A note on this entry: This is one of those entries continually being worked on, as this is a bit obscure. If the information has made it this far, it has been vetted in various scholarly sources. However, we continue to find new information, the scholarship on this subject is continually under debate, and we keep editing for clarity. 

History:

The NibelungenStrophe is a stanzaic metrical form named for its use in the Nibelungelied, which translates into Song of the Nibelungs, a medieval heroic epic estimated to be written between 1200-10, in Middle High German, by an unknown Austrian in (most estimate) the Danube region, and rediscovered in the mid-18th century. The Nibelungelied is a high medieval formation of the Nibelungen Saga, a heroic legend handed down via oral traditions for centuries which also is touched on in Beowolf and forms the more significant parts of the Norse Edda. The Nibelungelied has been adapted many times throughout the ages, although its adaptation by Richard Wagner in his famous opera Der Ring des Nibelungen (1853-74) is the most well known.

The strophe, although named for its use in the Nibelungelied, predates the epic, and is earliest recorded use is by Der von Kurenberg (fl. 1150-70). However, the nature of the chronological relationship between the two is ultimately unclear and undetermined. Some have suggested that the strophe originated from the Latin Vagantenstrophe, also known as the Goliardic measure, used in the Goliardic verse. 

Structure: (Ok, I’m going to do my best here, but brace yourself because they were not fooling around with meter.)

  • Four line stanza
  • Each line is divided into two halves, split by a caesura (which is in and of itself a bit complicated and controversial, but essentially means a pause in which the metrical flow is stopped)
    • Important Note of Caesura: the caesura is set at least as often, if not more often, as a clash of metrical feet types than a comma. Meaning that, as you’ll see below, the first half ends in a feminine ending (stress on the last of two syllables), so you start the next half of the line with the stress on the first syllable. Thus, a pause in the meter, thus a caesura.
  • In the first three lines, the first half of the line, in terms of meter, is referred to as an Anvers, which has 4 strong beats/stressed syllables, and usually ends with a “feminine ending” (where the stress falls on the last syllable: unstressed-stressed)
  • The second half of the first three line is called an Abvers, and carries 3 strong beats/stressed syllables ending with a “masculine rhyme” (where the stress is on the first of two syllables)
  • The fourth and last line are two Anvers, meaning two halves where each half has 4 stressed/strong syllables
  • Although certain poetry sites will say that there’s a set meter, in terms of the order of these stresses, and what types of metrical feet are used (order of stressed and unstressed syllables), and even how many syllables in each half, if you actually read the Niebelunge, or even a couple stanzas of it, in the German, you’ll see that this is not true and the important bit is the amount of stressed syllables per half
  • Rhymes in line pairs (as the form in its entirety of form is the stanza, which you can repeat ad infinitum, the rhyme doesn’t carry over to other stanzas. So, aabb ccdd eeff etc etc.) at the end of the entire line. Sometimes the rhyme can carry over to the end of the first half of the line, but this is occasional and optional.

 

Sources: 

C. W. (1917). Nibelungenlied (Twelfth Century) Critical Introduction by Charles Harvey Genung (1864–1921). In The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.

Millet, Victor (2008). Germanische Heldendichtung im Mittelalter. Berlin, New York: de Gruyter. pp. 181–238. ISBN 978-3-11-020102-4.

 Ulwencreutz , Lars (2014). The Nibelungenlied. p.25-29

 George Henry Needler (Associate Professor of German in University College, Toronto). The Nibelungenlied

Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Nibelungenlied

Francis G. Gentry, Werner Wunderlich, Winder McConnell, Ulrich Mueller. The Nibelungen Tradition: An Encyclopedia. p. 216

Green, Roland, et al. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Fourth Edition. p. 945