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Review: North Sea Poems, by Heinrich Heine

Keith Richmond, ASLEF Journal, June 2022

Henrich Heine, the German poet prose-writer, and critic, best known for his early lyric poetry which was set to music in the form of lieder by composers such as Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn, and Robert Schumann, was born at Düsseldorf in 1797 and died in Paris in 1856, where for 25 years he had lived, in exile, after his radical political views proved unacceptable to the authorities in Germany who banned much of his work.

In North Sea Poems (Arc, £7) Richard Crockatt, Professor of American History at the University of East Anglia, has elegantly translated some of the hauntingly beautiful Die Nordsee sequence from Heine’s Buch der Lieder which made his name: ‘On this cold and starless night, | The ocean seethes, | And over the sea, flat on its belly | Lies the rough north wind’. He’s good, too, on the earthier aspects of life: ‘Happy the man who’s arrived in port | And left behind the sea and the storms, | And now sits snug and warm | In the town hall cellar in Bremen.’