Saturday 1 October 2016

Yes, in the end they are much of a pair

from Heine Dying In Paris or Death And Morphine (trans. Robert Lowell)

Published 21/09/2015 | 02:30

Heinrich Heine died in Paris in 1856 at the age of 60 from tuberculosis of the spine, an ailment he had suffered for most of his adult life. Strange to say, this bodily infirmity detracts little from the almost Byronic spirit, which is manifest in his work and personality.

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This, I think, was attributable to the facts that both he and Bryon were forthright liberals and both were great but humourist poets. By liberalism I mean not as employed in present-day economics, but in its original sense - a rejection of many of the trammels that are usually put on personal and social conduct.

Of course money is the great key to this rejection. Byron had quite a lot of money, Heine was virtually a working journalist. Humour I believe to be essential to great poetry. When we ask for example why Milton is not among the greatest we have to say I think that he is lacking in this quality. Both Byron and Heine have it in abundance. This is one of the few poems which succeed in saying anything meaningful about death and also about its kinship with sleep.

Yes, in the end they are much of a pair,

my twin gladiator beauties - thinner than a hair,

their bronze bell-heads hum with the void; one's more austere,

however, and much whiter; none dares cry down his character.

How confidingly the corrupt twin rocked me in his arms;

his poppy garland, nearing, hushed death's alarms

at sword-point for a moment.

Soon a pinpoint of infinite regression ! And now that incident

is closed. There's no way out

unless the other turn about

and, pale, distinguished, perfect, drop his torch.

He and I stand alerted for life's Doric, drilled, withdrawing march :

sleep is lovely, death is better still,

not to have been born is of course the miracle.

Sunday Independent

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