must look to young artists who have not been already entirely ruined by our present Opera system. I don't even in my dreams think of so-called "stars." How I am to educate my young company is the question. What I should like would be to have my whole troupe together for a year, without allowing them to perform once in public. I should in that way have daily inter• course with them, and train them both on their human and their artistic side, thus allowing them gradually to ripen for their task. So under the most favourable conditions, I could not count on a first performance before the summer of 1858.

But no matter how long it lasts, I feel something inspiring in such concentrated activity, for the sake of an object that is entirely of my own creation, which makes life worth living. As for the rest, I must turn a deaf ear to all your life-precepts and counsels; over these things, one has no control-they come of themselves. Believe me, I too was once possessed by the idea of "the agricultural life." In order to become a radically healthy human being, I went two years ago to a Hydropathic Establishment;

I was prepared to give up Art and everything if I could once more become a child of Nature. But, my good friend, I was obliged to laugh at my own naivete when I found myself almost going mad.

I was prepared to give up Art and everything if I could once more become a child of Nature. But, my good friend, I was obliged to laugh at my own naivete when I found myself almost going mad. None of us will reach the promised land-we shall all die in the wilderness. Intellect is, as someone has said, a sort of disease; it is incurable. In the present conditions of life, Nature only admits of abnormities. At the best we can only hope to be martyrs; to refuse this vocation is to put oneself in opposition to the· possibilities of life. For myself, I can no longer exist except as an artist; since I cannot com• pass love and life, all else repels me or only interests me in so far as it has a bearing on Art. The result is a life of torment, but it is the only possible life. Moreover, some strange experiences have come to me through my works. When I think of the pain and discomfort which are now my chronic condition, I cannot but feel that my nerves are completely shattered: but marvellous to relate, on occasion, and under a happy stimulus, these nerves do wonders for me; a clearness of insight comes to me, and I experience a receptive and creative activity such as I have never known before. After this, can I say that my nerves are shattered? Certainly not. But I must admit that the normal condition of my temperament-as it has been developed through circumstances-is. a state of exaltation, whereas calm and repose is· its abnormal condition. The fact is, it is only when I am "beside myself" that I become my real self, and feel well and happy. If Goethe felt otherwise, I do not envy him on that account; as indeed I would not change places with any one,-not even with Humboldt, whom you look on as a genius, an opinion I cannot share. No doubt you feel just as I do, and are not prepared to change with any one; wherein you do wisely. I, at least, admire you sincerely.

After all, I am not so much out of touch with ·Nature as you seem to think, even though I am no longer in a position to have scientific dealings with her. In these matters, I look to Herwegh, who lives here, and has for long been a profound student of natural science. From this dear friend, I have learnt many beautiful and inspiring things about Nature, and they have influenced me on many and vital points. But rather than let Nature take the place to me of real life• namely of love,-1 would let her go by the board. 

In this respect, I am like Brunhilde with the ring. Better to die,-to live without thought of joy,• than renounce one's belief. You must not think because I reply in this manner to your advice, that I am ungrateful to you for it; how could I be ungrateful for the love that prompts you? No; indeed I rejoice in that love, and cannot tell you how deeply I am touched by it. This feeling of gratitude is only equalled by a sense of admiration for the strength and at the same time for the gentleness of your spirit.

One thing I wish, and that is a speedy performance of the work which you tell me you have written. Can the thing not be managed? Send me more details about it, in case I could help you. Have you heard nothing from the Publisher Avenarius at Leipzig? Unfortunately he is the only one with whom I  have any influence; for with my own publishing firms I have only had dealings through others, and never satisfactorily to myself. As soon as I received your letter I wrote to him and begged him to correspond directly with you about terms, offers, etc. In spite of a second letter, I have had no answer from him.

I don't know what to send you just now that would be of interest to you. I myself have got quite out of the habit of reading; but if I come upon anything striking, I will pass it on to you.

My "Tannhauser " is being performed almost. everywhere in Germany; especially has it been taken up by the small theatres. The large ones, from reasons which one quite understands, stilt hold aloof. As regards the performances, I hear that they are for the most part wretchedly bad, so I do not quite know where the pleasure comes in. As I do not see them, I have ceased to be sensitive about this prostitution of my works; though a recent first performance of " Lohengrin " at Leipzig did make a very painful impression on me. I hear it was incredibly bad. Amongst other things, not one word was clearly declaimed throughout the evening, except by the heralds. It has come to this, that I regret ever having given my works to the public. In Boston, they have got the length of having Wagner nights,-concerts where nothing is given but my compositions. They want me to go to America; if they could provide me there with the necessary means, who knows but that I should do so? But to tour about as a giver of concerts, even for large sums of money, is what no one need expect of me.

And now, my dearest friend, I must stop. If necessary I could fill a folio of paper; there would be no lack of matter, but we must keep it for some other occasion. It is to be hoped• and see that you do it-that you will not keep me waiting so long for your letter as I kept you for this answer. Tell me much about your writings. If I have forgotten anything, I can retrieve it in my next letter. Now good. dear old friend. Hope,-for even I am not without hope.

Yours,

RICHARD WAGNER,

Zurich, 26th Jan. 1854.

To August Roeckel, Schloss Waldheim,

Saxony.