In the preface to the second edition of the Book of Songs, written at Paris in 1837, Heine confessed that for some time past he had felt a certain repugnance to versification; that the poems therewith offered for the second time to the public were the product of a time when, in contrast to the present, the flame of truth had rather heated than clarified his mind; and expressed the hope that his recent political, theological, and philosophical writings—all springing from the same idea and intention as the poems—might atone for any weakness in the poems. Heine wrote poetry after 1831, and he wrote prose before 1831; but in a general way what he says of his two periods is correct: before his emigration he was primarily a poet, and afterwards primarily a critic, journalist, and popular historian. In his first period he wrote chiefly about his own experiences; in his second, chiefly about affairs past and present in which he was interested.
As to the works of the first period, we might hesitate to say whether the Pictures of Travel or the Book of Songs were the more characteristic product. In whichever way our judgment finally inclined, we should declare that the Pictures of Travel were essentially prosified poems and that the poems were, in their collected form, versified Pictures of Travel; and that both, moreover, were dominated, as the writings after 1831 were dominated, by a romantically tinged longing for individual liberty.
The title Pictures of Travel, to which Heine gave so definite a connotation, is not in itself a true index to the multifarious contents of the series of traveler’s notes, any more than the volumes taken each by itself were units. Pages of verse followed pages of prose; and in the Journey to the Hartz, verse interspersed in prose emphasizes the lyrical character of the composition. Heine does indeed give pictures of some of the scenes that he visits; but he also narrates his passage from point to point; and at every point he sets forth his recollections, his thoughts, his dreams, his personal reaction upon any idea that comes into his head; so that the substance, especially of the Journey to the Hartz, is less what was to be seen in the Hartz than what was suggested to a very lively imagination; and we admire the agility with which the writer jumps from place to place quite as much as the suppleness with which he can at will unconditionally subject himself to the genius of a single locality. For Heine is capable of writing straightforward descriptive prose, as well-ordered and as matter-of-fact as a narrative of Kleist’s. But the world of reality, where everything has an assignable reason for its being and doing, is not the world into which he most delights to conduct us. This world, on the contrary, is that in which the water “murmurs and rustles so wonderfully, the birds pour forth broken