Heinrich Heine: Florentine Nights

Excerpt, The Works of Heinrich Heine, Vol. 1, 41-43. Translated from the German by Charles Godfrey Leland

florence at night3

Florentine Nights

In the midst of this space
swept a burning ball,
where stood a man
giant in stature and grand in pride,
who played the violin.

Was this sphere of Light the sun?

I know not.
But in the features of the man I recognized Paganini,
ideally beautified, celestially refined,
atoned for divinely, and smiling.

This body was fresh and fair in vigorous manliness;
a light-blue garment
was about his now far nobler limbs,
the black hair flowed in shining locks on his shoulders,
as he stood there, firm and confidently,
like the sublime statue of a god.

He played the violin,
as if all creation obeyed his tones.

He was the man-planet round whom the universe moved,
ringing with measured joy and in a happy rhythm.

Were those great lights which swept so calmly gleaming
round him stars of heaven?

Were those sweet-sounding harmonies
the music of the spheres,
of which poets and seers have told so much?

Sometimes when with effort I looked forth
and far into the dim distance,
I seemed to see white waving garments,
in which colossal pilgrims wandered in disguise,
with staves in their hands;
and, strange!

The gold heads of their staves were those same great lights
which I had taken for stars.

These pilgrims went in a vast procession
around the great player;
the heads of their staves flashed reflective light
from the tones of his violin;
and the chorals which rang from their lips,
and which I had taken for the
noise of spheres, were really only the
rebounding echoes of his violin.

A nameless passion dwelt in these sounds
like mysterious whispering on water,
or the tones of hunters’ horns by moonlight.

And then burst forth unbridled rejoicing,
as though a thousand bards were sweeping the strings
and raising their voices
in a song of victory.

That was the music which no ear has heard.

Only the heart can dream it
when by Night
it rests against the heart of the beloved.


Niccolò Paganini