Posted by Richard on  UTC 2019-08-14 17:12 Updated on UTC 2019-09-15

The Repair Shop

A television programme called The Repair Shop is a hit in the UK at the moment. The action takes place in a photogenic craft workshop located in a bucolic barn. The regular participants are skilled craftsmen and women with years of experience in the restoration and renovation of all kinds of everyday objects. So far so good. The BBC styles it sweepingly as an 'antidote to throwaway culture'.

Well, let's leave that statement as it stands for today: the long and depressing essay on the fatuousness of contemporary delusions will just have to wait. Apart from the obvious skills of the experts, the rest of the programme is as fake and manipulated as everything else in the modern media.

In each episode a few people arrive in turn bringing various family heirlooms to be restored. The craftsmanship on view in the restoration work is fascinating and well-worth watching, but unfortunately there is always some backstory associated with the objects.

Even on arrival clients and restorers are welling up at the deep emotional importance of these heirlooms, but the emotions build up to a climax when the grateful clients take their now restored pieces home – no eye is dry when we are told that long-departed Aunty May will be smiling down with joy at seeing the body of her Little Shepherdess statuette reunited with its head and its crook after fifty years' separation in a shoebox in the attic.

Reader, your author is indeed a crabbed and cynical sociopath without a drop of human feeling in his wrinkled veins, but the thought is not completely unreasonable: if this object is so valued, why has it been left in a shoebox in the attic for fifty years and, more pointedly, if indeed it is so important, why is it only being repaired now, when its repair costs nothing? Was nichts kostet ist auch nichts wert say the Germans, 'What costs nothing is worth nothing'.

They are, you have to admit, fair questions. Alongside long-departed and much-missed Aunty May, long-departed and much-missed Plato is looking down on us, laughing his head off at our attachment to the material world, these shadows of a 'ghostly paradigm of things' (©Yeats).

The Schubert Repair Shop

The Schubert subject coming under our cynical stare today is the 'song cycle' Schwanengesang, 'Swan song' – and more specifically the six poems by Heinrich Heine which Schubert set to music and which are considered part of that 'cycle'.

The visitor to our Schubert repair shop arrives with an ornamental box containing a porcelain object much in need of repair. Our surprise is not feigned when we are told that this erratic construction is a teapot. It was made by great-great-great-great-uncle Franz all those years ago in Vienna and was the last thing he ever made, (are you welling up already?). It has been handed down in the family since then. Because it was the last piece he ever made in his short and miserable life the family call it the Schwanengesang-Teekanne, 'Swansong teapot'. Now you really are welling up, aren't you?

On hearing this, your crabbed author tries to keep a straight face but can only recall Coleridge's epigram: 'Swans sing before they die. 'Twere no bad thing / Should certain persons die before they sing!' (1799). But fortunately a tear of laughter looks much like a tear of sadness. Bwah wah wah!

The Swansong Teapot

So now before us on the bench stands Franz Schubert's renowned Swansong Teapot. Like everyone else we struggle to keep our emotions under control – in our case, manly tears of laughter.

The Swansong Teapot stands there with no spout, no handle and an irregular black lid that not only doesn't fit in the hole available but contrasts oddly with the arcadian decoration of the white body: intertwined flowers, rushing brooks etc. Just like many of the pieces arriving in the television Repair Shop, its desperate state is partly the result of previous restorations. The lack of spout and handle may be explained away with that great Austrian euphemism: 'now lost'.

Although taking a hammer to the monstrosity would be the intelligent option, we promise our Schubertian a 'sensitive' restoration. We must think of Franz – 'Schwammerl' as his family and friends called him – beaming down with joy at his restored teapot.

We lie? We lie. So we get out the solvents and let them work their magic (no sniffing, please!) until there are fourteen erratically shaped pieces of china spread across our workbench. We scrape the pieces into groups: there are seven pieces of mainly bucolic kitsch written by Ludwig Rellstab (1799-1860) that we might be able to sort out later; one large shard that doesn't fit anywhere – a piece about a carrier pigeon written by Johann Gabriel Seidl (1804-1875); and six shards from that strange black lid written by Heinrich Heine (1797-1856).

Let's look more closely at that lid.

Its pieces come from Heine's collection Die Heimkehr, which he wrote in 1823-24. Most of the poems of this collection were published individually in various places. They first appeared as an integral group under the title Die Heimkehr in the book Reisebilder, Erster Theil, published in Hamburg in 1826. With some small changes Die Heimkehr then also found its way into Heine's collection Buch der Lieder, published in Hamburg in 1827.

Just to make things even more confusing, Die Heimkehr continued to be included in the second and third editions of Reisebilder, Erster Theil published in 1830 and 1840 respectively, in parallel to its double life in Buch der Lieder. Clear? Clear.

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Heinrich Heine, 1825. The young Heine from around the time of Die Heimkehr. Artist Colla(?). Oil on ivory, 113x88 mm, producing that smooth luminosity. Someone here had money. Image: Heinrich-Heine-Institut Düsseldorf.

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Same year, 1828, same artist, same subject.
Top: Heinrich Heine, 1828, a pencil sketch by Gottlieb Gassen (1805-1878).
Bottom: Heinrich Heine, 1828, oil on canvas by Gottlieb Gassen. Images: Heinrich-Heine-Institut Düsseldorf.

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Heinrich Heine in an etching by Eduard Mandel (1810-1882) from a drawing by Franz Kugler (1808-1858), 1829

Same year, 1829, different artists, same subject.
Top: Heinrich Heine, 1829. An etching (artist unknown) after a drawing by Wilhelm Hensel (1794-1861).
Bottom: The 32 year-old Heine in an etching by Eduard Mandel (1810-1882) from a drawing by Franz Kugler (1808-1858), 1829. Images: Heinrich-Heine-Institut Düsseldorf.

Buch der Lieder

In the cause of our continued sanity we are going to leave the byways of the Reisebilder, Erster Theil to one side and consider Die Heimkehr as part of Buch der Lieder. That collection was to all intents and purposes finished in April 1827. It finally came off the presses in October of that year. In total it contains around (depending how you count them) 237 poems, a majority of which had already appeared elsewhere.

The phrase 'to all intents and purposes finished' therefore implies no great completion of a giant creative task, but rather the assembly of poems that had appeared in newspapers, magazines and minor books or other collections over the previous five or so years.

The Reisebilder sold quite well; the Buch der Lieder stayed on the bookshop shelves: the first print run of 2,000 copies lasted for ten years. By the end of the first seven years, only 1,200 copies had been sold.

After ten years of quietude Buch der Lieder began to sell – and sell well. The best advertisement an author can have is censorship: the banning of Heine's works in Germany in 1835 was one of the principal factors that led to an increased interest in this subversive and never boring writer, a writer who was a master at speaking to his readers with a directness that was uncommon at the time. Doubling down on the persecution, in 1844 the Prussians issued an arrest warrant for him, as did the French, which had the welcome effect of increasing his fame even more.

Buch der Lieder despite its clever satires and its subtleties ultimately gave Heine a reputation as a people's poet. There was an edge to Heine which caused more sensitive souls to reach for their fans and 'deprecate the lack of taste' (©Eliot), but it was a style which endeared him to the disaffected folk of the new Germany.

The book finally became a bestseller and went through many editions, helping to secure Heine a solid income (much of which was confiscated by the authorities). Heine himself tinkered with its contents up until the fifth edition in 1844. Edition followed edition, its popularity helped by song composers who could always find something to their taste among its 237 poems. By the end of the 19th century Buch der Lieder had gone through over forty print runs in countless editions. Schober's reading circle really had been ahead of the game all those years ago.

The Reisebilder, Zweiter Theil was acquired for the Viennese reading circle towards the end of 1827 or at the very beginning of 1828, presumably by Schober. It is interesting that the circle was not simply following the herd: in choosing that book they were definitely ahead of the literary game in the German speaking world. Note, however, that the Reisebilder, Zweiter Theil, which the reading circle was reading, does not contain the poems which Schubert ultimately set to music. These he must have found in the Reisebilder, Erster Theil, which Campe had published in Hamburg in 1826, or the Buch der Lieder. Schubert was staying with Schober during the first half of 1828 and would have had easy access to Schober's library.

As far as Heine's publisher, Julius Campe, was concerned, the Buch der Lieder was a marketing proposition that might build on the success of Reisebilder, Zweiter Theil, which Campe had published at the beginning of 1827 – the name Heine was becoming familiar among the reading public and thus the time was right to capitalise on that.

As far as Heine was concerned, Buch der Lieder allowed him to collect together his poetic efforts of recent years to form what he called a 'psychological portrait'.

This term is not to be confused with biography – Heine disliked the association his readers might make between particular poems and particular events in his life. Of course, those biographical events formed him and supplied material and stimulation for his poetry, but where they flowed into his poetry they become mere starting points for his artistic imagination.

If anything, the term 'psychological portrait' as used by Heine is the psychological portrait of the artist as a young man in the Germany of the mid-1820s. It is a generic or socio-cultural portrait, not the portrait of a single person, however much it may seem to be that. The work is as much a cultural diagnosis as that which we find in works by James Joyce or Ezra Pound (for example in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley).

That said, we mustn't overload Buch der Lieder with mannered artfulness it does not contain. It has no great thematic structure that we might look for in other epochal works. It was simply put together out of whatever Heine happened to produce during his twenties. Its organization is fundamentally chronological: once he had been persuaded to publish the work, Campe was drumming his fingers wanting a book to publish – Heine delivered it by bringing his young work together in his 'psychological portrait'.

Buch der Lieder : structure

It does contain five major sections, though: Junge Leiden, 'Young Sufferings', Lyrisches Intermezzo, 'Lyrical Interlude', Die Heimkehr, 'The return home', Aus der Harzreise and the two Nordsee, 'North Sea' cycles. The first section, Junge Leiden, has a further four subdivisions: Traumbilder, 'Dreams', Lieder, 'Songs', Romanzen, 'Romances' and Sonette, 'Sonnets'. Although the underlying sequence is chronological, Heine seems to have performed some light grouping work within the sections to create particular clusters.

All of the six Heine poems which Schubert set to music come from the Die Heimkehr section. Since the present piece is neither an essay on Heine nor one on Buch der Lieder, let us just concentrate on that particular section, Die Heimkehr, and leave all the scholarly debate about Buch der Lieder and its author behind us.

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Title page of Die Heimkehr in Buch der Lieder, 1827. Image: Deutsches Textarchiv.

Many analyses have been written concerning Heine's metrical skills and the various influences on his work, in particular the question of the relationship between his own 'malicious metric', as he called it, and the folk poetry that was all the rage at the time. We have to leave that to one side, apart from pointing out that Heine and Wilhelm Müller, the author of Die schöne Müllerin and Die Winterreise, were in loose contact and that Heine wrote to Müller saying how carefully he had studied Müller's poetry. It is not completely clear that this statement was sincerely made. If it was, that would be very problematic for Die Heimkehr, but let's put all that to one side and move on.

Accepting the underlying structure as chronological, what traces do we find of thematic organization in Die Heimkehr?

None. Or more precisely, none worth mentioning.

Where there appear to be thematic groups they seem to arise from the fact that Heine was preoccupied with a particular theme or subject at a particular time. These clusters create thematic islands as it were, but the islands are not intact, they are often interrupted by one or more poems on other themes.

A merely chronological (that is, thematically disorderly) arrangement is irritating – at least for pedants such as your author. For example, the reader will encounter a few poems about the sea (VII-XII), believing this sequence to be closed off by a poem (XIII) with a distinctly political message. But then another sea-themed poem (XIV) pops up, followed by a poem (XV), which turns out to be a satirical persiflage on Romantic poetry.

The only clear structure we find is of the most trivial sort: the last nine (or five) poems are longer than the others. If you stare at a Rorschach Test image long enough in order to find some hidden structure, ultimately you will find one.

A Modernist prelude

But if we cannot see a finished, obviously curated structure that corresponds to our expectations of 19th century poetry, we might at least be able to see some sort of structural principle. After all, we moderns find no difficulty, nothing unusual, in coping with the fractured, heuristic forms of communication that besiege us nowadays.

