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Christian Johann Heinrich Heine (13 December 1797 – 17 February 1856) was a journalist, essayist, literary critic, 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 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, Edward MacDowell, and Richard Wagner; and in the 20th century Hans Werner Henze, Carl Orff, Lord Berners, Paul Lincke and Yehezkel Braun.

Early life

Heine was born in Düsseldorfmarker, Rhineland, today North Rhine-Westphaliamarker, Germanymarker, which was then occupied by France (becoming part of Prussia in 1815), into a family of Jewish background. 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 Hamburgmarker. His wealthy banker uncle, Salomon, encouraged him to go into commerce, but his ventures in this sphere were not successful.

Failing in this attempt at business life, Heine took up law, studying at the universities of Göttingenmarker, Bonnmarker and Berlinmarker, 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 finished his studies in 1825 with a doctorate in law.

The same year, he converted to Lutheranism. Jews were still subject to severe restrictions in many of the German states at that time. They were forbidden to enter 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, 'Parismarker is worth a mass'; I say, 'Berlin is worth the sermon.'"

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 romantic 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:
Young Heinrich 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:[15337])

In his 1821 tragedy "Almansor" Heine let the protagonist Almansor decry the burning of a Koran in a public fire in re-conquered Spain. To this Almansor’s servant Hassan replies: "This was a prelude only; where they burn books they will eventually burn people."

Starting from the mid-1820s Heine distanced himself from Romanticism by adding irony, sarcasm and satire into his poetry and making fun of the sentimental-romantic awe of nature and of figures of speech in contemporary poetry and literature. A nice example are these lines:

Das Fräulein stand am MeereUnd seufzte lang und bang.Es rührte sie so sehreder Sonnenuntergang.

Mein Fräulein! Sein sie munter,Das ist ein altes Stück;Hier vorne geht sie unterUnd kehrt von hinten zurück.

A mistress stood by the seasighing long and anxiously.She was so deeply stirredBy the setting sun

My Fräulein!, be gay,This is an old play;ahead of you it setsAnd from behind it returns.
Heine 1829
Heine became increasingly critical of despotism and reactionary chauvinism in Germany, of nobility and clerics but also of the narrow-mindedness of ordinary people and of the rising German form of nationalism, especially in contrast to the French and the revolution. Nevertheless, he made a point of stressing his love for his Fatherland:
Plant the black, red, gold banner at the summit of the German idea, make it the standard of free mankind, and I will shed my dear heart’s blood for it. Rest assured, I love the Fatherland just as much as you do.

Heine unconditionally admired Napoleon for his contributions to enlightenment which, for some time, the Frenchman had installed in the occupied German areas.All of Heine’s publications in Germany were subject to state censorship which, in 1827, was a direct target in one of his poems:The German Censors ——  ——  ——  ————  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ————  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ————  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ————  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ————  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ————  ——  ——  ——  ——   Idiots  ——  ————  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ————  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ————  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ————  ——  ——  ——  ——

In 1831 Heine left Germany for France, settling in Paris for his remaining 25 years of life.

Paris years

After arriving in Paris, Heine associated with Karl Marx, also living in the city at the time, and he wrote for Marx’s weekly journal Vorwärts and the Deutsch–Französische Jahrbücher (German–French Annals). Heine also sympathized with the French Saint-Simonist.

In 1832, Heine published, in French, Towards 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."

Heine’s further work was heavily inspired by socialist ideas. German authorities banned his works and those of others who were considered to be associated with the 'Young Germany' movement in 1835. Heine, however, continued to comment on German politics and society from a distance.

During his time in Paris Heine only made two visits to Germany where his beloved mother still lived. One of these visits was in winter of 1843 and inspired him for his satirical verse-epic Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen (Germany. A Winter's Tale), an account of his journey in which he puts his socialist vision into contrast with the grim conditions in his homeland:

Sie sang das alte Entsagungslied,Das Eiapopeia vom Himmel,Womit man einlullt, wenn es greint,Das Volk, den großen Lümmel.

Ich kenne die Weise, ich kenne den Text,Ich kenn auch die Herren VerfasserIch weiß, sie tranken heimlich WeinUnd predigten öffentlich Wasser.

Ein neues Lied, ein besseres LiedO Freunde, will ich euch dichten!Wir wollen hier auf Erden schonDas Himmelreich errichten.

Wir wollen auf Erden glücklich sein,Und wollen nicht mehr darben;Verschlemmen soll nicht der faule BauchWas fleißige Hände erwarben.

She sang the old song of self-denial,

The halleluiah from heaven,

With which to lull, when complaining,

The big boor, the people.

I know the tune, I know the words,

I also know the authors.

I know they secretly drank wine

While publicly preaching water.

A new song, a better song,

O friends, I shall write for you!

Already here on Earth we shall

Erect a heavenly realm.

