Walther von der Vogelweide
20 poems translated by Harry Heyworth


Ten of these translations were first published in 1983 in the Incorporated Linguist (vol.22, no.3).
Harry Heyworth
has now added a further ten.

Hêr Walther von der Vogelweide
– swer des vergæze, der tæte mir leide!

(Hugo von Trimberg)




(Miniature from Heidelberg, cpg 848)


For Heidelberg's magnificent cpg 848 click Manesse

For the German Wikipedia article on the slightly older, smaller, and very precious Weingarten manuscript, click Weingarten

The sequence of poems below is Harry Heyworth’s,
with Lachmann-Kraus references added.

  1. Uns hât der winter geschât über al (1985-99) (L-K: 39,1)
  2. Dô der sumer komen was (1985-99) (L-K: 94,11)
  3. Under der linden (1983) (L-K: 39,11)
  4. Mir ist verspart der saelden tor (1983) (L-K: 20,31)
  5. Dô Friderich ûz Osterrîch alsô gewarp (1985-99) (L-K: 19,29)
  6. Ich saz ûf eime steine (1983) (L-K: 8,4)
  7. Ich hôrte ein wazzer diezen (1983) (L-K: 8,28)
  8. Ich sach mit mînen ougen (1983) (L-K: 9,16)
  9. Owê, daz wîsheit unde jugent (1985-99) (L-K: 82,24; 83,1)
  10. Der in den ôren siech vor ungesühte sî (1985-99) (L-K: 20,4)
  11. Ahî, wie kristenlîche nû der bâbest lachet (1983) (L-K: 34,4)
  12. Sagt an, hêr stoc, hât iuch der bâbest her gesendet (1983) (L-K: 34,14)
  13. Man seit ie von Tegersê (1985-99) (L-K: 104,23)
  14. "Sît willekomen, hêr wirt" (1985-99) (L-K: 31,23)
  15. Ich hân mîn lêhen, al die werlt (1983) (L-K: 28,31)
  16. Der hof ze Wiene sprach ze mir (1983) (L-K: 1,24)
  17. Liupolt ûz Ôsterrîche, lâ mich bî den liuten (1985-99) (L-K: 1,35)
  18. Lange swîgen des hât ich gedâht (1985-99) (L-K: 72,31)
  19. Nû wil ich mich des scharpfen sanges ouch genieten (1985-99) (L-K: 32,7)
  20. Owê, war sint verswunden alliu mîniu jâr! (1983) (L-K: 124,1)


Uns hât der winter geschât über al

Winter’s beset us, ’tis ev’rywhere drear,
Heath and the forest are both lying sere,
Where sweet voices once filled our ear.
But, saw I the girls with their ball playing here
In the street, bird song then would ring clear.

Could I but slumber the winter away,
Waking the while, only curses I say,
That he far and wide holds such sway.
Yet, truly, the vict’ry he’ll yield unto May,
And blossoms I’ll pluck where frosts lay.

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Dô der sumer komen was

Summer came, with flow’rets sweet,
Everywhere around our feet
Through the greensward springing,
Where the birds were singing.
Onward now my path did lead,
Where there lay outstretched a mead,
And a limpid spring did play,
Past the forest wound its way,
Sang the nightingale her lay.

By that a spring there stood a tree,
Where a dream was granted me.
Fleeing thither from the sun,
To that spring I straight had run –
That the fabled lime might spread
Cooling shade above my head.
By the spring, upon the ground,
Solace for my griefs I found,
Fell into a slumber sound.

Then on bended knee, methought,
Ev’ry land me homage brought,
And my soul, in Heaven there,
Peace had found, was free from care;
While my body, here below,
As it would, might come and go.
Naught of trouble could I see –
What may hap or God decree,
Sweeter dream ne’er came to me.

I’d have slept forever, here,
But a crow assailed my ear.
He began to scold and gibe –
Cursèd be the whole black tribe!
I would only wish them this,
Since he robbed me of my bliss.
Me his screeching did affright,
Yet on no stone could I light,
Else he’d been in sorry plight.