In 2009, the Germanist Arnold Pistiak drew attention to the possible existence of such a principle in Die Heimkehr – a principle which we would think of as being exclusively modern:

Heine clearly oriented himself on the modern early romantic principle of the fragmentary as well as Goethe's conception of the 'repeated reflection'. Out of that he developed a daring, then as now almost completely unrecognised montage technique, a sort of cinematic technique: single images, commentaries and short sequences alternate like lightning and illuminate each other. Speaking about himself as well as about the world, the speaker reflects the past as the present: individual stations on the way to himself.

Heine hatte sich offensichtlich an dem modernen frühromantischen Bauprinzip des Fragmentarischen wie an der Goethe’schen Konzeption der »wiederholten Spiegelungen« orientiert und daraus eine kühne, damals wie heute weithin unverstandene Montagetechnik, eine Art Filmtechnik entwickelt: Einzelbilder, Kommentare und kurze Sequenzen wechseln blitzartig ab und kommentieren sich gegenseitig. Über sich wie über die Welt sprechend, reflektiert der Sprecher Vergangenes wie Gegenwärtiges: einzelne Stationen auf dem Weg zu sich selbst.
Pistiak, Arnold. 'Heimkehr als Aufbruch. Feststellungen und Lesarten zu Schuberts Heineliedern' in Heine-Jahrbuch 2009, p. 93.

Pistiak's insight may be too daring for some: Heinrich Heine, the first Modernist poet? A full half century before the next Modernist artists?

We reflect on Modernism's abolition of the linear: collage, Cubism, Vorticism, Futurism and Surrealism in the visual arts; Imagism (©Pound et al.), the 'ideogrammic method' (©Pound, Eisenstein), the 'objective correlative' (©Eliot) in Modernist literature; the shattering of form and structure in Modernist music. Heine? In the 1820s?

Well, it may be daring, but it is an organizational principle which matches the empirical reality of the macro- and micro-organization of Heine's texts in Die Heimkehr. And only this principle provides us with a satisfactory critical toolbox for understanding what Heine was up to with the collage of poems we find in Die Heimkehr, as well as the collage of images and themes we find within the individual poems.

In his seminal work on Picasso, John Berger wrote of the new perception, the importance of considering what was 'interjacent', that is, 'it was in the space between phenomena that one would discover their explanation.' [Berger, John. The Success and Failure of Picasso, London, 1965. 67]

But form is restored in Die Heimkehr when we accept that such fragmentary 'cuts' appear to be an astoundingly daring attempt to reflect the fragmentary nature of experience and perception as much as a collage by Kurt Schwitters or a film by Sergei Eisenstein might be. It is therefore quite legitimate – necessary even – to look at the broader context of the individual poem in the search for that 'interjacency'.

Also quite in the mood of Modernism, so little in Die Heimkehr turns out to be what it seemed to be at first: tears of love turn to poison or snakes, the loved one herself, Proteus like, experiences transformations that take place in the mind of the narrator-Ich, who himself undergoes transformations. These transformations occur both within and between poems, which is another reason for casting our net wide in the interpretation of particular poems.

Surface and depths

This thematic insecurity is one of the reasons that Heine's critical reception has been so mixed down the years. Most of the giants of German literature – and Goethe more than the others – curated their works carefully into collections for publication – as carefully as any art gallery curates its exhibitions. This gives scholars, who want to write of periods, moods and development in the works of their victims, a firm footing.

Heine, in contrast, did not curate Buch der Lieder – he assembled it. We have no firm ground at all beneath our feet. Some poems seem quite sincere in their sentiments, others are pure mockery, others – worse still – could be one or the other or perhaps even both.

Because of this, Heine is not an easy read: the reader has always to be on guard, must never be complacent, must never be fooled by the vocabulary of Romantic kitsch when Heine uses it ironically. Which he sometimes does, perhaps quite often, or sometimes doesn't. If Heine leads you into a flowery meadow filled with birdsong and the babbling of a brook, beware – it is almost certainly a trap. Every serious reader of Heine will know the feeling on discovering one of these unsuspected ironic bear traps in a poem that has been read up until then superficially.

Irony, however, poisons the wells of discourse. Just as there are many Heine commenters who are fooled into straightforward readings of poems that are anything but straightforward, so there are equally(?) many commenters who read ironic intent into poems that really are quite straightforward. Within the Buch der Lieder, it is Die Heimkehr which presents the reader with the most fraught mixture of sincere, half-sincere (if there can be such a thing) and completely insincere poetry. Which is which?

One thing that can be said for certain, though: Heinrich Heine is never dull. Here, for example, are the first two stanzas of poem XV in Die Heimkehr:

Up there on that hill there is a fine castle, in which live three beautiful girls whose love I enjoyed. On Saturday Jette kissed me, on Sunday Julia and on Monday Kunigunde, who almost squashed me.

Da droben auf jenem Berge, / Da steht ein feines schloß, / Da wohnen drei schöne Fräulein, / Von denen ich Liebe genoß. // Sonnabend küßte mich Jette, / Und sonntag die Julia, / Und Montag die Kunigunde, / Die hat mich erdrückt beinah.

We today smile at the thought of the passionate Kunigunde almost squeezing the poet to death – suggesting that there was a bit more than kissing going on in that castle. Typical Heine, we say.

However on reading this, any of Heine's contemporaries would have recalled the allusion here to the poem Müllers Abschied, the 'Miller's Farewell', from the epochal collection of (mostly fake) folk poetry put together by Clemens Brentano und Achim von Arnim between 1805 and 1808 in the anthology Des Knaben Wunderhorn. The moment of the appearance of that anthology is generally considered the starting shot for the beginning of the Romantic movement in Germany.

Many of the poems in it became familiar and passed into the everyday German consciousness. This one in particular was widely known at the time and was often alluded to in the work of other poets:

Up there on that hill there is a golden house, from which early every morning three beautiful maidens look out; One is called Elisabeth, the other my Bernharda, the third I won't name, is supposed to be mine.

Da droben auf jenem Berge, / Da steht ein goldnes Haus, / Da schauen wohl alle Frühmorgen / Drey schöne Jungfrauen heraus; // Die eine, die heißet Elisabeth, / Die andre Bernharda mein, / Die dritte, die will ich nicht nennen, / Die sollt mein eigen seyn.

So we can read the surface of Heine's poem and find some pleasure, but should we read the layer beneath we find a wonderful persiflage of the simple-minded, inconsequential Volksleid, 'folk poem', then so much in vogue.

But Heine is not finished with us yet. The next two stanzas take the clumsy complaint of the lovelorn miller of the original poem (which we haven't bothered to reproduce) and turn it into a cutting social satire:

But on Tuesday there was a party with my three girls in the castle; the ladies and gentlemen of the neighbourhood came in carriages and on horses. But I was not invited and that was your big mistake! The gossiping aunts and the women have noticed and laughed.

Doch Diensttag war eine Fete / Bei meinen drei Fräulein im schloß; / Die Nachbarschafts-Herren und Damen, / Die kamen zu Wagen und Roß. // Ich aber war nicht geladen, / Und das habt ihr dumm gemacht! / Die zischelnden Muhmen und Basen, / Die merkten's und haben gelacht.

Heine's poet, good enough for one-a-day romps with the girls in the castle – no 'golden house' here – ultimately finds himself excluded from their society, but can take comfort at the girls' loss of their good name.

Readers are encouraged to ponder this poem and note its several subtle features. Germanists, on reading of Heine's castle up on the hill, may recall the castle on the heights above the Rhine in Ferdinand Freiligrath's (1810-1876) bitterly mutinous poem Von unten auf (1846). The life of ease in the beautiful, sun-soaked country house on the hill is compared to the life of toil of the serfs who labour in the sunless and airless engine room of the river boat: a metaphor of the old feudal order in Germany. In the twenty years in Germany between the two poems, between Heine's rapier and Freiligrath's sabre, subtle satire proved itself inadequate for the circumstances.

Schubert's selection

As already noted, Schubert appears to have come across some of Heine's works at the beginning of 1828, when they were taken up in two of the book club readings he probably attended. We know about the book club readings from diary entries made by Franz von Hartmann on 12 and 19 January. The group was reading from Heine's Reisebilder, Zweiter Theil.

At some point thereafter Schubert set six of Heine's poems to music. These are the six shards we have spread out in front of us on our workbench.

The six poems of Schubert's selection that found its way into Schwanengesang all come from the series of poems running from poem VIII to poem XXIV of Die Heimkehr. It seems reasonable to assume that Schubert did not read intensively throughout the whole of Die Heimkehr, let alone the whole of Reisebilder. For some reason we can no longer fathom, he chose the section Die Heimkehr and out of that section the six poems we have today.

Scholarly discussion is still continuing on the question of the logic behind Schubert's selection of Heine's poems. Schubert's initial drafts are lost. Some believe he intended the order of the Heine settings to be that found in Die Heimkehr.

Since the organization of the poems in Die Heimkehr is a thematic jumble, replacing Schubert's jumble with Heine's jumble improves the coherence of the selection not a jot. Schubert's jumble in the fair copy manuscript is, however, the jumble that we are used to today and as such as good or as bad as any other. All the reasoning on the point over many years has brought no improvement or certainty.

What is certain, however, is that the collection title Schwanengesang is an advertising label thought up by the Viennese music publisher Tobias Haslinger, who bought the manuscripts from Ferdinand Schubert in December 1828, Franz Schubert's corpse at that moment being barely cold. Ferdinand received an initial payment of 150 Gulden, then a subsequent payment of 150 Gulden in June 1929. Haslinger's Schwanengesang collection was put up for subscription in December 1828 and finally appeared in March 1829.

There is some evidence that Schubert intended to publish the seven Rellstab poems and the six Heine poems separately. This makes sense – all the difficulties we face trying to glue these shards together to reconstruct the fabled 'song cycle' of the Swansong Teapot disappear when we give up the effort of fitting pieces together which simply do not fit together however we might twist and turn them.

Even the six Heine poems he chose from Buch der Lieder do not form a cycle – the teapot lid is not a lid. There is no reasoning that can bring these disparate pieces together in any form of sequence, no glue that can join them into an integral, fracture-free whole.

They are six standalone poems, just as the Goethe poems and the Schiller poems which Schubert set in his young days are standalone poems. Those who believe otherwise are welcome to produce a thematic analysis that links these poems in some credible way.

Schubert's fair copy manuscript of the Heine songs is dated August 1828. His intention to publish these songs as a group is evidenced by the fact that on 2 October 1828 he wrote to the Leipzig music publisher Heinrich Albert Probst offering him the Heine songs:

I also have set several songs by Heine from Hamburg, which have found special favour here…

Auch habe ich mehrere Lieder von Heine aus Hamburg gesetzt, welche hier außerordentlich gefielen… [The emphasis is Schubert's.]
Deutsch, Otto Erich, ed. Schubert: Die Dokumente seines Lebens, Erw. Nachdruck der 2. Aufl. Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1996. p. 540.

Probst responded positively a few days later, but by then it was too late.

Shortly after Schubert's death his idiot brother Ferdinand, who was in charge of Franz's musical remains (a fact from which we have still not recovered), left Probst dangling and sold off the package to Haslinger in Vienna.

We get the impression that Schubert was thinking entrepreneurially in putting together the Heine songs and getting them published in Heine territory – his explicit and emphasised mention of Heine aus Hamburg to the Leipzig publisher is evidence enough for that. He had done much the same earlier in 1828 with his settings of Walter Scott that were targeted at the anglophone market.

Indeed, in picking his six poems he rips them out of the loose context in which Heine had printed them, whatever order we put them in. In Schubert's collection, Das Fischermädchen, for example, floats unattached either in theme or mood to the other five poems he chose, whereas in Die Heimkehr it is embedded in a group of poems ('thematic' would be overstated) that have to do with the beach, the sea and the girls fishing it. In taking it out of that context, Schubert has isolated it and used it as the basis for a musical idea. In other words, since there is no discernible structure to bind him he can pick and choose as he wishes.

