(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Heine’s sequence of three poems on Jewish themes forms part of his collection Romanzero (1851; English translation, 1859). The title was undoubtedly suggested by the Hebrew Melodies (1815) of Lord Byron.

The poems reflect both continuity and change as far as the poet’s attitude toward Judaism and his Jewish heritage is concerned. “Prinzessin Sabbat” (“Princess Sabbath”) presents, in thirty-eight unrhymed stanzas, a warmly evocative account of the Sabbath observance in a synagogue. On the eve of the Jewish day of rest, Israel (that is, a Jew) is temporarily freed from the witch’s curse that has transformed him into a dog and enters the house of prayer like a prince ready to meet his princess, the personification of the Sabbath, who is as humble and quiet as she is beautiful. Heine describes the richly symbolic festive bustle in the synagogue as the princess promises her beloved culinary delights. Such treats stir visions of biblical scenes, but the waning of the Sabbath threatens to transform the observant Jew into a workaday beast again. The poem ends with a description of the traditional Havdalah ceremony. The smell of a spice box sustains the worshipers, who are saddened and weakened by the need to bid the Sabbath farewell, and a few drops of wine serve to extinguish the candle and thus the day of rest.

“Jehuda ben Halevy,” the longest poem in this sequence, has twenty-four stanzas and almost nine...

(The entire section is 532 words.)