|End of Page||Poets||Site Map||Page|
The following article is excerpted from a longer piece, which appeared in the German-language journal Ibykus, First Quarter 1997, and was translated by Rick Sanders. (The translator's notes are placed within [brackets].
``I don't care very much about my fame as a poet, nor am I concerned whether my songs will be praised or blamed. But you shall lay a sword on my grave, for I have been a good soldier in the war of liberation of mankind,'' wrote the poet Heinrich Heine about himself, in The Voyage from Munich to Genoa.
This year, 1997, we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Heinrich Heine who, along with Schiller and Goethe, belongs to the most beloved poets of Germany, and of the world. Metaphor, jokes, and wordplay were among the poetic weapons which Heine employed to liberate his contemporaries from their romantic navel-gazing, their flight into virtual reality, political correctness, flat empiricism, and slavish obedience to authority.
Heine created his poems during a time of political agony--after the Congress of Vienna of 1815, when, under the leadership of England and the Austrian Prince Metternich, the Restoration of the European monarchies began. Many genuine republicans and humanists, who had hoped that the ideals of the American revolution might also be realized in Europe, (for the first time in history, in the preamble of the American Constitution, the inalienable right of all men to development, was put into writing), felt themselves betrayed, and relegated to past history.
After the re-introduction of the feudal constitution in 39 German states, what ruled the roost, instead of the ``sovereignty of a people,'' was once again the ``monarchical-feudal principle.'' If de Bonald and de Maistre had laid the intellectual foundations for the restoration of the old order, it was the Karlsbad Decrees of 1819, that put the intellectual, literary, and political life of Germany under the censor's thumb, whose effects are still visible in the meagerness of the fare that passes for culture today.
Heine saw economic progress, and spiritual-cultural transformation, as the only way out of this oppressive situation: ``We have measured continents, weighed the powers of Nature, calculated the capital of industry, and lo! we have discovered: that the Earth is big enough; that it offers to each sufficient space upon which to build a happy home; that this earth can feed us all sufficiently, as long as we all work, and no one wish to live at the expense of another; and that we do not need to recommend the greater and poorer class, to the mercy of heaven,'' he writes in The Romantic School.
In Paris he got to know the founder of German national economy, and father of the railways, Friedrich List. Heine thought the invention of the railway, just as important as the invention of printing, and the discovery of the Americas: ``Once again such a providential event, that gives to mankind a new revolution, that changes the color and shape of life; it begins a new era in world history, and our generation can boast that it was present for that. What changes must now be introduced into our way of thinking and into our imagination. ''
On the 13th of December, 1797, Harry Heine was born, the eldest son of the Jewish textile buyer Samson Heine, and his wife, whose maiden name was Betty van Geldern, in Duesseldorf on the Rhine, . ``On the bank of that lovely stream, where Folly grows upon the green mountains, is harvested in the fall, put in a cellar, poured into vessels, and sent to foreign countries.''
From a Jewish family imbued with the spirit of freedom and tolerance, Heine grew up in a typical Rhineland-Catholic environment. Part of his first play of childhood included ``finding a rhyme,'' and as a youth, he would be fascinated, all ears, when sagas and legends were told him by the [red-haired] daughter of the executioner in the town where he lived, whom he [affectionately] called ``roten Sefchen.''
Other important influences on Heine's intellectual development included his uncle, Simon van Geldern, a Bonn scholar and a friend of Ludwig van Beethoven's, and Jakob Schalmayer, Director of the humanist-Catholic, Franciscan Gymnasium in Düsseldorf, where Heine received his academic education. It was thanks to their influence, that Heine, early on, became familiar with the intellectual patrimony of the Greek classics, and neo-Platonic philosophy.
In 1819, Heine began a study of jurisprudence and economic science in Bonn; later, he studied at Göttingen and Berlin. On the 25th of May, 1825, he took his law examinations in Göttingen. Around the same time, he converted to Evangelical-Protestant Christianity. During his studies, Heine concentrated especially on German poetry and language. Thus in Bonn he studied Old German, the German Classics and Romantics, as well as Shakespeare and Cervantes. Many times he was spurred on by the Sanskrit scholar and Shakespeare translator, August Wilhelm Schlegel, who held a chair at the University in Bonn, and was one of the first to whom Heine presented his poetry for judgment: ``Schlegel is very satisfied with my poetry, and quite joyfully amazed at their originality,'' writes Heine.
During his two-year stint of studies in Berlin 1821-23, Heine is most taken by the lectures of Franz Bopp, the scholar of comparative philology, and August Böckh, philologist. Besides his studies, he was also active for one year in the ``Association for Jewish Culture and Science,'' which had been founded in 1819 by Eduard Gans and Moses Moser.
Berlin was at the time the leading intellectual metropolis of Germany, and in the salons of Rahel Varnhagen, Frederike Robert and Elise von Hohenhausen, Heine became acquainted with the best minds of Germany: among whom were: Alexander von Humboldt, the Mendelssohn family, Adalbert von Chamisso and Karl August Varnhagen von Ense. It was through Von Ense's mediation that the first volume of Heine's poetry appeared in 1822, printed by the Berlin "Verlag Maurer."
A further source of inspiration for Heine's poetic creation, was his study of the brothers Grimm (Heine met them in Kassel in 1827), the German Fairy Tales and legends they published, as well as the collection of old German songs, published by Brentano and Uhland, called Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Lad's Magic Horn). ``In these songs one feels the heartbeat of the German people. Here is revealed all its obscure clarity, all its foolish reason. Here drums German rage, here pipes German ridicule, here kisses German love. Here drop pearls of true German wine, and real German tears. The latter are often more costly than the former; there is much ice and salt in them'' (The Romantic School).
