Heine’s wonderful clearness, lightness, and freedom


Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) once described himself as the last of the romantics and the first of the moderns, which may account for the winning combination of the playful and the serious in his writing. Today he is largely remembered for his ballad-like poetry, much of it set to music by Schubert, Wolf and other lieder composers. In his own day, however, this author of such verse masterpieces as “Die Lorelei” — about the siren who lures Rhine boatmen to their doom — was equally celebrated as a prose writer, spending much of his adult life in Paris as a journalist, explaining the French to the Germans and the Germans to the French.

Among Heine’s most charming prose offerings is “Travel Pictures,” a series of eccentric travel memoirs now published in a beautiful new edition. The first, “The Harz Journey,” appeared in 1826 and begins this way: “Famous for its sausages and university, the City of Gottingen belongs to the King of Hanover and has 999 hearths, various churches, a maternity hospital, an observatory, a students’ lock-up, a library and a Ratskeller in which the beer is very good.”

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