Category Archives: Heine


Heinrich Heine: “Dream Pictures” 2/2

Preamble to The Book of Songs. Excerpt, The Works of Heinrich Heine, Vol. 17, 15-25. Translated from the German by Charles Godfrey Leland.

8.

I came from the house of my mistress bright
And wandered half crazed thro’ the grim midnight;
And as thro’ the churchyard my way I took,
The still graves gave me a solemn look.

From the Minstrel’s grave some bright glance sped,
Twas a flickering ray that the wan moon shed;
And “Brother, I’m coming” was whispered low,
While a pale form rose from the grave below.

‘Twas the Minstrel himself from the grave who crept,
And on to the top of the grave-stone leapt;
With rapid hand he strikes the strings,
And in voice both hollow and harsh he sings:

“Oh! sad and dull, my lute-string, say,
Know ye still the theme that used to sway
The life-blood and enthral it?
Heaven’s bliss — the Angels call it so;
Hell’s pain, it is called by the fiends below,
But Love is what men call it.”

And scarce had the sound of the last word died
When, all around, the graves gaped wide;
And phantoms rose and swayed about
The Minstrel, raising in chorus the shout:

“Love, oh Love, it was thy might
Brought us to this doleful plight,
Closed our lips and sealed our sight,
Wherefore call’st thou in the night?”

And the clamour arises, confused and confounding,
With croaking and creaking, rebound, resounding:
Round the Minstrel circle the madden hordes,
And the Minstrel wildly smites the chords.

“Mad my masters, well, ’tis well
Welcome are ye;
Nought could bar ye
When ye heard my magic spell.
Though from year to year we be
Mouse-still in our coffins, we
Make today a day of glee!

But are we alone? Just see!
We were asses all when living,
Our existence madly giving
To a mad love’s raging fires.
Pastime surely will not fail,
If each spirit tells the tale
Of what brought him from above,
Of his woes
And his throes
In the frenzied chase of Love.”

Then light as the breeze there hopped forth soon
The leanest of phantoms, and hummed this tune:

“A tailor’s ‘prentice steady
With needle and with shears;
I grew expert and ready!
With needle and with shears;

“When my master’s daughter lured me
With needle and with shears;
And through my bosom skewered me
With needle and with shears!”

Then the chorus of spirits laughed long and loud,
And a second stalked solemnly out of the crowd.

“Brigands such as Rinaldini,
Robin Hood and Orlandini,
But Karl Moor the most by far,
These I took for exemplar!

“And I plunged — pray let me show it —
Into Love, in mode heroic,
And a female form divine
Jostled thro’ this brain of mine.

“And my heart and hopes were maddened,
And my love being almost maddened,
I at last dipped fingers rash
In my worthy neighbour’s cash.

“Then some high police curmudgeon
Chose to take the thing in dungeon,
That I dried the tears of grief
With my neighbour’s handkerchief.

“And in good policeman fashion
Marched me off without compassion;
So the gaol stupendous pressed
Me to its maternal breast.

“Thoughts of her! aye, picking oakum
Did voluptuously provoke ’em!
Till Rinaldo came one day
And bore my soul with him away.”

Then all the spirits laughed long and loud,
And a well be-rouged dandy stepped from the crowd.

“I was king of the boards and enchanted
The town in the true lover’s part;
I bellowed, ‘Ye gods,’ and I ranted,
I breathed forth my Aha, from my heart.

“In Romeo I chiefly attracted:
Each Juliette an angel I thought;
Through the part so the life I enacted,
She ne’er understood what I sought.

“When once in the fifth act despairing
‘O my Saint! O my Juliet!’ I cried;
My bodkin relentlessly baring,
I stuck it too deep in my side.”

Then all the spirits laughed long and loud,
And a fourth appeared in a snow-white shroud.

“From his lofty chair the Professor was prosing,
Was prosing while I took a nap serene;
But a thousand times rather than napping or dozing,
By his dear little daughter would I have been.

“From her window she gave me sweet nods as I passed by
My flower of flower, my life’s sole light!
But my flower of flower was plucked at the last by
A Philistine huckster, a wealthy wight.

