The Wound

   The Grail King, who represents the champion, the guardian of the highest spiritual symbol, goes forth in quest of love.  And he encounters on the way a man, a pagan who represents the natural principle in quest of the Grail.  And these two, one a Christian and the other Muslim, immediately go into combat.  And what happens is that the Moor, the Muslim, sends his lance through the genitals of the king so that he is rendered impotent.  That is the symbol of the Waste Land.  The king who represents the land’s health, its spiritual fertilization, is symbolically rendered impotent.  And that king, at the same time, slays the Muslim.  So as a result of the fact that the lord of the spirit is inadequate to his function, both the world of the spirit and the world of nature are rendered impotent.  A pall falls over the Grail Castle.  The king, in terrific anguish, is carried home.  And when the head of the lance is extracted from the wound, the words The Grail are seen written on it.  This Muslim was in quest of the Grail.  What you have here is spirit in quest of nature, and nature in quest of spirit.  And neither is helping the other but is in collision with the other.  What we’ve got to do now is unite the two. 

   There’s another aspect to the Grail.  When the question is finally asked, the king will be healed, but he will lose his position.  The position of the Grail King will go to Parzival, the one who asked the question.  You might say the secret problem of the quest is to heal the Grail King and to achieve his role, but without the wound – that is to say, to become the supporter of the spiritual principles, without the emasculating, literally sterilizing wound. 

   I’d like to make two points before going into the rest of our story.  Wagner, when working on his opera Tristan und Isolde, had the sudden realization that the Tristan wound, the wound from which Tristan died, was the same wound as that of Anfortas.  And that is why, while working on the Tristan opera, he commenced work on his Parsifal.  And what is that wound?  It is the wound of lust, life thrown off balance by compulsive lust, rather than by controlled amor – only Wagner interpreted the healing of lust in terms of agapé, impersonal spiritual love, and not in terms of amor.   RG 158

  A further point of interest is that Wagner himself, while working on his Tristan, was violently in love with the poet Mathilde Wescendonck, another man’s wife, in whose arms he hoped he would die.  He identified himself with Tristan, and Mathilde with Isolde, and her very generous, and – I must say – noble husband, Otta, with King Mark.  In Gottfried’s version, Mark is a noble, wonderful man – lacking, however, the gentle heart of love.  He sends for Iseult to be his wife on the urging of his nephew and his council without ever having seen her.  He has neither the eye to scout out love nor the heart to feel it, as Borneillh would say.  And one woman, for him, was as another – he had no idea on his wedding night that he had bedded the maid Brangaene rather than his bride, Iseult.  Thus he was ineligible to be her real consort.  So here we have this Wagnerian concept, and it is borne out in both his Tristan and his Parsifal, which share this them of the wound.   RG 158

   Wagner’s recognition is an important one.  One notes immediately a number of themes already shared b Wolfram’s Parzival with the Tristan romance of Gottfried.  Like the sword cut on Tristan’s thigh, delivered by the blade of Morholt, Anfortas’s wound, too, was poisoned and incurable, save by magic of a certain kind; it’s incurable, yet the victim does not die.  The one who delievered the wound is slain.  Furthermore, as Morholt the Mighty had been the emissary of the Irish king and queen, so this alien warrior was also from a land of heathenness, which, like Ireland, was a land of magic, an Earthly Paradise.  However, the main point of Wolfram’s account is to be seen in the association of the young Grail King’s wound with his sensual erotic urge, which is obviously an appetite contrary to the order of spiritual realization signified by his sacred office as guardian of the Grail.  RG 159

   No such sense of the symbolic relevance of the wound appears in Chrétien’s fragment; the dolorous stroke there was a mere battle accident, of no spiritual significance; in other versions of the tale, it is the magical result of an impiety of some kind, usually the impudent or accidental approach to, and touching of, some sacred object.  Thus it is only in Wolfram that a significant psychological, as opposed to merely magical, woundrous, fairyland reading is given to the mythic theme of the wound that we have traced now of ever-dying, ever-living, castrated-yet-all-generating consort of the Cosmic Goddess. 

   And indeed, it therefore would now appear that Wagner’s brilliant equation of Tristan’s wound with that of the Grail King was precisely what had been in Wolfram’s mind: and not Wolfram’s only, since Wolfram and the Tristan poet Gottfried were exact contemporaries, the leading European narrative poets of their generation; and they were in open rivalry, furthermore, as representing diametrically opposed attitudes to the leading spiritual as well as literary problem of the Middle Ages – which is to say, the relevance of conscious (integrity of character) to salvation.  

   It was the aim and achievement of Wolfram to represent the crises of a youth’s attainment to an order of honorable, freely rendered love that should lead not to the timeless state of an otherworldly rapture -  whether of Dante’s sort or Saint Bernard’s, in the Empyrean, or of Gottfried’s, on a crystalline bed, immune to the universe and to the terrors even of hell – but of a living significance here on this moving earth and in the social context of the day, this day, which so quickly comes – and goes.  RG 159