We know that Schubert's approach to selecting poetry to set to music was always the first principle of whether a melody formed fluently in his head. Some pieces he found easy, almost spontaneous; with others he struggled. He seems to have abandoned the struggle in most cases, unless the poet was someone he knew and valued (Mayrhofer, for example). We have every reason to assume that his selections from Heine followed this pattern. We repeat: there is no discernible structure in the six poems of Schubert's selection.

If Schubert had wanted to create a song cycle there are clusters of poems in Die Heimkehr he could have taken. Why didn't he do that? I have no idea. But he was feeling tired and ill, had recently finished Winterreise and was preparing it for publication; he had been busy with his concert and various other things. In those ten months in 1828 that he was productive, before he took to the frustrating lethargy of his sickbed, he worked musical wonders. Our expection that he could take Buch der Lieder and knock off a further song cycle is unfair. He had, as we noted of his death, done enough.

He was stimulated by the reading of Heine in the reading club, took the book home and picked half a dozen poems out of it and set them to music. And that is it.

The Schubert lid, part 1

Let's look more closely at the six Heine poems that Schubert set to music. We'll take them in the order they are given in his score. Here is an overview:

Schubert title
1 24 Der Atlas
2 23 Ihr Bild
3 8 Das Fischermädchen
4 16 Die Stadt
5 14 Am Meer
6 20 Der Doppelgänger

Just a glance at the relationship between Schubert's sequence and Heine's sequence is enough to show that Schubert was not rendering any structure of Heine's – even if there had been one (which there wasn't).

The texts in the following are taken from the first edition of Buch der Lieder (1827). All Heine's emendations in later editions have been ignored.

1-XXIV: Der Atlas

Ich unglücksel'ger Atlas! eine Welt,
Die ganze Welt der Schmerzen muß ich tragen,
Ich trage Unerträgliches, und brechen
Will mir das Herz im Leibe.
I, miserable Atlas! A world, a whole world of pain I have to carry. I bear what cannot be borne and the heart in my body wants to break.
Du stolzes Herz! du hast es ja gewollt,
Du wolltest glücklich seyn, unendlich glücklich
Oder unendlich elend, stolzes Herz,
Und jetzo bist du elend.
O proud Heart! You were the one who wanted this, you wanted to be happy, eternally happy or eternally wretched, proud Heart, and now you are wretched.

Der Atlas from Schwanengesang, D 957. Heinrich Schlusnus, baritone; Franz Rupp, piano. Recorded c. 1928, Berlin.Online.

The first poem in Schubert's selection immediately confronts us with a practical example of the problem we discussed generically a while ago: how far can we ever trust authors who have a predilection for irony?

This poem can be read at its face value and no normal reader would object. This appears to be the way Schubert read it, as is suggested by the title he gave to it, Der Atlas, and the monumentally weighty music he composed for it.

But the antennae of the Heine aficionado already began twitching in the first line: Ich unglücksel'ger Atlas!

Heine readers must always remember that the voice they hear in the poem may appear to be that of the poet or the narrator, but in fact it is not always that of Heinrich Heine. Heine stands behind the narrator-Ich as writer James Joyce stands behind his character Stephen Dedalus, who himself stands behind the characters he in turn writes about:

The artist, like the God of creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Huebsch, New York, 1916, p. 252.

We have to remember that the speaker in this Joycean excerpt is the narrator-Ich, corresponding to the character 'Stephen Dedalus', and that somewhere behind and above him his strings are being pulled by his creator James Joyce. Devotees of the film The Sound of Music may like to take a moment or two to ponder the question of who in fact is really pulling the Lonely Goatherd's strings (my guess is Max, the impresario).

Lesson learned: in this poem of Heine's we must not simply assume that the narrator-Ich must be Heine himself; better, in fact, to assume the opposite, that the narrator-Ich in Die Heimkehr is never Harry Heine.

This authorial distance is another reason for treading carefully when hunting for autobiographical allusions: that activity, too, is better left alone. It is surely a reason why Heine discouraged his readers from taking his works as autobiography – how can any work of ironic satire ever be autobiographical?

The practised Heine reader encounters that first line Ich unglücksel'ger Atlas! and therefore almost without a second thought takes it to be the kind of inflation, a satirical hyperbole, that was always to hand in Heine's toolbox. The cynic wastes not a jot of sympathy on the big-mouthed Atlas telling us that he is carrying a 'whole world of pain'. The clever trage unerträgliches, 'bear what cannot be borne' in line three supplies us with one further hyperbolic oxymoron.

But… but… where is our sympathy for the broken-hearted one, groaning under his burden of pain?

We haven't any, is the answer to that – and neither has Heine, over there in the shadows, paring his fingernails. Our lover aimed for the heavens and like the Titan Atlas (and, whilst we are talking of D(a)edaluses, like Icarus the son of that other Daedalus) came seriously unstuck. Yet one more example of the gambler's hubris followed by nemesis as night follows day.

Heine does not attempt to disguise his amusement at the daring desire now gone horribly wrong: Und jetzo bist du elend, 'and now you are wretched'. In our social media age, just to make sure that there is no misunderstanding, we would write the 'shrug emoji': ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Without emojis to steer him in the right direction, Schubert went off the musical rails when setting this poem, misunderstanding Heine's mocking and ironic satire completely. The Harvard Germanist Jack Stein in his 1966 paper 'Schubert's Heine Songs' was one of the first critics to point out that Schubert, lacking the modern understanding of Heine's work, had gone seriously astray from the textual meanings in his compositions:

The ponderous tremolo chords are surely the introduction to a pathetic reading of the poem. The entrance of the voice immediately confirms this impression. Heine's preposterous image of himself as Atlas Schubert has taken seriously, as though the Atlas figure were another Prometheus.


That Schubert misses the point is clear not only in the very mood of the musical setting but also in his repetition of the second line. The musical idiom requires expansion, so both the first two lines are repeated. In the repetition of the second line, though, Schubert omits 'der Schmerzen', and the line is sung 'Die ganze Welt muss ich tragen.' In the context of the poem, this is absurd, though probably Schubert felt that it strengthened the Atlas image, or was at least consistent with it.

[Stein, ibid, p. 560.]

Even the dependable Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, writing in 1971, failed to detect the ironic hyperbole of Der Atlas. Perhaps the sheer monumentality of Schubert's music stopped his ears to the whisperings of the text. The repetition of the first strophe that was so depreciated by Stein was for Fischer-Diekau a 'triumph of self-laceration':

The symphonic opening theme of 'Der Atlas' is of tragic dimensions. It presents dragging steps groaning under the weight they must bear. Schubert's repetition of the first strophe is weighed down by a suffering that represents a triumph of self-laceration.

Tragisch groß ist das symphonische Anfangsthema des ATLAS. Zugleich unter der Last stöhnend und schleppenden Schrittes stellt es sich dar. Die Wiederholung der ersten Strophe durch Schubert trägt in die Schmerzbeladenheit einen Triumph der Selbstzerfleischung.
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Auf den Spuren der Schubert-Lieder, Brockhaus, Wiesbaden, 1971, p. 313.

That's Heine all over – and the problem of the limits to the interpretation of satire in all its forms, too. How can composers ever catch the shadowy figure behind such works, the one with the half-smile, paring its fingernails?

And how can classical singers sing the sort of irony we find in Heine's text? Unfortunately, tenors, baritones and – God help us – even basses will continue to rumble and bellow their way through Der Atlas with trembling spiritual agony and extremely loud voices – well, Atlas was a giant, after all, wasn't he?

Heinrich Heine, much like Aunty May, will be looking down on the booming singer and on his weeping listeners with a half-smile on his face, paring his fingernails.

2-XXIII: Ihr Bild

Ich stand in dunkeln Träumen
Und starrte ihr Bildniß an,
Und das geliebte Antlitz
Heimlich zu leben begann.
I stood in dark dreams and stared at her portrait. That beloved face came stealthily to life.
Um ihre Lippen zog sich
Ein Lächeln wunderbar,
Und wie von Wehmuthsthränen
Erglänzte ihr Augenpaar.
A wonderful smile appeared at her lips and her eyes shone as though filled with nostalgic tears.
Auch meine Thränen flossen
Mir von den Wangen herab —
Und ach, ich kann es nicht glauben,
Daß ich Dich verloren hab'!
My tears flowed down from my cheeks too and Oh, I cannot believe that I have lost you!

In Die Heimkehr this poem comes immediately before the poem Schubert titled Der Atlas; in Schubert's sequence, however, it comes immediately after.

Since we make no claims for deeper meaning in the order of works in either Die Heimkehr or Schwanengesang there is not much to be deduced from Schubert's reordering of the two poems.

We might argue that the gentle and quiet tears that drop from the narrator-Ich's cheeks in the present poem might have been the prelude to the hyperbolic, noisy misery of Ich unglücksel'ger Atlas! – but that would be reading more into the situation than the evidence supports.

Still, it is strange that Schubert followed the bellowing of Atlas with this quiet vision. Perhaps this is one more hint that he really didn't see these six Heine poems as forming any kind of integral whole, let alone a mini song cycle.

The poem explicitly contains a vision or a dream, call it what you will. We note here, without going into the wider implications for Die Heimkehr, that the collection is full of such manifestations: Heine's original 1822 title for the poem we now know as Götterdämmerung, for example, was Traumbild, 'dream image'.

Why is this worth mentioning? Because the dream or vision is another tried and tested technique for separating the action (the contents of the dream and the dream-Ich) from the narrator (the poetic-Ich) and, of course that pesky, ever-present shadow of the artist in the background paring his fingernails.

This poem looks and reads like the simplest thing – a straightforward poetical conceit about an image appearing to come to life. The Heine fan, amused by the terms 'simple' and 'straightforward' being applied to the master's subtle work, knows better and looks more closely.

The key to understanding this 'straightforward' poem lies in working out where the vision begins and ends, and thus the places where the dream-Ich, the narrator-Ich and the Heine-Ich are speaking. That is not straightforward, not at all.

Let us spare the reader paragraphs of rambling 'on the one hand on the other hand' burbling. Here is your author's guess, which you are of course free to replace with your own ideas. Sapere aude! The dream-Ich is in pale blue, the narrator-Ich in pale green. the Heine-Ich, of course, does not appear on the surface but remains in our minds in the background.

Ich stand in dunkeln Träumen I stood in dark dreams
Und starrte ihr Bildniß an,
Und das geliebte Antlitz
Heimlich zu leben begann.
and stared at her portrait. That beloved face came stealthily to life.
Um ihre Lippen zog sich
Ein Lächeln wunderbar,
Und wie von Wehmuthsthränen
Erglänzte ihr Augenpaar.
A wonderful smile appeared at her lips and her eyes shone as though filled with nostalgic tears.
Auch meine Thränen flossen
Mir von den Wangen herab —
Und ach, ich kann es nicht glauben,
Daß ich Dich verloren hab'!
My tears flowed down from my cheeks too and Oh, I cannot believe that I have lost you!

This particular analysis solves the other crux problem of this poem, the change of personal pronoun in the last line.

In the blue section, the dream-Ich consistently refers to the object of desire as 'her'. Heine uses German with great precision: he has to use 'her' in this situation because he is speaking of the image in the picture. Just consider how ridiculous 'you' would sound when applied to this picture – he is not conversing with the picture, so the reference has to be in the third person.

When the poem changes back from the dream-Ich to the narrator-Ich, Heine is now logically free to address the lost love directly as 'you'. It seems more realistic to locate the tears as dropping from the narrator-Ich's cheeks – he is, if anything, more real than the dream-Ich, who never really appears directly.

Of course, there is none of this in Schubert's setting – how could there be? Listen carefully: that low chuckle you hear is Harry Heine looking down on us and enjoying the great joke of calling his bestseller 'Buch der Lieder', yet putting so many fundamentally unsingable songs into it. And best of all, that so many composers nevertheless picked what they could out of it.

Schumann wisely stayed in the less problematic section, the Lyrisches Intermezzo, for his Dichterliebe collection and just about got away with it. Whereas poor, depressed Schubert jumped into Die Heimkehr and came an enormous cropper.

