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This review is taken from PN Review 67, Volume 15 Number 5, May - June 1989.

A TALE FOR ALL WINTERS Heinrich Heine, Deutschland: ein Wintermärchen, translated by T.J. Reed (Angel Books) £8.95, £4.95 pb

Heine's jaunty satirical account of his return to his homeland in 1843 - the first time he had been back to Germany for thirteen years - is a marvellously readable poem, combining the chirpiness of the survivor that every exile must become and the precise, economical wit of all good satire; and both with an essential underlying seriousness and integrity. For the modern reader there is also the hindsight of history, which lends both depth and shadow, particularly to the picture given of the future of Germany, glimpsed festering beneath the lifted lid of a commode:


It still revolts me when I recall
the smells I smelt to begin with -
the stink of untanned hides, and of old
bad cabbage it was mixed in with.

But the scents that followed this prelude, God!
were anything but respites;
it smelt as if they were sweeping the dung
from six-and-thirty cesspits.

 
Among Heine's main contemporary targets were Prussianism, with its bludgeoning oppressiveness (the Prussian eagle, cruel and savage, compares unfavourably with the now sadly bedraggled Napoleonic one), censorship, the role of the church, the mists of German philosophizing and the tendency to shrug at the political situation rather than do anything about it. At the same time, Deutschland is also the work of a homesick German whose view, while never sentimental, is still affectionate, written with real zest and a practical appreciation of ...


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