Albrecht Durer's Mystical Tetralogy: A Fantasy in Verse Author(s): Frances Hellman Source: Fine Arts Journal, Vol. 30, No.

3 (Mar., 1914), pp. 139-146 Published by: Stable URL: . Accessed: 18/10/2013 09:18
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Durer's Mystical Tetralogy: A Fantasy in Verse
Poems Translated By FRANCES from the Original HELLMAN German


HEN -reciting the original of the following verses, I was ap proached by various friends, as well-meaning as critical, with the question: "Whv did you not treat this new and prob ably quite justifiable interpretation of the most important work of the greatest- Ger man artist of all times in the form of a scientific essay"x? This question, which other readers may propound, answers itself. A diamond can only be cut by a diamond; and a small splinter of the jewel is sufficient to in art. Dry dissect a larger one. Thus analytical criticism cannot do full justice to a great piece of art. Genuine art always and eternally inspires the desire for genuine art, even though expressed through a weak medium. I can well imagine that a great piece of poetry, a sublime painting may be interpreted symphonically by music, and that thus values and effects can be attained

Througlh all times it has been recogniized that there existed some connection in the ideas of Diirer's three capital engravings,
th e "Melancholia," 'Knight, Death a nt d


and the "St. JeromineinHis Study." Others have tried to prove that these engravings were meant to represent some sort of "mystical Trilogy"; and muclh has

for which our richest vocabulary would be insufficient. Thus I felt here. Not having music at my command, I adopted verse, in order to reproduce as nearly as possible, by Wagner, who wrote "Parsifal," and closely melody of rhythm, the tone prevailing in the related. Pure, genuine art is a part of the Diirer prints and their mystical idea. For soul in its highest development. The soul. music is the very essence of art, the loftiest however, is the very essence of all that is medium of expression. I se Therefore lected the form of the symphonic poem, in order to interpret, though onlv in words, my conception of themost sublime poem on the destiny of the human must be, more or less, and consciously or

been said and written about the meaning of these three prints. Not as a consequence of long research and, industrious scientific labor, but spon taneously, came to me the perception which I here try to represent and which embodies a conviction that Diirer's principal creation must be regarded as the prototype of that mystical thinking, which was especially ap parent in'the Middle Ages and the Renais sance period, and which has occupied the greatest minds at all later times. Almost as if some veil had been lifted from my eves, there came suddenly the recognition that the mysticism of Durer, of Goethe, as well as that of Maeterlinck and the aged

mystical. Consequently all true artists unconsciously, mystics. And it was the
task of the arts of all times, in classical tragedy, as well as in painting and sculpture, in poetry as well as in music, to reproduce

liedder Seele).

soul (Schicksals

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in other

fasten to the cross

the tormented limbs of


the suffering and bliss of the soul; lhuman fate.

not identical.

Goethe, in his "Faust," was con \NVhether sciously influenced by Diirer's work is dis It is apparent, however, that the putable. ideas dominating both works are related, if

Christ ? Many have dwelt on the question as to what might be the meaning of the comet within the rainbow, which appears in the I believe background, above the ocean. that, in order to illustrate themost miracul ous in Nature, Diirer here refers to a phe nomenon which may have actually occurred about that time. On Raphael's painting, "The Madonna del Foligno," which was painted in I5II, hence about three years before the origin of Diirer's engraving, we see above the little angel who holds the tablet, a rainbow and within that a comet. May not a common basis exist here for both? Astronomers might furnish us with interesting explanations to that question. But let us retturn to "Adam and Eve" and its possible relation to the other three en gravings. Do we not encounter in Diirer's "Little Pa.ssion" inwood-cut, the represent ation of Adam and Eve and the fall of man, as a prologue, so to say? The Passion of Christ is themost power ful fate drama of all times; and here, as well as in various other treatments of the subject in that period, we see it prefaced by the representation of the firstmortals and their downfall. Is there not here the same motive and explanation? Diirer depicts in this, his greatest work, in en tirely new, deeply felt reflections the his tory of the passion of the human soul. Why should he not also here have begun

