Monday, 11 February 2008

Heinrich Heine, poetry at a snail's pace

Heine first glimpsed the light of the world in Düsseldorf in 1797. At 19 he was employed in the family banking firm in Hamburg. Two years later he entered Bonn University, followed by Göttingen and Berlin. In 1831 he removed to Paris which became his permanent place of residence. In 1835 his writings were banned in Germany. In 1848 he collapsed in the Louvre and was confined to bed for the rest of his days; he became blind and life moved on at a snail's pace. Finally in 1856 his life, as R K Singh would say, was 'extinguished'. He was duly buried in Montmartre. Alexandre Dumas and other leading lights attended the funeral.
The following was translated by Jim Reed.

Snail's Pace

How very slowly it creeps on
Does time, the hideous gastropod!
But I, entirely motionless,
I stay here on the selfsame spot.

Into this cell there falls no ray
Of sun or hope to break the gloom.
Now only for the grave, I know,
Shall I exchange this dreadful room.

Maybe I died here long ago,
Maybe it's just a pack of ghosts,
These coloured fantasies to which
At night my arid brain is host.

Spectres indeed they well may be
Of the old pagan pantheon -
Where better should they sport than in
A poet's skull who's dead and gone?

Their orgies sweet that thrill the spine,
Mad ghostly revels of the night,
Sometimes the poet-corpse's hand
Tries to write down by morning light.

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