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Walther von der Vogelweide

(1170 - 1230 / Germany)

Biography of Walther von der Vogelweide

Walther von der Vogelweide poet

Vogelweide, a poet and minnesinger(a singer of love songs), is one of the most celebrated of the Medievil German poets, the main sources of information about him are his own poems and occasional references by contemporary Minnesingers. It is clear from the title (Herr, Sir) given in these references, that he was of noble birth; but it is equally clear from his name Vogelweide (meaning: a gathering place or preserve of birds) that he belonged not to the higher nobility, who took their titles from castles or villages, but to the nobility of service.

Tirol appears to be his place of birth and had become a center of poetry and art. It was here that the young poet learned his craft under the renowned master Pemmar the Old, whose death he afterwards lamented in two of his most beautiful lyrics. This happy period of his life, during which he produced the most charming and spontaneous of his love-lyrics, came to an end with the death of Duke Frederick in 1198. Following this, Walther was a wanderer from court to court, singing for his lodging and his bread, and always hoping that some patron would arise to save him from this "juggler's life" and the shame of ever playing the guest. His criticism of men and manners was scathing; and even when this did not touch his princely patrons, their underlings often took measures to rid themselves of so uncomfortable a censor.

In 1212 he once more entered the political arena, this time in support of the Welf emperor Otto IV against Innocent III. Feeling that he was not treated with the generosity he expected Walther turned to welcome the new ruler, who was crowned in 1215. From him he received a small fief, symbol of the security he had so long desired. Two 14th-century records suggest that it was in the see of Würzburg, and it is likely that he spent the rest of his life there.

More than half of the 200 or so of Walther's existing poems are political, moral, or religious; the rest are love poems. In his religious poems he preached the need for man actively to meet the claims of his Creator by, for instance, going on pilgrimage or on crusade; in his moral-didactic poems he praises such human virtues as faithfulness, sincerity, charity, and self-discipline--virtues that were not especially prominent in his own life. As a love poet he developed a fresh and original treatment of the situations of courtly love and, ultimately, in such poems as the popular "Unter der Linden," achieved a free, uninhibited style in which the poses of court society gave way before the natural affections of village folk.

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Tanzweise

'Lady,' I said, 'this garland wear!
For thou wilt wear it gracefully;
And on thy brow 'twill sit so fair,
And thou wilt dance so light and free;
Had I a thousand gems, on thee,
Fair one! their brilliant light should shine:
Would'st thou such a gift accept from me,--
O doubt me not,-- it should be thine.

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