Of all that Diirer has created with the burin. excepting the two very early en gravings, "The Pr-odigal Soni" a n d t h e 'Rape of Amymone,"` no other plate is of the same size as those of 'Adam antdEve" and the three famous engravings already mentionied; none shows as much perfection of execution, nor has any received as much preparatory labor as the last four concep the fact that "Adam and tiolns. Granted Eve" antedates the other three engravings by about ten years, this does not exclude the .possibility of some connection in the plan of these four subjects. The idea may have these ten ripened to perfection within years only. What are ten years in the shap ing of the very nucleus of thought in one of the greatest in arts? I see in "Adam and to the Eve" a sort of "Prologue inHeaven" great poem of human destiny, which Duirer Does enfolds in these four masterpieces. bonum not the "Eritis sicut Deus-scientes et malum" of the Serpent, the delusion of resemblance to God, lead the first of man to that profound despair, to that great human when contemplating Melancholy ? Who, Diirer's famous print of that title, can help "Faust": recalling the line from Goethe's "And see that nothing can be kno-wn ?" And yet.,why should that winged Genius, whom there, and who, being apparently should also be aware of supernatural, * things supernormal, why should he despair, unless it be of all human knowledge and accomplishment? What else can the imple ments of human toil and strife, which we we see see there,mean, if not the very narrowness and limitation of human invention as com pared to the wonders revealed by Nature? Are not the big nails, which we see, lying in the foreground, the same as were used to

with theCreation?

The third part, "The Her-oes," hardly re here also it ap quires special mention; pears almost certain, that the lines of "Faust," quoted above the verses (in Bay ard Taylor's translation) must have origin ated under the inspiration of Diirer's print. And Diirer's enjoys which, this "St. presumption Jerome." becomes Faust most to strongly convincing his penates in the last instance, in returns

from the Easter walk, and now

the peaceful warmth of his retreat, in the first act, appeared to him as

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accursedl gloomoncellar-hole." The

signifies the same as Diirer's great tetral Faust proceeds to translate the Holy Scrip ogy: the sonig of fate of the humiiani sotul. ture from its original version into his be the tragedy of the puny. earthly hel-o face loved German." But. was not St. Jerome to face with the greatness of the All. the the learned man wvho first translated the majesty of the Iiniverse.-Richarcl Eder Bible into Latin' In this last instanice it heimelr.

cosimless of the interior, which also seemls to form the principal motif in Diirer's en graving, brings newN, calm aind restfulness to the heart 'that finds itself. Aind theni

becomiies almost certaini that Goethe wvas in fluenced by Diirer's print. And, tlhouglh entirelv different in form and content in the end, as regards the ultimate desig,n Fa iust

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And inmournful lamentation They bemoan their springtimepast; (Allegro) Faust translates: "At firstthere came the Passion's bliss has no duration, WMhen Bitterly they see at last. deed," Has he theGenesis of All decreed? When' word, mind, force and deed are firstcom On they roam through life, arriving bined After wand'ring hot and steep Then onlywe the truebeginniingfind. At the end of all theirstriving Till they rest inwinter's sleep. Creation's mighty act must be complete Before thework, as whole, our gaze can meet. When earth's fruithas reached its flower, The Sun inHeav'n, and Nature's golden light, Oh! why fades thenSpring's bright glow? The mighty hills, deep seas and valleys bright Must dark sorrow be life's dower Arise in glory at Creation's call, That we may itsmeaning know? While in theirmidst standsman-the crown of all. Why begrudge our bliss, intruding Ruthlessly, Creator, thou? and stronig and free, and Eve, unclad Adam in dark and bitterbrooding, Thus, Exult in Nature's new-born ecstasy; beneath theirburden bow. Men The gleaming tints of their young bodies rise From out the tendergreen of Paradise. II And in thispicture clearly is it seen PART FAUST: In thebeginning-Beauty must have been. "And see that nothing can be known." Adam


and Eve




Blissful in Paradise are they, For happiness only yearning; And Him, who thesewonders doth display Holding them and all beneath his sway, In insolence theyare spurning. Exuberant youth no gods needs to see, Itself in presumption adoring; Enthralled by the senses' tyranny It sees not the forces that set, Their mighty comandments ignoring. Beauty's intoxication, W;--ith Their wild desires no limitsknow, Incessantly their passions grow Delirious with elation. Oh. joys of Eden, days most blest union! O f youngmankind's first heart to heart is pressed. throbbing \\Then
Heedless of night and storm's unirest For young are they, and fierce and aglow


(Melancholia) (Marcia Funebre)

The world-soul sadlymeditating Sees what the earth-born soul has Wrought; The veaknesses of his creating, The evils that his ways have brought.
Ocean, sky, in all their glory

Still are radiantlydisplayed, But what a mean and piteous story MIen have of theirwonders made!

See the gleaming plane extended, Hammer, nails, each in its place, Torture-crosses man intended Thence to fashion for his race.
And an angel sad is seated

On the emblem of man's wreck, On the stone which, flight-defeated, He has hung about his neck. Weighted by themillstone pond'rous Down into the depths he falls, Sees no more the rainbowwondrous That still heavenly light recalls, Which is o'er the ocean shining Where a comet brightlystands; E-il spirit, ill designing, Grasps him tightlyin his hands.

In the bliss of that communion.

