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Images of woman in Heinrich Heine's poetry and their reception in Romanian translations.

Poets have always sung the woman in their verses, in general or in particular, recreating her image that caught their eye for a while or forever, through their physical or moral beauty, inspiring them to write one of the most beautiful love poems.

As in the case of many great poets, in writing his poems, the Romantic writer Heinrich Heine drew his inspiration from his own life experience. Heine's poetry ranged from Romantic lyrics about frustrated or bittersweet love to sharp political satire, but hereunder I will try to present the way the Romanian readers perceived the image of woman in Heinrich Heine's poetry through the translations made across the years.

Buch der Lieder (Book of Songs)--the collection of verses published in 1827 that helped to establish his reputation--contains all Heine's youth poetry and features bittersweet and self-ironic verses about unrequited love. Skillfully employing Romantic sensibilities the poet manages to reproduce in his verses his view on love, sharing the Christian believe about the Eros based on the ascetic view of life.

In Heine's poems from this cycle, the woman is not very accurately portrayed; however, we can grasp her image from the verses of the well-known ballade Lorelei', a gorgeous girl, with long, golden hair and blue eyes. (1) In this poem, Lorelei has not only the typical facial and physical features of the Northern European woman, but also fantastic features being described as a witch, a mermaid that lures the boatman sailing down the Rhine with her magic powerful rhymes, making him forget about the rocky reef and finally causing his death.

In the lyrical poem Auf Flugeln des Gesanges (On Wings of Song), from the Lyrical Intermezzo cycle, we note some oriental influences in the invitation the poet addresses his lover: he invites her to go with him to an oasis of tranquility, peace and happiness--the fields of the Ganges, where red-flowering gardens, and lotus flowers, and violets and roses sparkle in the serene moon light, while the gentle bright gazelles pass by listening to the murmur of the only stream.

In most of his poems, Heine does not describe the woman's face or stature, but he never forgets her eyes (2) or her marble white hands. (3) Usually, the beloved one is compared to a flower. (4)

In the poem Sie haben mich gequale (They Have Tormented Me) (5) the German poet describes the behavior, the cold-shoulder and the indifference the woman opposes to the man's passionate feelings and touching love declarations.

The woman is better described in the ballade Don Ramiro--deeply affected after breaking-up with her ex-lover, who comes, uninvited, to her wedding with Don Fernando. Don Ramiro dances with the bride until, feeling dizzy, she faints, and, when she wakes up, she finds out that former lover, unable to face this situation, put an end to his life. In this poem, the ex-lover's profound feelings for his lost love and the pain he feels when assisting at the wedding prevail over the feelings of his lovelorn. In fact, this poem depicts an autobiographical moment: Heine's relation with Amalie, who turned him down for a rich husband, placing the financial matters above love matters, and thus destroying Heine's life forever. (6)

From the Lyrisches Intermezzo (Lyrical Intermezzo) cycle the poem that caught the Romanian translators' attention was Sie safen und tranken am Teetisch (7) (Conversations Around the Tea-Table), where platonic and sensual love are presented together, as two sides of the same feeling, a situation that characterizes both Heine's love poems and personal life, if we take into consideration the fact that, in later years, not only did Heine preferred sensual love, but he also worshiped it, as reflected in the Verschiedene (Various) section.