But a beldame, old in years,
Came to comfort all my fears.
Her with questions then I plied,
Me with answers she did guide 40
To the meaning of that dream –
Hark, good people, to her theme:
"Two and one, why, they make three";
And she further said to me:
"Thumbs are fingers, don’t you see!"

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Under der linden

Beneath a linden, in its shade,
Beside the heath, our couch we made;
And, should you near that spot, you’ll find
Bruised flowers and grass we left behind.
On forest edge, down in a vale –
Happy the day!
There sang so sweet the nightingale.

When I came to that meadow fair
My lover, long ere me, was there.
With ‘gracious lady’ greeted me,
That blissful ever I shall be.
A thousand kisses on me rained –
Happy the day!
See now my lips, all scarlet stained.

Of blossoms rich a bed he wrought;
Sly laughter’s kindled at the thought
In any who pass by that way.
Should then their glances thither stray,
Upon that place they will espy –
Happy the day!
’Mid roses, where my head did lie.

Now, God forbid – I’d blush with shame,
If any by the knowledge came
That he with me that bed did share.
So, of the love he did me bear,
None but we two shall know the sum –
Happy the day!
And one small bird, but he’ll stay dumb!

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Mir ist verspart der saelden tor

Dame Fortune’s door is bolted hard,
An orphan I, from entry barred,
Stand knocking there, but all my effort’s vain.
What greater marvel could there be?
The rain falls either side of me,
Yet not a single drop can I e’er gain!
Bounty from Austria’s noble lord,
Like to sweet rain from Heav’n outpoured,
Does folk and land rejoice.
In truth he is a well adornèd mead,
Where one may pick a myriad blossoms rare.
If but one leaf for me he would pluck there –
With gen’rous hand make choice –
I would extol the prospect fair indeed.
Let him now hark my voice!

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Dô Friderich ûz Osterrîch alsô gewarp

When Austria’s Frederick, lately, it befell
That he, now pure of soul, fosook his body’s shell,
He humbled to the dust my proud crane’s stride.
Where’er I went, I like a peacock slunk,
My head down to my very knees was sunk –
But now I’ll raise it high in worthy pride.
I’ve found a gen’rous hearth, no more I’ll roam,
For realm and crown alike have granted me a home.
Come, then, who will, and dance while fiddles play!
For grief I’ve found a cure.
First shall I set my foot on ground that’s sure,
To heights of joy again to wing my way.

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Ich saz ûf eime steine

My seat I had upon a stone,
With one leg o’er its fellow thrown:
My elbow thereupon I rested,
And in my hand secure had nested
My chin, and of my cheeks, the one.
I pondered long what should be done,
In order in the world to live:
Still, could not any counsel give,
How one might, haply, three things gain,
Whose value constant would remain.
Honour and chattels of these are two –
Much harm to each other they ofttimes do.
The third I would wish for, is grace divine,
The first and the second by far to outshine.
Into one casket these three I’d lay,
Yet, sadly, alas, there is no way
That chattels and worldly honour too,
With grace divine – if I speak true –
Should one heart enter, there to bide.
The way thereto’s to them denied:
The faithless lurk in hidden den,
Whilst hard abroad ride violent men.
With peace and justice wounded sore,
The three are lost without a guide,
Save we these two to strength restore.

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Ich hôrte ein wazzer diezen

I heard the rushing torrent rave,
Saw fishes swimming in the wave,
Saw all the sights the world affords:
field, forest, leaf, reed,grassy swards,
Creatures that creep and those that fly,
And such as on four legs do hie.
I saw them all, I tell you straight,
And none that lives is free from hate.
The forest game, the reptiles too,
In constant warfare quarrels brew;
Likewise the birds together fight –
Yet all a single rule unite !
They’d see themselves in woeful state,
Did they not their stern laws create.
They choose their king, appoint their judge,
Say who’ll be master, who’ll be drudge.
Alas, for you of German tongue,
There’s little order you among !
While every midge has now her King,
Your honour’s near to vanishing.
Abandon, here, your evil ways,
For coronets are vain displays.
The vassal kings your power would steal;
On Philip’s head, then, set the crown,
Let them be brought to heel.

