Parsifal - 1865 Prose Draft - Act I

The holiest of relics

27 Aug 1865

A nfortas, Keeper of the Grail, lies stricken of a spear-wound, received in some mysterious romantic adventure, which will not heal. His father, Titurel, original Winner of the Grail, in advanced old age has entrusted his office to his son, together with dominion over Monsalvat, the Grail Castle. This office, despite his feeling that he is not worthy in view of his error, he is obliged to discharge until one worthier shall appear to relieve him of it. Who will this be? Where will he come from? How will he be recognised? -

The Attainment of the Holy Grail, design for a tapestry by Burne-Jones
The Attainment of the Holy Grail by Sir Galahad (1899), a design by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) for a tapestry. ©Christie's Images, London.

The Grail is the crystal cup from which the Redeemer and His disciples drank at the Last Supper: in it Joseph of Arimathea caught the blood that flowed from the spear-wound in His side when he hung on the Cross. For a long time it was mysteriously lost to the sinful world and preserved as the holiest of relics. Then, at a time when the world was most harsh and hostile, and when the faithful were hard pressed by the unbelievers and were in great distress, there sprang up in certain divinely inspired heroes, filled with holy charity, the desire to seek out the vessel - that mysteriously consoling relic of which there was ancient report - in which the Saviour's blood (Sang réale, whence San Gréal - Sanct Gral - The Holy Grail) had been preserved, living and divinely potent, for mankind in dire need of redemption.

Titurel Receives the Grail, oil painting by Franz Stassen
Left: Titurel Receives the Grail and Spear, oil painting by Franz Stassen.

This relic was supernaturally revealed to Titurel and his loyal followers, and given into their keeping. He gathered about him a body of holy knights to serve the Grail, and built, in wild, remote and inaccessible mountain forest, the Castle of Monsalvat, which none may find except those worthy to care for the Grail. The relic has proclaimed its miraculous power chiefly by freeing its custodians from earthly care by supplying the community with food and drink; and by mysterious writing which, comprehensible only to the Keeper of the brotherhood, appears upon the glowing surface of the crystal, making known the worst afflictions suffered by the innocent of the world, and issuing instructions to those of the knights who shall be sent forth for their protection. Those who are sent forth, it endows with Divine power, rendering them everywhere victorious. From its votaries it banishes death: he who sets eyes on that vessel cannot die. But only he who preserves himself from the allurements of sensual pleasure retains the power of the Grail's blessing: only to the chaste is the blessed might of the relic revealed.-

Klingsor's tower, Ravello

Beyond the mountain height in whose hallowed, night-dark forest, at a place where charming valleys wind toward the south and its laughing lands, and Monsalvat lies accessible only to the votary, there lies another castle, as secret as it is sinister. It too can be reached only by magic paths. The godly take care not to approach it. But whoever does approach cannot withstand the anxious longing that lures him towards the gleaming battlements towering from the unprecedented splendour of a most wonderful forest of flowering trees, out of which magically sweet bird song and intoxicating perfumes pour upon all around. - This is Klingsor's magic castle. Concerning this sorcerer dark things are said. No one has seen him: he is known only by his power. That power is magic. The castle is his work, raised miraculously in what was previously a desolate place with only a hermit's hut upon it. Where now, in a most luxuriant and heady fashion, all blooms and stirs as if it were forever an evening in early summer, there was once only an isolated hut. Who is Klingsor? There are vague, incomprehensible rumours. Nothing else is known of him. Maybe he is known to old Titurel? But nothing can be gathered from him: dulled by his great age, he is kept alive only by the wondrous power of the Grail. But there is Gurnemans, an old squire of Titurel's, still loyally serving Anfortas; he ought to know something of Klingsor: also he sometimes lets it be understood that he does; but not much can be got out of him: no sooner does he seem to be on the point of revealing something unbelievably strange, than he falls silent again, as if these are matters of which one should not speak. Perhaps Titurel has at some time forbidden him to speak. It is supposed that Klingsor is the same man who once so piously inhabited the place now so changed:- he is said to have mutilated himself in order to destroy that sensual longing which he never completely succeeded in overcoming through prayer and penance. Titurel refused to allow him to join the knights of the Grail, and for the reason that renunciation and chastity, flowing from the innermost soul, do not require to be forced by mutilation. No one knows the precise facts.

