Germany. A Winterís Tale

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

Caput VII

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

I went back home and slept as if
Angels sang into my head.
One rests so soft in a German bed,
For it is a featherbed.

O how often, through my nights in exile,
For a soft German bed I yearned,
When laying on hard mattresses,
I sleeplessly tossed and turned!

In featherbeds like ours,
One sleeps and dreams so well.
Here, the German soul is freed
From its earthly cell.

It feels so free, it soars upwards
To heavenís highest realms.
O German soul, how proud is your flight
During your nightly dreams!

When you approach, the gods grow pale!
And your wing-beats, so far,
Have brushed out of the way
Many a rising star.

The Russians and the French held the land,
The British rule the seas,
But our sway is uncontested
In the airy realm of dreams.

Here we enjoy hegemony,
Here fully united, we stand.
Other nations have developed
Upon firm and level land.

And as I fell asleep, I had a dream:
Once more, I was strolling alone
In the moonlight of the echoing streets,
In the oldest part of Cologne.

And, once more, behind me came
My dark masked companion.
I was so tired, my strength was failing,
And yet, we kept walking on.

On we went! Within my breast,
An open wound was gaping,
And, from the depth of my wound,
Red droplets were escaping.

Sometimes I dipped my fingers in,
And at times I would spread
Over the doorposts, as I went by,
A sign of bloody red.

And every time I marked a house
In such a manner, there fell,
Faint, whimpering and nostalgic,
The far sound of a tolling bell.

And in the sky the moon grew pallid,
Its gleaming was receding,
And over her, like horses black,
The wild clouds were speeding.

And still at my back there marched,
Together with his hidden axe,
That dark figure. We went for a while,
Without stopping to relax.

We kept walking till at last we reached
The Cathedral square once more;
We went straight to the Cathedral,
Trough a wide-open door.

Only silence, darkness and death
Reigned in that enormous room.
Hanging lamps burned here and there,
To better highlight the gloom.

I wandered long along the pillars,
And there was no sound to hear
But the paces of my companion,
Hanging closely on my rear.

At last we arrived at a place,
Where sparked a bright candle,
Where gold glinted and gemstones shone:
This was the three Kings chapel.

The three kings who normally laid there,
So still, so unmoved for ages,
O wonder! They now sat upright
Upon their sarcophagus.

Three skeletons, in fabulous array,
With sceptres in their bony hands,
And over their dried, bony skulls
Rested the crowns of Eastern lands.

They moved their long-dead bones
As if puppets they were.
A smell of incense and mildew
Arose and fouled the air.

One of them moved his mouth
And delivered a dissertation,
Explaining why he is entitled to
My respectful admiration:

Firstly, because he was dead,
Next, he was a king, no less,
And thirdly, a saint. On the whole,
There wasnít much to impress.

I assured him with a laugh:
Your plea has no effect:
I see you belong to the past,
In every respect.

Go away! Back to where you belong!
To your deep grave, go back to sleep.
Your chapel and all its treasure
Are now for life to take and keep.

The futureís merry cavalry,
In this cathedral should be housed,
And if youíre not willing, Iíll use force:
Iíll club you till youíre deloused!

Thus I spoke; I turned around
And saw the fearsome glint
Of my mute companionís fearsome axe;
He understood my hint.

He stepped up and with his axe
Started his work of demolition:
With one blow, he ruthlessly smashed
The poor skeletons of superstition.

Grimly reverberated through all the vaults,
The echo of his stroke.
Streams of blood shot from my heart,
And suddenly, I awoke.


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