In Whitman's Hand

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Title: Our own account of this poem, "the German Iliad"

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: 1854 or later

Editorial note: Grier claims that Whitman paraphrased Joseph Gostwick's literal translation of the Nibelungenlied in German Literature (Philadelphia, 1854) probably "in 1858 or slightly later" (Walt Whitman: Notebooks and Unpublished Manuscripts, ed. Edward F. Grier [New York: New York University Press, 1984], 5:1818).

Source: Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Transcribed from digital images of the original item.

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00144

Notes written on manuscript: On surface 1, in an unknown hand: "1"; on surface 4, in an unknown hand: "2"; on surface 6, in an unknown hand: "3"; on surface 8, in an unknown hand: "4"

Contributors to digital file: Lauren Grewe, Nicole Gray, Ty Alyea, and Matt Cohen



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Our own account of this poem, "the German Iliad," being but a fragment, and more intended to give furnish the reader, in one or two speci‑
mens, a glimpse of the old verses, by a free translation of them, we refer those who a desire a fuller complete resumé of the Nibelungen, to Carlyle's article essay of that name—to which, however, we are not indebted for our own article in any particular.— The translations we give are original in this article.—


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Like all the poems productions of the nearlier northern bards, German or Scandinavian, the poem is not subjective but eminently objective.—TIt gives ^definite characters, ^good or bad,— it relate[s?] what is done or said.—All is narrative; no sentiment, or reflection, or corollary.— We have said that the spinal chara strength of the connection of the piece is Pagan; yet, in as we have it, many of a clumsy attempt is made to Christianize the many of the characters.— Some of The knights go to mass; and there is, in general, the same change as has been that attempted with some of the old archi‑
tecture and sculptures in Rome, by chopping off a little here and there, and changing altering the names from Jupiter and or Mars ^or and Minerva to St. Peter and St. Michael and the Virgin Mary.—


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Before the vesper hour, lo! a great movement of knights in the court‑yard,

To engage in a tournament, for the royal pastime.—

Looking on, among the rest, there sat the two wealthy queens,

And talked of the heroes most worthy of praise.

Then said the beautiful Queen Kriemhilde,

"My husband ins the most noble, and by right this kingdom, and the rule of it, is his."

Then said the lady Brunhilde, "Nay,

The King, ^your brother, is most noble—If none were living but you and your man,

Then it ^what you say might be—but not while Gunther lives."


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First went the queen to Hagen, and, looking upon him with hatred,

"Restore," said she, "before it is too late, my Nibelungen treasure,

Then Gunther and yourself may ^freely return to your own country."

Then out spoke Hagen, perfectly fearless,

"It is in vain, for I have sworn that the treasure shall remain buried,

As long as any one of Gunther's royal family is alive;

Therefore ask me no more—but do with me what you will."

Then turning to a follower, Kriemhilde commanded him

To go to the cell where Gunther was imprisoned, and deispatch him, and bring the head thither.

Soon Hagen, with horror, with distress in his heart,

Saw the servant appear, with the bloody head of Kriemhilde's brother.

He looked at it a moment, and then with stern resolution, to the queen

"Gunther," said he, "is dead—and Gernot and Giselher, thy brothers all, are dead,

And I shall soon follow them—yet, she‑wolf,

I tell you not the hiding‑place of the gold and gems."


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"So be it, then," said Kriemhilde, "one useful thing, at any rate, you have restored to me,

The sword, the weapon of my noble Seigfried."

With that, she drew Seigfried's sword from the scabbard,

And struck off the hero's head with her own hands,

And Etzel cried aloud in horror, to see what was done.

And at the same time, ancient Hildebrand, risin springing to his feet, cried

Cried, Exclaimed, in frenzy, "Shall such a warrior fall by the hand of a woman?

Then thus I revenge him!"

And swiftly drawing a dagger, he smote the queen in the side,

And Kriemhilde fell, dying, and her kinspeople gathered round her.


                  ———

Thus, wWithout avail, ^therefore, ran was shed the blood of many vali[illegible]ant princes, and their followers

And over the dying and lost and the dead, Dietrich and Etzel, left alone, lamented.

Thus love doth evermore bring dole and sorrow,

And thus ends the Song of the Nibelungen.—


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