Saturday, November 20, 2010


Anno 1829 or Anno 2010?

Heinrich Heine, Anno 1829 (tr. Charles Stuart Calverley):
I crave an ampler, worthier sphere:
  I'd liefer bleed at every vein
Than stifle 'mid these hucksters here,
  These lying slaves of paltry gain.

They eat, they drink; they're every whit
  As happy as their type, the mole;
Large are their bounties—as the slit
  Through which they drop the poor man's dole.

With pipe in mouth they go their way,
  With hands in pockets; they are blest
With grand digestions: only they
  Are such hard morsels to digest!

The hand that's red with some dark deed,
  Some giant crime, were white as wool
Compared with these sleek saints, whose creed
  Is paying all their debts in full.

Ye clouds that sail to far-off lands,
  O waft me to what clime ye will;
To Lapland's snows, to Libya's sands,
  To the world's end—but onward still!

Take me, O clouds! They ne'er look down;
  But (proof of a discerning mind)
One moment hang o'er Hamburg town,
  The next they leave it leagues behind.
The same, tr. Hal Draper:
If I'm to bleed to death in peace,
Give me a noble, wide terrain!
Oh, do not let me smother here
In this cramped huckster world of gain!

They gorge and swill, they drink their fill
Contentedly like happy moles,
And their big hearts are just as big
In bounty as the poorbox holes.

A fat cigar stuck in the face,
They go their way with stolid phlegm;
No doubt they have good stomachs too—
If only one could stomach them!

They deal in spices of all kinds
And spices scent the breeze in shoals;
But still upon the air one smells
The stench of rotten-herring souls.

I'd rather see some dreadful vice,
Some bloody crime that's big and brash—
But not this well-fed virtue, this
Morality that pays in cash!

O clouds above, take me along
To Lapland or to Zanzibar,
Or even Pomerania—
To any land, but far, oh far!

Take me along!—They hear me not.
The clouds above are wise indeed!
When they go by above this town
They fearfully increase their speed.
The German original:
Daß ich bequem verbluten kann,
Gebt mir ein edles, weites Feld!
O, laßt mich nicht ersticken hier
In dieser engen Krämerwelt!

Sie essen gut, sie trinken gut,
Erfreun sich ihres Maulwurfglücks,
Und ihre Großmut ist so groß
Als wie das Loch der Armenbüchs.

Zigarren tragen sie im Maul
Und in der Hosentasch' die Händ';
Auch die Verdauungskraft ist gut—
Wer sie nur selbst verdauen könnt!

Sie handeln mit den Spezerei'n
Der ganzen Welt, doch in der Luft,
Trotz allen Würzen, riecht man stets
Den faulen Schellfischseelenduft.

O, daß ich große Laster säh,
Verbrechen, blutig, kolossal—
Nur diese satte Tugend nicht,
Und zahlungsfähige Moral!

Ihr Wolken droben, nehmt mich mit,
Gleichviel nach welchem fernen Ort!
Nach Lappland oder Afrika,
Und sei's nach Pommern—fort! nur fort!

O, nehmt mich mit—sie hören nicht—
Die Wolken droben sind so klug!
Vorüberreisend dieser Stadt,
Ängstlich beschleun'gen sie den Flug.
Cartoon by William Gropper

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