All that is certain is that it is only in the reign of Anfortas that people have begun to hear of the castle, also that the Knights of the Grail have often been warned against becoming ensnared in the assaults upon their chastity, originating in that place. In fact, concealed in that castle are the most beautiful women in all the world and of all times. They are held there under Klingsor's spell for the destruction of men, especially the Knights of the Grail, endowed by him with all powers of seduction. Men say that they are she-devils. Several Knights of the Grail have failed to return from their missions; it is feared that they have fallen into the clutches of Klingsor. What, unfortunately, is certain is that Anfortas himself, going forth to combat the sorcery threatening his knights, fell into a trap, decoyed by a strange, wondrously beautiful woman and treacherously set upon by armed men who were to take him bound to Klingsor: with difficulty he fought them off, and turning to flee, received in his side the spear-wound from which he now suffers and for which no cure can be found.

Parsifal Act 1, Bayreuth 1882 Left: Parsifal Act 1 in the original 1882 Bayreuth production.

The Knights, the whole Community of the Grail, are now most seriously concerned on their Keeper's behalf. Pilgrimages are made to all parts in quest of the right cure, of the merciful balm; from the ends of the earth they return: whatever the remedies found, none will heal the wound. Daily it reopens. The agony of the wounded man is unspeakable. Nothing can assuage it. But it is not only the pain of the wound that torments the soul of Anfortas: his suffering lies deeper. He is the Chosen One whose task is to care for the miraculous vessel. He, and he alone, has to work the sacred magic that refreshes, strengthens and directs the whole company of knights, whilst he alone has to suffer dreadful self-reproach at having betrayed his vow. He, most unworthy of all, must daily - to his fearful punishment - touch the sacred vessel: at his prayer, must the Divine contents of the cup flow bright purple, at his intercession must nourishing grace be dispensed to the votive knights.

Yes, suffering and beyond recovery, he is daily filled with warmth of new life by the wondrous power of the Grail: seeing death as his only deliverance, he is now, by the grace of the Grail, condemned to eternal life! If, to obtain death, he would go against his vow and forgo the delight of holding the Grail, he is compelled by the yearning of his soul to lose himself anew in blessed contemplation of it, to see once more the golden purple shine bright and let the Divine radiance penetrate again and again, blessing and bruising, into his innermost being. For as the heavenly blood of the Redeemer pours, full of grace into his own heart, ah, how his own wicked blood is forced to flee the touch of the Divine! In timid desperation the sinful blood rushes from his heart, bursting the wound afresh and shedding itself in the world of sin,- and from the same wound as the Redeemer received upon the Cross and through which He poured out His blood in love and compassion for wretched, sinful humanity, he, sinful Keeper of the Divine Balm of Redemption, as an eternal reminder of his wickedness, bleeds hot, sinful blood that cannot be staunched!-

Parsifal Act 1, Bayreuth 1951 Left: Parsifal Act 1 in the 1951 New Bayreuth production by Wieland Wagner. ©Bayreuther Festspiele.

The knights approach, the hour is striking, he must work the magic: they grieve and lament over his wound, seek most eagerly to help him, procuring remedies and balm, not suspecting where it is his wound is bleeding, and where it is he is beyond cure. So, finally, the wretched man prays fervently to the Grail for a sign, asking whether he may hope for deliverance, and who may be called upon to deliver him. The sign shines forth: he reads the enigmatic words: Aware, suffering in compassion, a fool will redeem thee! - Who can it be who suffers only in compassion, and without knowing, is wiser than others? - Oh, that longed-for one! If he lives, let him find the way to this sanctuary: an end to agony, a scar for the wound, peace for the heart; when will you bring them, aware fool suffering in compassion?

His loyal followers do everything to relieve the agony of their beloved Master; in the morning they bear him on a litter down to the holy lake in the forest, there to bathe and drink at the noble spring. There, in the sweet coolness, he seems to revive a little: messengers arrive with new remedies found far away: alas, to no avail.

28 Aug [1865]

Waltraud Meier as Kundry

The most untiring in the worldwide quest for a cure to Anfortas' wound is the High Messenger of the Grail, Kundry. Who this woman is and where she comes from, no one knows; she must be extremely old, for she appeared here in the mountains in the reign of Titurel: although she is wild and dreadful to behold, one notices no signs of real age: she has a complexion which is pale one moment and sunburnt the next; her black hair hangs down long and wild; sometimes she plaits it strangely; she is only ever seen in her dark-red robe which she closes with a curious snake skin girdle: often her black eyes shoot out from their sockets like burning coals; one moment her gaze is unsteady and wandering, the next - staring again and fixed. The brotherhood of knights treat her more as a strange, magical animal than a human being. Also she keeps her distance, how she survives is not known, nor where she finds shelter: at times she vanishes completely; then nothing is seen or heard of her.

Then someone chances upon her in a cave, or in dense undergrowth, in a deathlike sleep, lifeless, numb, bloodless, with all limbs rigid. Gurnemans, the old squire, usually takes care of her then: he has known her for so long! - carries her to his home, warms, chafes her and restores her to life; on waking, she believes she has dropped off to sleep for a while, curses herself for letting sleep overcome her, gazes at the sun, heaves a dreadfully deep sigh, darts away, and begins her activity anew. If there is something difficult to be accomplished, something to be done far, far away, a message or order from the Grail for a Knight of the Grail contending in foreign zones, then suddenly Kundry is at hand, eager to undertake the task which none can perform so speedily and reliably as she; one then sees her racing off in the storm on a tiny horse with a long mane and tail flowing down to the ground, and before one knows it she is back. Never has anyone remarked the least disloyalty in her; her zeal, her care in the performance of her missions is boundless. Thus she is a true, indispensable servant to the company of knights: all her missions turn out well. Against which, she is greatly missed on the occasions of her mysterious absences: then some adversity, some mysterious danger usually befalls the knights, and there is alarm, and often the wish for Kundry to return. Because of that, many too are in doubt whether she should be considered good or evil: what is certain is that she must still be a heathen. Never is she seen at any religious ceremony: nor elsewhere either, unless there is some uncommonly difficult service to be performed. Gurnemans, who at other times is not gentle in his behaviour toward the wild woman, takes her half grudgingly, half humorously under his protection. One must consider her good works, he says, and be glad if she returns. He supposes her to be a woman accursed and with great sins to atone for in her present life. The services she performs are as much for her own benefit as that of the Knights, who should not be afraid to accept them.-

For the rest, she shows great indifference, indeed scorn for the Knights, refusing to accept their thanks. Even Anfortas is not exempted. Now she is just returning on her panting horse from the fabled land of Arabia where she has found the most precious balm. Hastily she hands it to Gurnemans, refuses thanks and without a word throws herself down in a corner of the forest, while Gurnemans hastens to the King and the knights by the holy lake, bearing what might be a cure. Kundry smiles scornfully. 'You know who alone can help. Why drive me on a false track?' Nothing else will she reveal. She never gives advice nor opinion: but simply shows the swiftest zeal in at once carrying out what is commanded or desired. She is therefore considered completely stupid and senseless, as well as animal. Yet she seems to attach great, indeed passionately great, importance to delivering Anfortas from his suffering: she betrays violent uneasiness over it. But then again she laughs scornfully: one should not wish the end of this distress; who knows whether the resourceful knights might not in future have to perform their own missions; she too would like peace, etc.

