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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Heinrich Heine

This statue had a dramatic life. The birth was in a marvelous place, blessed by gods and by nature, then it had to err continually, like damned by a terrible spell, to hide for long years, till finding the city willing to accept its presence and to honor the monument as deserved.

The statue had been commissioned by the Empress of Austria Elisabeth (Sissi) for her Achilleion palace, on the island of Corfu. Let's describe a little bit this birthplace: it was celebrating the great love of the Empress for the Greek mythology, and was abundant in paintings and statues with heroes and scenes from the Trojan War - a reenactment of the Antique universe, surrounded by the ever green nature of Corfu, and bathed by a sky ever blue.

The statue of Heine was placed in a small classic temple in the garden of Achilleion. Says Oscar Levy in his introduction to Heine's Atta Troll, Elizabeth felt a sentimental affinity with the poet; his unhappiness, his Weltschmerz, touched a responsive chord in her own unhappy heart. It was after the tragedy of Mayerling, and Achilleion was for the Empress a way to alleviate the terrible loss of her son, Archduke Rudolf: a conjunction of Greek culture, and sun, and sea, and poetry.

Achilleion and its whole environment calls in my mind another place with another story: the villa of San Michele on the island of Capri. Also the Castle built by Queen Marie of Romania at Balchik. There are such places blessed by a special light, by a ever blue sky and an ever bright sun, by the vicinity of sea, where special temperaments like Empress Elisabeth, like Axel Munthe, like Queen Marie, come to get some sort of epiphany. Such places are blessed, such people are blessed, sensible to the beauty of nature, to the beauty of arts and to the beauty of history. They are trying to advance toward epiphany together with their heroes, Achilles for Elisabeth, Tiberius for Munthe, as well as the Saints and Prophets of a generous Baha'i Weltanschauung for Marie; through them, the Antique personages live once more, in search of this epiphany.

The Empress died soon after, assassinated by an anarchist, and Achilleion was bought by the Emperor of Germany, Wilhelm II. He ordered the statue of Heine to be removed. For the German Emperor, Heine was but a Schmutzfink in deutschen Dichterwald (a muckraker among German poets), just that. Well, there was a reason in Wilhelm's attitude: Heine had been for all his life an outspoken enemy of Prussia and of the Hohenzollerns.

The statue was brought to Hamburg, by Julius Campe, the editor of Heine. Campe tried to put the statue in a public place in Hamburg; it proved impossible due to the city opposition: the radical political views of Heine were a bone of contention for many. Also his Jewish origin.  So the statue stayed for a while in the garden of Campe, then in a cellar. By 1926, the statue was moved to a public place in Altona. In 1933 Nazis came to power, and the statue was saved by Campe's daughter, who took it in a lorry and departed for Toulon, in France. The statue had then to pass the Nazi occupation of France, and it survived hidden in a crate. Finally, in 1956, the statue was re-erected in a public spot of Toulon.

Was Heine a Romantic? There is no simple answer. He has many reasons to claim his belonging to the school of Hugo and Lamartine. His lyric chord attained a classic perfection in its simplicity: any more word  added in any of his verses would spoil everything; any word taken out from there would leave the verse in fatal pain. And there are many reasons to consider Heine's Atta Troll the way he called it: das letzte freie Waldlied der Romantik (the last free woodland-song of Romanticism),

In the same time, Heine was simply too lucid to be a Romantic, his witty irony fatally excluded him from there and made him a Romantique défroqué. Add to this his radical political views that led to the physical separation from his country and not only: German society of his time was not willing to accept his critical voice, to empathize with  him - in some way they considered him a German défroqué. I would like to quote here again Oscar Levy:

He was one of those poets--of whom the nineteenth century produced only a few, but those amongst the greatest--who had begun to distrust the capacity of the reigning aristocracy, who knew what to expect from the rising bourgeoisie, and who were nevertheless not romantic enough to believe in the people and the wonderful possibilities hidden in them... All these poets have experienced a fate surprisingly similar, and their relationship to their respective countries reminds one of those unhappy matrimonial alliances which--for social or religious reasons--no divorce can ever dissolve. And, worse than that, no separation either, for a poet is--through his mother tongue--so intimately wedded to his country that not even a separation can effect any sort of relief in such a desperate case.

(German and Nordic Literature)

(Empress Sissi)

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