Heinrich Heine’s fame rests primarily in his body of lyric poetry. It led to some of the most well-known German folk songs ever produced and has appeared in numerous foreign translations. While calling himself the last of the Romantics, he often criticized the Romantic movement for its lack of social and political commitment. In the turbulent period before the revolution of 1848, he advocated a new German literature addressing such important issues of the day as human rights, women’s emancipation, and equal representation of the masses in national government. He continues to be regarded as one of Germany’s most outspoken champions of the liberal cause.
One of Heine’s early translators, the American poet Emma Lazarus, has pointed out that Heine was a German Jew with the mind and eyes of a Greek, a beauty-loving, myth-creating pagan soul housed in a somber Hebrew frame. Certainly Heine’s poetic persona encompassed the German literary heritage and the Western tradition, as well as classical antiquity and timeless popular legend.