26 July 2012

Thus Vanished Heine

F. Max Müller, Auld Lang Syne (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), pp. 59-60:
I never came to know Heine. I knew he was in Paris when I was there in 1846, but he was already in such a state of physical collapse that a friend of mine who knew him well, and saw him from time to time, advised me not to go and see him. However, one afternoon as I and my friend were sitting on the Boulevard, near the Rue Richelieu, sipping a cup of coffee, "Look there," he said, "there comes Heine!" I jumped up to see, my friend stopped him, and told him who I was. It was a sad sight. He was bent down, and dragged himself slowly along, his spare greyish hair was hanging round his emaciated face, there was no light in his eyes! He lifted one of his paralysed eyelids with his hand and looked at me. For a time, like the blue sky breaking from behind grey October clouds, there passed a friendly expression across his face, as if he thought of days long gone by. Then he moved on, mumbling a line from Goethe, in a deep, broken, and yet clear voice, as if appealing for sympathy : -- "Das Maulthier sucht im Düstern seinen Weg." [The mule seeks its way in the gloom] 
Thus vanished Heine, the most brilliant, sparkling, witty poet of Germany. I have seen him, that is all I can say, as Saul saw Samuel, and wished he had not seen him. However, we travel far to see the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, of Nineveh and Memphis, and the ruins of a mind such as Heine's are certainly as sad and as grand as the crumbling pillars and ruined temples shrouded under the lava of Vesuvius.
Heine made a slight change to Goethe's original: Das Maulthier sucht im Nebel seinen Weg [The mule seeks its way in the fog], which is a line from Mignon's song in Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre.