The North Sea is the last section of the collected poems in Heinrich Heine’s Buch der Lieder (1827; Book of Songs, 1856) and consists of two cycles of poems in free verse. In the final version, authorized by Heine, the first, optimistic cycle contains twelve poems and the second, less cheerful one has ten.
The title indicates how important the sea is for Heine as a setting. Despite predecessors such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Rahel Varnhagen von Ense, Heine is credited with having established the sea as a topic in German literature and with being the foremost poet of the sea.
The poems of The North Sea are among Heine’s most important works. They are unique among his works: Only in 1825 and 1826, when he wrote these poems, did he use free verse. In his mastery of the new form, Heine achieves a beauty of style in verses with well-chosen words, striking contrasts, and mythical imagery. The North Sea proves Heine’s strength and independence as a poet.
Heine’s own love for the sea enters directly into the poems. Visits to the North Sea in the summers of 1825 and 1826 supplied motivation and material for the first and second cycles, respectively. Heine felt the sea was invigorating and good for his health. His personal experience is subtly reflected in the poems and in the cycles’ moods. Since he felt less relaxed in 1826, the second cycle is less cheerful.
The first person in the poems is largely Heine himself. He took his impressions of the sea and transformed them into great poetry about nature, which in turn is the point of departure for philosophical and mythological reflections. With such a combination of nature and reflection, he adds new energy and new irony to the Romantic tradition that influences his sensitivity. These poems were perceived as turbulent and restless by the contemporary audience, explaining why their reception was initially slow. Nevertheless...
(The entire section is 805 words.)