Heinrich Heine Heine, Heinrich (Vol. 54) - Essay

Chaim Harry Heine


(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Heinrich Heine 1797-1856

(Born Harry Heine) German poet, essayist, critic, journalist, editor, dramatist, novella and travel writer.

For additional information about Heine's life and career, see .

Heine is one of the outstanding literary figures of nineteenth-century Europe. He is best known for his Buch der Lieder (1827; Heinrich Heine 's Book of Songs), a collection of love lyrics which were, in time, set to music by Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, and other composers. He was the first major poet of his era to adopt a humorous, ironic tone, which pervades his poetry, prose, and commentaries on politics, art, literature, and society.

Biographical Information

Heine was born in Düsseldorf into a Jewish household, the poor relations of a larger, wealthy family. His early years were greatly influenced by his uncle, Salomon Heine, a successful and influential banker who financed Heine's university education. In 1819, Heine was sent to study law at the University of Bonn, where he showed a growing interest in literature and history and studied under the famous critic August Wilhelm Schlegel, who introduced him to the ideas of the German Romantic school. He completed his studies at the University of Göttingen and received his law degree in 1825. In that same year he changed his name from Harry to Heinrich and converted to Protestantism, a practical measure necessary for any career because of anti-Semitic laws in nineteenth-century Germany. In 1831 Heine emigrated to Paris, where he remained in self-imposed exile for most of his life. From the mid-1830s through the rest of his life, he suffered with increasing illness from venereal disease, and in the spring of 1848 he became completely paralyzed and partially blind. Confined to what he called his "mattress-grave," Heine lived in constant pain, yet was intellectually alert until his death in 1856.

Major Works

Heine began his literary career while still a student. His first book of poetry, Gedichte (1822; Poems), was considered promising, though his next published work, Tragödien nebst einem lyrischen Intermezzo (1823), which contained his only attempts at drama, was considered unimportant and was largely ignored. Heine had far more success with his next work, a fictional account of a walking tour he had taken through the Harz Mountains. This work, Die Harzreise, was the first of a four-volume set titled Reisebilder (1826-31; Pictures of Travel). This work contains sketches of Heine's travels to England, Italy, and Nordenay on the North Sea, but it is also a record of his personal journey and a successful combination of autobiography with descriptions of scenery and social criticism.

With the publication of his next work, Book of Songs, Heine became the most popular German poet of his day. The work established his preeminence as a lyric poet, and has long remained the basis of his international reputation. This early poetry reflects the influence of Romanticism in its emphasis on love and despair, as well as its pervasive tone of reverie. Yet Book of Songs encompasses much more. The book abounds with realism, skepticism, wit, and irony. Heine did not share the positive world view of such German Romantics as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, and he lacked their faith in the ability of modern poetry to overcome the alienation and anxiety of modern life. Book of Songs represents Heine's rejection of the German Romantic tradition and marks the beginning of the post-Romantic movement in German literature.

The compositions that followed his emigration to Paris, unlike his early and late poetry, are primarily concerned with politics, religion, society, art, and philosophy. These include essays that were collected in Französische Zustände (1833; French Affairs: Letters from Paris), Lutezio (1854; Lutetia), and De l'Allemagne (1835; Germany). With these works he hoped to encourage understanding between his adopted nation of France and his homeland, Germany; his efforts were enhanced by his ability to write in both French and German. His presentation of the human side of historical figures and his skillful evocation of the mood of the period give his essays their lasting value. Heine's Heinrich Heine über Ludwig Börne (1840; Ludwig Börne: Recollections of a Revolutionist), a biographical work including criticism and fictional letters, is an attempt by Heine to defend his views against those of Börne, a recently deceased leader of the exiled German radicals in Paris. The biting satire for which Heine had become known also pervades his long political poems, Deutschland: Ein Wintermärchen (1844; Germany: A Winter's Tale) and Atta Troll: Ein Sommernachtstraum (1847; Atta Troll). These two poems are a mixture of history and political and literary satire, and defy generic classification. His most powerful and compelling poetry, including that in Romanzero (1851; Romancero) and Letzte Gedichte und Gedanken (1869), dates from late in his career. In these works, Heine frequently returns to the lyrical form of his earliest poetry. They vividly describe a man preparing for death, which he alternately fears and welcomes as a refuge. With their self-mocking, ironic tone, these poems capture the full range of Heine's tenderness and delicacy as well as his pain and terror, and are considered the fullest expression of his poetic genius.

