Leo Tolstoy Archive

What is Art?
Appendix 3

Written: 1897
Source: Original Text from Gutenberg.org
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source: RevoltLib.com; 2021

Leo Tolstoy

These are the contents of The Nibelung’s Ring:—

The first part tells that the nymphs, the daughters of the Rhine, for some reason guard gold in the Rhine, and sing: Weia, Waga, Woge du Welle, Walle zur Wiege, Wagalaweia, Wallala, Weiala, Weia, and so forth.

These singing nymphs are pursued by a gnome (a nibelung) who desires to seize them. The gnome cannot catch any of them. Then the nymphs guarding the gold tell the gnome just what they ought to keep secret, namely, that whoever renounces love will be able to steal the gold they are guarding. And the gnome renounces love, and steals the gold. This ends the first scene.

In the second scene a god and a goddess lie in a field in sight of a castle which giants have built for them. Presently they wake up and are pleased with the castle, and they relate that in payment for this work they must give the goddess Freia to the giants. The giants come for their pay. But the god Wotan objects to parting with Freia. The giants get angry. The gods hear that the gnome has stolen the gold, promise to confiscate it and to pay the giants with it. But the giants won’t trust them, and seize the goddess Freia in pledge.

The third scene takes place under ground. The gnome Alberich, who stole the gold, for some reason beats a gnome, Mime, and takes from him a helmet which has the power both of making people invisible and of turning them into other animals. The gods, Wotan and others, appear and 227quarrel with one another and with the gnomes, and wish to take the gold, but Alberich won’t give it up, and (like everybody all through the piece) behaves in a way to ensure his own ruin. He puts on the helmet, and becomes first a dragon and then a toad. The gods catch the toad, take the helmet off it, and carry Alberich away with them.

Scene IV. The gods bring Alberich to their home, and order him to command his gnomes to bring them all the gold. The gnomes bring it. Alberich gives up the gold, but keeps a magic ring. The gods take the ring. So Alberich curses the ring, and says it is to bring misfortune on anyone who has it. The giants appear; they bring the goddess Freia, and demand her ransom. They stick up staves of Freia’s height, and gold is poured in between these staves: this is to be the ransom. There is not enough gold, so the helmet is thrown in, and they also demand the ring. Wotan refuses to give it up, but the goddess Erda appears and commands him to do so, because it brings misfortune. Wotan gives it up. Freia is released. The giants, having received the ring, fight, and one of them kills the other. This ends the Prelude, and we come to the First Day.

The scene shows a house in a tree. Siegmund runs in tired, and lies down. Sieglinda, the mistress of the house (and wife of Hunding), gives him a drugged draft, and they fall in love with each other. Sieglinda’s husband comes home, learns that Siegmund belongs to a hostile race, and wishes to fight him next day; but Sieglinda drugs her husband, and comes to Siegmund. Siegmund discovers that Sieglinda is his sister, and that his father drove a sword into the tree so that no one can get it out. Siegmund pulls the sword out, and commits incest with his sister.

Act II. Siegmund is to fight with Hunding. The gods discuss the question to whom they shall award the victory. Wotan, approving of Siegmund’s incest with his sister, 228wishes to spare him, but, under pressure from his wife, Fricka, he orders the Valkyrie Brünnhilda to kill Siegmund. Siegmund goes to fight; Sieglinda faints. Brünnhilda appears and wishes to slay Siegmund. Siegmund wishes to kill Sieglinda also, but Brünnhilda does not allow it; so he fights with Hunding. Brünnhilda defends Siegmund, but Wotan defends Hunding. Siegmund’s sword breaks, and he is killed. Sieglinda runs away.

Act III. The Valkyries (divine Amazons) are on the stage. The Valkyrie Brünnhilda arrives on horseback, bringing Siegmund’s body. She is flying from Wotan, who is chasing her for her disobedience. Wotan catches her, and as a punishment dismisses her from her post as a Valkyrie. He casts a spell on her, so that she has to go to sleep and to continue asleep until a man wakes her. When someone wakes her she will fall in love with him. Wotan kisses her; she falls asleep. He lets off fire, which surrounds her.

