By Heinrich Heine

The body lay upon the bier,
The soul, however, from the sphere
Of earthly turmoil had been snatched,
And off to Heaven was dispatched.
It knocked there at those gates on high,
And spoke these words with a heavy sigh:
"Saint Peter, come and open up!
Life's made me tired enough to drop,
I'd like to relax on a silken throne,
And then, in that celestial zone,
I'll play with cherubs, blind-man's-buff,
And I'll have peace and quiet enough."

Now shuffling slippers one can hear,
A klinking key-ring drawing near,
And see through a slot in the gate so stout,
Saint Peter's visage peering out.

He says: "We get the vagabonds,
The gypsies, Poles and raggedy-Johns,
The idlers and the Hottentots,
They come alone, and they come in lots,
And want to enter paradise
And all be angels, blest and nice.
Begone! Begone! For gallows-faces
Of your ilk, there are no places
Here, not in these heavenly halls,
For those whose lot to Satan falls.
Away from here! And scoot pell-mell
To the blackest seat of eternal Hell - "

So growls the greybeard, yet he can't
Continue with his rumbling rant,
He takes a more consoling theme:
"O you poor soul, you do not seem
To be a scoundrel of that kind,
And just today I'm of a mind
To mercifully your wish allow,
Because it is my birthday now -
So name for me the city and state
You come from, and then please relate
If you were married? - Conjugal toil
May oft atone for sins most vile;
To stew in Hell is no married man's fate,
We don't keep him waiting at Heaven's gate."

The soul responds: "I'm from Berlin,
And Prussia is the land it's in.
There trickles the Spree, and in her beds
They love to soak, the young cadets;
In rain, it floods so pleasantly -
Berlin's a lovely place to be!
I was a private tutor there,
Philosophy was my main fare -
I married to a canoness,
Yet she could make an awful fuss,
Especially when we had no bread,
That's why I perished and now I'm dead."

Saint Peter cried: "Oy vey, oy vey!
Philosophy is a bad metier.
And truly, I could never see
Why people learn philosophy -
A boring, profitless pursuit,
And it's a godless one to boot;
One lives in hunger and in doubt
'Til finally the devil calls you out.

Your wailing Xanthippe oft would droop
Above the meager water-soup,
And never had a drop of fat
That she could smile in solace at -
But now, poor soul, just be at ease!
Although I'm under strict decrees,
That if a man should ever be
Caught dabbling in philosophy,
Those godless Germans, above all,
I'll curse and scourge them from this hall -
But it's my birthday, like I said,
I won't drive you away. Instead,
Today, I'll open up the gate
Of Heaven, so don't hesitate,
Come quick, inside -
You're safe and sound!
From dawn to dusk, the day around,
You can go strolling anywhere
In Heaven, rambling here and there
In gemstone-studded alleyways.
But know, that here nobody strays
Into philosophy; you see,
You'd compromise me terribly -
If you hear angels sing, employ
A cock-eyed face of transfigured joy,
And should but one archangel sing,
Be rapturously quivering,
And tell him, that great Malibran
Could never sing the way he can -
Applaud whenever you hear the hymn
Of the cherubim and seraphim,
Compare them all with Signor Rubini,
With Mario and Tamburini -
Give them titles, befitting their station,
And don't be stingy with adoration.

With singers, in Heaven as on earth,
Just flatter them for all you're worth -
The Great Conductor here above,
Yes, even he does dearly love
To hear some singer Praise the Lord,
He's glad when, with a mighty chord,
A psalm of praise and glory booms
Through smothering clouds of incense-fumes.

Now, don't forget. When all this adoring
And splendor of Heaven starts to get boring,
Just come to me. We'll play some cards,
I know the games, the whole nine yards,
From Lancer, up to King Pharaoh.
We'll drink, as well -- how apropos!
And if the Lord should somehow come
Along, and ask you: Where're you from?
Don't tell Him that you're from Berlin,
Say Munich, or Vienna, then."

 Posted by permission of the translator ~ © 2005


1. mé·tier
Variant(s):  also me.tier /'me-"tyA, me-'/
Function: noun
Etymology: French, from (assumed) Vulgar Latin misterium, alteration of Latin
ministerium work, ministry
Date: 1792
2 : an area of activity in which one excels : FORTE

2. Xan·thip·pe
Pronunciation: zan-'thi-pE, -'ti-
Variant(s):  or /-'ti-pE/
Function: noun
Etymology: Greek XanthippE, shrewish wife of Socrates
Date: 1691
: an ill-tempered woman

3."Lancer" (Lanzknecht or Landsknecht) and "King Pharaoh"
(König Pharo) were popular card games.

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