Translated by W.D. Jackson
Heine claimed in a letter to his friend Moses Moser, who had helped to found the Berlin Verein für Cultur und Wissenschaft der Juden in 1821, that Donna Clara represented a scene from his own life, with the Berlin zoo replaced by an Andalusian garden, a baroness by a senora and himself by ‘a holy George or even Apollo’… Although born into a Jewish family, Heine’s upbringing had not been strict. In 1823, however, when the poem was written, he had spent some time working for the Verein, thus becoming better acquainted with the history of Jewish persecution and emancipation. In particular he became interested in the Middle Ages and in what his biographer, J.L. Sammons, calls ‘the glorious and tragic age of Spanish Jewry’. Heine informed Moser of his intention to publish the poem in his next book but cautioned him to take all possible care in the meantime not to let it fall into Christian hands, explaining somewhat dramatically that he had ‘very important reasons’ for this:
Strolling in the judge her father’s
Moonlit garden, Donna Clara
Hears the castle drums’ and trumpets’
Rat-a-tat and tarantara.
‘What a drag it is, this dancing –
And the stupid things they say,
Knights and courtiers. One compared me
To the darling buds of May!
What a total drag it all is
Since I’ve watched that other knight
From my window, lit by moonbeams,
Playing lute-songs night by night.
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