In 1827 through the efforts of the publisher Johann Friedrich Freiherr von Cotta -- a key figure in the network of European republicans, founded by Benjamin Franklin, to which belonged among others: General Lafayette; Hippolite Carnot, the son of the famous founder of the Ecole Polytechnique, Lazare Carnot; and Friedrich List -- Heine became editor of the Neuen Allgemeinen politischen Annalen in Munich.
However, in spite of being acquainted with the Bavarian Interior Minister, Eduard Schenk, Heine's appointment to the University of Munich was thwarted. Significant influences against him were Jesuit Ignaz Döllinger and his protégé, the poet August von Platen, who in his essay, ``Oedipus,'' had made anti-Semitic remarks about Heine; these two men were both leading representatives of the political Romantic movement that was so much attacked by Heine. In The Romantic School, Heine called theirs a propaganda of ``priests and petty nobility, who conspire against the religious and political freedom of Europe.''
Heine took strong issue with the Romantic movement founded by the Schlegel brothers, since he saw it as a politically reactionary movement, against the ideals of the American revolution, and a legitimization of the oligarchical-corporativist political model. Heine saw that, in its search for a national identity, this Romantic, ``anti-French'' movement, exercised a quietist influence over Germany's youth. Instead of thinking about the great aims of mankind, ``there began the mangiest, clumsiest, unwashed opposition to that disposition, which is just the most glorious that Germany has brought forth, namely against all humanity, against a universal respect for man, against cosmopolitanism, against our great spirits, Lessing, Schiller, Goethe -- whom every cultured person in Germany has always honored.'' The Romantic School.
When the July Revolution broke out in the summer of 1830, Heine was full of hope for changes to come, in the oppressive atmosphere that reigned in Europe, and above all in Germany. ``Lafayette, the tri-colored flag, the Marseillaise -- I am all joy and song, all sword and flames,'' he wrote at the time, during a stay on the island of Helgoland. In summer of 1831 he went to Paris, where he was able to work as a correspondent for Cotta's Morgenblatt, and a year later, together with Gustav Kalb, for the Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung. The July revolution of 1830, was the opening shot for a national revolutionary and protest movement in all of Europe. One of the most significant events was the Hambach Festival (May 26-27, 1832), where Germans, French and Poles formed an alliance, in favor of more representative government and a national economic policy -- in the sense of the ideas of Friedrich List: ``The freedom to trade and exchange goods within a national framework.''
``That was the last installment granted us by the Goddess of Freedom; only at that time, during those days of the Hambach Festival, might it have been possible to bring about, with some hope of success, a general transformation in Germany,'' wrote Heine, in some background commentary about those days in his Denkschrift über Ludwig Börne (Ludwig Börne, In Memoriam), in which among other things, he was trying to find the reasons for the failure of diverse revolutionary efforts.
In 1835, an article by Adolf Menzel attacking ``Young Germany,''[fn1] was taken as a pretext by the Frankfurt parliament, to ban the literary works of Young Germany (Gutzkow, Wienbarg, Laube, Mundt, etc.), and also those of Heinrich Heine. This was actually a political operation, run by Prince Metternich, personally, in order to politically and literarily silence this dangerous opponent of oligarchical interests.
The ban meant Heine could no longer make a living by writing, and spelled financial ruin. Until his death in 1856, he lived in exile in Paris, and was able to continue writing only thanks to financial help from his uncle Solomon from Hamburg. He had to be on guard against provocative political statements, and his works that had been published by the Hamburg printer, Hoffman and Campe, were completely forbidden by the censor.
By the time that the February revolution broke out, Heine's health was broken, and he was politically very disillusioned. The events of the time he characterized as ``a delusion, which you could expect to find during Walpurgis Night, or with the Jacobins during the days of the Red Terror. There are again innumerable clubs, where filthy lips spit out slanders against the most blameless. Denunciations, rabble rousing sermons, threats, sullied invectives in verse and prose: a filthy literature of cheap sensationalism. ''
From his sick-bed, Heine shuddered with horror, confined to his ``mattress grave,'' for almost ten years until his death in 1856, at the possibility that radical Jacobins and Communists might seize power, whence they might get rid of beauty, in favor of utility: ``It is with scandal and outrage that I think of a time, when these gloomy iconoclasts might get into power. With their calloused hands, they will mercilessly destroy all of Beauty's marble statues, which are so precious to my readers. They will destroy my laurel tree and plant potatoes there.... The nightingale, that useless songbird, will be prohibited and oh! my Buch der Lieder will be used at the corner store to wrap the groceries.''
Heine saw in the English oligarchy and the philosophy of Locke, the main enemy of the American Revolution, and the political opponent in Europe: ``All of England is rigidly constrained in medieval institutions, behind which the aristocracy has set up its defensive position and is waiting for the fight to the death,'' he writes in the Reise von Müchen nach Genua (Voyage from Munich to Genoa). With its caste system, ossified in a ``fashionable Middle Ages,'' England used the colonies only for enriching the aristocracy, while, the English people toil night and day in ``treadmills'', in order to ``feed the believers [in the Empire].'' Heine looked at England as the centre of anti-humanist reaction, which ``purchases'' its political victories with the help of hirelings, strangled the achievements of the French Revolution in the bud, and twisted it into a bogeyman. ``People did not understand,'' he says in Lutezia, ``What unbelievable amounts of money England spends every year, just to pay their foreign agents ... and how much again, these agents of England know how to bend to their purpose the most heterogeneous mix of good people and slanderers. ''
What particularly roused his indignation, was the disparity between rich and poor in English society. In London, a city where money means everything, this struck him particularly during his three-month trip to England in 1827; ``Here hunger drives poverty out of the dark alley, into the daylight. With mute, imploring eyes,'' he writes in the Englischen Fragmenten (English Fragments), ``a ragged woman looks up at a rich merchant, who jingles his keys officiously and hastens on his way; or the idle Lord, like a sated God, prances about on his high steed, now and then throws a haughty, indifferent glance upon the teeming masses below, as if they were insignificant ants, or perhaps merely a bunch of lowly creatures, whose joys and sorrows have nothing in common with his feelings, since above this earth-bound human rabble, England's nobility hover as creatures of a higher species, who look at little England only as a place to put up for the night, Italy as their summer garden, Paris as their social club, and yes, the entire world, as their property.''
