Heine's Epitaph

(From Journey from Munich to Genoa, Chapter XXXI - published as part of the Reisebilder)

By Heinrich Heine

           As if under a triumphal arch of collossal masses of clouds, the sun drew upwards, victorious, cheerful, secure, auguring a lovely day. But for me it was like the poor moon, that still stood fading in the sky. It had wandered along its solitary path in the barren nighttime, when happiness slumbered and only ghosts, owls and sinners walked abroad; and now, as the young day climbed forth, with jubilant beams and shimmering dawn, now must it depart -- just one wistful glance toward the great light of the world, and it disappeared like fragrant mist.
           "It will be a lovely day," called my travelling companion to me from the wagon. Yes, it will be a lovely day, repeated softly my praying heart, and trembled with melancholy and joy. Yes, it will be a lovely day, the sun of freedom will warm the earth more happily than all the combined stars of the aristocracy; a new generation will blossom up, engendered in the embrace of free choice, not in the bed of compulsion and under control of spiritual customs officers; with the free birth for men will come also free thoughts and feelings into the world, of which we who are born as servants have no notion -- Oh! they will apprehend just as little how horrible was the night, in whose darkness we have had to live, and how atrociously we have had to fight, with ugly ghosts, thumping owls and sanctimonious sinners! O we poor fighters! that we have had to misspend our lifetimes in such battles and are now tired and pale, as the day of victory beams forth! The glow of the sunrise will no longer be able to redden our cheeks and warm our hearts, we'll die off like the perishing moon -- the wander-path of Man is measured all too short, and at its end is the implacable grave.
           I really know not, if I deserve to have the laurel wreath one day adorn my coffin. Poesy, as much as I may have loved it, was always but a holy plaything to me, or the consecrated means to a divine end. I have never placed great value on poet's fame, and if one praises my songs or censures them, it concerns me little. But ye should lay a sword upon my coffin; for I was a good soldier in the liberation wars of mankind.

An excerpt from this passage appears on the Heinrich Heine memorial in the city of Hamburg.

Posted by permission of the translator ~ © 2005

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