Poetry from the European Languages

Heine (1797–1856)

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2000 All Rights Reserved

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Heinrich Heine was Jewish, born in Dusseldorf. He studied law at Bonn University and graduated from Gottingen in 1825. He married in 1841, and moved to Paris in 1848 disillusioned with Germany. His increasingly poor health left him bedridden from 1848. To his magical lyrics he added the intense poems of his last period of illness, where he compares himself to a lost Achilles, ‘the Shadow-Prince in the Underworld.’

Heine (1797–1856)

The Asra

Every day so lovely, shining,

up and down, the Sultan’s daughter

walked at evening by the water,

where the white fountain splashes.

Every day the young slave stood

by the water, in the evening,

where the white fountain splashes,

each day growing pale and paler.

Then the princess came one evening,

quickly speaking to him, softly,

‘Your true name – I wish to know it,

your true homeland and your nation.’

And the slave said, ‘I am called

Mahomet, I am from Yemen,

and my tribe, it is the Asra,

who die, when they love.’


Our death is in the cool of night,

our life is in the pool of day.

The darkness glows, I’m drowning,

the day has tired me with light.

Over my head in leaves grown deep,

sings the young nightingale.

It only sings of love there,

I hear it in my sleep.

A Palm-tree

A single fir-tree, lonely,

on a northern mountain height,

sleeps in a white blanket,

draped in snow and ice.

His dreams are of a palm-tree,

who, far in eastern lands,

weeps, all alone and silent,

among the burning sands.

Death and his Brother Sleep (‘Morphine’)

There’s a mirror likeness between those two

shining, youthfully-fledged figures, though

one seems paler than the other and more austere,

I might even say more perfect, more distinguished,

than he, who would take me confidingly in his arms –

how soft then and loving his smile, how blessed his glance!

Then, it might well have been that his wreath

of white poppies gently touched my forehead, at times,

and drove the pain from my mind with its strange scent.

But that is transient. I can only, now, be well,

when the other one, so serious and pale,

the older brother, lowers his dark torch. –

Sleep is so good, Death is better, yet

surely never to have been born is best.

(Thanatos, Death, was the son of Night, usually shown as a winged spirit. He then completely resembled his brother Hypnos, Sleep, who lived with him in the Underworld. Hypnos put men to sleep by touching them with his magic wand or by fanning them with his dark wings. His son, Morpheus, was god of dreams)