It is on earth that we strive to be happy

And we don’t want to suffer from want any more;

The rotten belly shall not feed

On the fruits of hard working hands.
The Winter's Tale was also published in the Vorwärts (Forward) in 1844

Heine became very critical of the working classes social conditions resulting from the industrial revolution. After the bloody suppression of the weaver’s revolt in Silesia he wrote the poem ‘’’Weaver’s Song’’’ (Weberlied or Die Weber). Many of Heine’s poems appeared in Marx’s journals which were illegally distributed in Germany. The Weaver’s Song was explicitly banned in Germany. Friedrich Engels translated it into English and had it published in the “The New Moral World”.In spite of his friendship to Marx and Engels Heine also expressed worries about Communism. Its radicalism and materialism would destroy much of European culture that he loved and admired. In the French edition of “Lutetia” Heine wrote, one year before he died: “This confession, that the future belongs to the Communists, I made with an undertone of the greatest fear and sorrow and, oh!, this undertone by no means is a mask! Indeed, with fear and terror I imagine the time, when those dark iconoclast come to power: with their raw fists they will batter all marble images of my beloved world of art, they will ruin all those fantastic anecdotes that the poets loved so much, they will chop down my Laurel forests and plant potatoes and, oh!, the herbs chandler will use my Book of Songs to make bags for coffee and snuff for the old women of the future – oh!, I can foresee all this and I feel deeply sorry thinking of this decline threatening my poetry and the old world order - And yet, I freely confess, the same thoughts have a magical appeal upon my soul which I cannot resist …. In my chest there are two voices in their favour which cannot be silenced …. because the first one is that of logic … and as I cannot object to the premise “that all people have the right to eat”, I must defer to all the conclusions….The second of the two compelling voices, of which I am talking, is even more powerful than the first, because it is the voice of hatred, the hatred I dedicate to this common enemy that constitutes the most distinctive contrast to communism and that will oppose the angry giant already at the first instance – I am talking about the party of the so-called advocates of nationality in Germany, about those false patriots whose love for the fatherland only exists in the shape of imbecile distaste of foreign countries and neighbouring peoples and who daily pour their bile especially on France”.

Heine also loved to satirize the utopian politics of his fellow opponents of the regime in Germany as 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 on his sickbed 1851
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), although in 1997 it was confirmed through an analysis of the poet's hair that he had suffered from chronic lead poisoning. He was survived by his wife whom he had met and married in Paris. There were no children.

On 17 February 1856, at the age of , Heine died in Parismarker. He was interred in the Cimetière de Montmartremarker. His last words were:
"God will forgive me.
It's his job."


"The highest conception of the lyric poet was given to me by Heinrich Heine. I seek in vain in all the realms of millenia for an equally sweet and passionate music. He possessed that divine malice without which I cannot imagine perfection... And how he employs German! It will one day be said that Heine and I have been by far the first artists of the German language." - Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo

Among the thousands of books burned on Berlin's Opernplatzmarker 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 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 germanic 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."


In the 1890s, amidst a flowering of affection for Heine leading up to the centennial of his birth, plans were enacted to honor Heine with a memorial; these were strongly supported by Heine's admirer Elisabeth of Bavaria, Empress of Austria. The empress commissioned a statue from the sculptor Louis Hasselriis. Another memorial, a sculpted fountain, was created for Düsseldorfmarker. 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 fountain was finished, there was no place to put it. Through the intervention of German American activists, the memorial was ultimately transplanted into The Bronxmarker. Known in English as the Loreleimarker Fountain, Germans refer to it as the Heinrich Heine Memorial. Also, after years of controversy, the University of Düsseldorf was named Heinrich Heine Universitymarker. Today the city honours its poet with a boulevard (Heinrich-Heine-Allee) and a modern monument.The Heine statue, originally located in Corfu, was rejected by Hamburgmarker, but eventually found a home in Toulonmarker.

In Israelmarker, 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-Avivmarker delayed 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 Universitymarker, 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 Jerusalemmarker 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 Vashemmarker Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. (It is also displayed in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museummarker.

File:HeineMonument.jpg|Heine monument in DüsseldorfmarkerFile:Heine-Denkmal Frankfurt.JPG|Heine monument in Frankfurtmarker, the only pre-1945 one in GermanyFile:Brocken_Heine_memorial.jpg|Monument on Mount Brockenmarker, Harzmarker Mountains, GermanyFile:Waldemar Grzimek - Heinrich-Heine-Denkmal IIb 01.jpg|Heine monument in BerlinmarkerFile:DBP 1956 229 Heinrich Heine.jpg|Stamp Germany (1956) 100. anniversary of Heine's death

Selected works

  • Auf Flügeln des Gesanges
  • Gedichte, 1821
  • Tragödien, nebst einem lyrischen Intermezzo, 1823
  • Reisebilder, 1826-31 (Travel Pictures, 2008. Translated by Peter Wortsman (Archipelago Books).)
  • 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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