Heinrich Heine

Heinrich Heine

Heinrich Heine

Heinrich Heine

Excerpt

Heine's nature was of such ardour and intensity that his life seems shorter than it was. The energy with which he assimilated ever new experiences was undiminished to the last. He lived to be nearly sixty, but most of his readers will always think of him as youthful. The freshness of youth is something he never lost; not even his complaints during the eight years on a sick-bed which ended in his death call up the picture of a man in his fifties. They affect us rather as coming from a young man whom death had overtaken 'unawares, from behind'. This is how Heine saw himself; this is how we see him. It was a mark of his youthful nature that he remained always receptive, always responsive, and in consequence proved to be such a stimulus for his times and for his century. There was hardly a question that he did not pick up, turn round in his fingers, flirt with, or ridicule, and he was rich enough in his inner nature not to need to commit himself to any of them. He was writer of songs and satirist; dreamer and journalist; revolutionary and sybarite; enthusiast and mocker; not a thinker, but a man who always thought. There were elements here to keep a nature less rich than his a prisoner for life in the divided and unbalanced state of mind that he was a prey to in his youth, but in his case they contributed finally to a unification and a wholeness that is seldom found. After all, these various elements are not merely contradictory to one another, they can equally well be complementary, or become so. If this is what happened with him he owes it in part to his vein for satire and to the scintillating wit that made him deal as unsparingly with his own weaknesses as with those of others; but he owed it above all to something powerfully centred, some deep-seated and wellnigh invulnerable source of strength within himself, the existence of which he may have been unaware of. No matter what the limitations of his nature and the disappointments that beset his life, this source of strength--identical in his case with his poetic genius--enabled him, as we shall see, to overcome them in an astonishing way, mysterious even to himself.

His life story is outwardly interesting enough, but the story of his growth as an artist and as a poet is more than interesting, it is fascinating.

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