How narrow, [eng = narrow, hence 'englisch' implying both 'narrow- minded' and 'English'], puns Heine ironically, about the peculiar Englishman's trait, of having abandoned all passion for poetry and beauty. The sons of Albion, wherever they go, exude a remarkable boredom, ennui, but no matter what country they find themselves in, they think the cause springs from the place, rather than from within themselves. ``The English are red-haired barbarians, who eat raw meat. They take a thousand one-syllable words in their jaws, chew on them, and spit them out, and call that language ... It is quite possible that by smell alone, they would be unable to tell the difference between cowpies and apple pies.''
Heine identified the precise origin of the British-oligarchical way of thinking in Lockean empiricism, and utilitarianism. In the Englischen Fragmenten, he warns: ``But don't send any poets to London. This naked seriousness about everything, this colossal monotony, this machine-like movement, this sadness of joy itself, this exaggerated London, oppresses the imagination and tears the heart. And you must certainly not send a German poet there, a dreamer, who must pause for everything he sees, even for a ragged beggar woman, or a shiny plate made by a goldsmith -- Oh! He'll have a rough time soon enough, and he will be pushed around from all sides, or with a mild ``God damn'' be pushed down onto the ground.''
Heine gave the French and the Germans the following political advice, never to fall into the trap of allowing themselves to get into an ``ambiguous friendship with England,'' since England will do everything to play the one against other, to weaken them both.
Heine's views of England sound very a propos today, if we think back over the last few years, with what vehemence England formed a new Entente Cordiale, in order to sabotage the sincere commitment of France and Germany to act as prime movers of a European and Eurasian peaceful order. ``Yes, the English will spur on the gallic cock some more, particularly to fight with the absolutist eagle, and they are craning their necks with curiosity, to look over the Channel, and applaud,'' he warned prophetically.
Heine chose the poetic method of the socratic paradox, in order to change the thinking of his contemporaries. The joke creates a paradox, a metaphor in the thought of the reader, which is impossible to understand symbolically, or directly communicable with words -- but the ``idea,'' lying ``between'' the words, is communicated by Heine, through irony, for example, through the juxtaposing of two contrary elements in word-play; a metaphor or ``idea'' not explicitly contained within the words, is communicated to the mind.
Heine used the method of paradoxes, to blow skyhigh political correctness and pedestrian linearity. He employs surprising, ironic turns of phrase, which point to the ``discontinuity'' between Romantic illusion and reality. The effect of his poetry lies above all in its density [verdichtung -- a pun: in German, dichten means to make poetry; verdichten: to condense--tr. ]; many times his poems are short, only two stanzas. There are strophic variants of one poetic metaphor, the metaphor of love and death, two diametrically opposite poles, from whose tension, poetic-creative forms are developed. Heine felt a deep ``passion'' for creative reason, as he says in his autobiography Ideen--Das Buch Le Grand (Ideas -- The LeGrand Book); the theme of the beloved and unhappy love is a metaphor for the fragility and sorrow, which the poet Heine felt because of the gulf that lay between reality, and the ideals of art put forward by Schiller and Goethe. It is the sorrow for the loss of Beauty and Truth, the absence of the ``poetic'' in the world. Nothing would get Heine more angry than ``if one should try to explain the spirit of my poetry from my personal history, from the history of the poet!''
His first attempt at poetry, the Traumbilder: Junge Leiden, 1817-21 [Dream Images: Youthful Sorrows], are a kind of dialogue, a poet's creative casting about. The young Heine is joyful about his overflowing poetical imagination, and power to create form through rhyme and metre. At the same time he plays boldly with the horrible, the dark side of imagination, the pleasure from terror, from the supernatural, from death. Often in Traumbilder, at the end there flashes a surprise. For example, when he is writing ironically about himself, about his ``love's woe,'' [in number 8 of 9 songs] in his first Lieder cycle:
At start I thought I might despair,Or he makes himself ironically merry about the ``ghostly'' or supernatural in the Traumbild:
And believed I'd bear it not;
And yet, I bore it after all,
But how I did, only God wot.
Looking out the WindowHeine had a very developed sense of music. In his Lyrischen Intermezzo (Lyrical Intermezzo), most of the poems are no longer than two stanzas, but of the utmost density. Thus ``Ein Jungling liebt ein Maedchen,'' condenses a complicated love story, in which 5 people are involved, into eight lines, and then hangs an epilogue on it. His simplicity is art itself at work, poetically constructed.
Pale Heinrich passed on the street below,
Fair Hedwig lay in the window,
My God, my God, she spoke half-loud,
Pale as a ghost, that man below.
That man below, raised up his eyes,
Yearning, towards fair Hedwig's window;
She saw that it was true love's woe,
And turned as pale as the one below.
Fair Hedwig stood in love's dismay,
Spied from her window every day;
But soon, in Heinrich's arms she lay,
Every night, when the ghosts do play.
