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Heine in Göttingen (and in Rachel Varnhagen's salon!)

Heine in Göttingen (and in Rachel Varnhagen's salon!)

From Jewish Stories and Hebrew Melodies, page 6-7

In response to Schlegel’s challenge that Lord Byron’s poetry was untranslatable, Heine began to translate it. As Byron’s grateful apprentice in Romanticism, Heine would, in 1851, call the third cycle of poems in his Romancero “Hebrew Melodies,” after the master’s collection.

The next and very brief stop in Heine’s university career was Göttingen, from which he was expelled for duelling. But after he transferred to the University of Berlin in the summer of 1821, Heine’s many and varied intellectual gifts began to flourish. Literary circles opened to him in the Berlin salon of Karl August and Rachel Varnhagen von Ense, where he hobnobbed with the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and with the poets of the day...

...In this circle he kept his Jewishness to himself. But through the jurist Edward Gans, he made the acquaintance of the Association for the Culture and Science of Judaism and its members, and he became absorbed in the perusal of Jewish historical documents.

Heine, on his conversion

From Jewish Stories and Hebrew Melodiespage 12.

Heine spent his last eight years confined to a bed, in his “mattress grave.”

It is at this time that Heine was said to have returned to Judaism. He countered: “I have not returned to Judaism because I never left it.”

Jewish emancipation and Heinrich Heine

But all the various facets of the variously perceived writer pertain to one Heinrich Heine who bore the impress of the time and the place of his birth.

Heinrich Heine, more background

"Here, Heine was taught some rudiments of Hebrew and, more significant for him, he was treated to biblical and rabbinic lore according well with his own propensities for fantasy." 

Heinrich Heine: Disputation, final stanzas

Final stanzas of Disputation, from Jewish Stories and Hebrew Melodiesp. 143-145



“Smite the Capuchins, O Lord God,

Show these scoundrels living proof

That the lightnings of thine anger

Haven’t fizzled to a poof.


“Then I’ll sing the praise and glory

Of thy might, thy worshiper;

And I’ll dance, as Miriam did once,

And I’ll beat the drum, like her.”


Here the monk broke in with anger

As his fury sizzled through:

“May the Lord destroy you damn you,

May He heap His curse on you!


“I defy your insect devils,

All your dirty gods of death,

Lucifer, Beelzebub,

Belial, and Ashtoreth.


“I defy your hellish spirits,

All their tricks are cheap and shoddy,

For within me is Christ Jesus,

I’ve partaken of His body.


“Christ’s my favorite dish, much better

Than Leviathan-in-a-pot,

Even with white garlic gravy

Made by Satan, like as not.


“Oh! Instead of wrangling, I would

Rather roast you on a fire,

Stew you and your comrades with you

On the hottest funeral pyre.”


Thus with insults and grave charges

Raged the joust for Faith and God,

But in vain the champions scolded,

Screamed and raged and oh’d and ah’d.


Now the fight’s gone on twelve hours

With no end in sight, not yet;

And the audience grows weary,

And the women swim in sweat.


And the court, too, grows impatient,

Servants yawning hollow-eyed;

Then the king turns with a question

To the fair queen at his side:


“Tell me, what is your opinion?

Which of them is in the right?

Do you think it is the rabbi

Or the monk that’s won the fight?”


Donna Blanca gazes at him,

Fingers twined and hands pressed fast

To her forehead, as if musing,

And then this she says at last:


“I don’t know which one is right–

But I’ll tell you what I think

Of the rabbi and the friar:

Both of them alike, they stink.”