“Then I cursed all women and scoundrels wealthy,
And some devil’s drug with my wine did blend;
And I pledged King Death in a goblet stealthy.”
He cried, “On my faith, Old Death’s a friend!”

Then all the spirits laughed long and loud;
With a rope round his neck came a fifth from the crowd.

“He reveled and swaggered, the Count o’er his wine,
With his diamonds rare and his daughter divine;
What care I, Sir Count, for your jewels so fine?
Tis your fair little daughter whom I would make mine.

“They both of them lay under bolt, lock and key,
And the Count a whole army of henchmen had he.
What cared I for henchmen, for belt, lock and key?
The rungs of a ladder I mounted with glee.

“So gaily I climbed to my darling’s window,
When savagest swearing is heard from below.
‘Stop, stop, my fine fellow, let me have my share,
I’ve also a fancy for diamonds rare.’

“‘Twas the Count who thus jeered me, and at me he flew,
And shouting, his myrmidons hustled me, too.
‘To hell with your rabble! No thief have you here,
And all I would steal is my own little dear!

“Entreaties availed not, no counsel could aid
In a moment were cords and a gibbet arrayed;
When next the sun came how astonished was he,
To discover me there on the bright gallows-tree!”

Then all the spirits laughed long and loud,
With his head in his hand came a sixth from the crowd.

“Love drove me to the poacher’s trade;
Thro’ forest, gun in hand, I strayed;
In the high trees the raves scoff,
And croak at me: ‘Heads off! Heads off!’

“Oh, could I track some pretty dove,
Home would I bear it to my Love.
Thro’ bush and briar, as thus I thought,
My sportman’s eye the quarry sought.

“What cooing’s that? What billing’s there?
Two tender turtles, I declare.
I crept up close and cocked my gun,
And lo! my own sweetheart was one!

“My dove, my bride, it was in sooth,
Embracing her a stranger youth.
Old marksman, see thy aim be good!
There lay the stranger in his blood.

“Ere long the headsman’s train marched thro’
The gloomy wood, and I marched too,
Chief actor — while the ravens scoff
And croak on high: ‘Heads off! heads off!'”

Then the spirits in merry chorus shout,
And then the Minstrel himself steps out.

“I too had a song I cherished,
But the dear song is o’er;
When the heart in your body is perished,
Then songs are sung no more!”

And the maniac laughter rang doubly loud,
And circled about him the death-pale crowd;
When the church tower boomed forth One and then
With a shriek they plunged in the graves again.

9.

I lay and slept; slept peacefully,
All pain and care dispelled;
In dreams a vision came to me
The fairest e’er beheld.

Pale as white marble to the view,
A maid of mystery rare,
With pearl-like eyes all brimmed with dew,
And strangely waving hair.

And soft and softly drawing sigh
The maid so marble pale,
She came upon my heart to lie
The maid so marble pale.

Ah! how my breast doth burn and start
And leap with joy and woe;
Nor leaps, nor starts the maiden’s heart,
That heart as cold as snow.

“My heart doth neither bear, nor move,
As very ice ’tis cold;
And yet I know the bliss of love,
Its passion uncontrolled!

“On lip and cheek there blooms no red,
Nor through my heart streams blood;
Yet strive not with such shuddering dread,
For thee I’m meek and good.”

And wilder still she clasped me round,
Till terror made me quail;
When the cock crowed — without a sound
Fled the maid, marble pale.

10.

Yes, I have summoned many
Pale corpses by spells of might,
And now there is not any
Will slink back into the night.

The terror and horror drove from me
The master’s o’erpowering spell;
And so my own spectres o’ercome me,
And drag me back to hell.

Urge me not, ye swart friends, I implore ye!
Hurl me not to the darkness below;
There are many delights yet ‘fore me
In the sheen of our earth’s rosy glow.

For ever must I be straining
After one fair flower near;
What were my whole life’s meaning
If I did not love thee, dear?

Might I only clasp and press her
To my flowing heart once again,
On her cheeks, on her mouth to kiss her
Once only with rapturous pain!

