On 2 Poets

Using my 2 years of college German, I’ve enjoyed reading German lyric poetry over the years (particularly when  a handy English translation is included).  I have a battered old Doubleday paperback, edited by Angel Flores:  An Anthology of German Poetry From Hoelderlin to Rilke.

My favorite of the included poets is Heinrich Heine– his sardonic wit appeals to me, and I like the fact that perhaps the greatest German poet was a Jew!

I may even try my hand at  translating one or two Heine lyrics myself.  But I’ll never rise to the level of Edwin Morgan, whose “braid Scots” translations are great poems in their own right.  Today I looked up Edwin Morgan and found a website dedicated to “Scotland’s greatest poet” .

More on this later…


6 Responses to “On 2 Poets”

  1. cantueso Says:

    I also think he was Germany’s greatest poet and, unlike Goethe, he is still read by many people, and my own 2 volume collection of his poems is about to fall apart, though I treat all my books carefully, but Heine’s had to take much handling and traveling.

    However, yes, there is a “but”. Goethe is very very great and in Part 1 of his Faust he could have been Heine’s boss. Heine always thought so.

    Problem: Goethe is not likable. As a young man he was disliked because he seems to have been a little rude or too inward-looking to ever be aware of other people’s eyes and ears. And he became older and so polite that nobody could get near him anymore.

    Even if you know only a little German, you could try some Faust I, omitting Goethe’s introduction and starting where it says:

    Habe nun, ach,
    Philosophie und Medizin
    und leider auch
    Theologie durchaus studiert,

    • pjoenotes Says:

      How interesting this is! I have just finished reading Faust “Erster Teil”– again in a dual-language edition, the translator being Peter Salm. I did this because a “Great Books” discussion group to which I belong will discuss Faust I next Februray (in English, trans. by the Am. poet Randall Jarrell). And in my 2nd-year college German we had read the “Gretchen Tragödie” i.e. excerpts from Faust I which dealt with Faust & Margaret– which I enjoyed very much. I always remembered Faust’s unsuccessful pickup line when he first saw her:
      Mein schönes Fraulein, darf ich wagen
      Meinen Arm und Geleit ihr anzutragen?
      — and her response:
      Bin weder Fräulein, weder schön,
      Kann ungeleitet nach Hause gehen!
      You are quite right about Goethe not being very lovable; especially considering some aspects of his lovelife being a bit like Faust with Gretchen (did he ever get some poor servant girl pregnant? I wonder). But he was certainly almost uniquely talented. Maybe it’s time for a Goethe revival? I will do my part.

  2. cantueso Says:

    I see you know German — and you are reading Goethe!
    Finding a needle in a haystack or an English speaking Goethe reader on WordPress !

    There was one minuscule mistake or typo in your quote: instead of “ihr”, it has to be “Ihr”.

    Do you know that the Goethe vs Heine subject is a heart-breaking thing? It is awful. Heine is all likable, Goethe can be nauseating. However, you would agree that you can’t simply select your reading as you would select a dish in a five fork restaurant.

    And imagine Heine begged Goethe practically on his ideas to be allowed to kiss his hand and Goethe did not answer. Heine sent his poetry to Goethe and begged for an answer. There was none. Heine apologized for being poorly dressed when he asked to be received by Goethe, and no answer. (I have one or two of those letters and can copy them here, if you like)

    So I thought that maybe Goethe simply did not see Heine’s greatness, since depending on what you get to see maybe some people would tend to think that Heine was some sort of journalese verse smith.

    But no. I read deep into Goethe’s longwinded autobiography, and there I saw him complain that Germany had no cultural center and that Germany’s great men were dispersed. And he said (quoting from memory): “Kant is in Königsberg, NNN is in Heidelberg, QQQ is in Frankfurt, and Heine is in Paris; now, dispersed like that, how can anything grow?” (seeing the quote, it sounds more like coming from Eckersmann’s “Gespräche”). So he had seen Heine’s caliber.

    No, I don’t think it is time for a Goethe revival. C’est fini.

    How far did you get with the “Gretchen-Episode”? You know it goes on all the way to the awful end when she gets executed, not by the Church, by the way, but by the civil authorities + rabble.

    • pjoenotes Says:

      We got thru the “Gretchen episode”– enough that I remembered lots of it when reading “Faust, Erster Teil” in a dual-language edition after many many years.
      I think Gretchen is a wonderful creation! The scene in which she tells Faust of her revulsion against his “friend” is very good: an innocent, naturally good person recognizing the Devil. But she hardly had a chance against Heinrich and his “friend”. Why does Goethe call him Heinrich Faust? Well, when was he first called Johann?

  3. cantueso Says:

    I see that on my blog you left a note, and I thought you were the photographer of the Vatican pictures.

    I wonder why you would not link your avatar to your blog so that readers can find you.

    If you like I could tell you how to link it

  4. cantueso Says:

    There is a rather complete collection of portrais of Goethe at


    I wonder whether you would think they confirm your (provisional) idea of what he was like.

    Notice the openness in the face of the young man vs the anguish in the face of the old man.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: