Part 04, Chapter 3 : The Sunken Bell
Part 04, Chapter 3
The great versatility of Gerhart Hauptmann is perhaps nowhere so apparent as in " The Sunken Bell," the poetic fairy tale of the tragedy of Man, a tragedy as rich in symbolism as it is realistically true-a tragedy as old as mankind, as elemental as man's ceaseless struggle to cut loose from the rock of ages.
Heinrich, the master bell founder, is an idealist consumed by the fire of a great purpose. He has already set a hundred bells ringing in a hundred different towns, all singing his praises. But his restless spirit is not appeased. Ever it soars to loftier heights, always yearning to reach the sun.
Now once more he has tried his powers, and the new bell, the great Master Bell, is raised aloft, - only to sink into the mere, carrying its maker with it.
His old ideals are broken, and Heinrich is lost in the wilderness of life.
Weak and faint with long groping in the dark woods, and bleeding, Heinrich reaches the mountain top and there beholds Rautendelein, the spirit of freedom, that has allured him on in the work which he strove-" in one grand Bell, to weld the silver music of thy voice with the warm gold of a Sun- holiday. It should have been a master work I failed, then wept I tears of blood." Heinrich returns to his faithful wife Magda, his children, and his village friends - to die. The bell that sank into the mere was not made for the heights -it was not fit to wake the answering echoes of the peaks!
. . . . . . . . . . .
'Twas for the valley - not the mountain-top!
I choose to die. The service of the valleys
Charms me no longer. . . . since on the peak I stood.
Youth - a new youth - I'd need, if I should live:
Out of some rare and magic mountain flower
Marvelous juices I should need to press --
Heart-health, and strength, and the mad lust of triumph,
Steeling my hand to work none yet have dreamed of!
Rautendelein, the symbol of youth and freedom, the vision of new strength and expression, wakes Heinrich from his troubled sleep, kisses him back to life, and inspires him with faith and courage to work toward greater heights.
Heinrich leaves his wife, his hearth, his native place, and rises to the summit of his ideal, there to create, to fashion a marvel bell whose iron throat shall send forth
The first waking peal
Shall shake the skies-when, from the somber clouds
That weighed upon us through the winter night,
Rivers of jewels shall go rushing down
Into a million hands outstretched to clutch!
Then all who drooped, with sudden Power inflamed,
Shall bear their treasure homeward to their huts,
There to unfurl, at last, the silken banners,
Waiting - so long, so long - to be upraised.
. . . . . . . . . . .
And now the wondrous chime again rings out,
Filling the air with such sweet, passionate sound
As makes each breast to sob with rapturous pain.
It sings a song, long lost and long forgotten,
A song of home -a childlike song of Love,
Born in the waters of some fairy well --
Known to all mortals, and yet heard of none!
And as it rises, softly first, and low,
The nightingale and dove seem singing, too;
And all the ice in every human breast
Is melted, and the hate, and pain, and woe,
Stream out in tears.
Indeed a wondrous bell, as only those can forge who have reached the mountain top,- they who can soar upon the wings of their imagination high above the valley of the commonplace, above the dismal gray of petty consideration, beyond the reach of the cold, stifling grip of reality,- higher, ever higher, to kiss the sun-lit sky.
Heinrich spreads his wings. Inspired by the divine fire of Rautendelein, he all but reaches the pinnacle. But there is the Vicar, ready to wrestle with the devil for a poor human soul; to buy it free, if need be, to drag it back to its cage that it may never rise again in rebellion to the will of God.
You shun the church, take refuge in the mountains;
This many a month you have not seen the home
Where your poor wife sits sighing, while, each day,
Your children drink their lonely mother's tears!
For this there is no name but madness,
And wicked madness. Yes. I speak the truth.
Here stand I, Master, overcome with horror
At the relentless cruelty of your heart.
Now Satan, aping God, hath dealt a blow
Yes, I must speak my mind - a blow so dread
That even he must marvel at his triumph.
. . . Now - I have done.
Too deep, yea to the neck, you are sunk in sin!
Your Hell, decked out in beauty as high Heaven,
Shall hold you fast. I will not waste more words.
Yet mark this, Master: witches make good fuel,
Even as heretics, for funeral-pyres.
. . . Your ill deeds,
Heathen, and secret once, are now laid bare.
Horror they wake, and soon there shall come hate.
. . . . . . . . . .
Then, go your way! Farewell! My task is done.
The hemlock Of your sin no man may hope
To rid your soul of. May God pity you!
But this remember! There's a word named rue!
And some day, some day, as your dreams You dream,
A sudden arrow, shot from out the blue,
Shall pierce your breast! And yet
You shall not die, Nor shall You live.
In that dread day you'll Curse
All you now cherish -God, the world, your work,
Your wretched self you'll curse. Then . . . think of me!
That bell shall ring again! Then think of me!
Barely does Heinrich escape the deadly clutch of outlived creeds, superstitions, and conventions embodied in the Vicar, than he is in the throes of other foes who conspire his doom.