Might I only hear one tender
Word from her lips at that hour,
O spirits, I would surrender
Myself to your gloomy power!

The spirits heard me, bending
Their heads as an awful sign.
Fair sweetheart — to them am I wending;
Dost thou love me — fair sweetheart mine!

Heinrich Heine


Heinrich Heine: Dream Pictures Part 1 of 2

Preamble to The Book of Songs. Excerpt, The Works of Heinrich Heine, Vol. 17, 1-15. Translated from the German by Charles Godfrey Leland.

Once did I dream of wildest passion’s glow,
Of love-locks, bloom of flowers, and songs of birds,
Of sweetest lips that uttered bitter words,
Of woeful verse married to airs of woe.

Faded and vanished are those visioned time!
Vanished the dreamt-of Shade I loved the best;
Nothing remains but that which, love-possessed,
I shaped and moulded into gentle rhymes.

Thou, orphaned song, was left — thou, too, shalt fade!
Go, seek that Shade which fled with dreams too fleeting;
And, if thou find it, hear it all my greeting,
An airy breath I send to airy Shade.

2.

A dream of awful mystery
Appalled and yet delighted me.
Shapes hideous float before me still,
And in my heart dim horrors thrill.

A wondrous garden was the place
Wherein I thought at ease to pace;
A wealth of flowers the garden had
Which smiled on me, and made me glad.

The little birds were chattering all
Their merry lovers’ madrigal;
The blazing sun shot rays of gold
On bloom of tincture manifold.

And spicy scents from herbage flow;
Softly and sweet the zephyrs blow;
And all things glint and all things smile,
And show their loveliness the while.

Within this blooming land midway
A limpid marble fountain lay,
O’er which a beauteous damsel bent,
On washing some white robe intent.

With eyes so mild, with cheeks so fair,
A pictured saint with golden hair,
And as I gazed it seemed that she
Was strange, and yet well known to me.

The bonny maid, she works away;
She sings a wondrous roundelay:
“Ripple, ripple, brooklet bright,
Wash my linen fair and white.”

Forward I moved, and drawing near,
“Tell me,” I whispered in her ear.
“Oh damsel sweet and wondrous fair,
For whom is this white garment rare?”

“Make ready soon,” swift answered she,
“A shroud I’m washing now — for Thee!”
And lo, the word was hardly said
When like a bubble all was sped.

* * *

The magic lasted. Soon I stood
Within a gloomy, savage wood;
Heav’n high the trees around up-raught,
I stood amazed, and thought and thought.

And hark! dull echoes clang around
Like distant hatchets’ hewing sound;
Through brake and brier I hurried fast,
And reached an open space at last.

Where ‘mid the green the space was cleared
A giant oak his branches reared;
and lo, upon the sturdy oak
That same strange maid dealt many a stroke.

And never resting, blow on blow,
She swung the ax, and murmur’d low:
“Iron clink, iron clank,
Shape a chest of good oak-plank.”

Forward I moved, and drawing near,
“Tell me,” I whispered in her ear,
“Oh little damsel loveliest,
For whom mak’st thou this oaken chest?”

“No time to lose!” swift answer’d she,
“A coffin ’tis I make — for Thee!”
And lo, the word was said
When like a bubble all was sped.

* * *

It stretched out wan, it stretched out wide,
Bare, barest moor on every side;
Scarce knowing what I felt or saw,
I trembling paused in spell-bound awe.

And soon as farther on I hied
A streak of gleaming white I spied;
I sped with all the speed I might,
And lo! it was that damsel bright.

On the wide heath stood the white maid,
Deep delving in the earth, with spade.
To look on her I almost feared,
She was so fair, and yet so weird.

The bonny maid she works away,
She sings a wondrous roundelay:
“Sharp and broad, good spade, good spade,
That a deep broad trench be made.”

Forward I moved, and drawing near,
“Tell me?” I whispered to her ear,
“O damsel sweet and wondrous fair,
What means the hole thou delvest there?”

And swift she answered: “Hush, poor fool!
I dig a grave for Thee, so cool!”
Scarce did these words the fair maid shape,
When lo! the trench was wide agape.