3-VIII: Das Fischermädchen

Du schönes Fischermädchen,
Treibe den Kahn an's Land;
Komm zu mir und setze dich nieder,
Wir kosen Hand in Hand.
You beautiful fisher girl, bring your boat on land; come to me and sit down, we'll caress hand in hand.
Leg' an mein Herz dein Köpfchen.
Und fürchte dich nicht zu sehr,
Vertrau'st du dich doch sorglos
Täglich dem wilden Meer.
Lay your head on my heart and don't be afraid, you who face daily the wild sea.
Mein Herz gleicht ganz dem Meere,
Hat Sturm und Ebb' und Fluth,
Und manche schöne Perle
In seiner Tiefe ruht.
My heart is just like the sea, it has storm and ebb and flood, and many a beautiful pearl rests in its depths.

Das Fischermädchen, no. 10 from Schwanengesang, D 957. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Gerald Moore. Recorded 12 April 1948 (EMI). Online.

The first quarter of Die Heimkehr contains eight poems set in the seascapes and shorelines of the German Bight:

VII Wir saßen am Fischerhause
VIII Du schönes Fischermädchen [3]
IX Der Mond ist aufgegangen
X Der Wind zieht seine Hosen an
XI Der sturm spielt auf zum Tanze
XII Der Abend kommt gezogen
XIV Das Meer erglänzte weit hinaus [5]
XVI Am fernen Horizonte [4]

Schubert, landlubbber

Three of these were set to music by Schubert. We can only marvel at his bravery, for he had never been out of landlocked Austria. He had never seen, heard or smelt the sea, never walked along the beach and heard the Homeric 'surge and thunder' nor the Arnoldian 'grating roar':

Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), Dover Beach, c. 1851. ll. 9-14.

Thanks to radio, television and cinema, nearly every member of the population of the world has these days been almost everywhere, at least in visual or auditory terms. Our sensory imaginations are immeasurably greater than most of the people of Schubert's time. On the sea's edge? That is a location that is clear to everyone these days.

We repeat: Schubert had never seen, smelt or heard the sea. He knew of teeming cities and towns, fields, woods, gorges, streams, springs and mountains (the latter from a safe distance). In contrast, Felix Mendelssohn – unlike the poverty-stricken Schubert, whose outlook would be provincial all his life – was rich and could travel: his sensory field was much greater than Schubert's limited experience. His overture The Hebrides, for example, has become a much loved evocation of the ebb and flow of the sea.

So now, in selecting Heine's Du schönes Fischermädchen, Schubert finds himself adrift in an unknown world. He writes an accompaniment for the poem that seems to arise from the easy canter that worked so well in Alinde, that poem of country life, far from the raging oceans. Schubert took that canter and hesitantly added a bit of a gesture towards ebb and flow, but it never works. He has simply no concept of 'seashore'.

The melody is not unpleasant – but it is nothing to do with the underlying text. Heine writes of dem wilden Meer and Sturm und Ebb' und Fluth; Schubert, out of his depth, blind and deaf to what these terms represent, gives us a few cantering melodic twiddles.

After all we have said so far about Heine's subtleties, this poem of his appears straightforward: its themes and metaphors are clear and the readers requires no interpretative Extrawurst from me. Readers may feel cheated after our depiction of Heine, the complex one.

The sea's terrors

But when we read the poem following it, IX, a poem which Schubert left untouched, we come up with a start:

Der Mond ist aufgegangen
Und überstrahlt die Well'n;
Ich halte mein Liebchen umfangen,
Und unsre Herzen schwell'n.
The moon has risen and lights up the waves; I hold my beloved to me and our hearts swell.
Im Arm des holden Kindes
Ruh' ich allein am Strand;
Was horchst du bei'm Rauschen des Windes?
Was zuckt deine weiße Hand?
In the arm of the dear child I rest alone on the beach; What do you hear in the rushing of the wind? What is making your white hand tremble?
'Das ist kein Rauschen des Windes,
Das ist der Seejungfern Gesang,
Und meine Schwestern sind es,
Die einst das Meer verschlang.
'That is not the rushing of the wind, that is the song of the mermaids, my sisters who have been swallowed by the sea.'

In VII we met the fisher girl, a strong, independent woman who daily faces the terrors of the sea and thus has no need to fear the harmless poet on the shore. So far, so good. But now, in IX, in what could serve as a continuation of that scene in which the narrator-Ich has lured the fisher girl onto land, we find a terrified girl trembling in the poet's arms. His glib joke about the terrors of the deep now seems stupidly facile.

Here we find it, once more: Heine's technique of giving the reader a stanza or two of cosy, harmless kitsch, only then to push in the dagger in the final stanza, one that can justly be described as an Erlkönig moment, perhaps worse than Erlkönig– 'the song of my sisters who have been swallowed by the sea'.

Even more facile in the lovelorn VII is the mannered parallels of his tempestuous heart and the tempestuous sea and the pearl that may be found there. And that pearl?

Or is poetry perhaps a disease of humans, as the pearl in reality is only the agent of disease from which the poor oyster must suffer.

Oder ist die Poesie vielleicht eine Krankheit des Menschen, wie die Perle eigentlich nur der Krankheitsstoff ist, woran das arme Austertier leidet?
Buch II).

Heine's world is full of nuances and shades of meaning, of contrasts and oppositions beneath the surface. His jokes are pointed, sometimes bitter but always good – and like the best jokes, he does not flag them up for us.

The last things at day's end

Furthermore, the first line of this poem Der Mond ist aufgegangen will remind every German reader of Matthias Claudius' (1740-1815) poem Abendlied (1779), as much as 'to be or not to be' would remind English speakers of Hamlet. Schubert would have spotted the illusion immediately, having himself set the first three of the seven stanzas of Claudius' poem to music in 1816 (D 499).

The message of Claudius' pious lullaby is the need to think of the last things. The message of Heine's poem IX is briefer but not dissimilar. The young Schubert wrote a pleasant lullaby from the first three stanzas and left the piety of the remaining four untouched.

But what is important for us at the moment is that once we have read IX, with its depiction of the real perils of the fisher girl's life that parallels the hopes and fears of the second part of Claudius' Abendlied, we realise what a satire VIII was of what might be termed the mating call of the lovelorn poet, what a mockery of its fatuous, Romantic kitsch.

Heine has done it to us again: set us up with some routine Romantic canoodling, only to expose us in the subsequent poem as the deluded ones we are.

Unfortunately, Schubert, his feet firmly on the unyielding pavements of Vienna, chose the one, not the other.

Returning to poem VIII, Du schönes Fischermädchen, we note that Stein [ibid p. 562] tries unconvincingly to read some complexity into the poem, presumably in order to make Schubert's setting seem musically trite. Fischer-Dieskau, however, taking the German language into places it was never designed to go, finds 'a breath of impertinence' in Schubert's setting:

Whoever says that Schubert has failed to represent Heine's ironic tone in Das Fischermädchen has not looked closely at the score. The gracious sultriness of the poem can hardly be captured more delicately in the siciliana form. And what about those mischievous seventh loops at the end of every stanza, which don't even take themselves seriously? Just at that point, when everyone expects the conclusion of the melodic line, Schubert causes the voice to jump upwards in a sort of nonchalant caress. One of the three quatrains slips quite abruptly from A-flat major to C-flat major. In this way, also through the text repetitions which are not in Heine's text, an breath of impertinence arises.

Wer behaupten wollte, Schubert habe den ironischen Ton Heines in DAS FISCHERMÄDCHEN nicht getroffen, der hat sich die Noten nicht genau angesehen. Leichter kann man die graziöse Schwüle des Gedichts kaum in Siziliano-Form fassen. Und wie steht es mit jenen verschmitzten Septschleifern am Ende jeder Strophe, die sich selbst so gar nicht ernst nehmen? Genau dann, wenn jeder den Schluß der Melodielinie erwartet, läßt Schubert die Stimme nach oben springen in einer Art nonchalanter Kosebewegung. Einer der drei Vierzeiler rutscht ziemlich abrupt von As-Dur nach Ces-Dur. So entsteht, ebenso wie durch die Wortwiederholungen, die ja bei Heine nicht stehen, ein Anhauch von Impertinenz.
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, ibid. p. 313.

The return home

The next poem that Schubert set he titled Die Stadt. The poem has to be read with the same degree of semantic precision that Heine brought to writing it. Unfortunately, the poetic hippy dope the Romantics smoked has left most of us with raddled sensibilities that are quite incapable of reading more than a few lines of this poem without bursting into tears.

Schubert, depressed and shattered from composing Winterreise, was hardly in a state to cope with Heine's coolly analytic verse. The consequence is that by the third bar of Schubert's setting, the only dry eyes in the audience are those of the psychopath in the third row.

The misery of Schubert's setting of Die Stadt has been so pervasive down the years that it takes considerable effort to heave ourselves into a state of mind in which we can start to recover Heine's text. Furthermore, as in the case of Das Fischermädchen, we cannot read Heine's poem XVI (Schubert: Die Stadt) in isolation from XVII, XVIII, XIX and XX (Schubert: Der Doppelgänger).

If only I had been there to have a quiet word with Franz, a little väterlicher Rat, a little 'fatherly advice'. 'Franz, my boy. Cheer up. Here's fifty Kreuzer – go and have a glass of something cheerful (what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger, gell?), then look at XVI to XX… there's a song cycle just waiting to be composed. And just remember, this is butch Heinrich Heine that you are dealing with, not some lovesick Romantic wuzz.'

Enough of such nonsense. Let's look at that sequence of five Heine poems together, including the three that Schubert did not set. It means pushing Schubert's number five (Am Meer, XIV) to the end of the queue, but afterwards Die Stadt (XVI) and Der Doppelgänger (XX) will make much more sense to us.

The five poems XVI to XX form a group that could well be the source of Heine's title for this collection of poems: Die Heimkehr, the 'Return Home'. This does not mean that the poems form a sequence or a cycle, just that they share certain images and situations.

We need to consider this series together in the spirit of the Modernist understanding of Heine's organization of his content – that 'interjacency' we discussed earlier. That interjacency we find both within the images and stanzas of the poems themselves as in the relationships between poems. These relationships can be quite distant, going beyond the immediately adjacent poems.

There is some biographical background to the sequence of these five poems which, though not in itself necessary, may form a useful crutch for unsteady readers.

Heine's youth was spent in Düsseldorf and in Frankfurt. In 1816 he went to Hamburg to work in the banking house of his rich uncle, Salomon Heine (1767-1844). Fortunately for German literature, young Heinrich's banking talents were minimal to non-existent, but whilst there he fell for his cousin Amalie Heine (1800-1838).

She was not impressed by the young genius and rejected all his advances. Heine's turbulent moping finally drove Salomon in 1819 to pay for the young man to go off to study, at first in Bonn, then Göttingen, then Berlin. In the meantime, in 1821, Amalie had married into money (as she probably always would).

The relationship with Amalie is frequently characterised as 'Heine's first great love', which is misleading, since Heine soon got over her in the whirl of student life. When after eleven years he met her again in 1827, he referred to her simply as die dicke Frau, 'the fat woman'. In other words, let's not elevate Heine's youthful passion for her into something it was not.

We give this biographical background with reluctance, though, because it is very little help in reading these five poems. It belongs to an interpretive tradition which in practice can make it difficult to understand what Heine was writing.

4-XVI: Die Stadt

Am fernen Horizonte
Erscheint, wie ein Nebelbild,
Die Stadt mit ihren Thürmen,
In Abenddämmrung gehüllt.
On the distant horizon the town with its towers appears like a shadow on a fog, wreathed in the evening twilight.
Ein feuchter Windzug kräuselt
Die graue Wasserbahn;
Mit traurigem Tacte rudert
Der Schiffer in meinem Kahn.
A damp wind curls the grey waters; the boatman rows my boat in a dreary beat.
Die Sonne hebt sich noch einmal
Leuchtend vom Boden empor,
Und zeigt mir jene Stelle,
Wo ich das Liebste verlor.
The sun arises once more from the ground shining and shows me that place where I lost the dearest thing.

Die Stadt, no. 11 from Schwanengesang, D 957. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Gerald Moore. Recorded 12 April 1948 (EMI). Online.