Critical Reception

Although Heine was one of the most influential and popular poets of the nineteenth-century, critical response has varied widely over the years. His works have met with both admiration and disapproval in his native land, where his ruthless satires and radical pronouncements made him appear unpatriotic and subversive to his contemporaries. His religion consistently worked against him: he was ostracized as a Jew among Germans, but when he converted to Protestantism, both Jews and Christians assailed him as an opportunist. All of Heine's works were banned in 1835 and he was at one time forbidden to return to Germany. During the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis tried to erase Heine's name from German history. They destroyed his grave, banned his works, and when they found that they could not eliminate his famous poem "Die Lorelei" from the memory of the German people, they attributed it to an unknown author. Heine's reputation has fared better outside Germany, but while his poetry is widely praised, his ironic and satiric writings have only recently met with critical acclaim. The complexity and variety of his views have often made him an outcast, for those who appreciate the politically militant poet of the 1840s in some cases resent the older, more conservative poet. The only part of Heine's work to be accepted by all critical factions is the Book of Songs.

Principal Works

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Gedichte (poetry) 1822

[Poems published in The Poems of Heine, Complete, 1878]

Tragödien nebst einem lyrischen Intermezzo (drama and poetry) 1823

Reisebilder. 4 vols, (travel sketches) 1826-31

[Pictures of Travel, 1855]

Buch der Lieder (poetry) 1827

[Heinrich Heine's Book of Songs, 1856]

Französische Zustände (essays) 1833

[French Affairs: Letters from Paris, 1893]

Zur Geschichte der neuern schönen Literatur in Deutschland (essay) 1833; also published as État actuel de la littérature en Allemagne in journal L 'Europe littéraire, 1833; and Die romantische Schule, 1836

[Letters Auxiliary to the History of Modern Polite Literature in Germany, 1836; also published as The Romantic School, 1882]

Der Salon. 4 vols, (criticism, poetry, unfinished novels, essays, and letters) 1834-40

[The Salon; or, Letters on Art, Music, Popular Life and Politics, 1893]

De l'Allemagne (essays) 1835

[Germany. 2 vols. 1892]

Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland (essay) 1835; published in Der Salon, Vol. 2; also published as De l'Allemagne depuis Luther in Journal Revue des deux mondes, 1834

[Religion and Philosophy in Germany (partial translation), 1882]

Shakespeares Mädchen und Frauen (criticism) 1839

[Heine on Shakespeare: A Translation of His Notes on Shakespeare 's Heroines, 1895]

Heinrich Heine über Ludwig Börne (criticism and fictional letters) 1840

[Ludwig Börne: Recollections of a Revolutionist (abridged edition), 1881]

Deutschland: Ein Wintermärchen (essay and poetry) 1844

[Germany: A Winter's Tale, 1944]

Neue Gedichte (poetry) 1844

[New Poems, 1904]

Atta Troll: Ein Sommernachtstraum (poetry) 1847

[Atta Troll published in Atta Troll and Other Poems, 1876]

Der Doktor Faust: Ein Tanzpoem, nebst kurosien Berichten über Teufel, Hexen und Dichkunst (ballet scenario) 1851

[Doktor Faust: A Dance Poem, Together with Some Rare Accounts of Witches, Devils and the Ancient Art of Sorcery, 1952]

Romanzero (poetry) 1851

[Romancero published in The Works of Heinrich Heine. Vols. XI and XII, 1892]

Die Verbannten Götter (novella) 1853; also published as Les dieux en exil in journal Revue des deux mondes, 1853; and Die Götter im Exil in Vermischte Schriften, 1854