A young man loves a maidenKarl Immerman Heine's best friend, wrote that at first people, wrongly, compared Heine to Byron: ``The comparison does not seem to fit: with extraordinary means, the Brit achieves only moderate poetic effects; while Heine shows the decisive capacity, to limit himself artistically, and to absorb matter entirely into the form. The astonishing popularity achieved by Lord Byron, has its source primarily in things which lie quite far removed from the domain of the aesthetic. It is his sense of desperation, a vague longing, that flatters the sickly modern temper of so many people. '' The poems of the Lyrischen Intermezzo alone, were put to music more than two thousand times. Especially outstanding, are the songs by Franz Schubert and those of Robert Schumann (Liederkreis op. 24 and Dichterliebe op. 48, respectively). The lied -- ``the only really significant progress since Beethoven,'' as Schumann wrote in 1843 -- introduced a musical revolution, and awakened in all strata of the population, a sense for the beauty of poetry.
But she another prefers,
The other one loves another,
And ties the knot with her.
From spite, the maiden marries
The first who comes along,
And happens `cross her path;
The youth must rue it long.
It is an old, old story,
Yet still forever new;
And every time it happens,
It breaks the heart in two.
``In the lieder, two beautiful souls first get to know each other, the poet the composer, and vice-versa. The lied must be created such, that the poet, were he a musician, should express in tones, exactly what he does in his words; and the musician, were he a poet, should do in words what he does in tones,'' Schumann wrote on the 15th of August, 1828, after having met Heine in Munich in May of that year.
To the poet of lieder, Wilhelm Müeller, Heine writes on June 7, 1826: ``I am big enough to confess to you openly, that the metre of my little intermezzo, has more than a coincidental similarity to the metre you use most often -- rather, my intermezzo probably owes its most secret tones to your lieder, since it was the beloved lieder of Müeller, that I was just getting to know at the time I was writing the Intermezzo. Very early on, I allowed the German folk song to do its work upon me.''
The "Lyrische Intermezzo" should not have been put to music nearly as often, had not music lain there already, implicit in the sounds of its verse density. Heine plays with the tone-color of vowels: lilie, liebe, lieder, feine, kleine, reine. He works in strophic and vocalic variants, with the metaphor of the lied: he talks about the lied sung by the birds, of a choir of nightingales; ``wings of song,'' upon which he carries his beloved; when it comes to musical tones, he says:
It is a flauting and piping,
Trumpets a-blaring away;
There's my beloved dancing,
The wedding roundelay.
The bagpipes are droning,
The cymbals are clanging,
Meanwhile the angels
Are gulping and groaning.
The poet's irony once again clearly present here, shattering romantic feeling,-- which Heine achieves through musical dissonance within the language, by deliberately getting "out of tune." ``Meanwhile the good angels gulp and groan.'' New also, is the rude interruption of romantic feeling in this Intermezzo:
Also in the little poem ``Das Fraeulein stand am Meere'' (Nordseezyklus), Heine works with the technique of shattering the romantic mood:
When two must leave each other,
One takes the other's hand,
And then begins the weeping,
And sighing without end.
We did not weep,
We did not sigh our woe,
But oh! the tears and sighs,
Came later, and evermore.
A poem as a work of art, needs a poetic mood, Heine commented in a discussion with Eduard Wedekind, but also much planning and preparatory work. ``Creation itself is an idle movement/Which is easily blunted;/Still the plan, the planning,/Only that shows what an artist is,'' Heine says in No. 4 of the Neuen Gedichte, and in No. 6 he underscores: ``The subject matter only becomes a valid subject through its artistic form.''
The maiden stood at the ocean,
Afraid she sighed, and long,
Found it so very moving that
The sun was going down.
Dear girl, don't be so downcast,
The tale's as old as time,
It's going down before us,
But will rise again behind.
A good way to get an insight into the way the poet goes about his work, is given in a letter, which Heine wrote at the beginning of the 1820's to his friend Karl Immerman, where he examines Immerman's poem, Tulifaentchen, stanza by stanza, and improves both its metre and its expression, in order to give to the whole a more solid foundation and make it more serious. Immerman for example writes: Das Geschlecht der Tulifant Blueht einst hoch im Reich der Fante Zwanzig Schloesser, reiches Kornland And Heine says about this: ``The perfect end-rhymes of these lines don't do anything for me. Could it not be said something like this: Einst im Fantenreiche bluehte Das Geschlecht der Tulifant, Etc.
Immermann writes: Seht ihr dort ... Jenes Maeuerchen, zwei Schuh hoch, Aund im Maeuerchen di Holztuer? Heine comments: ``The `chen' as a long syllable, while `zwei' is counted as short, does not please me. Since most of the lines end with spondaic trochaes, you could have used `Maeuerlein' in both lines.''
Where Immermann says: Und er sprach zu ihr bedeutend, Heine comments: ``Heine says: ``I should rather put, also because of the meaning of the words, `bedeutsam' [rather than `bedeutend'], because it fits well with the heavy trochaic ending that follows.''
Where Immerman in the 4th lied of the Tulifaentchen writes: Willst zu den Lilliputtern Du Wandern gehn, dein Schwert dort abzufuttern? Heine: ``The last expression I don't like, it smells too much of emergency rhyme. Don't you have a rhyme for Lilliputtern or Lilliputanern? (If you want `Lilliputtanern'? it sounds bad, but still better than `futtern'.)'' Immerman: Jetzt wisse, dass ein Zwang war Die Heirat. Sie Befahl, ich folgte dankbar. Heine says about this: ``These rhymes I don't like; for fun I give two parallel lines, of which I only recommend the rhyme: Aus etikettenzwang zwar Vermaehlt ich mich--ich tat, was meines Rangs war.
Heine writes to Immerman that he had looked at his poem ``with a sober eye for metre.'' Besides some deficiencies, the poem also contains some excellent metres, ``which have issued from the soul, the aboriginal source of metre, which no Count Platen, with all his perseverance (and metric erudition) can scrape together.'' Moreover, metre has it origin somewhere, stems only from the true poetic feeling, and cannot be faked: ``You dear Immermann, sin often enough against the external rules of metre, which in any case, one can memorize; but only seldom against the inner metre, whose rules lie in the beating of the heart.''
