Young Tom-Cat Club

By Heinrich Heine

The Philharmonic Tom-Cat Club
Was up on the roof congregating
Tonight -- yet not from sensual lust;
It wasn't for rutting and mating.

It suits no summer-night's wedding-dream,
No love-song with hearts all a-flutter,
This Winter season, this frost and snow,
And frozen was every gutter.

And a spirit altogether new
Had the cat-fraternity captured;
Especially the youth, for the young Tom-Cat's
For serious things enraptured.

The old and frivolous folks have breathed
Their last; now a new kind of striving,
A cat-springtime of poetry
Bestirs in Art and Living.

The Philharmonic Tom-Cat Club
Is now, at last, returning
To primitive, artless artistry;
For the savage Naive they are yearning.

They want the music-poetry,
Roulades without a quaver,
Instrumental and vocal poetry,
That is no music, they favor.

They want the rule of Genius now
That oft, perhaps, may bungle,
But yet, in Art, unconsciously,
The superlative tone may jingle.

To Genius they pay homage now,
That never from Nature departed,
They put on no airs about Learning, for
With Learning they never got started.

This is the plan of the Tom-Cat club
And full of aspiration
They gave their first Winter concert tonight
In roof-top presentation.

How frightfully did they execute
The mighty, the pompous idea there --
O hang thyself, dear Berlioz,
That thou couldst not manage to be there.

It was a dizzying shivaree,
Like a jig for some bovine sashayers,
Suddenly struck by a cognac-besot
Three dozen-odd bagpipe players.

That was a howling, yowling, as if
In Noah's ark they were raising
Their beastly voices in unison,
The sinners' flood all praising.

O, what a croaking and wailing and snarl,
What a miaowing and howling!
The agéd chimneys all joined in
With snorting church-choraling.

Especially audible was a voice
That sounded both screechy and tired,
Like once the singing of Sontag was,
When her voice had already expired.

A crazy concert! I believe that I heard
A mighty Tedeum sung there,
To hail the triumph, of Reason's demise,
That daring Madness had wrung there.

Perhaps the Tom-Cats assayed, as well,
The opera so stellar,
That Hungary's greatest pianist
Composed for Charenton's dwellers.

At daybreak did the Sabbath end,
It came in the morning quite early,
It caused a pregnant cooking-maid
To be giving birth prematurely.

Her senses were so overwhelmed, that now
Her memory's lost in a dither.
She can't recall, who the father is,
Of the baby, that she delivered.

Was it then Peter? Was it then Paul?
Lisa, who made thee maternal?
Then Lisa, radiant, smiles and speaks:
O Liszt! Thou Tom-Cat supernal!...

 Posted by permission of the translator ~ © 1998

It is difficult to do justice to Heine's poems, in attempting to translate them into English. They are bristling with word-play; for example, in this poem, the German word "Kater", translated here as "Tom-Cat", can also mean "hangover". Heine creates comical compound words, like "Kuhschwanzhopsasaschleifer", which are impossible to render in English. However, we couldn't resist the subject matter. The reference to "Hungary's greatest pianist" is, of course, to Franz Liszt, and Charenton was a famous French mental institution.

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