Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Although it is generally conceded that Heinrich Heine’s finest poetry was not written until his last years, the Book of Songs, which assembles his entire lyrical output to the age of twenty-six, remains the core of his poetic work. The book gained immediate popularity and appeared in a new edition every other year for decades. German critical opinion of the period cited Heine for writing in the spirit and with the simple accents of German folk song, but he soon became a controversial figure. His merits are still fiercely disputed in German territories, much of the controversy centering on his later prose writings, in which the unquenchably poetic nature of his approach to religion and political philosophy yielded, along with chilling prophetic insights, considerable rhetorical muddle.
His own feelings toward Germany were intensely ambiguous. He later became, through his Paris exile, “a link that spanned the Rhine”; but the French influences that surrounded him in his first sixteen years (during which time the Rhineland was mostly under French military occupation or French civil rule) apparently had little effect. In his memoirs, he said that early school experiences imbued him with a permanent prejudice against French literature, and he went through a phase of nationalistic fervor that ended only when he discovered that he breathed more freely under the French than the Prussian regime; ultimately he denounced Gallophobia and German national...
(The entire section is 1632 words.)
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