The section Various reflects the conceptions of the mature man, to whom love, even though requited, causes only disappointment, because all the women, in whose arms Heine sought comfort and consolation, represent only bits and fragments of the ideal woman he loved in his youth. Still, if we watch closely the face contours of the woman described by Heine, we can observe a transgression from the angelic face with blue eyes and blond hair in the Book of Songs cycle, especially from the Lyrical Intermezzo section, to the demonic face in the Neue Gedichte (New Poems) cycle, the Various section, gathered under the titles Clarisse or Katharina. Unfortunately, the Romanian readers never knew this demonic image of the woman presented by Heine in this cycle, because no translator ventured to portray the image of the frivolous, careless woman, the prostitute, both a victim, and man's destructive agony. The sensual love is best depicted in the Various section; here too the image of the woman is very well depicted. One of the poems that aroused the Romanian translators' interest was Das Fraulein stand am Meere (The Girl Stood on the Sea Shore) (8) here the poet presents the image of the lovelorn girl gazing at the sunset. The poet interrupts this romantic atmosphere in an extremely sarcastic manner, telling her that life is nothing but a play, a cliche that has nothing special or personal. The irony in the second stanza helps us understand the fact that in this new cycle of poems--that he entitled New Poems--the poet is no longer interested in writing Romantic poems. Also this ironical attitude of the poet can also be perceived as a criticism directed toward the Romantic Era. With this poem, Heine puts an end to his Romantic works. In the poems from this section, Heine addresses all the women that marked his life in a provocative manner. The brunette is presented next to the blond, in a rapid change of decor, showing that the later no longer plays the part of the ideal, adored woman. For a short period of time, the readers are under the impression that the sensual, erotic pleasures manage to heal the soul of the poet, but this is not at all true. This poems deal with the sensual love, especially those entitled Angelique, where the man turns the woman into a simple object of his passion, covering her eyes and face when he kisses her. These poems in which the woman is depicted as a prostitute have not been translated into Romanian, because Romanian poets have never represented the woman in such a manner. In general, in the Romanian love poems, the woman is superior to the man, as an intangible ideal, and love reflected in these poems is especially presented as an unrequited feeling rather than a sensual one. That is why from the cycles Angelique, Hortense, Clarisse have been translated into Romanian only those poems that were less depreciative towards women and especially those that presented Heine's impression about his new experience, that of sensual love, during which he has the revelation of the presence of God. In the poems of this section, the poet evokes the rehabilitation of the matter by morally acknowledging the material, sensual side of love, and, in the same time, pleading for the religious healing of the man who fell into the sin of carnal pleasure. In these poems, Heine acclaims erotic pleasure, considering it now superior to the platonic love ironically described in the verses:

"Vernichtet ist das Zweierlei,/ Das uns so lang betoret;/Die dumme Leiberqualerei/ Hat endlich aufgehoret" ("Refuted is the second book/That fooled us through long ages./The stupid torture of the flesh/Is not for modern sages"). (9)

In these poems, Heine presents his views on sensual love, that he experienced and manifested in his frenzy and lust for life, but also in his spiritual evolution, the accession to divinity through sensual pleasures. He discovers God through sensual love, and the woman loses her identity in these poems especially because of this constant seeking of carnal pleasures, of achieving spirituality through matter. This is a pagan view on religion that the poet borrowed from the oriental writings, especially those from India. The poet achieves spiritual status through matter, but the woman that helps him reach the heights of pleasure and spirituality as seen in the Indian culture remains at an inferior level, as a simple prostitute, instead of achieving a superior level.

In Heine's poems love both sides are represented equally: the platonic love, like in the Book of Songs cycle, and the sensual love, like in the New Poems cycle.

In the later poems, like the Romanzero cycle, beside the historical and religious poems the poet also included a few love poems that, just like his early poems, describe platonic love mixed with death. Very few poems from this cycle have been translated into Romanian, yet, I will mention here a poem that most caught the Romanian translators' attention--Die Asra] (The Asra People). (10) In this poem, Heine explores the restraints of the society upper class of his time regarding the mixture among classes and the theme of the doomed love, pointing out the financial barriers that stand between the Asra slave and the daughter of the sultan. In Heine's poems love and death are intertwined, a change in perspective for the fulfillment of a love story that cannot exist in real life.

In the Various section, the poet completes the image of the woman he only outlined in his early poems, the two antithetical images of the beloved one become now a complex, veridical image and reflect details of the poet's life.

The Romanian poets, who register among the most noted and the most talented translators of Heine's poems, have translated, mainly, the poems from the cycle Book of Songs, the Lyrical Intermezzo section, and the cycle New poems, the Neuer Fruhling (New Spring) section, where the image of the woman portrayed by Heine is very much resembling with that in the Romanian poems.


(1.) Ich weiss nicht, was soil es bedeuten in Heinrich Heine, Werke und Briefe, vol.1: 103; (1936), "Loreley," Cuvantul Liber nr. 15, 15 feb. Tr. St. O. Iosif

(2.) Wenn ich in deine Augen seh Heinrich Heine, Werke und Briefe, vol.1: 73, Si daca-n ochii tai privesc, Heinrich Heine, Versuri, Tr. St. O. Iosif: 11.

(3.) "Deine weissen Lilienfinger" Heinrich Heine, Werke und Briefe, vol.1: 120; "Mana-ti alto ca un crin..," Luptatorul, Bucuresti, (1921), no. 361, 3 Sept., 2. Tr. F. Scodrea.

(4.) Du bist wie eine Blume, Heinrich Heine, Werke und Briefe, vol.1, 129; "Atat de dragalasa, alba," Dreptatea, (1924), no. 1012, 25. Tr. St. O. Iosif.

