On 17 Feb 1856, Heinrich Heine, one of Germany’s greatest poets, died in exile in France. He is one of my favourite German poets, combining lyricism with subtle, but biting irony. Many of his poems reveal the shallowness and hypocrisy of German society during the Restauration — and as you can imagine those in power did not like this (or him) in the least. He became a victim of censorship, yet the people at his publisher’s (Hoffmann & Campe) were crafty and managed to smuggle his books across several German borders in the disguise of cookbooks.
I guess my favourite Heine poem would be “Die schlesischen Weber”, a poem about the weaver riots in Silesia in June 1844. Later in the century, it inspired Gerhard Hauptmann to write the play Die Weber. The poem gives a voice to the weavers, who curse God, king and country for letting them alone in their misery, and swear to weave the thrice-cursed shroud for Old Germany. Each stanza ends with “Wir weben, wir weben!” (“We’re weaving, we’re weaving!”) — almost like a bordun accompaniment. It lends the poem a powerful and threatening quality.
Yet the best known poem by Heine is probably the one on the Lorelei (“Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten / Daß ich so traurig bin . . . “), which was later put to music and is now sung with great enthusiasm on the tourist ships on the Rhine. :O)