And as I gazed into the hole
Chill horror shivered through my soul.
I plunged into the hideous deep,
And as I plunged — I woke from sleep.

3.

I saw myself all in a dream by night
In glossy evening coat and satin vest,
Ruffles on wrist, as for some gala dressed,
And by me stood my mistress sweet and bright.

“So you’re betrothed,” I murmured with a slight
Inclining. “Pray, fair lady, take my best
Good wishes.” But my throat was tight compressed
By the unfeeling, long drawled tones polite.

And floods of bitter tears streamed forth unbidden
From my beloved’s eyes, and in their breaking.
The vision fair was almost from me hidden.
Oh ye sweet eyes, love-stars so seeming true,
Though ye have lied to me in dreams and waking
Often, how gladly still I trust in you!

4.

I saw in dreams a man-kin small and sprightly,
Who walked with ell-long steps, on stilts as ’twere,
Dainty in broadcloth, linen white and fair,
But who within was coarse, unclean, unsightly.

Within he was an object to distress ye,
But dignity without, beyond compare!
He swaggered bold of what he’d do and dare,
And seemed a man to bully and oppress ye.
“And knowst though who it is? Come quick and see!”
So spoke the god of dreams and showed to me
A pictured vision in a mirror then.
Before an altar that small man stood still,
My Love beside him; both replied: “I will,”
And all Hell’s laughing demons yelled: “Amen!”

5.

What makes my mad blood rave and rush?
What makes my heart to flame and flush?
My blood doth boil and flame and dart,
And scorching flame devours my heart.

My blood is pulsing wild and mad
Because of that vile dream I had.
The son of Night approach’d me dim,
And led me gasping forth with him.

He led me to a palace bright
With blazing torch and taper-light.
‘Mid sounding harps, ‘mid stir and din,
I reached the hall — I entered in.

There was a wedding revelry;
The guests sat round the board in glee.
And when the bridal pair I spied,
Ah, woe! my darling was the bride.

It was my winsome Love in sooth,
And for the groom, a stranger youth.
I crept behind her chair of state,
And hardly breathing, there I wait.

The music swelled; I stood amazed,
The loud delights my spirits dazed:
The bride’s glance was supremely blest,
And both her hands the bridegroom pressed.

The bridegroom brims his beaker high,
And drinks and gives it lovingly
To her, who thanks with sweet low laugh.
Ah woe! my red blood did she quaff?

The bride took up an apple fair
And gave it to the bridegroom there;
He took his knife and cut it free.
Ah woe! it was the heart of me!

Their glances met a long sweet space;
He clasps the bride in keen embrace;
Her cheeks so rosy red kissed he.
Ah woe! chill Death was kissing me!

The tongue within my mouth was lead,
No single word could I have said.
Loud music sounded thro’ the hall,
The dainty bride-pair led the ball!

I stood there silent as the dead,
The nimble dances round me sped.
One low-toned word he whispers next;
She blushes, but she is not vext!

6.

In sweetest dream, in stillest Night,
My love came by enchantment’s might,
As by enchantment’s might she crept
To the small chamber where I slept.

I gazed on her, of vision mild!
I gazed on her, she softly smiled;
My heart swelling high that smile to see,
And reckless words stormed forth from me:

“Take all, take all things that are mine!
Oh best beloved, all shall be thine,
So I may be thy paramour
Till cock-crow from the midnight hour!”

She gazed with loving sad surprise,
Her inmost heart within her eyes,
And low entreating murmured she:
“Yield thy salvation unto me!”

“To thee the life I hold so dear,
My youth, my blood, with joy and cheer,
Oh angel maiden, shall be given,
But never more my hope of Heaven.”

Swiftly my lips repelled her prayer,
But ever lovelier bloomed she there,
And ever more entreated she:
“Yield thy salvation unto me!”

I sounded like a hopeless moan;
Into my being’s depth was thrown
A sea of fire all tempest-tossed;
My breath came thick — it ceased almost.

White angels, glorious to behold,
first shone with haloes bright as gold;
But then a crew of goblins foul
Rushed wildly up against my soul.