We now come to the Second Day. The gnome Mime forges a sword in a wood. Siegfried appears. He is a son born from the incest of brother with sister (Siegmund with Sieglinda), and has been brought up in this wood by the gnome. In general the motives of the actions of everybody in this production are quite unintelligible. Siegfried learns his own origin, and that the broken sword was his father’s. He orders Mime to reforge it, and then goes off. Wotan comes in the guise of a wanderer, and relates what will happen: that he who has not learned to fear will forge the sword, and will defeat everybody. The gnome conjectures that this is Siegfried, and wants to poison him. Siegfried returns, forges his father’s sword, and runs off, shouting, Heiho! heiho! heiho! Ho! ho! Aha! oho! aha! Heiaho! heiaho! heiaho! Ho! ho! Hahei! hoho! hahei!

And we get to Act II. Alberich sits guarding a giant, 229who, in form of a dragon, guards the gold he has received. Wotan appears, and for some unknown reason foretells that Siegfried will come and kill the dragon. Alberich wakes the dragon, and asks him for the ring, promising to defend him from Siegfried. The dragon won’t give up the ring. Exit Alberich. Mime and Siegfried appear. Mime hopes the dragon will teach Siegfried to fear. But Siegfried does not fear. He drives Mime away and kills the dragon, after which he puts his finger, smeared with the dragon’s blood, to his lips. This enables him to know men’s secret thoughts, as well as the language of birds. The birds tell him where the treasure and the ring are, and also that Mime wishes to poison him. Mime returns, and says out loud that he wishes to poison Siegfried. This is meant to signify that Siegfried, having tasted dragon’s blood, understands people’s secret thoughts. Siegfried, having learned Mime’s intentions, kills him. The birds tell Siegfried where Brünnhilda is, and he goes to find her.

Act III. Wotan calls up Erda. Erda prophesies to Wotan, and gives him advice. Siegfried appears, quarrels with Wotan, and they fight. Suddenly Siegfried’s sword breaks Wotan’s spear, which had been more powerful than anything else. Siegfried goes into the fire to Brünnhilda; kisses her; she wakes up, abandons her divinity, and throws herself into Siegfried’s arms.

Third Day. Prelude. Three Norns plait a golden rope, and talk about the future. They go away. Siegfried and Brünnhilda appear. Siegfried takes leave of her, gives her the ring, and goes away.

Act I. By the Rhine. A king wants to get married, and also to give his sister in marriage. Hagen, the king’s wicked brother, advises him to marry Brünnhilda, and to give his sister to Siegfried. Siegfried appears; they give him a drugged draft, which makes him forget all the past and fall in love with the king’s sister, Gutrune. So he rides 230off with Gunther, the king, to get Brünnhilda to be the king’s bride. The scene changes. Brünnhilda sits with the ring. A Valkyrie comes to her and tells her that Wotan’s spear is broken, and advises her to give the ring to the Rhine nymphs. Siegfried comes, and by means of the magic helmet turns himself into Gunther, demands the ring from Brünnhilda, seizes it, and drags her off to sleep with him.

Act II. By the Rhine. Alberich and Hagen discuss how to get the ring. Siegfried comes, tells how he has obtained a bride for Gunther and spent the night with her, but put a sword between himself and her. Brünnhilda rides up, recognizes the ring on Siegfried’s hand, and declares that it was he, and not Gunther, who was with her. Hagen stirs everybody up against Siegfried, and decides to kill him next day when hunting.

Act III. Again the nymphs in the Rhine relate what has happened. Siegfried, who has lost his way, appears. The nymphs ask him for the ring, but he won’t give it up. Hunters appear. Siegfried tells the story of his life. Hagen then gives him a draft, which causes his memory to return to him. Siegfried relates how he aroused and obtained Brünnhilda, and everyone is astonished. Hagen stabs him in the back, and the scene is changed. Gutrune meets the corpse of Siegfried. Gunther and Hagen quarrel about the ring, and Hagen kills Gunther. Brünnhilda cries. Hagen wishes to take the ring from Siegfried’s hand, but the hand of the corpse raises itself threateningly. Brünnhilda takes the ring from Siegfried’s hand, and when Siegfried’s corpse is carried to the pyre she gets on to a horse and leaps into the fire. The Rhine rises, and the waves reach the pyre. In the river are three nymphs. Hagen throws himself into the fire to get the ring, but the nymphs seize him and carry him off. One of them holds the ring; and that is the end of the matter.

231The impression obtainable from my recapitulation is, of course, incomplete. But however incomplete it may be, it is certainly infinitely more favorable than the impression which results from reading the four booklets in which the work is printed.