Germany. A Winter’s Tale

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

Caput V

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

And when I reached the Rhine-bridge,
Where stands the harbour bastion,
There, in the moonlight, I could see
The father Rhine flowing on.

“Greetings to you, old father Rhine,
Tell me, how have things been going?
I have often thought of you,
With deep yearning and longing”

Thus I spoke. From the watery depths
Came a voice, strangely moaning,
Like an old man’s coughing,
A grumbling and a groaning.

“Welcome, my boy, that you still remember,
Renders me so pleased and so glad!
I haven’t seen you in thirteen years,
Meanwhile, my affairs have gone bad.

At Bieberich, I swallowed some stones,
They were hardly tasty, at best.
Yet, the verses of Niklas Becker
Are much harder to digest.

He sang me as if I still were
The purest virgin in town,
Who would never let anyone lift
Her little honour’s crown.

Whenever I hear this stupid song,
I begin to feel so weird:
I feel like drowning myself in myself,
Or tearing my old white beard!

The French know better than anyone
That I am not a virgin anymore:
They mixed so often in the past
Their victorious waters on my shore.

What a stupid song! What a stupid chap!
I am now shamelessly despised,
And, in a certain way, I am
Politically compromised.

For, should the French ever come back,
With shame, my cheeks will burn,
I who so often tearfully prayed
That one day they may return.

Those darling little Frenchmen!
For them I’ve always had a soft spot.
Do they still were white pants?
Do they still a sing and spring a lot?

I’d really love to see them again,
Yet, I’m afraid I could be hurt
On account of this accursed song
And the mocking that would result.

Alfred de Musset, that guttersnipe
Would come at their head, I fear;
Perhaps as a drummer boy, he’ll drum
His nasty jokes into my ear.”

Thus poor father Rhine complained.
Insecure, o how he must have suffered!
And, in order to raise his sinking heart,
These comforting words, I uttered:

"O fear not, dear father Rhine,
The nasty jokes that come from France;
These French are not the French of old,
They even wear different pants.

Their pants are red and no longer white,
New buttons are now on display,
They sing no more, they spring no more,
But hang their heads in a nostalgic way.

They’re thinkers now: Kant, Fichte, Hegel
Are the subjects of their talking;
They smoke tobacco, they guzzle beer
And many even go bowling.

They’ve become philistines, just like us
And carry this change to extremes:
They’ve started to follow Hengstenberg,
Voltaire is out, or so it seems.

It is true that Alfred de Musset
A guttersnipe remains;
But fear not that vile tongue of his:
We’ll tie it up in chains.

And if he drums you an evil joke,
We’ll whistle back uglier airs,
We’ll whistle aloud what happened to him,
Mixing in pretty women’s affairs.

Cheer up, old father Rhine,
Those evil songs treat with disdain,
You’ll soon hear a better song,
Farewell, until we meet again.”


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