Heinrich Heine

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Heine, Heinrich

Heine, Heinrich (hīnˈrĭkh hīˈnə), 1797–1856, German poet, b. Düsseldorf, of a Jewish family. One of the greatest of German lyric poets, he had a varied career. After failing in business he tried law but found it uncongenial and finally turned to history and literature. His first published poems and plays established him as a young romantic. In the literary salon of Rahel Varnhagen von Ense he met, among others, Fouqué, Chamisso, Hoffmann, Grabbe, and Immermann; some of these became life-long friends, others bitter enemies. Disillusioned with Germany and in political disgrace because of his liberal sympathies, he left for Paris (1831), where he supported the social ideals of the French Revolution, becoming for a time a Saint-Simonist. As the towering figure of the revolutionary literary movement Young Germany, he continued from Paris to disseminate French revolutionary ideas in Germany. He received a French government pension, worked as correspondent for German newspapers, and died after years of severe illness, during which he was nursed by his faithful “Mouche” (who used the pen name Camille Selden). Heine's writing reflects the dualism of his nature; it shows strong influences of both classic and romantic German literature. Despite a conversion to Christianity, Jewish themes frequently figure in his works, as does the influence of English and French literature. His Buch der Lieder (1827, tr. Book of Songs, 1846), which contains the lyric cycles “Nordsee” and “Lyrisches Intermezzo,” shows his indebtedness to the romantic folk-song poets. Other collections of poems are Neue Gedichte (1847), Romanzero (1851), and Letzte Gedichte (1853). Schumann composed music for Heine's poems, as did Schubert, Mendelssohn, Liszt, and many others. His lyrics have been used in more than 3,000 compositions, the most popular perhaps being “Die Lorelei,” with melody by Friedrich Silcher (1789–1860). Heine's later poems and especially his prose works established him as a satirist of barbed wit and as an embittered critic of romanticism, of jingoistic patriotism, and of current social and political affairs. Most poignant are Die Harzreise [Harz journey] (1826) and Reisebilder [travel pictures] (1827–31), which combine poetry and prose. Atta Troll (1843) and Deutschland (1844) reflect his reaction to German anti-Semitism, as do his earliest dramatic work, Almansor, and an unfinished novel, Der Rabbi von Bacharach. Possibly because of their cosmopolitan character, Heine's works have never been as popular in Germany as they have in other lands. Virtually all of Heine's works have been translated into English, notably by E. A. Bowring, Havelock Ellis, C. G. Leland, Louis Untermeyer, and Humbert Wolfe.


See biographies by E. M. Butler (1956) and G. Prochnik (2020); studies by M. Brod (1957), S. S. Prower (1961), L. Hofrichter (1963), M. Spann (1966), J. L. Sammons (1979), P. Kossoff (1983).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Heine, Heinrich


Born Dec. 13, 1797, in Dusseldorf; died Feb. 17, 1856, in Paris. German poet, publicist, and critic. Born into a Jewish family of modest means.

At the university, Heine was enrolled in the law department, but he attended classes on philology and philosophy with more enthusiam. He heard G. Hegel’s lectures between 1821 and 1823. His best poems of this period were included in the Book of Songs (first complete publication, 1827). An innovator as a poet, Heine subtly captured the character and melodious intonation of German folk lyrics and at the same time saved them from archaisms and prolixities. The folk song was firmly linked in his works to the ideas of political and social liberation. In Travel Pictures (parts 1-4, 1826-31), the Germany of that period is presented to the contemporary poet with its backwardness, barren erudition, lawlessness, and philistinism. Memories of the Great French Revolution and of Napoleon, whom Heine saw as its successor, emerge in the Le Grand Book. The tale of the drummer Le Grand and the red processions of the guillotine resounds with revolutionary appeal and with the portents of the end of the Restoration and the dominion of the Holy Alliance.

In May 1831, Heine left for France, where he became a political émigré for the rest of his days. He fascinated Germans with the political experience of the French and with their example of active political struggle. His works French Affairs (1832) and Lutezia (1840-47; separate publication, 1854) provide a chronicle and analysis of French political life. In the essays French Artists (1831) and the letters On the French Stage (1837), Heine proved to be an excellent art critic. His works The Romantic School (German publication, 1833; more complete edition, 1836) and On the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany (German edition, 1834; French edition, 1835) served to acquaint the French people with the life and culture of Germany. In the first of these works he reproached the German romantics for their inclination to ally with feudal forces and the Catholic Church; however, he also noted their merits as experts and propagandists of folk culture.

For Heine, the greatest representative of German literature was the confirmed realist and worshipper of nature J. W. von Goethe. However, he condemned Goethe’s conciliatory attitude toward German bourgeois philistinism. Heine was able to perceive the revolutionary nature of Hegel’s dialectics, which was not very accessible to his contemporaries. F. Engels had a high opinion of Heine’s philosophical acumen, although, properly speaking, the latter’s philosophical credo was limited to pantheism, through which he wanted to reconcile the idealist and materialist philosophies. In Paris, Heine studied the doctrines of the French socialists. He did not believe in the peaceful establishment of socialism, but was a partisan of political struggle, which the Utopians rejected. In the pamphlet Ludwig Börne (1840), Heine criticized the Young Germany group, and especially the narrow-mindedness of the political views of L. Börne.