We might take the Heine biography and deduce that the city in question is Hamburg: the arms of the city carry the image of a white castle or keep with a large gate and topped with three white towers on a red ground. The middle tower carries a cross and is held to represent Hamburg cathedral.

Heine's association with Hamburg may lead us to imagine that Heine is returning to – or better, revisiting – the city. The general location for this poem (and many others in Heine's works) is on the North Sea coast, an area he frequently visited: in the years that concern us he was there (in Cuxhaven/Ritzebüttel) in 1823, 1825 and 1826.

Heine's laconic style tells us everything we really need to know, but we mortals might like the odd crutch. Let's look at the poem in more detail.

The poem opens with the approach of night. The city is on the 'distant horizon' and appears like a Nebelbild, an indistinct, foggy shape.

The modern dictionary meaning of Nebelbild is that of a shadow projected onto a bank of fog or cloud, typically seen in the mountains. Heine is clearly using the older meaning of 'a foggy, indistinct image' (Grimm, which cites this very passage from XVI). Heine also uses the word Nebelbild on another occasion in Die Heimkehr, in the longer poem Ratcliff, in which, in yet another dream state at dusk, Es stiegen Nebelbilder aus den Feldern, Umschlangen sich mit weißen, weichen Armen, 'phantoms rose from the fields and embraced each other with white, soft arms'. It is clear from this instance and from Heine's similar use of the word in poem XLIV in the Lyrisches Intermezzo that Heine understands a Nebelbild to be an indistinct shape of some sort with a phantasmic aura.

In the second stanza the narrator-Ich is being rowed along the Wasserbahn, some sort of 'waterway'. Heine's use of the word Wasserbahn is a good example of his linguistic precision: this is not merely a river or stream, he is travelling along a 'transport route'.

The sun set in stanza one, so that in stanza two we are now rowing through the night.

In the third stanza, morning comes, the sun is rising and the city lies fully detailed in front of us – no phantom more.

This journey might correspond with a physical journey up the Elbe to Hamburg. At the beginning of the journey Hamburg would be seen 'on the far horizon' and initially only its towers. During the journey the boatman is rowing upstream, the effort of doing which may be suggested by the 'dreary' beat of the oars.

Although an idea of this route may help us visualise the location of the poem, we should avoid taking it too literally. Cuxhaven, the North Sea port where larger ships dropped anchor, which we might assume to be the starting point of the journey, is a hundred kilometres further down the Elbe from Hamburg. Not only are Hamburg's towers not visible from there – the horizon is indeed 'distant' – an Olympic rower would have problems rowing upstream for 100 kilometres in one night even without the dead weight of a poet on board: a 'dreary beat' would not be enough.

We would therefore do well to take the idea of the Elbe journey as merely the starting point for a constructed mental landscape, which enables Heine not only to take the narrator-Ich along a imagined physical route up the Elbe to Hamburg, but also to follow a temporal route from twilight through night to day. This journey is also one of increasing clarity: from the distant, foggy intangibility of the phantasmic Nebelbild, through the darkness on the river, where only the adjacent wave tops are visible, to the bright light of morning, in which every detail now becomes clear.

The morning sun illuminates the whole of Hamburg, within which the loved one's former home is visible – we must not imagine that the sun specifically 'points out' the place where the poet's love was lost. There may also be a psychological or spiritual progress from darkness to light, but that, for the moment, is merely a suggestion.

As if we didn't already have enough to worry about in the poem, the two German swots in the front row have their hands up: 'Why is it das Liebste, and not die Liebste (as it is in XVII)?' No idea. But its use was deliberate and it survived through all the editions of Die Heimkehr right up to the last edition Heine corrected in 1844. We can't ignore it, even if we have no idea how to deal with it: in the translation we would normally have written 'lost my beloved', but that would have been misleading, hence the clunky 'the dearest thing'. Next question…

The mood of the poem is certainly gloomy – as such it must have appealed to the depressed Schubert. However, a depressive and dark monotone does not do justice to the multiple strands of progression in the poem. There is also one of those damn ironic-paradoxical twists at the end of the poem of which Heine was so fond: the foggy ghosts of evening dissolve into the dark passage of night until we are cheered when we finally arrive in the full sun of day in that place… 'where I lost my beloved'. Bang.

Heine's use in this poem of what we would now regard as Modernist techniques of composition is yet more evidence of his groundbreaking style. The poem offers, as we have pointed out, a progress in various respects, but we find no words of temporal connection such as 'then'. The images are placed adjacent to each other without further comment in the manner of a collage or ideogram; each image relates in some way to all the others and their interaction presents us with an example of the 'interjacency' in which the 'meaning' of the poem is to be found.

A traditional reading would take the last line as the 'meaning' of the poem, a meaning which has been built up by all the preceding lines as though they were supporting structures. This is also the only way that Schubert's linear setting can represent this poem in music.

The Modernist reading ignores this simple linearity: the phantasmic town of the first stanza is also present in the last stanza; the second stanza links the two with the mechanism of metamorphosis. The only linearity we find in the poem comes from our own imaginations. The poem as a whole, with its elements of internal collage, is also mounted in the greater collage arising from the other poems of this group.

In other words, what Schubert wrote is not what Heine wrote. In Heine, more things are still to come.

0-XVII: Sey mir gegrüßt, du große, geheimnißvolle Stadt

Not set by Schubert.

Sey mir gegrüßt, du große,
Geheimnißvolle Stadt,
Die einst in ihrem Schooße
Mein Liebchen umschlossen hat.
Greetings, you great, mysterious city, which once held my beloved in its womb.
Sagt an, ihr Thürme und Thore,
Wo ist die Liebste mein?
Euch hab' ich sie anvertrauet,
Ihr solltet mir Bürge seyn.
Tell me, you towers and gates, where is my beloved? I left her in your charge as guarantors.
Unschuldig sind die Thürme,
Sie konnten nicht von der Stell',
Als sie mit Koffern und Schachteln
Die Stadt verlassen so schnell.
The towers are innocent, they couldn't move when my beloved left the city with bags and boxes so quickly.
Die Thore jedoch, die ließen
Mein Liebchen entwischen gar still;
Ein Thor ist immer willig,
Wenn eine Thörin will.
The gates on the other hand let my beloved through without a word. A male fool is always willing to do whatever a female fool wants.

After reading this poem it is clear to everyone that the narrator-Ich was dumped by his darling and not vice versa, reinforcing what we read in the previous poem of the place where he 'lost his beloved'.

The idea that the towers and gates were supposed to keep the beloved enclosed; that they were, as Heine puts it, Bürge, 'guarantors' of her presence was as absurd then as it is now in our feminist age. Even so, the geriatrics reading this will recall that the conceit was good enough for the songwriter of Winchester Cathedral in 1966 – we all danced around to that without requiring further textual analyses.

It should be clear to us by now that this is not Heine the poet speaking of his own self, but Heine putting words into the mouth of his narrator-Ich.

If you are sceptical of this interpretation you should consider the fact that in the biographical background it was Heine who was sent off to study in 1819, leaving Amalie behind in Hamburg. The thought that this juicy little banker's daughter would sit around in Hamburg waiting for her amorous, penniless, would-be poet to return – well, we might call that satire.

Heine's dry humour is there for those with eyes to see. The image of the beloved's rapid departure with all her bags and boxes is one that would never have occurred to a romantic poet. We see a banker's daughter with a developed taste in finery and collectibles being transported in a caravanserai out of the city. And are we expected to take a conversation with towers and the town gates seriously? This could be Wilhelm Müller's miller chatting to streams and flowers.

Heine's clever play on words in the last two lines may need some explanation for English speakers. In German das Tor is a 'gate', der Tor is a male 'fool' and thus 'die Törin' a female fool. It is one more piece of evidence, if we needed one, that the narrator-Ich is no longer dewy-eyed, under the spell of the woman he now calls a Thörin, a stupid woman. Yet again, Heine uses the last lines to deliver the knock-out punch: this time to anyone who thought he might be being serious in the preceding three stanzas about the narrator-Ich's 'beloved'.

It's a pity that this poem did not find its way into the lid of the Swansong Teapot – it might have caused the more thoughtful listeners to dab their moist eyes dry and reconsider the not-quite-so pathetic figure of the beloved in Die Heimkehr.

0-XVIII: So wandl' ich wieder den alten Weg

Not set by Schubert.

So wandl' ich wieder den alten Weg,
Die wohlbekannten Gassen;
Ich komme von meiner Liebsten Haus,
Das steht so leer und verlassen.
So I walk once again along the old ways, the familiar streets; I come from my beloved's house, that stands so empty and abandoned.
Die Straßen sind doch gar zu eng'!
Das Pflaster ist unerträglich!
Die Häuser fallen mir auf den Kopf!
Ich eile so viel als möglich!
The streets are too narrow! the pavement is unbearable! The houses are falling on my head! I hurry as fast as I can!

There is a puzzle here that your author cannot resolve. So far we have been accompanying the narrator-Ich on a journey which started with a journey up the Elbe in a boat until the arrival at the city. The last poem depicted an encounter with the towers and gates at the entrance the city.

The wandering through the streets depicted in this poem also conforms to that pattern until the third line, when we read that the narrrator-Ich is coming from the house of the beloved. This puzzle is not trivial, since in poem XX we will be standing outside the beloved's house once more.

A further puzzle is the narrrator-Ich's panic attack whilst walking through the streets of the city. A puzzle, that is, until we remember the hyperbole of the lovelorn Atlas in XXIV, six poems on from this in Heine's sequence. It is clear that Heine is mocking someone here, but we know not who.

The four lines of panic-stricken exclamations in themselves are extremely odd – they resemble nothing else in Heine's work. It appears certain that they are mockery of another writer, but their target is as yet unknown, certainly to me. The last line in particular seems to be characteristic Heine persiflage: after three lines building up to a crescendo of terror, Heine concludes with the flat 'I hurry as fast as I can!'.

0-XIX: Ich trat in jene Hallen

Not set by Schubert.

Ich trat in jene Hallen,
Wo sie mir Treue versprochen;
Wo einst ihre Thränen gefallen,
Sind Schlangen hervor gekrochen.
I entered into those halls where she had promised faithfulness; where once her tears had fallen, now snakes creep out.

We imagine those 'halls' to be within a church; we imagine the promise of faithfulness to have been made at a wedding ceremony. The exact context of the apparation seems to be unimportant, otherwise Heine would have told us about it. The lasting impression is of the tears of faithfulness turning into the snakes of betrayal.

Despite its obscurity, this poem makes it perfectly clear to us that there is now no trace of love left in the heart of the narrator-Ich – its place has been taken by hate. We may not understand its details, but its function in preparing the reader for the subsequent poem, XX, seems to be clear. It is yet another of those Heine poems which end with a vicious twist of meaning.

6-XX: Der Doppelgänger

Still ist die Nacht, es ruhen die Gassen,
In diesem Hause wohnte mein Schatz;
Sie hat schon längst die Stadt verlassen,
Doch steht noch das Haus auf demselben Platz.
The night is still, the streets are silent, in this house my beloved used to live; she left the town long ago but the house is still standing on the same square.
Da steht auch ein Mensch und starrt in die Höhe,
Und ringt die Hände, vor Schmerzensgewalt;
Mir graust es, wenn ich sein Antlitz sehe, —
Der Mond zeigt mir meine eigne Gestalt.
A man is also standing there, staring upwards and wringing his hands with pain; my stomach turns when I see his features — the moon shows me my own face.
Du Doppeltgänger! du bleicher Geselle!
Was äffst du nach mein Liebesleid,
Das mich gequält auf dieser Stelle,
So manche Nacht, in alter Zeit?
You double! You pale companion! Why are you aping the agonies of love that used to torture me here those nights in the old days?

Der Doppelgänger, no. 13 from Schwanengesang, D 957. The great bass Hans Hotter singing nonsense beautifully, every consonant intact, accompanied by Hermann von Nordberg. Recorded 6 November 1946 (EMI). Online.

So we have finally arrived at the great fragment in the lid of our Swansong Teapot: Der Doppelgänger. Wherever this fragment is discussed, the tone is subdued, reverential – comparable in fact to that other majestic horror vision of Wilhelm Müller and Schubert, Der Leiermann.

