Heinrich Heine


Christian Johann Heinrich Heine (December 13, 1797February 17, 1856) was a journalist, essayist, and one of the most significant German romantic poets. He is remembered chiefly for selections of his lyric poetry, many of which were set to music in the form of lieder (art songs) by German composers.

Early life

Heine was born into a family of assimilated German Jews in Düsseldorf, Germany, which was then occupied by France (becoming part of Prussia in 1815). He was called "Harry" as a child, but after his baptism in 1825 he became "Heinrich".

His father was a merchant, and his mother, the daughter of a physician, was a refined and educated woman. When his father's business failed, Heine was sent to Hamburg. His wealthy banker uncle, Salomon, encouraged him to go into commerce, but his ventures in this sphere were not successful. Instead, he took up law, studying at the universities of Göttingen, Bonn and Berlin, where he heard Hegel's lectures on the philosophy of history (he later wrote a short satirical poem about Hegel's philosophy "Doctrine"). During his student years he participated in the "Verein für Kultur und Wissenschaft des Judentumes" ("Society for the Culture and Scientific Study of Judaism"). Heine only stayed in the society for three years and left the group before earning a degree in law in 1825. The same year, he converted to Lutheranism.

Jews were subject to severe restrictions in many of the German states at that time. They were forbidden from entering certain professions, including an academic career in the universities, a particular ambition for Heine. As Heine said in self-justification, his conversion was "the ticket of admission into European culture". He wrote, "As Henry IV said, 'Paris is worth a mass'; I say, 'Berlin is worth the sermon.'" For much of the rest of his life Heine wrestled over the incompatible elements of his German and his Jewish identities.


Heine is best known for his lyric poetry, much of which (especially from his earlier works) was set to music by lied composers, most notably by Robert Schumann. Other composers who have set Heine's works to music include Friedrich Silcher, Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn, Fanny Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, Hugo Wolf, Richard Strauss, and Richard Wagner; and in the 20th century Hans Werner Henze, Lord Berners and Paul Lincke.

As a poet, Heine made his debut with Gedichte (Poems) in 1821. Heine's one-sided infatuation with his cousins Amalie and Therese later inspired him to write some of his loveliest lyrics; Buch der Lieder (Book of Songs, 1827) was Heine's first comprehensive collection of verse.

For example the poem "Allnächtlich im Traume" of the Buch der Lieder was set to music by Robert Schumann as well as Felix Mendelssohn. It contains the specific ironical disillusionment which is indeed typical of Heine:

Allnächtlich im Traume seh ich dich,
Und sehe dich freundlich grüßen,
Und lautaufweinend stürz ich mich
Zu deinen süßen Füßen.

Du siehst mich an wehmütiglich,
Und schüttelst das blonde Köpfchen;
Aus deinen Augen schleichen sich
Die Perlentränentröpfchen.

Du sagst mir heimlich ein leises Wort,
Und gibst mir den Strauß von Zypressen.
Ich wache auf, und der Strauß ist fort,
Und das Wort hab ich vergessen.

(non-literal translation in verse by Hal Draper:)

Nightly I see you in dreams - you speak,
With kindliness sincerest,
I throw myself, weeping aloud and weak
At your sweet feet, my dearest.

You look at me with wistful woe,
And shake your golden curls;
And stealing from your eyes there flow
The teardrops like to pearls.

You breathe in my ear a secret word,
A garland of cypress for token.
I wake; it is gone; the dream is blurred,
And forgotten the word that was spoken.

(for a more literal translation in particular to assist singers: )

Heine left Germany for France in 1831. After arriving in Paris, he associated with utopian socialists. These included the followers of Count Saint-Simon, who preached an egalitarian paradise based on meritocracy.

In 1832, Heine published, in French, Toward a history of philosophy and religion in Germany. "Never has a more extraordinary book sailed into the world under a more ordinary and discouraging title; yet for sheer literary panache, for bizarre anecdotes, historical snap–judgements, and sheer intellectual wit and vigour, the book has few equals.

German authorities banned his works and those of others who were considered to be associated with the 'Young Germany' movement in 1835. Heine continued, however, to comment on German politics and society from a distance. He remained in Paris, with the exception of a visit in 1843 to Germany, for the rest of his life. Heine wrote Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen (Germany. A Winter's Tale), an account of his visit to Germany and the political climate there, in 1844; his friend, Karl Marx, published it in his newspaper Vorwärts (Forward) in 1844. Heine also satirized the utopian politics of those opponents of the regime still in Germany in Atta Troll: Ein Sommernachtstraum (Atta Troll: A Midsummer Night's Dream) in 1847. In the preface to Atta Troll he comments on the risk of arrest that he faced during his clandestine return visit to Germany.

Heine wrote movingly of the experience of exile in his poem In der Fremde ("Abroad"):

Ich hatte einst ein schönes Vaterland.
Der Eichenbaum
Wuchs dort so hoch, die Veilchen nickten sanft.
Es war ein Traum.
Das küßte mich auf deutsch, und sprach auf deutsch
(Man glaubt es kaum,
Wie gut es klang) das Wort: »Ich liebe dich!«
Es war ein Traum.

