One of Heine’s darkest satires
On average two a day will die,
Yet today we were seven shorted,
Four men and three women — I noted the loss,
‘Twas at once in my notebook recorded.
I inspected the carcasses carefully;
For often these rogues will fake it,
In hopes that we’ll toss them overboard,
To the waves where they think they will make it.
And of course, as usual, I removed
The irons that the dead were adorning,
I had the corpses thrown in the sea
Right early in the morning.
And then, in a flash, there emerged from the waves
An army of sharks to receive them,
They certainly love that negro-flesh;
My pensioners, so I conceive them.
They follow along in the wake of our ship,
From the moment that we are leaving;
The beasts pick up the aroma of corpse
With a snuffling hunger-craving.
It’s just the funniest thing to behold,
How they snap up the dead as they follow!
One grabs the head, one grabs the leg,
The scraps by the others are swallowed.
If all is devoured, they bustle about
Near the vessel, so charmingly reckless,
They gawk at me, in a way that appears
That they want to say, Thanks for the breakfast.”
Modern Poetry in Translation New Series No. 18 – 2001
WD Jackson writes: In 1843 Heinrich Heine – who had been living in Paris for over a decade – revisited his native Germany, where he spent altogether about two months.
On his return he wrote the 2056 lines of Deutschland – Ein Wintermärchen. At the end of this poem he acknowledges Aristophanes as his master, but there is a lot more to Deutschland than social comment or political satire, and like many of Heine’s works – together with his life and opinions in general – it resists easy categorization.
Heine had moved to Paris in 1831, inspired by the July Revolution, which deposed Charles X, the last Bourbon king, and placed the citizen-king Louis-Philippe on the throne.
The complexities of Heine’s politics present, as JL Sammons expresses it, “a rather knotty problem of interpretation . . . Towards Louis-Philippe Heine could be very critical, but also very sympathetic, and he seems to have become increasingly sympathetic as the 1840s went on.
In Heine’s iconology king and poet were spiritual brothers, and this attitude informed much of his ironic view of the citizen-king.
‘Kings, like great poets,’ he wrote with a straight face, ‘cannot defend themselves and must bear lies circulated about them in silent patience’” (Heinrich Heine – A Modern Biography, 1979).
Heine, however, defended himself – usually by some form of attack – on every imaginable occasion.
In 1834 he met the almost illiterate 19-year-old French shop assistant, Crescence Eugénie Mirat, who was later to become his wife.
A further reason for staying in Paris was that his work had been banned along with that of other liberals by the German authorities – and while in Germany he was in some danger of being arrested.
Apart from another trip to Germany in 1844, Heine was to spend the remainder of his life in Paris, where he died in 1856.
Of the following poems, the first is a more or less literal translation.
“Hoffmann von F”, who is mentioned in it, is Hoffmann von Fallersleben, who was dismissed from his Breslau professorship in 1842 for his ironically titled Unpolitical Songs.
Hoffmann became a kind of 19thcentury beatnik poet, travelling about from inn to inn with his guitar and his popular songs, which Heine disliked intensely, regarding them as symptomatic of the beginning of the end of high art – one of the prices the world would have to pay for the rise of democracy.
The second poem, ‘Liverpool Revisited – A Winter’s Tale’, is developed from the first and also from other sections of Deutschland – Ein Wintermärchen, incorporating in addition translations and adaptations of ‘Das ist der alte Märchenwald’, ‘Abschied von Paris’ (or ‘Adieu à Paris’) and ‘Karl I’.
The Slave Ship
The latter part of the poem alludes as well to Heine’s ‘The Slave Ship‘, published in MPT 8.
Van de Smissen is the ship’s doctor and van Koek its supercargo.
Heine spent some time in England in 1827 but did not, as far as I know, travel to Liverpool, although his father had once had business contacts there and Harry Heine himself (he became ‘Heinrich’ only on his conversion to Protestantism in 1825) had been named after a Liverpool merchant called ‘Mr Harry’.
In any case, for those unfamiliar with Liverpool’s topography, which comes into the poem, the Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals stand at either end of Hope Street and the pub, The Philharmonic, is about halfway between them.
A “jigger” is a back entry.
As for Maggie May, she is treated here as a kind of tutelary deity of the city, much as Heine treats ‘Hammonia’ as the goddess of Hamburg in some of the most amusing – and scatological – sections of Deutschland (XXIII-XXVI).
In MPT 5 Daniel Weissbort wrote: ‘For many translators, it seems, a threshold has been crossed, an era of self-consciousness entered, making it increasingly hard to limit oneself exclusively or unreflectively to the work in hand.’
With this in mind, even a fairly loose imitation – which is partly what ‘Liverpool Revisited’ consists of – is a form of variation or commentary on its original(s) which may actually be going only a step or two further than what we usually think of as translation.
The tension between what a writer actually wrote and what he could have written is in any case a frequently enough productive one in all but the most literal of translators’ minds.
Furthermore, this particular imitation is intended, directly and indirectly, as a meditation as well on the question of “Why translate?”
Over the threshold, perhaps – but not out of the garden.
Finally, one or two notes on the subject of slavery – developed from ‘The Slave-Ship’ – in ‘Liverpool Revisited’.
As is well known, Liverpool grew to dominate trade not only in Britain but in Europe during the 18th century:
“Almost every man in Liverpool is a merchant . . . The attractive African meteor has so dazzled their ideas, that almost every order of people is interested in a Guinea cargo. Many of the small vessels are fitted out by attornies, drapers, ropers, grocers, tallow-chandlers, barbers, taylors &c” (J Wallace, History of Liverpool, 1795).
The enormous profits derived from the slave-trade were invested in numerous enterprises, including banking, and Heywoods Bank, which is mentioned in the poem, was one of the earliest banks to be founded in Liverpool – in 1773.
This bank was taken over by the Bank of Liverpool in 1883, which later became part of Martins Bank and more recently part of Barclays.
Translated by W. D. Jackson
Heine stellt auf sarkastische Weise die Geschäftemacher des Sklavenhandels an den Pranger. Ein LIVE-Mitschnitt von *Cherrys Band*, später *Saitenhieb*. Auftritt 1984 in der *Traube Durlach*
Heinrich Heine Das Sklavenschiff gesprochen von Gert Westphal aus der Reihe Jazz und Lyrik. Gemälde von Joseph Mallor William Turner : Slavers throwing overboard the Dead and Dying – Typhon coming on (“The Slave Ship”)