Heine's wit is playful and inventive. It was a devastating weapon when dealing with stupidity and political-oligarchical enemies. Above all, Heine loved word-play, [such as puns, and malapropisms]. In the Baths of Lucca, the servant, Hirsch Hyazinth speaks about ``Diarrhetoric''. When Heine speaks about Rothschild, he ridicules him as the ``millionairhead'', and his wife, the ``millionairheadress'', with whom people associate quite famili-airheadedly. And then there's the doctrinairhead... . A slipper becomes a hand-me-down, or rather a foot-me-down. When Major Duevent challenges the huge Israel Löwe [lion] to a duel with pistols, he says to him: ``If you don't respond, Herr Löwe, then you are a dog,'' and Löwe answers: ``I would rather be a living dog than a dead lion.''
Through rhymes such as: Dunstkreis-Kunstgreis, Mundweit-Gesundheit, Mondschein-Punsch ein, Grandezza-jetzo, Walfisch-Walhallfisch, Schellfisch- welfisch, Aeskulaps-Schnaps, Salomo-Apropos, Ochsen- Orthodoxen, Naht dir-Satyr, soll ich- drollig, Romantik-Uhland und Tieck, Maulheld-Maul haelt, Rueckert-rueckkehrt, Heine succeeds in expressing ideas ``between the rhymes,'', and to create a extraordinary poetic effect.
The key thing with jokes, is form; they are based upon counterpoint, bringing to life two valid but contradictory elements. One of Heine's beloved techniques of wit, was to compare the parts of the body with geographic regions, with the ensuing humorous contrast: ``The breast of Frau Schwester is as empty as the Lüneburger meadow.'' ``The bosom of Signora Lätitia,'' Heine compares to the Red Sea: ``Just a glance is enough to get you seasick. ... Her face was a soup kitchen for poor theologians. The nose of the Marquis of Gumpelino is ``as crooked as the leaning tower of Pisa; ... A Philistine bragged so incredibly that the milk on the table turned sour.''
Or Heine will deliberately sing out of tune: treating the disgusting with dignity, and the trivial with importance. Such as when he says: ``Göttingen, famous for sausage and the university,'' or: ``A lanky, haggard body, like the shadow of a bottle of cologne, though he certainly did not smell like its contents.''
Or he makes a comical list: ``Every tall man has had to run for it at some point in his life: Lot, Tarquinius, Moses, Jupiter, Madame de Stael, Nebuchadnezzar, the whole Prussian army.''
Heine's wit is always at the same time, a self-irony, and an expression of freedom and the sovereignty of the spirit. In a letter of recommendation which he gives to Ferdinand Hiller on his way to Germany, he says to him, ``If they ask you where Heine is to be found, `tell them as a fish in the water;' or rather, tell people that when one fish in the sea asks another how it's going, the other answers: `I'm just like Heine in Paris.'|''
The flat empiricist was for Heine, the absolute antithesis of creative freedom. In the city of Göttingen, this kind of sour-faced Philistine appeared in academic cloth: ``The city of Göttingen, famous for its sausage and its university,'' he begins his Harzreise. In the Baths of Lucca, Heine again picks up the equation, and takes it further: ``Whatever the case, you can tell the universities of Göttingen and Bologna apart by the simple fact, that in Bologna you find the smallest dogs and the greatest scholars; in Göttingen the contrary, the smallest scholars and the largest dogs.'' And alluding to the feudalistic laws governing Germany: ``The Hanoverian Junker are donkeys, who only talk about horses;'' in another turn of phrase, Heine remarks that--: ``In general, the inhabitants of Göttingen are very strictly divided into four classes: students, professors, Philistines and cattle. The class of cattle is the most significant.''
His art lay, like a caricaturist's, in capturing a type or a character with only a few phrases. In the Wirtshaus zu Nordheim, for example, he meets a member of the nobility with two aunt-like ladies: ``This Lord was clad completely in green, and even wore green glasses ... the one lady was the wife, a great and copious lady, a red square mile of a face, the furrows in her cheeks looked like little spittoons for the god of love; a long and pendulent fleshy chin, which seemed an unsuccessful continuation of the face, a bosom piled up high, which was covered with stiff lace and crenellated festooned collars, as if with little towers and bastions. The other lady, the sister of the first, embodied quite her contrary. If the one were descended from the fat kine of Pharaoh, then this one came from the lean ones. The face, only a mouth between two ears; the breasts, unconsolingly empty, as the Lüneburg meadow; the entire-boiled down face, a soup-kitchen for poor theologians. The ladies both asked me at the same time, if the right kind of people lodged at the Hotel Brühbach (actually, a dungeon, E. H.).
Heine was profoundly disgusted by the philistine empiricists, who, as one can find today with many a Maecenas[fn2] or art collector, have failed to develop any inner relation to great Art, but can only think of Art and Nature, from the standpoint of utilitarianism. The poet gives as an example the philistine from Goslar (a town in the Harz Mountains), whom he meets not far from Harzburg. A well-fed middle class man, with a ``shiny fat-bellied, stupidly clever face! ... like a turkey looking forward to Thanksgiving. He drew my attention to the purposefulness and utility of Nature. The trees are green, since green is good for the eyes,'' Heine begins his joke. ``I agreed with him, and added, that God had created cattle, since beef soups strengthen man; that he created the donkey, so that it might give man something with which to compare himself; and he had created man, to eat beef soup and not be a donkey.''
