Thursday, February 16, 2006

150th anniversary of Heine's death

Tomorrow is the 150th anniversary of the death of Heinrich Heine. I know his work best via the famous Dichterliebe cycle of Robert Schumann (of which I'm very fond). It's nice to know he was also an irreverant poet whose satires are worth reading even in translation. In the one called On Teleology, he takes a look at an oddity of man's anatomy. The first speaker, a woman, has questioned why two of some things (hands, feet, eyes, ...) and only one of others. In this excerpt the man tells her why:
Child, you do not grasp God's mighty
System of utility,
How He works economy:
So, in turn, the apparatus
Serves all kinds of need and status,
Holy needs just like profane ones,
Piquant needs just like mundane ones,
All is simplified, refined;
All is clever when combined:
That, which man must use to piss,
Doubles as his genesis,
On the same old bagpipe plays
Same old riff-raff, come what may.
Dainty paws and mitts much grosser
Fiddle on the same viola,
Through the same old wheels and vapors
Each one yawns and sings and capers,
And the same old omnibus
Takes us all to Tartarus.

{A note helpfully explains that Tartarus is the infernal regions of ancient Greek mythology.}
Here are links to Heine's wikipedia entry and one from

My father passed down to me a medal struck to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Heine's birth (which occured on December 13, 1897). It came from my great-grandfather, a prominent German-American New Yorker, who, though not a poet, probably felt some kinship with Heine (see more on this at bottom). He, my great-grandfather, contributed to the erection of this Heine statue in Joyce Kilmer Park:

There's information about it on the NYC Parks and Recreation page:
Ernst Herter
The Heinrich Heine Fountain, 1893
Joyce Kilmer Park
161st Street and Grand Concourse, The Bronx

Joyce Kilmer Park is dedicated to the memory of the American poet, Alfred Joyce Kilmer, who was killed in action in France in World War I. The park has been variously called Heintz Park and Heine Park, and is best known for its Lorelei Fountain.

The Heinrich Heine Fountain (Lorelei Fountain), dedicated on July 8, 1899, honors the great 19th century German poet, Heinrich Heine. The fountain celebrates the poet's revered lyric, Die Lorelei, and is often referred to as the Lorelei Fountain. Die Lorelei is the legend of a siren whose beauty and irresistible singing lured sailors to their deaths at the dangerous narrows of the Rhine River. The Lorelei Fountain is a white Tyrolean marble masterpiece consisting of a pillar surmounted by the figure of Die Lorelei. A bas-relief portrait of Heine himself appears on one side of the pillar. The marble base is elaborately strewn with aquatic animals and plants, and three monumental mermaids flank the foot of the shaft. The German/American sculptor Ernst Herter completed the monument to Heine, in 1893. The work, commissioned by Princess Elizabeth of Austria, was offered to the city of Dusseldorf, Germany, Heine's birthplace. Rejected by Dusseldorf, the monument was purchased by a group of Americans of German descent and offered to the City. It took six years of debate before the Lorelei Fountain found its permanent home and then, immediately after its unveiling, it was seriously vandalized. The sculpture has had numerous restorations, the most recent completed in 1999 with joint funding by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, and the City Council, as well as a donation from the Stephen and Anna-Maria Kellen Foundation. It now stands proudly again in fully restored form near its original location at the southern end of Joyce Kilmer Park.

A nod: The anniversary is noted on Cliopatria, one of my favorite blogs: Nathanael D. Robinson,
Germany since Heine.

About Heine and my great-grandfather: Both came from neighboring areas in Westphalia (Dusseldorf and Munster; see map below), both came from German merchant families, both were converts to Christianity. Both were idealists, liberal, and optimistic about political reform. Both saw the humorous side of life (my father's description of his granfather was "jolly"). However my great-grandfather was a generation younger than Heine, and, unlike him, faced financial difficulties which kept him from attending university and which were a major factor in his decision to emigrate to New York City.

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