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Ich sach mit mînen ougen

As men and women both I eyed,
Their inmost secrets I descried;
And thus it was I saw and heard
Their every deed, their every word.
In Rome I only heard deceit,
Where liars strove two kings to cheat.
From this was born the greatest strife
As might be, or e’er was, in life.
Then, hatefully, disputes arose,
With church- and laymen ranged as foes.
Here was distress, than none more dread,
With soul and body lying dead.
The clerics fought, in battle sore,
But laymen were in number more.
Their swords the prelates then laid down,
And donned again the churchman’s gown.
They banned whomever they thought good,
Yet never was it those they should !
Churches were wasted in that war,
And from a cell which lay afar
Great lamentation smote my ears:
A hermit shedding bitter tears;
His plaint to God on high he made:
"Alas, the Pope is but a youth –
Lend Christendom Thine aid."

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Owê, daz wîsheit unde jugent

Alas that wisdom and, beside it, youth,
With manly grace and excellence, forsooth,
No heir can find, when Death has claimed his fee!
A wise man may this sorry case bemoan,
Reflecting, Reinmar, since that thou art gone,
What wealth of art now perishes with thee.
And so, of right, thou shalt enjoy thy fame,
Since thou didst never tire, each day that came,
Of praising ladies' virtue to the skies.
They should be ever grateful to thy tongue;
E'en if thou only that one lay hadst sung:
"How pure is woman's name!" – thy striving in this wise
Should make each lady beg for thee a heavenly prize.

Truly, my Reinmar, I now mourn for thee
Much more than thou wouldst ever do for me,
Wert thou alive and I within my grave.
I’ll tell thee, and I swear it by my troth,
That to lament thee for thy self I’m loth –
Yet for thine art I’ll weep, that none could save!
Increase of joy didst thou bring everywhere,
When giving of thy best was all thy care.
I grieve to lose thy eloquence and tuneful song,
While I yet live to see them pass away.
’Tis sad thou couldst with us no longer stay.
To join thee soon I’m bound, I’ll silent be ere long;
May thy soul fare right well, be thanked now for thy tongue.

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Der in den ôren siech vor ungesühte sî

"Go, shun Thuringia’s court !" is my advice
To him with ear too sensitive or nice.
Should he come there, he will be driven crazed.
I joined the throng ’til I could bear’t no more –
By night, by day, such crowds besiege the door,
That any hear at all, one is amazed !
The Landgrave is a man disposed by taste,
With prideful heroes ever wealth to waste.
Yet each and all mere braggarts seem to me.
He’s sworn to luxury – the truth of this I’ve found;
For though a load of goodly wine cost thousand pound,
No goblet held by knight would empty be.

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Ahî, wie kristenlîche nû der bâbest lachet

Oh, with what Christian mirth the Pope does shake
Telling his Romans: "This plot did I make."
What he there says, had better not been thought.
"Under one crown," he tells, "have I two Germans brought,
That they may waste the realm and use it ill.
Meantime we’ll haste, that we our coffers fill.
They’re goaded to my box, to me belongs their best;
Their German silver’s poured into my Roman chest.
Gorge capons, prelates all, quaff wine at my behest,
And let the German – – – – – – – – hunger still !"

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Sagt an, hêr stoc, hât iuch der bâbest her gesendet

Say, Master Box, if you from Rome did hie,
The Pontiff to enrich, us Germans to bleed dry !
For when he gets the full sum, at the Lat’ran door,
He’ll play the same mean trick that he has played before.
He’ll claim the realm is all in disarray,
Until priests fill his coffer – that he’ll say.
Sparse aid in silver e’er will reach the Holy Land,
For treasure’s seldom shared by prelate’s hand.
To harm us, Master Box, your mission Here was planned:
To seek out German fools – and make them pay !

