Heine did not enter the promised land. Neither can we truthfully say that he saw it as it was destined to be. His eye was on the present, and in the present he more clearly discerned what ought not to be than what gave promise of a better future. In the war for the liberation of humanity he professed to be, and he was, a brave soldier; but he lacked the soldier’s prime requisite, discipline. He never took a city, because he could not rule his spirit. Democracy was inscribed upon his banner, sympathy for the disenfranchised bound him to it, but not that charity which seeketh not her own, nor the loyalty that abides the day when imperfection shall become perfection. Sarcasm was his weapon, ridicule his plan of campaign, and destruction his only accomplishment.
We shall not say that the things destroyed by Heine deserved a better fate. We shall not think of him either as a leader or as a follower in a great national movement. He was not the one man of his generation through whom the national consciousness, even national discontent, found expression; he was the man whose self-expressions aroused the widest interest and touched the tenderest chords. To be called perhaps an alien, and certainly no monumental German character, Heine nevertheless made use, with consummate artistry, of the fulness of German culture at a time when many of the after-born staggered under the weight of a heritage greater than they could bear.
[Illustration: THE LORELEI FOUNTAIN In NEW YORK BY HERTER]
* * * * *
I have had dreams of wild love wildly
Of myrtles, mignonette, and silken tresses,
Of lips, whose blames belie the kiss that blesses,
Of dirge-like songs to dirge-like airs rehearsed.
My dreams have paled and faded long ago,
Faded the very form they most adored,
Nothing is left me but what once I poured
Into pathetic verse with feverish glow.
Thou, orphaned song, art left. Do
thou, too, fade!
Go, seek that visioned form long lost in night,
And say from me—if you upon it light—
With airy breath I greet that airy shade!
* * * * *
Oh, fair cradle of my sorrow,
Oh, fair tomb of peace for me,
Oh, fair town, my last good-morrow,
Last farewell I say to thee!
Fare thee well, thou threshold holy,
Where my lady’s footsteps stir,
And that spot, still worshipped lowly,
Where mine eyes first looked on her!
Had I but beheld thee never,
Thee, my bosom’s beauteous queen,
Wretched now, and wretched ever,
Oh, I should not thus have been!
Touch thy heart?—I would not
Ne’er did I thy love implore;
Might I only breathe the air that
Thou didst breathe, I asked no more.