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This article is taken from PN Review 12, Volume 6 Number 4, March - April 1980.

Heinrich Heine's 'The Lazarus Poems' C.H. Sisson

THE MID-NORTHUMBERLAND ARTS GROUP is certainly among the most enterprising and intelligent of regional groups and, in its literary productions, has shown an exemplary sense of the relevance of the past to the present. It has also shown that a "region" flourishes when it is aware of what is beyond its boundaries. Was not William Barnes a linguist who knew how to take hints from the Italian and the Welsh? MidNag's latest production is an edition of some of the best of Heine's poems, printed in parallel text with accomplished versions by Alistair Elliot.

The poems in question are two related cycles, "Lazarus" from Romanzero (1851) and "Zum Lazarus" from the Vermischte Schriften of 1854. They are the work of those last years when, as Elliot recalls in his brief introduction, Heine "was bedridden and consciously dying of tabes dorsalis, a spinal degeneration which is now known to be a form of tertiary syphilis". This was the period of Heine's greatest poems. He was in his fifties, twenty or thirty years from the Buch der Lieder.

Elliot makes the point that Heine "had been able to see something of the Paris revolution of 1848 before the paralysis really set in". He lay on a pile of mattresses, looked after by a wife from Normandy "who shared so little of her husband's thought that she didn't even know he was a Jew". There is something of the drunkenness of the modern publicity-world about Heine. As Hermann ...


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