While the King is bathing in the sacred lake, a wild swan circles over his head: suddenly it falls, wounded by an arrow; shouts from the lake: general indignation, who dares kill an animal on this sacred spot? The swan flutters nearer and drops bleeding to the ground. Parzival emerges from the forest, bow in hand: Gurnemans stops him. The young man confesses to the deed. To the violent reproaches of the old man he has no reply. Gurnemans, reproaching him with the wickedness of his act, reminds him of the sanctity of the forest stirring so silently around him, asks whether he has not found all the creatures tame, gentle and harmless. What had the swan, seeking its mate, done to him? Was he not sorry for the poor bird that now lay, with bloodstained feathers, dying at his feet? etc.,-

Parsifal Act 1, Bayreuth 1989 Parsifal Act 1 in the 1989 Bayreuth production by Wolfgang Wagner. Parsifal: William Pell, Gurnemanz: Hans Sotin. ©Bayreuther Festspiele.

Parzival, who has been standing riveted to the spot, bursts into tears and stammers, "I don't know!" - "Who is your father?" - "I don't know!" etc. Gurnemans' amazement at this stupidity which hitherto he has encountered only in Kundry, gives way to emotion as he prevails upon Parzival to stay awhile and tell Gurnemans something about himself. All that Gurnemans can get out of the shy boy, however, is that he knows only his mother, Schmerzeleide; she has brought him up in great seclusion, and so that he was ignorant of arms and knighthood. - "Why?" As Parzival knows no reason, Kundry, recumbent in her corner, who all along has been staring hard at Parziv., quickly throws in, "His father was killed before his son was born; his mother wanted to protect her son from a similar violent death - the fool!" She laughs. Parzival's memory and understanding of his past are thus awakened. Armed men had passed their lonely farm: Parzivalhad followed but lost them. He has had many adventures: made himself a bow and with it, protected himself on his wild wanderings.-

Parsifal Act 1, Norwegian Opera Parsifal Act 1 in the Norwegian Opera production. Parsifal: Reiner Goldberg, Gurnemanz: Manfred Schenk. ©Den Norske Opera.

K undry confirms that he has made himself feared through his heroic deeds and incredibly bold strength. "Who fears me?" - "The wicked." - "Were those who barred my way wicked?" - Gurnemans laughs. "Who is good?" - Gurnem.: "Your mother. You have run away from her; she will be grieving for you; there is no need to treat all from the start with hostility." - "Am I hostile?" - "Towards the swan you were, and towards your mother." - Kundry: "She is dead!" - Parzival: "Dead? My mother? Who says so?" - Kundry: "I saw her die!" Parziv. leaping up seizes Kundry by the throat. Gurnemans holds him back. "Will you do more wrong here? What has the woman done to you? She has surely spoken the truth, for Kundry never lies and knows much." Parziv. stands dazed, as if paralysed. At length, "I die of thirst." He is on the verge of collapsing; Gurnemans holds him. Kundry goes swiftly to the spring and returns with a filled horn: she sprinkles Parz. with the water and gives him to drink. Gurnemans praises Kundry; so that what was done here, was evil repaid by good. Kundry laughs: she never does good, but she wants peace. As Parz. recovers and is tended in fatherly fashion by Gurnemans, Kundry retires, sad and seeming growing weary, to a corner of the forest: "Ah, I am tired. Where shall I find peace?" She drags herself off into the forest, unobserved.-

Parsifal Act 1, Metropolitan Opera Act 1 in the Metropolitan Opera production; Production: Schenk, Design: Schneider- Siemssen. ©Hans Fahrmeyer Photography, NY.