They wrestled with the angels all,
They drove away the angles all;
And before long the swarthy crew,
Like films of mist had vanished too.

I was near death with sheer delight,
My arms were round my darling bright;
She nestled to me like a roe,
And yet she wept with wildest woe.

The fair child weeps, I well know why;
My kisses still the rosebud’s cry;
“Forbid, fair child, thy tears to flow,
Surrender to my love’s fierce glow.”

“Surrender to my love’s fierce flow!”
My blood grew sudden ice, for lo!
The earth itself with crash and start
Before my feet gaped wide apart.

From the swart gulf the swarthy crew
Arose; the fair child’s colour flew;
The fair child from my arms was gone,
And I was standing all alone.

Then in fantastic circle hurled,
The swarthy crew around me whirled;
Nearer to clutch me surged the crowd,
And scornful laughter bellowed loud.

The lessening circle hemmed me round;
Still did that burthen dread resound;
“Salvation was renounced by thee,
Ours art thou for Eternity.”

7.

The price has been paid thee, why palterest thou?
Oh black-blooded fiend, why palterest now?
See here in my chamber, fretfully wait,
and midnight’s at hand, ’tis the bride who is late.

The breezes blow chill from the churchyard side;
Ye winds, have ye happened to see my wee bride?
The hosts of pale shadows around me press,
They curtsy with grinning and nodding — Oh yes!

Speak up, what message bringst thou to me,
Swart rogue in the flame-red livery?
“I announce the illustrious company near,
With their chariots and dragons they soon will be here.”

Grey mannikin, darling, hey, what is your will?
O dead baccalaureus, waiting here still?
He eyes me with speechless and troubled gaze,
And shakes his head, and goes back his ways.

My shaggy familiar, why purr and stare?
Why do the eyes of black tom-cat glare?
Why howl the long-loose-haired women? and why
Does the ancient nurse croon my lullaby?

Madam nurse, bide at home with your sing-song today,
‘Tis long since I needed a cradle-lay;
Today ’tis my wedding-feast that is planned,
And see where the comely guests are at hand.

That’s capital, gentlemen! What are ye at,
Each bearing his head in his hand, not his hat!
Ye sprawling-legged creatures in gallows clothes,
What makes ye so late? Not a breath of wind blows.

And see on her broom-stick old mother-witch rides;
Oh bless thy son, mother, whatever betides.
In the dead-white face, the lips quiver then,
And she cries out: “For ever and ever. Amen!”

Twelve wind-dried musicians come loitering in;
One halting blind crone tunes up her violin;
And the famous Jack-pudding, half yellow, half black,
Comes bearing the sexton a-pick-a-back.

Then tripping twelve nuns from their convent advance.
And the leering old procuress leads on the dance;
Twelve brawny backed parsons come trooping along,
And chant with mock reverence a scandalous song.

Old clothes-man, you’re black in the face; shout not so,
No second-hand coat wards the flames off below.
For ever and gratis there hell-fires will burn;
And for wood, great and little men’s bones serve the turn.

The flower girls, all humped and awry, gather round,
And head over heels thro’ the chamber they bound;
Hoho! ye owl faces with grasshopper shanks,
I’ll stop all your clatter and mountebank’s pranks.

And Hell universal has broke loose indeed,
And, howling and scowling, increases the breed,
and the waltz of damnation now breaks on the ear,
Hush, hush! for my love is about to appear.

Ye wretches, be still, or get out of the way,
I can scarce hear a word of all that I say.
Hark! listen again! are not wheels there outside?
Come forward, cook-maid, throw the gates wide.

Fair welcome, my fairest, how are you today?
Sir Parson, you’re welcome; be seated, I pray.
Sir Parson with tail and with hoofs like a horse,
I’m our reverence’s faithfulest servant, of course.

Fair bride, why art standing so silent and wan?
Sir Parson, proceed with the service anon.
I pay him a costly, a blood-costing fee,
But so that I win you that’s child’s play to me.

Kneel down, my sweet bride, by my side, by my side shalt thou kneel.
She kneels and she smiles — ah, the rapture I feel!
She sinks on my heart, on my big heaving breast,
And with shuddering rapture I hold her tight pressed.

