Translated by W. D. Jackson
Two ‘Doppelgänger’ Poems
For the last eight years of his life (from 1848 to 1856) Heine was painfully and increasingly paralysed by a disease of the spinal cord which confined him to what he called his ‘mattress-grave’. He was also chronically short of money, having lived by his wits in political exile in Paris since 1831. In 1848 he spent from February to April in a hospital. After mid-May he was never to walk again. In September, he wrote to his brother Max: ‘Even if I don’t die straight away, life is still lost to me for ever, and yet I love life with such ardent passion...’ The paralysis would affect sometimes one part of his body, sometimes another: ‘My lips are lamed like my feet, my eating tools are lamed, as well as my excretory organs. I can neither chew nor crap; I am fed like a bird. This non-life is not to be borne.’ But bear it he did, with a stoicism which surprised even himself, and with practically no reduction in his creative output – some of his most famous poems were written at this time... The first Doppelgänger poem below (‘Still ist die Nacht’) predates his illness by many years, but in more than one way foreshadows the second – a translation of ‘Mir lodert und wogt im Hirn eine Flut’, which Peter Branscombe, in Heine: Selected Verse (1967), called ‘the apotheosis of his Doppelgänger works’:
Death is the coolness of the night,
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