During the high-serious contemplation of the sunset in the Harzer Brocken, the delight in experiencing Nature, is interrupted by the bald exclamation: ``Isn't Nature in general, beautiful!?'' Kantian formalism and flat empiricism are mutually complementary. Indeed, there is no more striking characteristic of the German ideology than Kantian formalism, which Heine makes the multifarious target of his mocking. Kantianism is a branch of Lockean empiricism: a mixture of Kantian fulfilling one's duty, Kantian understanding, and the Kantian melancholy sad-sack soul. Kantian thinking is passionless thinking, which is suspicious of creative reason, and has at the same time, imprisoned the irrational feelings in the ``soul-sack,'' from which it breaks out in rage from time to time--and only then when the understanding, the "way things are done, by the rules," is confronted with ``creative change,''--or else is vented in other remarkable, irrational episodes.
Immanuel Kant was the enemy of all beauty--``To search for a principle of taste, which should give the general criterion of the beautiful, is a fruitless undertaking, since what is sought, is impossible and self-contradictory'' -- Critique of Pure Reason. Likewise, he is the enemy of sensuousness: ``A woman narrows the heart of a man, and usually when he marries, a man loses a friend.'' (loc. cit.) Music, Kant found to be useless racket. In the Critique of Judgment, Kant writes that music speaks only through pure feelings without concepts, and withal nothing remains to think about; it is more enjoyment than culture. ``Music is like the enjoyment received from the spreading of a perfume. The person who takes a perfumed handkerchief out of his pocket, treats all around him and near him, willy nilly, and invites them, if they want to breathe, that they too must enjoy it, -- which is why perfumed handkerchiefs have now gone out of fashion. Needless to say, love was quite banned from the life of this pedantic man.
For Kant there is no true freedom, since it is external constraint that makes man do what he does. Duty and inclination, morality and feeling, stand in antithesis to each other. ``I gladly admit, that just because of its dignity, I cannot also have the concept of duty go together with grace. For implicit in duty is absolute necessity, with which grace stands in direct anthithesis'' -- The Critique of Pure Reason. On the contrary, Friedrich Schiller in Anmut und Wuerde, (Grace and Dignity) rightly objected, that a feeling for beauty and freedom are incongruent with the austere spirit of rigorous Kantian moral precepts, where feelings are regarded with suspicion, and man is led ``more through fear than through conviction.''
In the Harzreise, Heine mercilessly tears apart the Kantian professor, in the figure of Professor Saul Ascher, devoid of imagination. ``A man in his late fifties, who was the personification of a straight line, and who had literally philosophized everything delicious out of life. All the rays of the sun, all flowers, all belief, and nothing was left to him but the cold, positive grave.''
Ascher, who had a particular malice towards Christianity, appears to Heine in a dream as a ghost: ``What is the ghostly? Asks the professor. Give me a defnition -- deduce for me the meaning of the possibility of a ghost. Reason, I say Reason ... And now the ghost strides forward to an analysis of Reason, cites Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, 2. Part 1. Section, 2, Book 3. Heading, the distinction of phenomena and <>noumena, but constructed as a problematic of belief in ghosts, put one syllogism after another, and closed with the logical proof: that there are absolutely no ghosts. In the meantime, sweat ran down my back, my teeth chattered like castanets, my soul in terror, I nodded with ... agreement with that phrase by which the spooky Doctor, proved the absurdity of all fear of ghosts.'' Kantianism and Lockean empiricism are closely linked together. In the History of Religion and Philosophy, Heine settles accounts with Kantianism. He begins his chapter about Kant, with a quotation from an English mechanic, who, since he had invented many machines, was ultimately inspired to make a man. What he made, was something which could actually gesture like a man, there was even ``a human feeling in that leather breast, which are not usually to be found in the English, and it could articulate tones about its feelings and impart them, even with an audible sound, and it gave these tones a real English pronunciation; in short, this robot was a complete gentleman, and for being true man, he lacked only a soul.'' The machine begged the artist to give him a soul, `give me a soul' [English in original]; the artist had to flee from his own work of art, and has since been in exile, persecuted on the Continent.
Heine compared Kant's critique on metaphysical truths -- as Leibniz had presented them, in the Platonic tradition of `innate ideas,' antithetical to Aristotle's tabula rasa) -- with the headsman who spreads terror with his sword. Moreover, Kant had ``neither life nor history. He lived a mechanical, ordered, quite abstract, bachelor's life, in a quiet, remote alley in Königsberg. I do not think the clock of the cathedral of that day, was more passionless and more regular in carrying out its daily task, than its homeboy Immanuel Kant. To get up, drink coffee, write, give a lecture, go for a walk, everything has its determined time, and the neighbors knew exactly that it was 3:30, when Immanual Kant in his grey cloak, with his Spanish cane in his hand, would exit from the door of his house, and take a walk towards the kleinen Lindenallee, which is still today named the philosopher's walk, after him. Eight times he would walk up and down there, whatever the season, and when the weather was bad, or grey clouds threatened rain, you could see his servant, old Lampe, terrorized, worried, walk behind him, with a long umbrella under his arm, the very picture of forethought.''
Kant wrote in a ``grey, dry, literary style, and clothed his thoughts in the tepid language of a civil servant in the chancellery.'' And already through just his language, we can recognize the dessicated mind of the Philistine, for ``only genius has a new word for a new thought ... But Immanuel Kant was not a genius. Sensing this lack, just as much as did Maximilian [Robespierre], Kant was all the more suspicious of genius; and in his Critique of Judgment, he went so far as to assert that genius has no business meddling in science, its activity belongs to the domain of art.'' The very pitilessness with which Kant investigated epistemology, man's capacity of knowing, was what destroyed the proof of the existence of God. Kant distinguished between the world of appearances, phenomena, which the understanding explicates by using rules and the Aristotelian categories; and the noumena, the thing in itself. We can only know anything, Kant asserted, about things as phenomena, but nothing about them as noumena. The latter only exist as problems, we cannot even say whether they exist, or not. G. W. Leibniz's metaphysical proof of the existence of God, was hence according to Kant, pure speculation and no longer sustainable, for God is a noumenon, and to that extent, nothing but poetry.