(5.) Heinrich Heine, Werke und Briefe, vol. 1, 92; "Ei nemilosi m-au chinuit" Floarea Soarelui, (1927), no.11-12, Nov.-Dec., 333. Tr. George Voievidca.

(6.) Der arme Peter of Buch der Lieder, section Heimkehr, Heinrich Heine, Werke und Briefe, vol.1, 42; "Don Ramir," Cuget clar, Bucharest,-2, II (1938), nr. 47, 2 Jun., 739. Tr. I. Constantinescu Delabaia; See also Ein Jungling liebt ein Madchen, Heinrich Heine, Werke und Briefe, vol. 1: 88; "Un baiat iubeste o fata," Dimineap, Bucharest, (1936), no. 10470, 17 Feb., 2. Tr. Gheorghe din Moldova.

(7.) Heinrich Heine, Werke und Briefe, vol.1, 93, "La masa cum stau si iau ceaiul," Pamantul nostrum, Bucuresti, (1939), no. 207, 1-15 Nov., 2. Tr. I. Constantinescu Delabaia.

(8.) Heinrich Heine, Werke und Briefe, vol.1, 240; "Duduia sta la mare ..." Luptatorul, (1921), no. 361, 3 Sept., 2. Tr. F. Scodrea.

(9.) "Auf diesen Felsen bauen wir Heine," H., Werke und Briefe, vol. 2, 238; "Pe aceste stanci cladim acum," Heine, H., Versuri, 179.

(10.) Die Asra, Heine, H., Werke und Briefe, vol. 2, 40; "Asra," Analele Dobrogei, Constanta, (1923), no. 4, Oct.-Dec., 64. Tr. Mihai Pricopie.


Heine, H. (1956), Versuri. Notes by Alfred Margul Sperber, Bucharest, Editura de Stat pentru Literatura si Arta.

--(1972), Werke und Briefe in zehn Bande, herausgegeben von Hans Kaufmann, Aufbau--Verlag Berlin und Weimar.

--(1923), "Asra," Analele Dobrogei (4)oct.-dec. Tr. Mihai Pricopie, Constanta: 64.

--(1924), "Atat de dragalasa, alba," Dreptatea no. 1012, 25. Tr. St. O. Iosif.

--(1938), "Don Ramiro," Cuget Clar no. 47, 2 Jun. Tr. de I. Constantinescu Delabaia, Bucharest: 739.

--(1921), "Duduia sta la mare.," Luptatorul no. 361, 3 Sept., Tr. F. Scodrea, Bucharest: 2.

--(1927), "Ei nemilosi m-au chinuit," Floarea Soarelui. Tr. George Voievidca, no. 11-12, Nov.-Dec.: 333.

--(1936), "In farmec de cantec te port," Cetatea Alba no. 7: 18. Tr. D. Paltin.

--(1939), "La masa cum stau si iau ceaiul," Pamantul nostru no. 207, 1-15 nov. Tr. I. Constantinescu Delabaia, Bucharest: 2.

--(1936), "Loreley," Cuvantul Liber 2, III seria a III-a, no. 15, 15 Feb., Heinrich Heine. Tr. St. O. Iosif, Bucharest: 4.

--(1921), "Mana-ti alba ca un crin .., " Luptatorul, nr. 361, 3 sept. Tr. F. Scodrea, Bucharest: 2.

--(1924), "Romance si cantece," Dreptatea--Chisinau, IV nr. 1012, 25 mai, 2: Margaritare straine. "Atat de dragalasa, alba ...". Tr. St. O. Iosif;

--(1936), "Un baiat iubeste o fata," Dimineata no. 10470, 17 Feb., Tr. Gheorghe din Moldova, Bucharest: 2.


University of Bucharest

Mihaela Hristea teaches German language at the Gh. Airinei Posts and Telecommunication Technical College in Bucharest. She is pursuing PhD studies at the University of Bucharest, Faculty of Foreign Languages, Department of Romanian Language and Literature. Currently she is working on her dissertation entitled "Heinrich Heine's Influence on the Romanian Literature." Her articles include: "Heine's Influence on the 19th Century Poets," "Heine's Poems Translated into Romanian in the Interwar Period," and "Critical Analyses on Heine's Poems Published after the Second World War."
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Author:Hristea, Mihaela
Publication:Journal of Research in Gender Studies
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EXRO
Date:Jul 1, 2014
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