The Decline and Fall of the Romantic Ideal

The Decline and Fall of the Romantic Ideal

The Decline and Fall of the Romantic Ideal

The Decline and Fall of the Romantic Ideal

Excerpt

There are two stanzas of Heine that all the world has heard:

Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam
Im Norden auf kahler Höh.
Ihn schläfert; mit weiszer Decke
Umhüllen ihn Eis und Schnee.

Er träumt von einer Palme,
Die, fern im Morgenland,
Einsam und schweigend trauert
Auf brennender Felsenwand.

On a bare northern hillside
A lonely fir-tree grows,
Nodding in its white mantle
Of ice and driven snows.

And of a palm its dream is
That sorrows, mute, alone,
In some far land of morning
On hills of burning stone.

Many modern critics would say this was a bad poem. A Nazi would say it was a very bad poem. It was written by a Jew; and all poems by Jews are execrable. This criterion has at least the merit of simplicity. Others would say: "It is a Romantic poem; and all Romantic poems are worthless". Or, to turn back to an older judge, more serious though hardly less severe, suppose we called up, like the ghost of another Samuel at Endor, the ghost of Samuel Johnson? The ghost would, I think, have snorted. "What pleasure or instruction are we to derive . . .

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