[Gods in Exile, 1962]

Vermischte Schriften. 3 vols, (poetry, novella, ballet scenario, and essays) 1854

Letzte Gedichte und Gedanken (poetry) 1869

The Poems of Heine, Complete (poetry) 1878

Heinrich Heines sämtliche Werke. 12 vols. (poetry, essays, ballet scenario, criticism, novella, unfinished novels, travel sketches, and memoirs) 1887-90

Heinrich Heines Familienleben (letters) 1892

[The Family Life of Heinrich Heine, 1893]

The Works of Heinrich Heine. 12 vols. (poetry, unfinished novels, essays, criticism, travel sketches, and letters) 1892-1905

Briefe. 6 vols. (letters) 1950-51

Last Poems (poetry) 1954

Jocelyne Kolb (essay date 1981)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Heine's Amusical Muse," in Monatshefte, Vol. 73, No. 4, Winter, 1981, pp. 392-404.

[In the following essay, Kolb evaluates Heine's criticism of music, claiming that the poet was inexperienced and fairly uninterested in music itself, and that he used music, rather, as a touchstone to discuss the feelings it evokes and the creative process.]

Whenever a novelist writes two words about music, one of them is wrong.

—Aaron Copland

In his book on Heine's music criticism, Michael Mann calls the poet a "musical nihilist." The phrase is a felicitous one, for it conveys both Heine's...

(The entire section is 5395 words.)

S. S. Prawer (essay date 1983)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Prologue: A Comet Lights the Diaspora," in Heine's Jewish Comedy: A Study of His Portraits of Jews and Judaism, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1983, pp. 1-43.

[In the following excerpt, Prawer discusses Heine's life, especially his relationship with Eduard Gans, focusing on his changing attitudes toward Judaism.]

Heine's work is full of verbal snapshots, portraits, and caricatures of Jews actual and imagined, historical and contemporary, famous and obscure, single and in groups, ex-Jews, and Jews who remained within the community to which their fathers had belonged. . . . The gallery . . . depicts peddlers, old clothes men, pawnbrokers, corn-cutters,...

(The entire section is 15858 words.)

Robert C. Holub (essay date 1988)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Heine and Utopia," in Heine-Jahrbuch, Vol. 27, 1988, pp. 86-112.

[In the following essay, Holub claims that Utopian concerns are not central to Heine's writings, despite claims to the contrary by many contemporary critics of Heine, and that Heine instead expresses a realistic political agenda.]

So pflegen immer große Poeten zu verfahren:

sie begründen zugleich etwas Neues, indem sie das Alte

zerstören; sie negieren nie, ohne etwas zu bejahen.

(Heine: Einleitung zu Don Quixote)

It is almost certain that Heine would have...

(The entire section is 10207 words.)

Russell A. Berman (essay date 1988)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Poetry for the Republic: Heine and Whitman," in Heinrich Heine and the Occident: Multiple Identities, Multiple Receptions, edited by Peter Uwe Hohendahl and Sander L. Gilman, University of Nebraska Press, 1991, pp. 199-223.

[In the following essay, first presented at a symposium in 1988, Berman compares the poetry and political agendas of Heine and the American poet Walt Whitman.]

It was a tricky situation in which Thomas Mann found himself in October 1922. Addressing a conservative audience hostile to the young Weimar Republic, the renowned author, whose wartime support for the German Empire against the Western democracies had won him acclaim in nationalist...

(The entire section is 8400 words.)

Further Reading

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)


Arnold, Armin. Heine in England and America: A Bibliographical Check-List. London: Linden Press, 1959, 80 p.

A thorough research guide to translations and criticism of Heine's work.


Bieber, Hugo, ed. Heinrich Heine: A Biographical Anthology. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1956, 452 p.

A well-annotated collection of excerpts from Heine's poetry, prose, and letters which attempts to present Heine's own interpretation of his life.

Brod, Max. Heinrich Heine: The Artist...

(The entire section is 1289 words.)