The emergence of the bridegroom
At an inn in the Austrian Alps, the poet Gregor Mittenhofer hopes to find inspiration for his new work by interviewing the crazy widow Mack, whose husband has been missing since climbing the Hammerhorn forty years ago. The poet’s secretary, Carolina, and his doctor, Dr. Reischmann, discuss how important they are to Mittenhofer while waiting for the Doctor’s son Toni to arrive. Mack enters the inn just as Mittenhofer emerges with his mistress, Elizabeth Zimmer. The frenzied Mack launches into a tirade and predicts the death of two young lovers, horrifying Toni, who is in the midst of a difficult “phase.” Mittenhofer berates Carolina for her typos and returns to his room, just as the alpine guide Mauer enters with news that the body of a young man has been found on the Hammerhorn. Certain that it is Mack’s husband, Dr. Reischmann and Carolina insist that Elizabeth inform the widow. Toni watches as Elizabeth gracefully handles breaking the news, and finds himself falling in love with her.
The emergence of the bride
Elizabeth and Toni sing of their love for each other, and Toni begs Elizabeth to leave Mittenhofer. Their conversation is overheard by Carolina, who tells the doctor and eventually, in a panic, Mittenhofer himself. The poet insists on inviting Elizabeth to tea, where he tries to manipulate her into feeling so guilty that she could not leave him. Elizabeth loses her nerve and confesses to Toni that she did not tell Mittenhofer of their love. Toni resolves to tell the poet himself. In front of his whole retinue and the widow Mack, Toni confronts Mittenhofer, who asks Dr. Reischmann to give his blessing to the lovers. Mittenhofer then reveals his new poem, The Young Lovers, which clarifies the problems of each character. Finally, Mittenhofer begs one simple boon from the new couple: that they stay until his 60th birthday, only a few days away, and pick him an Edelweiss from the Hammerhorn. After everyone else leaves, Mittenhofer lets his anger explode, cursing at everyone and wishing them dead.
Man and wife
Mack prepares to leave, saying goodbye to the new couple, who are ascending the mountain, and giving a scarf, which she has been knitting for 40 years, to Carolina. Mittenhofer falls into a rage and Carolina tries to comfort him. Mauer rushes in and says there is a blizzard on the Hammerhorn. Mittenhofer claims there is no one on the mountain, despite knowing that Elizabeth and Toni are up there picking his Edelweiss. He then confronts Carolina and drives her to insanity. He suggests she take a break. Up on the mountain, the lovers slowly die in the blizzard, claiming that they have transcended love and found truth in each other. Later, Mittenhofer is in Vienna preparing for a staged reading and dedicates the poem to “the memory of a brave and beautiful young couple, Elizabeth and Toni.”