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Man seit ie von Tegersê

Of Tegernsee I’d heard the fame,
What honour that proud house could claim;
A league and more I from my road did wend.
I surely am the strangest man,
That for myself I never can
Decide – on strangers’ words so oft depend.
No-one I’ll blame, but grant us mercy, Lord !
Water I took while there;
Constrained then, wet to fare,
I parted from that monk and his mean board.

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"Sît willekomen, hêr wirt"

Greet me as host – there’s naught that I can say.
Hail me as guest – with bowed head thanks I’ll pay.
"Host" and a "home" – such words are free from shame;
"Guest" and a "lodging" – both one’s loth to name.
I’ve yet to see the day when for a guest I’ll care,
That he to me, his host, may proper thanks declare.
"Here today, tomorrow gone" – that’s a dismal state.
"I’m at home" or "wending there" spell a better fate.
"Checkmate" and "guest" too oft engender hate;
Save me from charge of "guest", that God from "check" you spare!

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Ich hân mîn lêhen, al die werlt

I have my fief, let me the world now greet;
No February frosts fear I, to vex my feet,
Nor will I, henceforth, niggard lords entreat.
My wants the noble King has graciously supplied;
I’ve joy of summer airs, of warmth by winter fire,
Better in neighbours’ sight look I in my attire,
No more that scarecrow wretch they in days past have eyed.
Too long, against my will, to poverty I sank,
With never-ceasing plaints my very breath was rank !
The king has sweetened it – him with this song, I thank.

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Der hof ze Wiene sprach ze mir

Vienna’s court spoke unto me:
"Walther, I ought to pleasure thee,
But I offend, God give me mercy now!
Once was my worth than none more great;
No court there was, so high in state
Save Arthur’s – yet, in poverty I bow.
Where are the folk of high degree
that in my halls one ought to see?
Behold my mis’ry sore!
My roof falls in, and rifts my walls display,
Beloved of none, a sorry sight to view
Gold, silver, steeds and fine apparel too
I gave, from my rich store.
Chaplets and kerchiefs – lost to me are they,
And ladies for the dance have I no more!"

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Liupolt ûz Ôsterrîche, lâ mich bî den liuten

Good Austria’s duke, grant me with friends to dwell,
Wish me to fields, not woods – the trees I cannot fell.
Folk make me welcome here, as dear to me are they;
Why worthy men are banned, ofttimes thou canst not say.
Wishing me hence from friends, thou givest me but pain.
Right blessèd be those woods, thereto that heath’ry plain,
May’st thou find comfort there – yet what a deed was thine!
While I but wished thy good, a poor return was mine.
Was thy intent not ill? Abandon thy design!
Go thou, but leave me here, peace then we’ll both attain.

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Lange swîgen des hât ich gedâht

Silence for long to keep was my intent,
But now I’ll sing as I have sung before.
In urging me to this good friends their aid have lent,
And, should they wish, can of me ask yet more.
I’ll sing and verses make,
Granting their every wish, if they’ll mourn for my sake.

Hear, how I came by my unhappy lot:
I strove too hard – for that I bear the blame.
My lady now desires to see me not,
Yet I it was who brought her this, her fame;
Raising her spirit high.
Yet knows she not her praise will fade, should my song die!

Lord, with what curses folk will her assail,
If hushed and silent now my song should be!
They who now utter praise – believe my tale –
Will scold, though naught of thanks they’ll have from me.
Her grace charmed many a heart,
But this must they forgo, should she from me depart.

When I had thought her soul to me inclined,
Naught was too good that I on her bestowed.
That now is past: whate’er she has in mind
To do to me, the like for her ’twill bode.
If she but succour me,
Living, I’ll honour her, if dying, so shall she.

If, serving her, fate wills that I grow old,
She’ll scarce renew for me her youthful fire.
And if, my hair turned grey and ardour cold,
A younger man than me she may desire,
Brave youth, now help thee God.
Avenge me now, plying to her old hide the rod.