Nature herself has decreed the death of Heinrich. For has not man turned his back upon her, has he not cast her off, scorned her beneficial of. ferings, robbed her of her beauty, devastated her charms and betrayed her trust-all for the ephemeral glow of artifice and sham? Hence Nature, too, is Heinrich's foe. Thus the Spirit of the Earth, with all its passions and lusts, symbolized in the Wood Sprite, and gross materialism in the person of the Nickelmann, drive the in. truder back.
The Wood Sprite.
He crowds us from our hills. He hacks and hews,
Digs up our metals, sweats, and smelts, and brews.
The earth-man and the water-sprite he takes
To drag his burdens, and, to harness, breaks.
She steals my cherished flowers, my red-brown ores,
My gold, my Precious stones, my resinous stores.
She serves him like a slave, by night and day.
'Tis he she kisses--us she keeps at bay.
Naught stands against him. Ancient trees he fells.
The earth quakes at his tread, and all the dells
Ring with the echo of his thunderous blows.
His Crimson smithy furnace glows and shines
Into the depths Of my most secret mines.
What he is up to, only Satan knows!
Brekekekex! Hadst thou the creature slain,
A-rotting in the mere long since he had lain --
The maker of the bell, beside the bell.
And so when next I had wished to throw the stones,
The bell had been my box--the dice, his bones!
But even they are powerless to stern the tide of the Ideal: they are helpless in the face of Heinrich's new-born faith, of his burning passion to complete his task, and give voice to the thousand throated golden peal.
Heinrich works and toils, and when doubt casts its black shadow athwart his path, Rautendelein charms back hope. She alone has boundless faith in her Balder,-- god of the joy of Life -- for he is part of her, of the great glowing force her spirit breathed into the Heinrichs since Time was born -- Liberty, redeemer of man.
I am thy Balder?
Make me believe it-make me know it, child!
Give my faint soul the rapturous joy it needs,
To nerve it to its task. For, as the hand,
Toiling with tong and hammer, on and on,
To hew the marble and to guide the chisel,
Now bungles here, now there, yet may not halt
. . . . But - enough of this,
Still straight and steady doth the smoke ascend
From my poor human sacrifice to heaven.
Should now a Hand on high reject my gift,
Why, it may do so. Then the priestly robe
Falls from my shoulder-by no act of mine;
While I, who erst upon the heights was set,
Must look my last on Horeb, and be dumb!
But now bring torches! Lights! And show thine Art!
Enchantress! Fill the wine-cup! We will drink!
Aye, like the common herd of mortal men,
With resolute hands our fleeting joy we'll grip!
Our unsought leisure we will fill with life,
Not waste it, as the herd, in indolence.
We will have music!
While Heinrich and Rautendelein are in the ecstasy of their love and work, the spirits weave their treacherous web - they threaten, they plead, they cling,- spirits whose pain and grief are harder to bear than the enmity or menace of a thousand foes. Spirits that entwine one's heartstrings with tender touch, yet are heavier fetters, more oppressive than leaden weights. Heinrich's children, symbolizing regret that paralyzes one's creative powers, bring their mother's tears and with them a thousand hands to pull Heinrich down from his heights, back to the valley.
"The bell! The bell!" The old, long buried bell again ringing and tolling. Is it not the echo from the past? The superstitions instilled from birth, the prejudices that cling to man with cruel persistence, the conventions which fetter the wings of the idealist: the Old wrestling with the New for the control of man.
" The Sunken Bell " is a fairy tale in its poetic beauty and glow of radiant color. But stripped 'of the legendary and symbolic, it is the life story of every seeker for truth, of the restless spirit of rebellion ever striving onward, ever reaching out toward the sun-tipped mountain, ever yearning for a new-born light.
Too long had Heinrich lived in the valley. It has sapped his strength, has clipped his wings. " Too late! Thy heavy burdens weigh thee down; thy dead ones are too mighty for thee." Heinrich has to die. " He who has flown so high into the very Light, as thou hast flown, must per. ish, if he once fall back to earth."
Thus speak the worldly wise. As if death could still the burning thirst for light; as if the hunger for the ideal could ever be appeased by the thought of destruction! The worldly wise never feel the irresistible urge to dare the cruel fates. With the adder in Maxim Gorki's " Song of the Falcon" they sneer, "What is the sky? An empty place. . . . Why disturb the soul with the desire to soar into the sky? . . . Queer birds," they laugh at the falcons. " Not knowing the earth and grieving on it, they yearn for the sky, seeking for light in the sultry desert. For it is only a desert, with no food and no supporting place for a living body."
The Heinrichs are the social falcons, and though they perish when they fall to earth, they die in the triumphant glory of having beheld the sun, of having braved the storm, defied the clouds and mastered the air.
The sea sparkles in the glowing light, the waves dash against the shore. In their lion-like roar a song resounds about the proud falcons: " 0 daring Falcon, in the battle with sinister forces you lose your life. But the time will come when your precious blood will illumine, like the burning torch of truth, the dark horizon of man; when your blood shall inflame many brave hearts with a burning desire for freedom."
The time when the peals of Heinrich's Bell will call the strong and daring to battle for light and joy. " Hark I . . . 'Tis the music of the Sunbells' song! The Sun . . . the Sun . . . draws near! " . . . and though "the night is long," dawn breaks, its first rays falling on the dying Heinrichs.
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