I OF PART FINALE The First Mcrtals (Andantte Lamnentoso) Earth-born evils soonl intruded, Closing to themEden's door,

That so prouidlysmiled before.


their bowed



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'Twas from him came the delusion Mortals like to God migllt be;
Puny man in his illusion

The Does That To Than


truth as priceless

treasure ?

he not God's he from

poxxer wield

blissfully. \;Vandersforx-ard

the Xworm ascended he'd majesty. laws to swell as and igniored. for duty. his hoard; rather see, descendced

the heights, that

On he strides,with pride inflated And to screen the Li-ht. applies

from a God

Is his mightv Bonds Gold he forges.

Andl inventedculture's lies.
and space he fain would slhall vield



he createcl he coins reigns






tinto him

Is despised

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THE DEVIL) -Courtesy






the few, still

left. dleclaring see.

The Heroes
Ever Fear gazinlg

That Lest

their ey-es the Godlhead it all an error be

and soon despairing, Doubtful growx

(Knight, Death and Devil) (Auidmate llacstoso)
straight have he before himIl lirm of nerve. power o'er him: (loes niot swerve.


the Hlero. the path

nor wiles

FAUST: A Has Nor good man.

aspiration. truLeway. ahfright rioe.


throughI obscurest instinct of can the one longer

H is o\VnI smallniess Seeing, Safe Eager God's oreat

he confesses, powNer, too; presses, to do.

still an

Hell nor Devil

in trutlthhe onward but his deed

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Not far distant stray his glances. Seeking truthshe cannot know, For theweak would he break lances, And his gaze remains below. Such as he, earth-bornand lowly, Here on earth their taskmust find, E'en, though, to theirmission holy God himself had them assigned. Heroes need but firmreliance On thewill that in themdwells, That to weakxiessbids defiance And all falsitydispels. Not by meekly God imploring Does theHero prove his creed, Honor is his true adoring And his prayer is-the deed. High above the hills does tower His strong castle proud and grand, In the gloomy forest cowver Crafty devils with theirb-and. As the turrets,spire on spire, Skyvard rise into the blue,
Soars the free man, high and higher,

There in silentmeditation Still and calm he lookswithin, Till, redeemed,he sees Creation In all itswonders, all its sin. mankind's noisy empire Far fronm To his God he drawetlhnear, Who uplifts him high and higher, Tlhat he behold his workings clear. Holy silence, pure communing In the heart its balm instils, The pious will to strengthattuning, Until itswonders, too, fulfils. He, who lonelyand dejected, 'Mid the human tllrongoft stood, In his solitude protected Found a comrade,-trueand good. The desert's reign of terrorbreaking, could all danger tame, His powver Love even in the breast awaking
And lo! the lion to him came.

Proud above the puny crew.
Free of fear and- doubt and evil

And when the quiet hours were o'er Of thishis penitential rest, -HisGod and soul regained oncemore Then back into theworld he presse(d. Within his warm and cosy cell, He works, redeemed by holy powers, And meekly by his side doth dwell The comrade of his desert hours. God's high truth,anewvrelated, Would he unto all repeat, To thishis life is dedicated Within the cheerful still retreat. Athwart the leaded panes falls gently, Upon the old head, sunshine bright;
As he writeth on

Walks theHero on his way, Straight ahead, thoughDeath and Devil Fain would lead his step astray. PART


Ah, wheniwithin our narrow chamber The lampwith friendlylustreglows. Flames in the breast each faded ember,
And in the heart, itself that knows;

or: I feel impelled, itsmeaning to determine honest purpose, once for all, WVith The hallowed original, To change tomy beloved German. The

All about him fades from sight. Life's commotions,wild and restive, Vanished are and melt away, Wondrous harmonies, and festive. His transfigured spirits sway. To all he'd bring thegifts supernal With which God's mercy crowned his days; Thus, effulgentand eternal Dawns Paradise uponl his-gaze.




(Adagio Serafico) Stung by youthfulmemories surging The wise one shunned his worldly home, And free fromguilt his spirit purging Did out into the desert roam.

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Epilogue (Allegro',

lolto con1Brio)



Youth, oft, by too much sunshine blinded, Contemptuous grows, ungodlyminded.
In pride and lies anid vanity

Thus MlasterAlbrecht boldly shows The Sotul of Manlind as it grows; In life's four seasons lets us view The journeywhich itmust pursue! Lost Paradise he shows again

The puny ones theirkingdom see. The heroes walk, untroubled,proud, They need not doubt,whose acts speak loud. Transfigured ones neer peace forego, They are thevictors-for theyknow.

Suclh as on Earth itmight be still will. But for the erring humiian
For Beauty is great Nature's soul,



by Soui

of Man;

Its M'lajesty all arts extol; It. onlv, gives Life inspiration, It is themeaning of Creation.





IN HIS STUDY) Courtesy Richard Ederheimer,



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