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Heinrich Heine: A Man for the Ages

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Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) was an early 19th century German poet-philosopher with a predilection for iconoclasm and dislike of England's suffocating class system. In the manner of Charles Dickens and at about the same time, Heine viewed London as the locus of anti-humanism where material wealth and social ranking are everything. What most provoked his indignation was the disparity between rich and poor in English society. "England's nobility hover as creatures of a higher species," he wrote, "who look at little England only as a place to put up for the night, Italy as their summer garden, Paris as their social club, and yes, the entire world, as their property."

Born of Jewish parents, Heine was a reluctant convert to Protestant Christianity for reasons more to do with pragmatic career ambitions than spiritual epiphany. Conversion was "the ticket into European culture," he said. He belongs to the post-Romantics who struggled to reconcile skepticism about poetic truth as represented by Goethe and Schiller with the destabilizing tensions of a dawning industrial age.

During the most frenzied days of Nazi activism, the Main Office for Press and Propaganda of the German Student Union made itself forever infamous by calling for a literary purge. The group called for a nationwide "Action against the un-German spirit." Among the first of more than 25,000 books they condemned as subversive were those of Heinrich Heine.

However, Heine's lyrical poetry set to music by Schubert and Schumann proved unstoppable. The Nazi's were pressured to publish them but credited them to "Author Unknown."

Heinrich Heine: Die Loreley (1824) Heinrich Heine: Die Loreley (1824) Ich wei nicht, was soll es bedeuten, Da ich so traurig bin; Der komplette Gedichttext auf ...
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The last 25 years of his life were lived in Paris. His legacy is considerable, not least a handful of aphorisms as apropos today, as ever.

- When words leave off, music begins.

- Experience is a good school. But the fees are high.

- Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings.

- Of course God will forgive me; that's His job.

- One should forgive one's enemies, but not before they are hanged.

- I will not say that women have no character; rather, they have a new one every day.

- Ordinarily he was insane, but he had lucid moments when he was merely stupid.

- If the Romans had been obliged to learn Latin, they would never have found time to conquer the world.

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German-born (1940) immigrant (1958). US Army 1958-1964. Vietnam 1962-1963. USN 1969-1993. Hofstra University BA 1966; University of New Mexico MA (1968), PhD (1971). Fully retired. Married. Five children, three grandchildren. Resident in (more...)

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