Wit, Exile, Jew, Convert, Genius

JOSEPH EPSTEIN for Commentary


The life and art of Heinrich Heine


Friendship, Love, the Philosopher’s Stone,
These three things are ranked alone;
These I sought from sun to sun,
And I found—not even one.

— Heinrich Heine


Heinrich Heine was one of those writers, rare at any time, welcome always, who found it impossible to be dull. In everything he wrote, he captivated, sometimes infuriated, often dazzled. Heine, who was born in 1797 and died in 1856, wrote poetry, plays, criticism, essays, fiction, travel books, and journalism. All of it was marked by passion and wit, not a standard combination. “I hate ambiguous words,” he noted, “hypocritical flowers, cowardly fig-leaves, from the depth of my soul.”

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