G urnemans sees that the King, with his attendants, has long set off back to the castle. The sun is at its zenith; the time for the sacred meal approaches. Parz., supporting himself on the old man, asks where they are, for the forest seems steadily to be disappearing as they enter stone corridors. It looks as if they are on the right path, and the boy, he realises, is still innocent, otherwise the way to the castle would not be opening up before them so readily. They climb stairs and again find themselves in vaulted corridors. Parzival, hardly feeling that he is walking, follows in a daze. He hears wonderful sounds. Trumpet notes, long-held and swelling, answered from the far distance by a gentle ringing, as of crystal bells. At last they arrive in a mighty hall which, cathedral-like, loses itself in a high dome. Light falls only from above: from the dome - an increasingly louder ringing of bells. Parzival stands enchanted. Gurnemans: "Now hold up: it is clear that you are a fool, let me see whether you are aware."

The Grail Temple, Bayreuth 1882
Left: The Grail Temple, Bayreuth 1882, painted by the Brückner brothers after the design by Paul von Joukowsky. ©Cologne Theatre Museum.

Muted trumpets seem to approach. Solemn chanting from bass voices; tenor voices respond from half way to the roof; from the highest part of the dome comes the chanting of boys' voices. Then, at the rear, to left and right, two great folding doors open. From the right the Knights of the Grail enter in grave and solemn procession; they take their places at the laid tables stretched in three groups from front to rear. From the left come the master-workmen and servants of the King. Anfortas is carried in on a litter: in front of him a knight bears a shrine covered by a purple velvet cloth: carried upright behind Anfortas is a lance with a bloodstained tip [deleted by RW]. At the rear, beneath a baldachin in the elevated centre, is the couch to which Anfortas is led: before it stands an altar-like table upon which the covered shrine is placed. When all are in their places, the singing stops. Gurnemans takes his place at a table, staring the whole time at Parzival who stands still and speechless with amazement.

Parsifal Act 1, Lyric Opera Chicago 2013 Right: Parsifal Grail Temple scene from Act 1, Lyric Opera Chicago 2013 ©Todd Rosenberg Photography.

From a vaulted niche far to the rear is heard the funereal voice of old Titurel: "My son Anfortas, are you about your duty?" Silence - "Must I die without welcoming the Saviour?" Anfortas breaks out in profound complaint: he cannot any longer discharge his duties. He describes his sufferings. The knights complain and mutter. Titurel's voice: "Uncover the Grail!" The shrine is uncovered, the sacred crystal cup taken from within and solemnly set before Anfortas. - Anfortas covers his eyes. Titurel's voice: "Speak the blessing!" Anfortas, gazing at last towards the vessel with increasing rapture, expresses his inspired and, at the same time, contrite emotions. The devotion of all is at its height. From the dome, a blinding shaft of light descends to the cup, which begins to glow a fiery crimson. All sink to their knees: a ray of hope enters the soul of Anfortas. Never, since his fall, has the Grail glowed as purely as today: is it salvation, is the Redeemer here? With both hands he elevates the Grail, allowing it to shine in every direction. From Titurel - a sigh of well-being.-

Parsifal Act 1, Scene ii by Franz Stassen Left: one of Franz Stassen's illustrations for Act I of Parsifal

From high up, voices sound. Titurel speaks the blessing: twilight descends on the hall: only the Grail gleams bright. When it becomes light again, the tables are provided with wine and bread; the Grail no longer gleams and is returned to its shrine. During the singing, which celebrates holy brotherly love, the knights eat. Anfortas alone feels worse than before: he has to be carried off in the litter; his wound has reopened; the Redeemer has remained silent. The procession forms up in the order of arrival. To sad, solemn music, all depart again: above them, the bells grow silent and the light fades. - Parzival has remained motionless with amazement: but during Anfortas' complaint, he once put his hand hastily to his heart. As last to leave, Gurnemans turns to him ill-humouredly and shakes him: "Why are you still standing there? You are nothing but a fool! Out you go, do your thinking there!" He pushes him out of a side gate and bangs it after him, muttering.-