The waves of her gold tresses flow round us both;
On my heart beats the heart of the maid, nothing loth;
Both hearts are a-beating with woe and delight,
and high to the heavens they both take their flight.

Our hearts are afloat on a sea of delight
Oh high, far above us, in God’s holy height;
But here on our heads there is horror and dread,
For here the vile hands of dark hell are outspread.

‘Twas the dark son of Midnight himself who hath played
The part of the parson, who blessed and who prayed;
From a blood-besprent book he drones chapter and verse,
His prayer is blaspheming, his blessing is curse.

There are hubbub and riot and groans more and more,
Like thunder in heaven, storm-waves on the shore.
And sudden the blue lightning flashes, and then
The witch cries: “For ever and ever. Amen!”

To be continued...

 

Heinrich Heine: “The Stars Have Stood For Ages”

Excerpt, “Lyrics and Ballads of Heine and Other German Poets.”  Translated by Frances Hellman.  1892.

the stars have stood for ages

Heinrich Heine: “What is Dreaming?”

Excerpt, The Works of Heinrich Heine, Vol. 1, 157-160. Translated from the German by Charles Godfrey Leland..

What is dreaming? What is death? Is it only an interruption of life, and its full cessation? Yes, for people who only know the Past and the Future, and do not live an eternity in every moment of the Present, death must be terrible! When their two crutches, Space and Time, fall away, then they slip away into the eternal Nothing.

And dreams? Why are we not more afraid before going to sleep than to be buried? Is it not terrible that the body can be as if dead all night, while the spirit in us leads the wildest life … a life full of all those terrors of that parting which we have established between life and soul! When in the future both shall be again united in our consciousness, then there will be perhaps no more dreams, or else only invalids, those whose harmony has been disturbed, will dream. The ancients dreamed only softly and seldom; a strong and powerfully impressive dream was for them an event, and it was recorded in their histories…

And yet, what beautiful sweet dreams we have been able to dream! Our healthy descendants will hardly be able to understand them! All the splendours of the world disappeared from around us, and we found them again in our own souls; yes, there was the perfume of the trampled roses, and the sweetest songs of the frightened nightingales took refuge.

Thus I feel, and die of the unnatural anxieties and horrible dainties and sweet pains of our time. When I at night undress and lay me in bed, and stretch myself out at full length, and cover myself with the white sheets, I often shutter involuntarily, it seems so like being a corpse and burying myself. Then I close my eyes as quickly as I can to escape this fearful thought, and to save myself in the Land of Dreams.

It was a sweet, kind, sunshiny dream. The heaven was heavenly-blue and cloudless; the sea sea-green and still. A boundless horizon; and on the water sailed a gaily-pennoned skiff, and on its deck I sat caressingly at the feet of Jadviga. I read to her strange and dreamy love songs, which I had written on strips of rose-coloured paper, sighing yet joyful, and she listened with incredulous yet inclined ear and deeply loving smiles, and now and then hastily snatched the leaves from my hand and threw them in the sea. But the beautiful water-fairies, with snow-white breasts and arms, rose from the water and caught the fluttering love-lays as they fell.

As I bent overboard I could see clearly far down into the depths of the sea, and there sat, as in a social circle, the beautiful water-maids, and among them was a young sprite who, with deeply sympathetic expression, declaimed my love-songs. Wild enraptured applause rang out at every verse. The green-locked beauties applauded so passionately that necks and bosoms grew rosy red, and they praised cordially yet compassionately what they heard.

“What strange beings these mortals are! How wonderful their lives, how dire their destinies! They love, and seldom dare express their love; and when they give it utterance at last, they rarely understand one another.

And withal they do not lead eternal lives like ours; they are mortal. Only a little time is granted them to seek for happiness. They must grasp it quickly and press it hastily unto their hearts, ere it is gone. Therefore their songs of love are so deeply tender, so sweetly painful and anxious, so despairingly gay. Such strange blendings of joy and pain. The melancholy shadow of death falls on their happiest hours, and consoles them lovingly in adversity.

They can weep. What poetry there is in mortal tears…”

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