Happy Birthday, Heinrich Heine
I don't think I've ever done an "On this day..." post, but there is a first for everything. December 13, 1797 marks the birthday of one of Germany's most famed literary talents, known for his satirical wit and beautiful poetry. He was ethnically Jewish, which prevented him from obtaining a government position. Because he was so enthralled with Napolean, he converted to Protestantism, but never ended up holding any office, despite his law degree. His ethnicity would affect his reputation as a respectable author in Germany, but his extraordinary talent makes him required reading even today.

One of his most famous (and perhaps prophetic) quotes comes from his play Almansor (1821): "There, where books are burned, humans will also be burned in the end." On May 10, 1933, his works were burned alongside many others at the Opernplatz in Berlin at the instigation of Germany's Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. The quote stands as a memorial at the site.

He corresponded with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels translated some of his work into English. Karl Marx published "Germany, A Winter Tale" in full in his newspaper, making Heine one of the most studied German authors in Communist countries. Even in translation, you can see some of his literary talent preserved. This is from his poetic representation of the Silesien weavers, who had assembled in 1844 to protest starvation wages. This was a time of much social upheaval in Germany as traditional trades and crafts were quickly being replaced by the heightened production capabilities of the Industrial Revolution.
Doomed be the fatherland, false name,
Where nothing thrives but disgrace and shame,
Where flowers are crushed before they unfold,
Where the worm is quickened by rot and mold...We weave, we weave.
The repetitive "we weave, we weave" (in German, "wir weben" and the "w" sounds like a "v") gives force and rhythm to the poem and you can almost hear the the strumming of the loom as the weavers weave.

One of his satirical works which I particularly enjoy is "Die Wahlesel," or "The Electoral Donkeys." (Yes, they translated differently, but you don't have the benefit of knowing that an Esel is a donkey. And while a donkey can also be called an ass in English, the same is not true in German. The word play that inevitably results in the English translation does not exist in German). With or without the wordplay, it perfectly depicts his interpretation of German politics of the time, and you can easily find parallels in American politics. Of course, I wouldn't be thinking of anything or anyone in particular. And I wouldn't possibly be thinking of the NEA.

Happy Birthday, Heinrich Heine.

(No, although I've quoted Marx twice in a week's time, I haven't become a socialist. Remember, my degree is in Germanic Languages and Literatures, a degree I went to great lengths to achieve alongside my degree in Education which I would have willingly forfeited if the double major had not been possible. I own more books by classic German authors and historians than I do homeschooling books, and if you've ever seen my collection of homeschooling books, you would know that is not a small number.)

Related Tags: ,