Our very unreverential cleaning fluid dissolved not just the glue remnants but also the profound black of the colouring. The black surface was applied by Schubert. That this colour has been applied at all is in itself quite surprising, because even on the most superficial reading, no one is suffering in this poem. Schubert's dreary black surface is quite out of place.

When we scrub away Schubert's mournful jet from this piece, we find underneath an opalescent sheen. This is Heine's work. We must look at that shimmering, mutable surface from several angles before we can even begin to understand it.

Standing outside the house of his former beloved, the narrator-Ich sees an apparition of himself. Heine wrote the name of the apparition as Doppeltgänger. In the 19th century the idea of the Doppelgänger (as it is now spelled and as Schubert spelled it) was a phenomenon of German-speaking countries. The definition of Doppelgänger in Grimm's dictionary is brief, but not unsubtle:

Someone whom one imagines can appear simultaneously in two different places at once.

Jemand von dem man wähnt er könne sich zu gleicher zeit an zwei verschiedenen orten zeigen.
'Doppelgänger' Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, 16 Bde. in 32 Teilbänden. Leipzig 1854-1961.

There are actually two key ideas wrapped into that careful sentence: 1) the Doppelgänger is a creature of the imagination, not a creature with a physical duplicate, and 2) the Doppelgänger is imagined to appear in different places at the same time.

E.T.A. Hoffmann's spooks

The novelist E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776–1822) popularised the term in his 1815 horror novel Die Elixiere des Teufels, 'The Devil's Elixirs'. The properties of the Doppeltgänger in Hoffmann are as those given in Grimm – which is no surprise since it was Hoffman after all who brought the word into wide circulation.

Die Elixiere des Teufels not only contains a Doppeltgänger, a character who can be in two places at once, but also an eclectic collection of elements from the traditional gothic horror novel: dark abbeys, haunted towers, crazed monks, satanic potions, murder, violence, sex and many supernatural manifestations. Heine was much amused at his compatriots' obsession with ghouls, ghosts and all other kinds of psychical oddities.

As such this simple concept is strange enough. But this lexicographer's summary does not reflect the later convolutions of meaning the term underwent.

In Heine's case the Doppeltgänger in poem XX is not a physical manifestation of a single person in two different places, but a phantasm. The figure is still not physically real, but is a product of the narrator-Ich's imagination, a projection, if you like.

Heine makes this important characteristic clear, in that the Doppeltgänger is less physically present than the narrator-Ich: he is a 'pale companion', an apparition of the sort found in Hoffmann's works and many gothic derivatives such as Dicken's A Christmas Carol.

There is no doubt that the spelling Doppeltgänger is a curiosity, which is why we have gone to such lengths so far to emphasis that unearthly 't' in its middle. A search in the Korpus des Deutschen Textarchives (1473–1927) finds only twenty-one occurrences of this spelling in all types of text during this period.

Of these twenty-one instances, one comes from Jean Paul (1804), fifteen from Hoffmann's Die Elixiere des Teufels (1816), one from Hoffmann's Nachtstücke (1817), two from Heine, both referring to the current poem in Reisebilder, Erster Theil, (1826) and Buch der Lieder (1827) and two instances from Annette von Droste-Hülshoff's work Letzte Gaben (1860).

We set these twenty-one against the hundred occurrences of the spelling Doppelgänger, which first appeared in 1826 and continued from then into modern times. The two very first occurrences were in 1816 and come from Hoffmann himself: it appears that he couldn't keep up with his own idiosyncratic spelling, managing to write Doppelgänger without the 't' on two occasions in Die Elixiere des Teufels.

Jean Paul – Johann Paul Friedrich Richter (1763-1825) – is a law unto himself in German prose and we can safely set the 1804 instance from his works to one side. Annette von Droste-Hülshoff's (1797-1848) Letzte Gaben was a posthumous publication from 1860 and therefore also falls out of consideration. Thus the only two serious users of the spelling Doppeltgänger are Heine and Hoffmann.

Can there be any doubt that Heine's use not only of the term but also of the idiosyncratic spelling Doppeltgänger is more than an allusion to Hoffman, that it is in fact an unmissable signpost to him?

A consequence of this is that if we are to be true to Heine's text for poem XX we should depreciate the unthinking 'normalisation' of Doppeltgänger into Doppelgänger that we find in the Schubert score.

Schubert has the laws of linguistics on his side in writing the melodious Doppelgänger for the fussy Doppeltgänger – the combination of the voiceless alveolar plosive 't' and the voiced velar plosive 'g' is too much like hard work and consequently would have not survived long in normal use. But once we change the spelling from Doppeltgänger we lose Heine's allusion to Hoffmann's novel.

Now why, the perplexed reader asks, is Heine alluding to Hoffmann and in particular his gothic novel Elixiere des Teufels? That is indeed the question.

We must also be clear that the allusion to Hoffmann is not an allusion to what Heine called the Romantic School in general: Hoffmann is not a Romantic and Heine said so himself quite explicitly: Hoffmann gehört nicht zu der romantischen Schule (Die Romantische Schule Buch II).

For Heine, Hoffmann was the writer who brought that school's love of the old Catholic, the medieval, the gothic, the crumbling, ghost-ridden, spook-haunted towers most completely onto paper. Modern Germanists now call this phase of the Romantic movement in Germany the Schwarze Romantik, 'dark' or 'black romanticism'. Heine described those characteristics of the school, the rise of which he ascribed to the philosophical and literary influence of the Schlegel brothers, August Wilhelm (1767-1845) and Friedrich (1772-1829):

… Wolfgang Goethe stepped down from his pedestal and delivered the condemnation of the Schlegels, the same high priests who had wafted so much incense around him. This voice destroyed the phantasmal possession; the ghosts of the Middle Ages fled; the owls crept back into the remains of the dark fortresses; the ravens fluttered back to their old church towers; Friedrich Schlegel went to Vienna, where he attended Mass once a day and ate roast chicken; August Wilhelm Schlegel withdrew into the Pagoda of Brahma.

… Wolfgang Goethe trat von seinem Postamente herab und sprach das Verdammnisurteil über die Herren Schlegel, über dieselben Oberpriester, die ihn mit soviel Weihrauch umduftet. Diese Stimme vernichtete den ganzen Spuk; die Gespenster des Mittelalters entflohen; die Eulen verkrochen sich wieder in die obskuren Burgtrümmer; die Raben flatterten wieder nach ihren alten Kirchtürmen; Friedrich Schlegel ging nach Wien, wo er täglich Messe hörte und gebratene Hähndel aß; Herr August Wilhelm Schlegel zog sich zurück in die Pagode des Brahma. [Hähndel is the Austrian dialect word for chicken.]
Die Romantische Schule Buch I.

FoS image, size 708x678
FoS image, size 708x638

Same year, 1831, same artist, same subject.
Top and bottom: Heinrich Heine, 1831. Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1800-1882). Images: Heinrich-Heine-Institut Düsseldorf.

This excerpt will have given the reader just a flavour of the mockery which Heine directed at the Schlegels in his work Die Romantische Schule, published in 1836, only ten years after Buch der Lieder.

Hoffmann made his name with works which we today would call in English 'gothic' novels. Heine took Hoffman's work to pieces in Die Romantische Schule:

Hoffmann in contrast [to Novalis] saw everywhere only ghosts, they nodded to him from every Chinese teapot and every Berlin wig; he was a sorcerer, who transformed humans into beasts and these even into Royal Prussian Court Counsellors; he could summon the dead from their graves, but life pushed him away as a dismal spook. He sensed that; he felt that he himself had become a ghost; the whole of Nature had become a distorting mirror, in which he, deformed a thousand times, only saw the maggots of his own corpse. His works are nothing other than a terrible cry of fear in twenty volumes.

Hoffmann hingegen sah Überall nur Gespenster, sie nickten ihm entgegen aus jeder chinesischen Teekanne und jeder Berliner Perücke; er war ein Zauberer, der die Menschen in Bestien verwandelte und diese sogar in königlich preußische Hofräte; er konnte die Toten aus den Gräbern hervorrufen, aber das Leben selbst stieß ihn von sich als einen trüben Spuk. Das fühlte er; er fühlte, daß er selbst ein Gespenst geworden; die ganze Natur war ihm jetzt ein mißgeschliffener Spiegel, worin er, tausendfältig verzerrt, nur seine eigne Totenlarve erblickte, und seine Werke sind nichts anders als ein entsetzlicher Angstschrei in zwanzig Bänden.
Die Romantische Schule Buch II.

Typical Heine: 'a terrible cry of fear in twenty volumes'. Heine was writing this, as noted, in 1835/6. He does however look back to a period that is more relevant for the Heine of Die Heimkehr, ten years previously.

With us in Germany Hoffmann is now no longer in fashion, but he was in earlier times. In his period he was much read, but only by people whose nerves were either too strong or too weak to allow them to resonate to gentler chords. The real intellectual and poetic natures had no time for him.

Bei uns in Deutschland ist jetzt Hoffmann keineswegs en vogue, aber er war es früher. In seiner Periode wurde er viel gelesen, aber nur von Menschen, deren Nerven zu stark oder zu schwach waren, als daß sie von gelinden Akkorden affiziert werden konnten. Die eigentlichen Geistreichen und die poetischen Naturen wollten nichts von ihm wissen.
Die Romantische Schule Buch II.

Heine's final dismissal of Hoffmann as a writer is crushing:

The great similarity between the two poets [Hoffmann and Novalis] was that their poetry was actually a sickness. In this respect it has been remarked that the evaluation of their writings is not a task for the critic but for the doctor. The rosy glow in the poems of Novalis is not the colour of health, but that of tuberculosis, and the purple glow in Hoffmann's 'Fantasy Pieces' is not the flame of genius but that of fever.

Die große Ähnlichkeit zwischen beiden Dichtern besteht wohl darin, daß ihre Poesie eigentlich eine Krankheit war. In dieser Hinsicht hat man geäußert, daß die Beurteilung ihrer Schriften nicht das Geschäft des Kritikers, sondern des Arztes sei. Der Rosenschein in den Dichtungen des Novalis ist nicht die Farbe der Gesundheit, sondern der Schwindsucht, und die Purpurglut in Hoffmanns »Phantasiestücken« ist nicht die Flamme des Genies, sondern des Fiebers.
Die Romantische Schule Buch II.

Rapier, sabre, club

But what is the relationship between the narrator-Ich and the Doppeltgänger?

The key to understanding this is the verb nachäffen, 'to ape' or 'to mimic', as it is used in the line Was äffst du nach mein Liebesleid…?, 'Why are you aping my agonies of love…?' We realise then that the 'pale companion' is not really suffering, he is not a vision of some past state, some kind of time traveller from those 'old days', some Ghost of Christmas Past. He is, in fact, mocking the narrator-Ich by aping his lovelorn behaviour all those years ago.

Once we understand this, we also understand the narrator-Ich's annoyance at the Doppeltgänger's mockery: Was äffst du nach mein Liebesleid…?

We might even see the Doppeltgänger as the Heine-Ich that has become visible to the narrator-Ich and to us. He is no longer standing behind his work, paring his fingernails, but is mockingly aping the narrator-Ich's unrequited and ultimately pointless love. In the hands of Heine, Hoffmann's creepy Doppeltgänger has become a brilliant instrument of satire.

Once again, a study of Heine's work Die Romantische Schule is instructive because Heine also uses the verb nachäffen to express ironic, teasing mockery. In this instance, he is not using it against the narrator-Ich, but against one of the great names among the Romantic poets, Ludwig Uhland (1787-1862).

The word 'great' here is used as a synonym for 'well-known', not 'good' – the most accurate description of the literary qualities of Uhland's work is 'cretinous'. Nevertheless, in the half-century or so between Uhland's first poetry collection in 1815 and his death in 1862, forty-three new editions and reprintings of his works were sold. 'There is no accounting for public taste' (©Pound).

