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HEINE'S VAUDEVILLE BARKER FAIRLEY I T is no exaggeration to ·say that Heine is the most widely read and widely enjoyed of all ,lyrical poets, unless, perhaps, we except his ancestor, the Psalmist. Neither the songs of Shakespeare nor the songs of Goethe have quite achieved the international success of Du bis! wie eine Blume or of 1m wunderschiinen Mona! Mai. If a universal ballot could be taken covering the last century; Heine would be an easy winner. Not that he would score heavily at first. A century ago-in 1834the now famous Buch der Lieder was before the literary public but had hardly reached it. The first edition, of 1827-itself a re-editing of verses previously published and dating back to 182I-met the need for ten years, and it was only with the second and subsequent editions that its wider popularity came. From then on, however, it carried all before it: if not in Germany, where its French and Jewish affinities have been so ungenerously remembered, at any rate in France, in England, and, it is safe to say, in all countries where German was translated or read and an interest in lyrical poetry existed. There is little to be gained by quarrelling with this popularity and few outside Germany will be prompted to do so. Yet a double charge can be levelled against it: first, that it has obscured the richer Heine-the Heine, shall we say, of the Romanzero; and, second- here may lie the cause of the obscuring-that it is due to a misreading ofHeine, a misreading which, beginning early, has perpetuated itself and quite overlaid the meaning that the poems had for their author. The stronghold of Heine's dominion-in foreign countries where his hold is THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY securest-is the young reader, new to the German language and flattered by the discovery that here are poems, German poems, that he can read without a dictionaryalmost as easily as if they were in Ills mother-tonguedeceived , too, by their pervasive note of simple feeling into taking them at their face-value and believing that . they are the ingenuous love-poems that they at first sight seem to be. Such a reader, returning to them in afterlife , courts disappointment. N o less a person than Robert Bridges found it so and said it in rhyme: Be these the selfsame verses That once when I was young Charm'd me with dancing magic To love their foreign tongue, Delicate buds of passion, Gems of a mas ter's art, That broke forth rivalling Nature In love-songs of the heart; Like fresh leaves of the woodland Whose trembling screens would house The wanton birdies courting Upon the springing boughs? How beautifully he fell into the trap! And he a poet too, though not much of one in these verses. The only line in his metrical definition that might be allowed to stand is "Gems of a master's art." But the phrase is not stressed and serves chiefly to pad the stanza. · Certainly the emphasis is all on "the heart," "Natme," and her woodnotes . It is not surprising that he felt let down on that later day and even forgot himself so far as to tear up the once-loved volume-it would seem- stamp on it, and leave the room. Such, at least, is a plausible reading of the lines that follow and conclude the poem: 186 I f ! I I I I I HEINE'S VAUDEVILLE Alas, how now they are wither'd ! And fallen from the skies In yellowy tawny crumple Their tender wreckage, lies, And all their ravisht beauty Strewn 'neath my feet to-day Rustles as I go striding . Upon my wintry way. Strange, that one poet should so completely misunderstand another. It is essential to the understanding of Heine the poet, and to the linking-up of this first stage of his art with the later stages, that these lyrics, on which his chief fame still rests, should be seen to be neither "buds" nor "flowers" of passion-though in their way "delicate" enough-and, far from attempting to rival "Nature," written with...


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pp. 185-207
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