Friday 14 June 2013

The Ring summarised in verse

Richard Morris - The Nibelung Ballad
When I was a student I was introduced to the music of Wagner and one of the ways that I got to know about the Ring was through Anna Russell's The Ring of the Nibelungs (An Analysis) in which she narrated the story in her own inimitable manner, including singing excerpts. The point about this was that it was both funny and apposite, bits of her descriptions stayed with me and in fact some of the points she made managed to be both hilarious and profound. These points occurred to me when reading Richard Morris's delightful little book, The Nibelung Ballad - The Story from Wagner's Ring, which confirmed that introductions to the Ring cycle don't have to be portentously po-faced.

In just 22 short pages, Morris narrates the story of the entire Ring in verse, capturing the essence of the narrative as well as the back story and something of the stage directions. There are also 13 full page illustrations by his daughter Hetty Morris.  There are 84 verses, a total of just 365 lines. Morris uses a basic rhymed four-line structure which has a limerick-like rhythm to it, but he varies things by altering the number of lines in a verse and not always rhyming the way he should. The results are both appealing and clear, you get a strong sense of the Ring's narrative as well as enjoying the verse.

As a sample of what I mean, here are the final verses in the whole book:-

The Rhine overflows and on the tide
the girls recover the Ring.
Hagen, who tries to keep them at bay,
is drowned through their entwining.

The flames career towards the sky
and consume Valhalla above.
The earth and the heavens are purified,
revealing through self-sacrifice
the redemptive power of love.

The language is contemporary and deliberately not arcane, the Rhine Maidens are referred to as Rhine Girls! Hetty Morris's illustrations, in black and white, are atmospheric and quite contemporary in style, the seem to owe a lot to graphic novels and work rather well. I did wonder whether there might be traction in expanding the book to form a full graphic novel.

Richard Morris works in music education and is the former chief executive of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, has also written poetry for the last 15 years and is an associate director of the poetry journal Magma, and has been attending Ring cycles since his visit to Bayreuth in 1965, so seems well placed to write the poem.  He and Hetty Morris have come up with a lovely little book, which illuminates and charms.

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