Heine quotes from Uhland's poem Der Schäfer, first touchingly (or so we might think) as the poet of Heine's childhood, only then to destroy his work with malice aforethought. As you read through this extract, keep in mind that this master of barbed irony is the author of Die Heimkehr and poem XX, the author whom Franz Schubert was attempting to set to music:

How often did I sit on the ruins of the old castle in Düsseldorf on the Rhine and declaim aloud that most beautiful of all Uhland's poems:

Wie oft, auf den Trümmern des alten Schlosses zu Düsseldorf am Rhein, saß ich und deklamierte vor mich hin das schönste aller Uhlandschen Lieder:
Die Romantische Schule Buch III.

That 'most beautiful of all Uhland's poems' is in fact a contender for the title of the worst poem ever written:

Der schöne Schäfer zog so nah
Vorüber an dem Königsschloß;
Die Jungfrau von der Zinne sah,
Da war ihr Sehnen groß.
The handsome shepherd passed close by the royal castle; the maiden looked down from the battlements and her longing was great.
[…] […]
Dann rief er freundlich ihr hinauf:
»Willkommen, Königstöchterlein!«
Ihr süßes Wort ertönte drauf:
»Viel Dank, du Schäfer mein!«
Then he called gaily up to her: 'Welcome, king's little daughter!' Her sweet words responded: 'Many thanks, you shepherd mine!'
Der Winter floh, der Lenz erschien,
Die Blümlein blühten reich umher,
Der Schäfer tät zum Schlosse ziehn,
Doch sie erschien nicht mehr.
The winter fled, the spring appeared, the little flowers appeared richly around, the shepherd went to the castle, but she never appeared again.
Er lief hinauf so klagevoll:
»Willkommen, Königstöchterlein!«
Ein Geisterlaut herunterscholl:
»Ade, du Schäfer mein!«
He ran up lamenting loudly: 'Welcome, king's little daughter!' A ghostly voice boomed down from above: 'Bye-bye, you shepherd mine!'

'Bye-bye, you shepherd mine!' On the subject of inept versification, some readers will recall Wilhelm Müller's cack-handed ending to the poem Thränenregen in Die schöne Müllerin, when he brought six stanzas of throbbing but repressed desire to a conclusion with Sie sprach: Es kommt ein Regen, Ade, ich geh nach Haus, 'She said: There's rain coming. Bye, I'm going home.'

Readers with any poetic taste will be doubled up with laughter at Uhland's effort already, but Heine has not finished with the great man, who has streets named after him in many towns in Baden-Württemberg even today:

When I sat in the ruins of the old castle and declaimed this poem, from time to time I could hear the way the water sprites in the Rhine, which flows past there, were mimicking my words [meine Worte nachäfften], their voices sighing and groaning out of the river with comical pathos:

'A ghostly voice boomed down from above: "Bye-bye, my shepherd!"'

I didn't allow myself to be disturbed by such teasing from the water ladies, even when they giggled ironically at the most beautiful parts of Uhland's poems.

Wenn ich nun auf den Ruinen des alten Schlosses saß und dieses Lied deklamierte, hörte ich auch wohl zuweilen, wie die Nixen im Rhein, der dort vorbeifließt, meine Worte nachäfften, und das seufzte und das stöhnte aus den Fluten mit komischem Pathos:

»Ein Geisterlaut herunterscholl,
Ade, du Schäfer mein!«

Ich ließ mich aber nicht stören von solchen Neckereien der Wasserfrauen, selbst wenn sie bei den schönsten Stellen in Uhlands Gedichten ironisch kicherten.

Even the water sprites start laughing at 'the most beautiful parts' of Uhland's dreadful poem and mock it by repeating its inane lines, a good example of the use of nachäffen that Heine also gives us in poem XX. In that poem Heine used the apparition of the Doppeltgänger as an instrument to mock the narrator-Ich by repeating his lovelorn behaviour; here the water sprites are used as instruments to mock Uhland's poem (and perhaps, if we believe Heine's tale of youthful recitation, the young Heine, too) by repeating its inanities.

Now, no longer in the ruins of a Rhine castle but in his noisy room in the middle of the bustling life of Paris, Heine revisits Uhland's poem:

Three times I have declaimed out loud the conclusion of that poem, but I no longer feel that inexpressible pain that once seized me when the king's little daughter died and the handsome shepherd called up to her so touchingly: 'Welcome, king's little daughter!'

'A ghostly voice boomed down from above: "Bye-bye, you shepherd mine!"'

Dreimal habe ich den Schluß des oberwähnten Gedichtes mir wieder vordeklamiert, aber ich empfinde nicht mehr das unnennbare Weh, das mich einst ergriff, wenn das Königstöchterlein stirbt und der schöne Schäfer so klagevoll zu ihr hinaufrief: »Willkommen, Königstöchterlein!«
»Ein Geisterlaut herunterscholl,
Ade! du Schäfer mein!«

That 'inexpressible pain', 'the king's little daughter', the 'handsome shepherd' – each one a rapier thrust. And when the rapier has done its job on Uhland's kitsch it is time for the sabre, another weapon in the use of which Heine is a master:

Perhaps I am cooler for such poems ever since I had the experience that there is a much more painful love than that in which the object of desire is never attained or is taken away by death. In fact, it is much more painful when the object of desire lies in our arms day and night but by means of continual gainsaying and stupid whims ruins our days and nights so that in the end we have to push that which our heart loves the most away from our hearts and bring the damn beloved woman to the post carriage and send her on her way:
'Bye-bye, my king's little daughter!'

Vielleicht auch bin ich für solche Gedichte etwas kühl geworden, seitdem ich die Erfahrung gemacht, daß es eine weit schmerzlichere Liebe gibt als die, welche den Besitz des geliebten Gegenstandes niemals erlangt oder ihn durch den Tod verliert. In der Tat, schmerzlicher ist es, wenn der geliebte Gegenstand Tag und Nacht in unseren Armen liegt, aber durch beständigen Widerspruch und blödsinnige Kapricen uns Tag und Nacht verleidet, dergestalt, daß wir das, was unser Herz am meisten liebt, von unserem Herzen fortstoßen und wir selber das verflucht geliebte Weib nach dem Postwagen bringen und fortschicken müssen:
»Ade, du Königstöchterlein!«

And just in case the sabre was not sufficient, Heine follows up with a few strokes of his satirical club, leaving nothing left of Uhland's poem but blood-spattered walls:

Yes, more painful than the loss through death is the loss through life, e.g. when the loved one, from silly thoughtlessness, turns away from us, when she absolutely must go to a ball, to which no sensible man can accompany her and when she then foolishly – made up to the nines and defiantly coiffured – takes the arm of the first oaf she encounters and turns her back on us…

'Bye-bye, you shepherd mine!'

Ja, schmerzlicher als der Verlust durch den Tod ist der Verlust durch das Leben, z.B. wenn die Geliebte, aus wahnsinniger Leichtfertigkeit, sich von uns abwendet, wenn sie durchaus auf einen Ball gehen will, wohin kein ordentlicher Mensch sie begleiten kann, und wenn sie dann, ganz aberwitzig bunt geputzt und trotzig frisiert, dem ersten besten Lump den Arm reicht und uns den Rücken kehrt…
»Ade, du Schäfer mein!«

Thinking back to poem XVII, we may remember that the narrator-Ich was dumped by his girl and recall the image we were given of her making a rapid exit from the city with all her bags and boxes: (Sey mir gegrüßt, du große, geheimnißvolle Stadt). There is no maudlin verse in Die Heimkehr.

Heine's poem XX does not therefore show us the agonies and horror visions of the Müller/Schubert narrator in Winterreise – Heine's Doppeltgänger is not the Leiermann but a subtle literary criticism of Hoffmann and his band of spooks. The Doppeltgänger is the mockery of the narrator-Ich's earlier lovelorn state.

But Heine's poem goes far beyond this. We recall our discussion of Heine's use of the techniques of side-by-side presentation that would be found later in Modernist techniques such as collage, the ideogrammic method and cinematic editing.

Could there be a better example of this than the present poem? Not only does it offer Cubist-like planes of reality and viewpoint, of present and past, it is embedded in a wider context of poems which each deal with related themes in similar ways – a perfect example of that 'interjacent' reality which Berger found in Picasso. The reader is welcome to put up for consideration a personal selection of 20th century artists – de Chirico, Magritte, Braque, Höch etc. – and find traces of Heine's Doppeltgänger in them all.

Schubert's audiences find Der Doppelgänger epically sad, whereas we find Heine's text epically modern.

So the next time the Heine scholar has the misfortune to be stuck in an audience whilst a booming bass burbles his agonised, consonant-free way through Der Doppelgänger, he or she should remember the 'pale companion', that mocker of all things bogus. The odd sweetpaper can be rustled; some exaggerated, Dadaist gurning at the performer (Nachäffen) will lift the mood; the fine operatic laugh from Vesti la giubba in Leoncavallo's Pagliacci will work wonders if you can get it in before the applause. As you are escorted off the premises, just think of Harry Heine, now smiling down on you!

The Schubert lid, part 2

5-XIV: Am Meer

Das Meer erglänzte weit hinaus,
Im letzten Abendscheine;
Wir saßen am einsamen Fischerhaus,
Wir saßen stumm und alleine.
The sea shone far into the distance in the last rays of evening; we sat at the solitary fishing hut, we sat silently and alone.
Der Nebel stieg, das Wasser schwoll,
Die Möve flog hin und wieder;
Aus deinen Augen, liebevoll,
Fielen die Thränen nieder.
The fog came up, the water rose, the gull flew now and again; from your eyes, full of love, the tears dropped down.
Ich sah sie fallen auf deine Hand,
Und bin auf's Knie gesunken;
Ich hab' von deiner weißen Hand
Die Thränen fortgetrunken.
I saw them fall on your hand and got down on my knees; I drank the tears away from your white hand.
Seit jener Stunde verzehrt sich mein Leib,
Die Seele stirbt vor Sehnen; —
Mich hat das unglückseel'ge Weib
Vergiftet mit ihren Thränen.
From that moment on, my body has been wasting away, my soul is dying from longing;—that forlorn woman has poisoned me with her tears.

Am Meer from Schwanengesang, D 957. Friedrich Schorr, baritone; Richard Jäger, piano. Recording date unknown.Online.

Stein [op. cit. p. 564.] characterised Schubert's setting of poem XIV as 'baffling'. There can be no disputing this term, since even on the most superficial level Heine's text and Schubert's music occupy two separate planes of existence.

For the moment, we can leave the musical plane for our readers to sort out: the Schubert fan can listen to and enjoy the music – just don't listen to the words. The music is reminiscent of that other sentimentally overloaded piece, Der Lindenbaum, but at least there the disconnect between Müller's words and Schubert's music is much less apparent.

In poem XIV, as we have stated, the disconnect is total. The textual plane of the poem conforms to everything we have come to expect from Heine: sparse, terse, full of surprises and with a completely unexpected, bitter twist in its tail.

Seashore poems

Five poems in Die Heimkehr are set on the shoreline, or in the vicinity of a fisherman's hut or include a fishergirl – sometimes a mermaid – in some combination:

VII — Wir saßen am Fischerhause, / Und schauten nach der See;
VIII — Du schönes Fischermädchen, / Treibe den Kahn an's Land;
IX — Der Mond ist aufgegangen / Und überstrahlt die Well'n;
XII — Der Abend kommt gezogen, / Der Nebel bedeckt die See;
XIV — Das Meer erglänzte weit hinaus, / Im letzten Abendscheine;

They clearly do not form a series, but in the wider context of the 97 (or 93, depending on how you count them) poems in Die Heimkehr we might say that their proximity forms a thematic cluster. Two of them, VIII and XIV, were set to music by Schubert.

They may indeed cluster, but despite their common elements we cannot bring them into any thematic progression – each one is substantially different to its fellows in the cluster. We get the impression that Heine was playing with the maritime elements that were in his head at the time and not attempting to compose a 'cycle' of any type. We have already noted that Heine stayed in the vicinity of Cuxhaven, noted for its long sandy beaches, in 1823, 1825 and 1826. Thus, having noted these similarities, we can ignore them and treat XIV, Das Meer erglänzte weit hinaus, as a standalone poem.