Contemporary Poems was written in 1843-44. The poem Atta Troll was published in 1843, and Germany, A Winter’s Tale in 1844. The first was directed against the German philistines who offered a caricature of socialism instead of true socialism in its national German form. The second is a review of the forces that might be able to carry out a German revolution and a call for that revolution to proceed in the most radical forms possible. Nationalism and militarism are exposed in the majority of Heine’s works as the worst enemies of democracy.

Heine’s political verses are a model of realism in poetry, combining keen topicality with long-range ideological perspectives. Heine’s friendship with the young K. Marx, struck up in Paris in December 1843, was important for his creative work during this period. Chapters of Germany, A Winter’s Tale were published in 1844 in Vorwärts, a Paris newspaper for émigrés from Germany that Marx helped to edit.

In 1846, Heine fell victim to an agonizing illness that left him bedridden and made it impossible for him to participate in the Revolution of 1848; his poems only rarely appeared in the press. Romanzero, a book of poems that marked a distinct stage in Heine’s creative work, was published in 1851. The grief and irony of this book were prompted by both personal motives and the defeat of the bourgeois revolution in Europe. In 1853-54 Heine published Confessions, in which he proclaimed his conversion to religion—although with self-mockery. In the last years of his life, he returned to political poetry, castigating the revolutionary movement for its errors while maintaining the hope that it would be reborn in a new, higher form.

Even during his lifetime, Heine enjoyed fame throughout Europe. In Russia, his poems were translated by M. Iu. Lermontov, F. I. Tiutchev, A. A. Fet, M. L. Mikhailov, I. F. Annenskii, and A. A. Blok. Deeply sympathetic to Heine were N. G. Chernyshevskii, N. A. Dobroliubov, and M. E. Saltykov-Shchedrin. His poem Doctrine was very popular in the 1840’s: N. A. Dobroliubov made its first line (“Beat the drum and be not afraid”) an epigraph for his article When Will the Real Day Come? (1860). D. I. Pisarev wrote an interesting article on Heine, and the latter’s work prompted a multitude of new interpretations and translations in the USSR (Iu. N. Tynianov, V. V. Levik, V. A. Zorgenfrei, and others). In Hitler’s Germany, Heine’s works were burned in bonfires. After fascism was destroyed, his legacy was restored in the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany.

Publication of Heine’s complete collected works, planned for 50 volumes, has been proceeding in the German Democratic Republic since 1969.


Sämtliche Werke, vols. 1-4. Edited by E. Elster. Leipzig, 1924.
Werke, vols. 1-5 [9th ed.]. Berlin-Weimar, 1967.
Briefe, vols. 1-6. Edited by F. Hirth. Mainz, 1950-56.
In Russian translation:
Poln. sobr. soch., vols. 1-12. Introductory articles by G. Lukács (vol. 1), A. I. Deich (vol. 2), A. Z. Lezhnev (vol. 4), and N. Ia. Berkovskii (vol. 8). Moscow-Leningrad, 1935-49.
Sobr. soch., vols. 1-10. Introductory article by D. I. Zaslavskii. Leningrad, 1956-59.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Ob iskusstve, vol. 2. Moscow, 1967.
Pisarev, D. I. “Genrikh Geine.” In Soch., vol. 4. Moscow, 1956.
Mehring, F. Literaturno-kriticheskie stat’i. [Moscow-Leningrad] 1964.
Lunacharskii, A. V. “Geine—myslitel’.” In his book Stat’i o literature. Moscow, 1957.
Khavtasi, G. Teoriia iskusstva G. Geine. Tbilisi, 1956. (In Georgian.)
Korniu, O. K. Marks i F. Engel’s: Zhizn’ i deiatel’nost’, vol. 1. Moscow, 1959. Chapter 7.
Reimann, P. Osnovhye techeniia v nemetskoi literature 1750-1848. Moscow, 1959.
Berkovskii, N. Ia. “Genrikh Geine, pisatel’ narodnoi Germanii.” Zvezda, 1956, no. 2.
Schiller, F. P. Genrikh Geine. Moscow, 1962.
Deich, A. I. Poeticheskii mir Geine. Moscow, 1963.
Gizhdeu, S. G. Geine. Moscow, 1964.
Istoriia nemetskoi liteatury, vol. 3. Moscow, 1966.
Genrikh Geine: Bibliografiia russkikh perevodov i kriticheskoi literatury na russkom iazyke. [Compiled by A. G. Levinton, edited by Ia. M. Metallov.] Moscow, 1958.
Hirth, F. Heinrich Heine: Bausteine zu einer Biographie. Mainz [1950].
Victor, W. Marx und Heine [3rd ed.]. Berlin, 1953.
Wadepuhl, W. Heine-Studien. Weimar, 1956.
Kaufmann, H. Politisches Gedicht und klassische Dichtung: Heinrich Heine. Berlin, 1958.
Hofrichter, L. Heinrich Heine: Biographie seiner Dichtung. Göttingen [1966].
Wilhelm, G. Heine Bibliographie, parts 1-2. Weimar, 1960.
Seifert, S. Heine-Bibliographie, 1954-1964. Berlin-Weimar, 1968.
Mende, F. Heinrich Heine: Chronik seines Lebens und Werkes. Berlin, 1970.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
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