Heine comments, that he would speak more at length about Kant's polemic against the proof of the existence of God, except that a religious feeling held him back. In a confession of his own, he makes clear, how much his own creative thought was based in the belief in God the Creator. Without such identity, human reason remains impotent, a prisoner in Plato's cave: ``Just as reprehensible as is every discussion about the existence of God, so much more praiseworthy is it, to think about the nature of God. Such thinking is the genuine serving of God, through which our mind becomes abstracted from the ephemeral and the finite, and finally achieves the consciousness of the Good and eternal harmony. This consciousness shimmers through the heart of the feeling-man when he prays, or when he meditates upon a symbol of the Church; the thinker finds this holy tempering in exercising the lofty spiritual power which we call Reason, whose highest task is to investigate the nature of God. People who are extraordinarily devout, occupy themselves with this task from childhood on, full secret, they are constrained to that by the first stirrings of Reason. The poet of these pages is most joyfully aware of such an early, aboriginal religiosity in himself, which has never left him. God was ever the beginning and the end of all my thoughts.''
Heine continues: ``You think we can go home. Not on your life! There is still a piece to be performed. After the tragedy comes the farce. Immanuel Kant .. . has stormed the heavens, he got the whole garrison to jump over the cliff, the Lord of the world now swims in his own blood, mercy has vanished, filial piety also ... it rattles and groans, poor Lampe is standing there with the umbrella under his arm, as a saddened observer, and tears and a cold sweat run down his face. Then Kant shows mercy, and says, Lampe must be happy, old Lampe must have a God, otherwise the poor man cannot be happy - that's what practical reason says - for my sake -- may practical reason guarantee the existence of God.'' If theoretical reason had killed deism, practical reason brought it back to life, wherewith Kantianism itself carried the schism between theory and practise (being and appearance) ad absurdum.
If Kant had done all he did because of fear of the police, or had acted from conviction? Heine asks, ``Did he do all this, destroy all proof for the existence of God, because he wanted to really show us, how miserable we should be, were we not able to know anything about the existence of God? Then he has acted just as wisely as my friend from Westphalia, who broke all the lights on the Grohnder street in Göttingen, and when we were standing in the dark, gave us a long speech about the practical necessity of streetlights which he had destroyed only for the sake of theory, to show us that without them, we might not be able to see anything.''
The outer frame of the 'novel' is the Italian city of Lucca. Gumpelino, whose nose is particularly sharp (perhaps led around by the nose by many people, as Heine suspects), is a romantic schwaermer, in love with an English woman, Lady Julia Maxfield. From this love, he is ironically healed, by reading the poems of Grafen von Platen, who, as Heine comments, hid his homosexuality behind the sterility of his poetry. (Platen had played a leading role in the attacks on Heine.) With a few strokes, Heine avenges himself in the Baths of Lucca, on his political opponent.
The Marquis of Gumpelino is Catholic, his personal servant, Hyazinth is Jewish. Hyazinth is archetypically down to earth, and interrupts, as Sancho Panza does Don Quixote, with the most trivial words, the fantastications of his Lord and master. Both Sancho Panza and Hyazinth, can't make out foreign names or words, and that leads to the most comical malapropisms: with Sancho Panza, Aesop becomes Oelsop, from monarch he gets monkey, from liberality, liverality, from scruple, scrabble, from fiscal, fishkill, from cosmographer and copyist of the solar system, to the cosmeticist who pisses in the sewer system, etc. With Hyazinth, Fiesole becomes Johann von Viehesel, Caravaggio to carwash, mosaic melancholic, sonnet, sauna-ette (an allusion to von Platen), anapest to antipasta, madonna primadonna, etc.
Hirsch Hyazinth sells lottery tickets; he's from the Crap Street district of Hamburg, he knows how to cut corns and jewels; he stands out for the remarkable mess of platitudes that he dishes out, such as for example, that he is accompanying his Lord on his journey, because travel broadens, that especially beautiful landscapes look as if they're painted, etc.
The Marquis is in love. In his blue silk coat, with a bloated, languid face, in which the long nose shines as a Louis d'Or; he coughs out the words:
``The eye sees the heaven openThis is interrupted by the prosaic voice of his servant: ``Herr Gumpel, you have to take this'', offering him a magic salve for a laxative. ``You are the opposite of me, if you are thirsty, I am hungry--I am a practical man and you are a diarrhectician, in short, we are quite my antipodex ... You have no Homerics--you must take this, or you will become sick ... . ''
It intoxicates the heart with happiness.''
During the night, the Marquis busies himself with von Platen's book, which discusses ``Warm, brotherly friendship.'' Later he recounts to his servant, that the reading of the poems moved him so, that the had not been able to close his eyes the whole night, got up 11 times, and at finally no longer felt anything for his English Mylady, since the reading had moved him so.
Hyazinth in the meantime, is drawing poetic feet on the floor, while he murmurs: ``spondaeus, trochaeus, jambus, antispasta, anapaest, and the pest--an allusion to von Platen and his metric, which Heine characterized as pedantic, and clearly found completely sterile.