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Nû wil ich mich des scharpfen sanges ouch genieten

Now with barbed words I will pursue my song,
Where once I timid begged, command with accents strong.
Grace must yield ground to force – the way for me is plain –
If one would wealth from Lords, and Ladies’ favour, gain.
When I sing courtly lays, ’fore Stolle folk me blame,
Rousing my anger straight, as they deride my name.
Would they have uncouth words, with such I’ll stop their jaws!
Since Austria schooled me well in poetry’s laws,
’Tis there, at Leopold’s Court, that I’ll first plead my cause.
Should I then comfort find, my wrath perchance ’twill tame.

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Owê, war sint verswunden alliu mîniu jâr!

Whither are fled my years, alas, now lost to view?
Did I but dream my life, and was it not all true?
What I imagined there, come, tell me, was it so?
Since then I've slumbered deep, for now I do not know.
Waking at last, nothing I recognise
Of old, accustomed sights, familiar to my eyes.
Folk and that land, where I was reared in youth,
All strange to me have grown, as it were some untruth.
Weary my former playmates are, beset by eld;
The land is all ploughed up, and what was forest, felled.
Did not the water flow, as it flowed heretofore,
I'd think my sadness great, ne'er to be lightened more.
Many now greet me idly, who me knew right well,
Throughout the whole wide world nought does of kindness tell.
Many's the blissful day that I do oft recall,
Now lost to me, as stones cast in the sea do fall –
Alas and lack-a-day!

How mis'rably young folk, alas, do now behave;
Of unrepentant mind, can anything them save?
Why given o'er, I ask, to nought but care?
Whichever way I turn, sadness is everywhere.
Dancing and song are silenced in unease,
No Christian ever viewed such wretched times as these.
Their kerchiefs, see, suit our good dames but ill,
Proud knights go clad in homespun or in twill.
Harsh missives to us here have late from Rome been sent,
Bringing us nought but grief, with all our joy forspent.
It vexes me right sore (we who did happy dwell)
That, giving up all mirth, tears from my eyes should well.
Our plaints oppress the wild birds of the air.
Small wonder if I, too, am plunged in despair.
Yet I'm a fool, these wrathful words to choose;
Pursuing earthly bliss , we only Heaven' s lose.
Alas and lack-a-day!

What venom in the sweets of life, alas, does fall !
For I see, floating in the midst of honey, gall.
In outward guise, all beauty – white, green and red –
Within, the World is blackness: dark, like to dead.
Yet whom She’s led astray may still of cheer have sight;
What though his sin be great, his penance shall be light.
Remember that, you Knights, look that you do not fail;
You bear bright helmets all and suits of stoutest mail,
With bucklers strong thereto and consecrated swords.
Could I, please God, that triumph gain which worth affords,
Then could I, now but poor, earn yet a gen’rous meed;
Though not with princes’ gold nor lands would I be fee’d.
To wear a heavenly crown – for that I yearn:
Such trophy with his spear a man-at-arms could earn.
Might I across the sea that voyage blest essay,
My song would be ‘oh, joy!’ and no more ‘lack-a-day!’
No more ‘lack-a-day!’

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Harry Heyworth is a graduate of Leeds University’s Department of German from the mid-Thirties (‘Jahrgang 1936’), where he was a student of Professor Charles Gough. He went on to complete a D.Phil. on Hermann Löns in Munich between 1937 and 1939.
By this time his German expertise was such that he was recruited to work for the Intelligence Corps at Bletchley Park ("Station X") from 1941-45.
After the War he moved on naturally to work for the Foreign Office at GCHQ Cheltenham, finally taking retirement in 1981.
All the while, however, he maintained Membership of the Translators’ Guild and Fellowship of the Institute of Linguists, never losing his interest or pleasure in Middle High German literature – especially Walther von der Vogelweide.
We salute his skills and achievement.
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