Building tension

Not only does the poem itself appear to stand alone from its fellows, each stanza of this poem seems to be remarkably independent of the others. For the moment we merely note that the first three stanzas are in the past tense; the last stanza in the present and present perfect. Why is this important? Because it means that out of this past state some resolution will come in the present.

The first two lines of the stanza set the time (dusk) and the place: a solitary fishing hut on or near the shore. In the second two lines we assume that 'we' means a man and a woman, who were sitting there without saying anything (stumm); there were no other people in the vicinity (alleine). By using 'we' Heine has established a narrator-Ich who will dominate the point of view for the rest of the poem. The scene is full of emotional tension which demands some resolution. It has taken Heine only four lines containing 18 words to accomplish all that – a master!

The first two lines of the second stanza are given over to more scene setting: that Heine staple, an evening fog, 'rose up', the flood tide also swelled up and a seagull flew 'now and again'. Time was passing, but with a languor we would expect to find in grainy black and white art films by French directors.

The last two lines of the stanza surprise us with sudden action: out of the girl's loving eyes, heavy tears were falling. We have no idea what provoked these tears – perhaps a coming separation of some sort, perhaps a rejection, perhaps just a surfeit of love. We are clearly in the enigmatic mood of L'Année dernière à Marienbad.

Heine was extremely careful about punctuation – no publisher or printer would ever escape condemnation for mangling his stops and dashes. 'For the printer of this kind of book, commas should be sacred', he wrote to his publisher once. We should therefore pay particular attention to his handling of liebevoll, 'loving' or 'full of love', which he inserts almost parenthetically with the help of those two commas.

Whereas aus deinen liebevollen Augen (adjective, ~'loving') would have been a standard formula that we might hear from any poet of the Romantic – even Uhland on a good day – or aus deinen Augen liebevoll fielen (adverb, ~'lovingly') in some form would make most poetic plodders content, Heine frames liebevoll with those two commas and elevates that word to an entire commentary on the relationship between the two people. Finally, the role of the narrator-Ich is reinforced by 'your' eyes.

The third stanza resolves the 'Marienbad enigma' a little: if the tears had been provoked by some coolness or rejection on the part of the man, the situation is now resolved by his complete and subservient acquiescence.

After two stanzas of trembling passivity – the busiest element was a seagull – we find ourselves in the midst of dramatic action: the man sinks to his knees and kisses the tears away from the woman's hand. This last line of the stanza Die Thränen fortgetrunken makes us shake our heads in wonder at Heine's mastery of German: fortgetrunken – genius! Native speakers of German should try and think of a verb that describes with such elegance the act of licking the tears off a woman's hand – and do it without bursting out laughing. Ablecken? No!

In the final stanza, experienced Heine readers will smile with pleasure at one of the master's inimitable plot twists. Heine has built up the enigmatic passion of that past scene to a climax; now he destroys it. Up until this moment all the reader's sympathy (whether man or woman) has been directed towards the weeping woman; now, the object of our affections, that 'forlorn woman' turns out to have been the agent of the narrator-Ich's ruin: in time-honoured manner she has poisoned him with her tears. She is not the only enchantress and poisoner in Die Heimkehr either.

But we mustn't take that poisoning literally: that moment in the fisherman's house, jene Stunde, was the moment when Heine's chagrin d'amour began. His body is now wasting away as though from consumption, his soul is dying from longing. It is certainly not a happy state, but its progress was masterfully rendered.

We don't have to read much into the consumptive decay of the narrator-Ich after the woman's tears have poisoned him – a more sensitive person than your author might make something of Heine's assessment of the poet Novalis (Georg Philipp Friedrich von Hardenberg, 1772-1801) who died of tuberculosis (Schwindsucht) or something similar, his twelve year old fiancée Sophie von Kühn (1782-1797), who died at 15. As we noted above in the context of Hoffmann, Heine characterised Novalis' poetry itself as being a disease akin to tuberculosis. English speaking readers might think of Keats (1795-1821). So many connections would be possible. Heine wrote in Die Romantische Schule of the literature at the time he was writing as appearing to be a 'large hospital ward'.

The entrapment crept up on him in the suspenseful mood of the opening scene. Although Heine writes that the woman's tears have 'poisoned' him, the poisoning by this unglückseel'ge 'miserable', 'forelorn' or 'distraught' woman was not malicious. The word unglückseelige is the term applied with a variant spelling (which he later corrected) by Heine to Atlas: Ich unglücksel'ger Atlas! Schubert reordered the Heine poems that he selected, and thus his listeners know about the miserable Atlas already; Heine's readers, currently in XIV, will not encounter miserable Atlas until XXIV, ten poems later. This is what happens when you mess about with the fragments of your teapot lid.

The dark lady

Although we have analysed this poem half to death, there remains one thing still to be discussed in this context: Heine's syphilis.

Heinrich Heine believed he had syphilis. He dated contracting the disease as January 1824, 'bei der schönen Köchin von Hofrat Bauer in Göttingen', 'from Court Counsellor Bauer's pretty cook in Göttingen'. In February he consulted a specialist doctor in Göttingen. His later sufferings, which were considerable, have usually been attributed to the development of late syphilis.

On the question of what he was really suffering from, in terms a modern physician might understand, there is a breakfast buffet of suggestions in the research, each with its own proponents: syphilis, multiple sclerosis, tuberculosis, opium abuse, mercury poisoning etc. From this buffet the layperson can take whatever combination appeals to him or her. A modern advocate of syphilis as the cause of Heine's sufferings is Roland Schiffter.

Be happy! We don't need to worry about whatever caused Heine's sufferings in reality, we only have to remember that Heine himself thought he had syphilis and that is enough for our purposes.

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Heine at the beginning of the 1840s.
Top: Heinrich Heine, 1841. Pencil drawing by Heinrich Lehmann (1814-1882).
Bottom: Heinrich Heine, 1842. Photogravure by an unknown artist after a drawing by Samuel Friedrich Diez (1803-1873). Images: Heinrich-Heine-Institut Düsseldorf.

We can assume he was aware of the well-known initial symptoms of the characteristic stage I and II syphilis infection. The appearance of a stage I chancre would have allowed him to date his infection precisely.

A little later he was plagued by the same sort of 'annoying' skin rash and the migraine type headaches that assailed Franz Schubert, too. In this, Schubert was two years ahead of Heine. Schubert's syphilis seemed to disappear after a time – as it does, we now know, in about 75% of all cases. Heine's seemed to have stayed with him for the rest of his life.

One factor they had in common, though, was that they were both convinced for the rest of their lives that this terrible disease was always with them.

The composition of the poems of Die Heimkehr falls in the period 1823-24. On the basis of the little we know of the detailed compositional history of the individual poems of the collection we cannot rule out the presence of a syphilis infection as being in the back (or even the forefront) of Heine's mind at the time of his composition of XIV.

It is not necessary for the understanding of that poem – in fact, it adds nothing to it – and our pledge at the beginning of this piece was to keep the poet's biography on the backburner in the interpretation of his poetry. And yet…

In the Nachlese, part of the posthumous collection of Heine's works published in 1854, we find the following:

Es hatte mein Haupt die schwarze Frau
Zärtlich ans Herz geschlossen;
Ach! meine Haare wurden grau,
Wo ihre Thränen geflossen.
Sie küßte mich lahm, sie küßte mich krank,
Sie küßte mir blind die Augen;
Das Mark aus meinem Rückgrat trank
Ihr Mund mit wildem Saugen.
The dark lady pressed my head tenderly to her heart; Ah! my hair went grey where her tears fell. She kissed me lame, she kissed me sick, she kissed my eyes blind; her mouth drank the marrow from my spine with wild sucking.

If Heine hadn't contracted syphilis by the time he wrote poem XIV of Die Heimkehr he was certainly accidentally very prescient. We may reject the direct help of biography with Heine as much as we do with Schubert, but we cannot ignore the years of misery for both men that began with that infection. That Heine has his dark moments in Die Heimkehr and after may have paralleled Schubert's dark moments between Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise.

Ernst Benedikt Kietz, Heinrich Heine und seine Frau Mathilde, 1851

Ernst Benedikt Kietz (1815-1892), Heinrich Heine und seine Frau Mathilde, 1851. Heinrich-Heine-Institut, Düsseldorf

Into that group we can also draw Wilhelm Müller, whose last years particularly were dogged by depression and who had a year of disease in which to think about the last things before he encountered them, 33 years old, in 1827, a year before Schubert's end came, 31 years old. All three of them 'saw the skull beneath the skin' (©Eliot) – Die Winterreise was neither written nor set to music by happy men.

How would Schubert have set XIV, Am Meer, we wonder, had he realised that Heine, when he wrote it, was about to pass through the same dark night of the soul that Schubert had done in 1823-24? Schubert seemingly recovered physically but then died early; Heine, on the other hand, had thirty years of progressive and indescribable suffering to endure before the release came.

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Heinrich Heine, 1851 Lithograph by Friedrich Adolph Hornemann after a drawing by Ernst Benedikt Kietz (1815-1892). Image: Heinrich-Heine-Institut Düsseldorf.

Das Glück ist eine leichte Dirne,
Und weilt nicht gern am selben Ort;
Sie streicht das Haar dir von der Stirne
Und küßt dich rasch und flattert fort.
Happiness is a strumpet who doesn't like to hang around too long in one place; she strokes the hair from your forehead, kisses you quickly and flutters off.
Frau Unglück hat im Gegenteile
Dich liebefest ans Herz gedrückt;
Sie sagt, sie habe keine Eile,
Setzt sich zu dir ans Bett und strickt.
Mrs Unhapiness in contrast has pressed you lovingly to her heart; she says that she's not in a hurry, sits down next to you on the bed and knits.

Heinrich Heine, 'Das Glück ist eine leichte Dirne', from Romanzero, Zweites Buch, Lamentationen.

As it is, the year of the publication of Buch der Lieder, 1827, marks the end of an era: Müller gone; Schubert will be gone soon, after one last blaze of an astounding ten months of creativity; Heine begins what will be nearly thirty years of continual, degenerative illness, unremitting labour, censorship, persecution and exile which will culminate bedbound in his Matratzengruft, 'mattress grave'.

Heinrich Heine in his mattress-grave, 1853

Heinrich Heine in the 'mattress-grave'. Pencil drawing by Marcellin Gilbert Desboutins (1823-1902), 1853. Heinrich-Heine-Institut, Düsseldorf.


So what do we do with the shards of the Swansong Teapot scattered across our workbench? Let's not attempt to make a teapot again out of these bits: Schubert seems to have intended the Rellstab settings to be one thing and the Heine settings to be another.

The Heine settings we can certainly put back together again – but it doesn't really matter in which order we put them. Readers should now just reflect what they now know after our careful reading of the six poems of Schubert's selection. The question cannot be avoided: In what way does any one of these poems lead naturally into its successor? The answer is easy: in no way at all.

There is an argument for throwing the teapot lid away entirely. We cultural anarchists will stop at nothing in our search for the sublime and the true. Whatever the qualities that musicologists and music lovers appear to find in them, Schubert's settings for Heine's poems are embarrassingly bad – both Heine's poems and Schubert's reputation would be better off without them.

The Rellstab poems can just form a group within all the other Schubert songs, as too can Seidl's pigeon. The main thing is that the Swansong Teapot would be no more, for which relief, much thanks. Heinrich Heine would certainly be smiling down on us.

But that, of course, is not going to happen. Generations of singers yet to come will burble out Schubert's settings of Heine's poems; listeners will be moved by the burbling, just as readers were moved by Uhland's poems; music publishers will continue to push the fake Schwanengesang 'cycle' and probably stick one or other of the fake images of Schubert on the cover.

Update 16.08.2019

A few trivial errors corrected. The section A Modernist prelude and some subsequent references to it were reinstated from an earlier draft: an article can never be too long nor too obscure. On the fragmentary, collage-like compositional techniques of Modernist artists in all fields see Nänny, Max. Ezra Pound: Poetics for an Electric Age, Francke Verlag, Bern, 1973, passim.

Update 15.09.2019

Added audio of Am Meer and Der Atlas.

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