A good poet cannot hide his character, says Heine. In the poet, the spirit and emotion become a unity during poetic creation. Just that, is the problem in Count Platen's bland poetry. Platen, said Heine, is not a master of language, rather a virtuoso on an instrument, who only understands how to create the outer form. ``Count Platen handles his subject much more romantically veiled, homesick, priestly ... pharisaical ... He is more a man of the buttocks than of the head . . . a dry watery soul, a sad joyboy.'' And for Heine the worst is: ``I become so terribly sad, when I see the poor Count missing every shot at a good joke.''
Count Platen can ``do anything; he has everything needed for a great poet, except for imagination and wit, and if he had a lot of money, he would be a rich man ... Perhaps however, the Count Platen might be a poet, if he had lived in another time and if besides that, he were also somebody other than himself.''
The stimulus for the Denkschrift was Böerne's criticism of Heine. Böerne was the leader of the German exiles in Paris (after the July revolution of 1831, both he and Heine had come to Paris, in order to, from there, work on a fundamental change in European relations.) Böerne reproved Heine for being heartless and soulless, since all he wanted to do was laugh about everything (as Böerne complained to his girlfriend, Jeanette Wohl), that Heine, instead of taking up the concerns of the revolution, had fled to the domain of beautiful art. Heine sought the truth only in the beautiful, he is dishonest and a coward, a sybaritic nature, who starts in fear even when a rose petal falls.
Heine was repulsed by the ultra-radical tone of Böerne, when he met him in exile in 1831 in Paris, and Böerne told him: ``Marat is completely right,'' we must make mankind bleed, and if he had been granted those 300,000 heads which he wanted [to guillotine], then millions of better people should not have gone under, and the world should have been forever healed from the old evil.''
According to Heine, Böerne, a former police actuary from Frankfurt, now threw himself, ``into a sansculottism of thought and expression, such as we have not seen hitherto in Germany ... Was it virtue or folly, which brought Böerne to breathe in the manure-smell of the revolution, and wallow pleasurably in the plebeian sewer?'' When referring to the Austrian undercover agent, Beurmann, in his Denkschrift, Heine alludes to something, which is possibly an indication, that he intuitively harbored the suspicion that Böerne worked with the circle of his enemies, (the network of British agent, Giuseppe Mazzini, E. H.):
``For all that he was so suspicious, he (Böerne) was easy to deceive, and did not even suspect that he served quite foreign passions, and not seldom even listened to the whisperings of his enemies. People assured me, that some of the spies, who sniff around here in the pay of certain governments, managed to behave themselves so patriotically, that Böerne granted them his complete trust, and hunkered down and conspired with them day and night.'' It is remarkable also in this connection, that the name of Heinrich Heine, not the one of the ultra-radical Böerne, stood on the proscription list of the parliament of 1835.
The difference between Böerne and Heine was political, but especially cultural-epistemological in nature. In antithesis to Heine, Böerne, the fiery disciple of Rousseau, Robespierre, and Byron, personified the axiom, that Art must be the daughter of its time, and give itself up in the service of politics. Heine loved Schiller and Goethe, while Böerne was an opponent of the classics: he saw in Friedrich Schiller, a representative of a bygone epoch; he said ``A still worse aristocrat than Goethe ... Goethe consorted with the important people, the powerful, the rich, with the bourgeois nobility ... Schiller however guzzled with the most noble of mankind at a small table, and he angrily threw out the uninvited guest. ... His nobility is bombastic and comic.''
Heine saw the ground for Böerne's enthusiasm and exaggeration, in his ``nazarenic limitation,'' that quite fanatical desire for abstinence--which nonetheless was not carried out to its last extreme, as implied by Böerne's menage a trois relationship to the married Jeanette Wohl from Wollgraben (``a skinny person, whose pale jaundiced, pockmarked face, resembled an old matzo cookie'', and whose voice was as shrill ``as a door which moved on rusty hinges''): ``The bad world maintained, that Herr Böerne with Madame Wohl from the Wollgraben, had got into things wild and woolly: the whole bad world whispered: there reigned between the two only an abstract conjoining of souls, their love would be platonic.''
In prophetic wisdom foreseeing the events of 1848, Heine warned about the fatal results of the Jacobinism of the dogmatic and apparently so virtuous, republicans. When the radicals take power, he wrote in the Denkschrift, they will have a radical cure, and there will appear the phenomenon of the pure Philistine, cured of all traces of beauty. He will have to drag himself around all his life, in hateful hospital garb, in ash-grey uniforms. All our patrimony of serenity, all sweetness, all perfume of flowers, all poetry, will be pumped out of life, and nothing will be left behind, except the Rumford soup of utility ... as for beauty and genius, there will no longer be room for them in the society of our new Puritans.''
Society will not become free, nor open to future tasks, if we worship the backwardness and mediocrity of the population, and do the court lackeys, who with their revolutionary pathos and jacobin words and sacred incense, would convince the people of their excellence and their virtuousness.
``|`How beautiful is the people!' these court lackeys shouted without cease to the people,'' writes Heine in his Gestaendnissen,, and reproves: ``No, you lie! The poor are not beautiful; on the contrary, they are very ugly. But this ugliness was caused by filth, and will vanish with it, as soon as we build public baths, where his majesty, the people, can bathe for free ... the people, whose worth has been so much praised, is not good at all ... But its evil comes from hunger; we must ensure, that the sovreign people always have something to eat ... His Majesty, the people, is likewise, not very intelligent ... Love and trust, it grants only to those, who talk the jargon of its passions, or truck with them, while it hates that good man, who speaks the language of reason with him, in order to enlighten and ennoble him. ...
This perverseness is based on ignorance; we must seek to eradicate this national evil with public schools for the people, where they can be given instruction, along with the concomitant bread and butter, and other means of nourishment. And once each person has been given the opportunity to acquire for himself as much knowledge as possible, then we would soon see an intelligent people.''
|Top of Page||Poets||Site Map||Page|
Readings from the American Almanac. Contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.