Germany. A Winterís Tale

Text by Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)
translated into English by Joseph Massaad

Caput XXVI

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Departure | I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | XIV | XV

The Goddess cheeks glowed so red,
The rum must have reached her head,
Or so, I thought. She spoke to me,
And, with a saddened tone, she said:

ďIím getting old, for Hamburg was built
The same day in which I was born,
And at the Elbeís estuary my mother,
As a haddock-queen, was sworn.

My father was a mighty king,
Known as Charlemagne by name;
Frederick the Great of Prussia couldnít
Match him in power, wisdom or fame.

The seat he used the day he was crowned
Still exits at the Aachenís site.
Dear mother inherited the other seat,
The one on which he sat at night.

My mother left it in turn to me,
Itís nothing special, I must admit,
But, should Rothschild offer all his wealth,
I shall never part with it.

Look, in the corner stands a chair;
It is old and weather-beaten;
The arms-leather is torn and worn,
And its cushion is moth-eaten.

But, if you go across and lift
The cushion from the chair,
Youíll see a circular hole,
And a pot is hidden there.

This is an enchanted pot, wherein
The magical forces are brewing,
And if you stick your head down the hole,
The future will stand for viewing.

Germanyís future, like waving phantasms,
Will be revealed to your eyes.
But do not shudder, if out of the filth,
Some miasmas will arise!Ē

Thus she spoke, and then strangely laughed,
But I was not terrified at all.
With curiosity, I hastened
To stick my head into the hole.

The things I saw I cannot betray,
For I promised never to tell.
Iím barely permitted to reveal,
O God! What I could smell!

With disgust, I still think to this day
Of these odours that blended together
Into a vile accursed introductory smell
Of rotten cabbage and Russian leather.

But what followed this prelude, God!
Were such dreadful stenches!
It was as though the dung were swept
From thirty-six sewer trenches.

I know well what Saint-Just once said
To the Public Salvation Committee:
You donít heal with musk and oil of roses
The great ills of society.

But this scent of the German future
Was by far much stronger
Than anything my nose ever smelled,
I couldnít stand it any longer.

I lost my senses, and when I awoke,
I was still by the Goddessís side;
My head rested on her bosom,
Which was generous and wide.

Her mouth glowed, her nostrils twitched,
Her eyes gleamed, bacchantic;
She clasped the poet and sang,
Her song was ecstatic and frantic:

ďThereís a king in Thule who has a cup,
A cup he cherishes above all;
And when he drinks from this cup,
His tears begin to fall.

Then thoughts arise in his troubled mind,
Hardly a matter for objection;
Then he is quite able, my child,
To decree your apprehension.

So, beware of this king in Thule,
Donít go north, donít be a fool.
Beware of gendarmes, of the police
And of the whole Historical School.

Stay with me in Hamburg, I love you!
Letís eat, drink and fully consume
The oysters and wine of this moment
And forget to morrowís doom.

Put back the lid! Our joy is full,
No vile smell from below should spoil it
I love you as never a woman before
Has loved a German poet.

When I kiss you, your genius fills
My heart with inspiration;
I feel my soul is overcome
By a wondrous intoxication.

I seem to hear, out in the streets,
The watchmen singing a choir:
Itís wedding music and bridal songs,
You, sweet object of my desire!

Now, I see the mounted servants coming
With torches brightly burning;
They solemnly perform the torch-dance,
Jumping and waddling and turning.

The City Elders and Senate come now,
Itís quite a worthy delegation.
The Burgomaster clears his throat,
To prepare for an oration.

Now appear brightly dressed diplomats,
From all the neighbouring nations;
They proceed with due reserve
To offer congratulations.

Here come the Pastors and the Rabbis,
A worthy clerical representation;
But alas! Here comes Hoffmann too,
With scissors for amputation.

The scissors rattle in his hand,
While he most wildly races
Towards you, he cuts into your flesh,
Removing the juiciest pieces.Ē


Departure | I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | XIV | XV