CONTEXT

December 13, 2010

A poet in the Bronx

Heinrich Heine

Today is Heinrich Heine’s birthday (1797-1856), a chance to ask once again… and why is this guy famous?

His is one of those names you encounter from time to time without attaching anything specific to it.  He was a Romantic poet and a political radical and is now a German icon.  Reading his poems, I don’t find much that translates well, certainly nothing to put him in the same league with Keats or Shelley.

Perhaps his fame really comes from the fact that his poetry has been set to music by Schumann, Mendelsohn, Schubert, Wagner, Orff and Brahms, among others.

He could be pretty witty: ‘Ordinarily he was insane, but he had lucid moments when he was merely stupid.’ And his short essay on German censorship is nice:

The German Censors  ——  ——  ——  ——  ————  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ————  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ————  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ————  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ————  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ———  ——  ——  ——    idiots    ——  ————  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ————  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——  ——

The 'Lorelei' fountain honoring Heine. Photo by Schreibkraft.

His best known epigram -‘Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings’ – is prominently displayed at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and the Holocaust Museum in the US.

He spent the last 25 years of his life in Paris and the final eight of those bedridden. As the centennial of his birth approached, his native town of Dusseldorf planned a memorial fountain in his honor. The plan bogged down in anti-Semitic, nationalist politics  (Heine had a very low opinion of German nationalism).

When the fountain was finally finished, the town fathers decided there was no place to put it.  Enter a German-American activist group who had the fountain transported to America, which explains why there is a monument to Heine in the Bronx.

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2 Comments »

  1. And the beat goes on, very funny thank you, Jean.

    Comment by avery — December 13, 2010 @ 10:12 am | Reply

  2. Don’t know German…so don’t know if I agree or not. My husband did know German and never mentioned his being insane or stupid.

    Comment by GALYA TARMU — December 13, 2010 @ 3:06 pm | Reply


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