On Teleology

By Heinrich Heine

Legs, to each man two were given
By the Lord, so forward-driven
He would have us, not be bound,
Brothers, to familiar ground.
For, to toe a static line,
Just one leg will do just fine.

Eyes we got from God, a pair,
So we'd see things straight and clear;
To believe the things we read,
Just one eye were all we'd need.
Two of them thus God supplies,
Thus to ogle, as He bade us,
At the pretty world He made us,
On which we may feast our eyes;
Yet, whilst ogling in the alleys,
Just these eyes we ought to use,
For it pains the man who dallies
In those boots that so abuse
Corns, or "hen's eyes" as we call them,
Such affliction must befall them.

God equipped us with two hands,
For donations doubly grand,
Not for double money-grubbing,
Treasure chest and wallet-stuffing,
Heaping up and hoarding, too,
Just as certain people do --
(Mentioning just whom we meant were
Boldness that we may not venture --
Gladly we'd hang all of them,
Yet they are important men,
Philanthropic gents and matrons,
Many also are our patrons.
One shan't make, from German oaks,
Gallows for the wealthy folks.)

Just one nose did God provide,
Two would never fit inside
Any glass without some clashing,
And the wine would soon be splashing.

Just one mouth. Here God was chary;
Two would be unsanitary.
Man, with just that mouth as such,
Prates and babbles far too much.
Had he double mouths to try,
All the more he'd eat and lie.
When the time has come to sup,
For a while he stops his bleating;
If his mouth were doubled up,
He'd be lying while he's eating.

With two ears did God provide us,
Excellently dignified us
With the symmetry He chose.
They're not quite as long as those
Of our honest, gray and stately
Comrades, theirs are long innately.
Ears God gave us, to abide in
Works of Mozart, Gluck and Haydn,
Masterpieces each and all --
Were there only music-colic
And the hemorrhoidal-music
Of the mighty Meyerbeer,
We would only need one ear! --

As to fair-haired Teutolinde
I was speaking, even so,
She sighed deeply and said: Oh!
Musing over God's decisions,
Criticizing our creator,
Oh! It's like a pot's ambition
To be smarter than the potter!
Man is ever asking: Why?
Should some thing his sense defy.
Friend, I've listened to you tell
Your story, you've explained it well,
How, with plans most wisely laid,
God, for humans, doubly made
Arms and legs and ears and eyes,
While the single type applies
To His choice of mouth and nose --

But, now tell me why God chose,
After making all of nature,
To go on and then create your
Scandalizing requisite,
That a man must use as fit
For his race's propagation
And, as well, for urination?
My dear friend, a duplicate
In this case were truly needed,
Functions that can't be impeded,
Vital for the nation state,
For the individual,
And the common good as well:
These two functions, which so horribly,
Hideously and deplorably
Thus to contrast are inclined
And embarrass all mankind.
How a maid, whose heart is free,
Blushes, when she has to see
How her loftiest ideal
Is profaned, so trivial!
How love's shrine, where angels flutter,
Now becomes a common gutter!
Psyche shudders, as her Cupid
In the darkness fondly kissing,
By her lamp, becomes a stupid
Statue of a youngster -- pissing.

Thus she ended her discourses,
And I answered: Hold your horses!
Like all women, dim and flighty,
Child, you do not grasp God's mighty
System of utility,
How He works economy:
So, in turn, the apparatus
Serves all kinds of need and status,
Holy needs just like profane ones,
Piquant needs just like mundane ones,
All is simplified, refined;
All is clever when combined:
That, which man must use to piss,
Doubles as his genesis,
On the same old bagpipe plays
Same old riff-raff, come what may.
Dainty paws and mitts much grosser
Fiddle on the same viola,
Through the same old wheels and vapors
Each one yawns and sings and capers,
And the same old omnibus
Takes us all to Tartarus.

 Posted by permission of the translator ~ © 2005



1. Heine combines two allusions in this poem:
first, the story of Psyche and Cupid, where
Psyche marries Cupid without knowing who
he is, and receives him only in the dark
of night, forbidden to see him. When she
disobeys and lights her lamp, he flies away.
However, Heine's Cupid at this point is
transformed into the famous Flemish statue      
of a young boy urinating, called
"Manneken Pis."

"Psyche schaudert, denn der kleine
Gott Amor der Finsternis,
Er verwandelt sich beim Scheine
Ihrer Lamp -- in Mankepiss."

2. Tar-ta-rus: the infernal regions of ancient Greek mythology

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