I once had a beautiful fatherland.
The oak
Grew there so high, the violets gently nodded.
It was a dream.
It kissed me in German, it spoke in German
(One can hardly believe it,
It sounded so good) the phrase: "I love you!"
It was a dream.


Heine suffered from ailments that kept him bedridden for the last eight years of his life (some have suggested he suffered from multiple sclerosis or syphilis). He died in Paris (his last words being: "God will forgive me. It's his job." ) and is interred in the Cimetière de Montmartre.

The Walhalla temple in Bavaria plans to add Heine's bust to its collection in 2009.

Among the thousands of books burned on Berlin's Opernplatz in 1933, following the Nazi raid on the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, were works by Heinrich Heine. To commemorate the terrible event, one of the most famous lines of Heine's 1821 play Almansor was engraved in the ground at the site: "Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen." ("Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people.") In the original text, Heine had been referring to the burning of the Quran during the Spanish Inquisition.

In 1834, 99 years before Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party seized power in Germany, Heine made another remarkable prophecy in his work "The History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany":

"Christianity - and that is its greatest merit - has somewhat mitigated that brutal German love of war, but it could not destroy it. Should that subduing talisman, the cross, be shattered, the frenzied madness of the ancient warriors, that insane Berserk rage of which Nordic bards have spoken and sung so often, will once more burst into flame. This talisman is fragile, and the day will come when it will collapse miserably. Then the ancient stony gods will rise from the forgotten debris and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes, and finally Thor with his giant hammer will jump up and smash the Gothic cathedrals. (...)
Do not smile at my advice -- the advice of a dreamer who warns you against Kantians, Fichteans, and philosophers of nature. Do not smile at the visionary who anticipates the same revolution in the realm of the visible as has taken place in the spiritual. Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder. German thunder is of true Germanic character; it is not very nimble, but rumbles along ponderously. Yet, it will come and when you hear a crashing such as never before has been heard in the world's history, then you know that the German thunderbolt has fallen at last. At that uproar the eagles of the air will drop dead, and lions in the remotest deserts of Africa will hide in their royal dens. A play will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll."

Controversial legacy

In the 1890s, amidst a flowering of affection for Heine leading up to the centennial of his birth, a plan was enacted in Düsseldorf to honor Heine with a memorial statue. While at first the plan met with enthusiasm, the concept was gradually bogged down in anti-Semitic, nationalist, and religious criticism; by the time the memorial was finished, there was no place to put it. Through the intervention of German American activists, the memorial was ultimately transplanted into The Bronx. Known in English as the Lorelei Fountain, Germans refer to it as the Heinrich Heine Memorial.

In Israel, the attitude to Heine has long been the subject of debate between secularists, who number him among the most prominent figures of Jewish history, and the religious who consider his conversion to Christianity to be an unforgivable act of betrayal. Due to such debates, the city of Tel-Aviv was very late in naming a street for Heine, and the street finally chosen to bear his name is located in a rather desolate industrial zone rather than in the vicinity of Tel-Aviv University, suggested by some public figures as the appropriate location.

Ha'ir (a left-leaning Tel-Aviv magazine) sarcastically suggested that "The Exiling of Heine Street" symbolically re-enacted the course of Heine's own life. Since then, a street in the Yemin Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem and a community center in Haifa have been named after Heine. A Heine Appreciation Society is active in Israel, led by prominent political figures from both the left and right camps. His quote about burning books is prominently displayed in the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. (It is also diplayed in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum).

Selected works

  • Auf Flügeln des Gesanges
  • Gedichte, 1821
  • Tragödien, nebst einem lyrischen Intermezzo, 1823
  • Reisebilder, 1826-31
  • Die Harzreise, 1826
  • Ideen, das Buch le Grand, 1827
  • Englische Fragmente, 1827
  • Buch der Lieder, 1827
  • Zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Religion in Deutschland, 1832
  • Französische Zustände, 1833
  • Zur Geschichte der neueren schönen Literatur in Deutschland, 1833
  • Die romantische Schule, 1836
  • Der Salon, 1836-40
  • Die Lorelei, 1838
  • Ludwig Börne: Eine Denkschrift, 1840
  • Neue Gedichte (Big Rudy), 1844 - New Poems
  • Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen, 1844 - Germany
  • Atta Troll. Ein Sommernachtstraum, 1847
  • Romanzero, 1851
  • Der Doktor Faust, 1851
  • Les Dieux en Exil, 1853
  • Die Harzreise, 1853
  • Lutezia, 1854
  • Vermischte Schriften, 1854
  • Letzte Gedichte und Gedanken, 1869
  • Sämtliche Werke, 1887-90 (7 Vols.)
  • Sämtliche Werke, 1910-20
  • Sämtliche Werke, 1925-30
  • Werke und Briefe, 1961-64
  • Sämtliche Schriften, 1968

Editions in English

  • The Complete Poems of Heinrich Heine: A Modern English Version by Hal Draper, Suhrkamp/Insel Publishers Boston, 1982. ISBN 3-518-03048-5


See also

External links

In English

In German

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