Germany. A Winter’s Tale

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

Caput IV

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

It was getting late as I reached Cologne,
I could hear the Rhine river flowing,
I was caressed by German air
And felt its influence growing

On my appetite. I ate
A ham omelette, which was fine,
But as it was rather salty,
I had to wash it down with wine.

Still in the green glass, like gold,
The Rhine-wine brightly glows,
And should you drink it in excess,
It begins to tickle your nose!

So sweet a tickling climbs to your nose,
The sensation grows fonder and fonder!
It drove me out in the darkening night,
Through the echoing streets to wander.

And as I walked, I thought I heard
The ancient houses of stone
Recounting tales of long gone days,
The legends of holy Cologne:

Here upon-a-time, the clergy
Once lived and thrived in pious ways,
Here, as described by von Hutten,
Obscure men ruled, in former days,

And here, the nuns and monks once danced
The cancan of the Middle-Ages,
Here, Hochstraaten, the Menzel of Cologne
Wrote his poisonous, denunciatory pages.

Here men and books were burnt at the stake
And, by its flames were swallowed,
Meanwhile the bells merrily rang
And a “ Kyrie Eleison “followed.

Stupidity and malice here,
Like street-dogs, used to mate.
One can still tell their progeny today
By their sectarian hate.

But see! In the clear moonshine there,
That mighty colossus of stone!
He towers upward, so devilish black:
The cathedral of Cologne.

It was meant to be the mind’s Bastille,
And the papist plan was clever:
In the huge vaults they would lock
The German reason forever!

Then Luther came and said: ‘no more!’
With power, with conviction,
And since that day, there came and end
To the Cathedral’s erection.

It was never completed- a good thing!
For its very non-termination
Is a monument to German strength
And the Protestant reformation.

Poor wretches of the Cathedral Trust,
With powerless hands, you have risen
To continue the interrupted work
And complete the old tower-prison!

O foolish illusion! It’s all in vain
When your alms-bags hungrily shake:
Begging of heretics, even of Jews,
Is but a fruitless and vain mistake.

In vain will the great Franz Liszt play
To raise the cathedral’s donations,
In vain will a talented king make
Imploring declamations!

The cathedral won’t be completed,
Even though Swabian fools will send
A whole ship, loaded with stones,
To bring its building to an end.

It won’t be completed, regardless
How wild owls and ravens may yell,
Since those birds with old-fashioned minds,
On high church-towers like to dwell.

Indeed, it is possible that some day,
Instead of completing it outright,
The inner rooms may serve as a stable
For horses- quite and unholy sight!

And should the cathedral becomes a stable,
We’ll have a question to tackle:
What will become of the three holy kings,
Who rest in the tabernacle?

That is the question. But do we need
To bother solve it this very day?
The three holy kings from the East
Must find somewhere else to stay.

Take my advice and stick them all
In Münster’s three iron cages
That have hung high from the tower
Of St Lambert’s church for ages.

Once, the Taylor-Kings and his councillors,
Sat each, in a separate cage.
We must use the baskets now
For kings of a different age.

We’ll set Lord Balthasar on the right,
On the left, Lord Melchior, swinging,
Lord Gaspar in between- God knows
How they were set, when living!

The holy alliance of the East,
Even though canonised today,
May not have always behaved
In a just and pious way.

Balthasar and Melchior must have been fools,
Who searched an easy solution
When their people became demanding,
And promised them a constitution,

Then failed to deliver. And the Moorish king
Gaspar, with black ingratitude
Rewarded his people- such fools!
For their trusting attitude.


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