|Conference Proposal: A Summer's Tale, A Winter's Dream|
Heinrich Heine's two epic poems from the early 1840's, Atta Troll and Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen, have lent themselves to a number of ideological interpretations and have presented critics with fuel for many debates. A particular source of contention is brought up in Jeffrey Sammons' article: he takes issue with the fact that traditional analyses of the poems treat the two works as separate entities and thus fail to expand upon or even recognize the obvious parallels between the two. In light of this apparent deficit in the critical literature, I propose to focus my analysis on the ways in which the two poems relate, both to each other and to Heine's broader critique of German society. After a general assessment of each text and its presentation of Heine's goals, I would specifically like to examine the role of Heine's concept of Romanticism and how it shapes both the form and content of the two poems. |
Even modern critics seem to take Heine at his word: Atta Troll has traditionally been seen, in any number of interpretations, as "das letzte freie Waldlied der Romantik." While a strong emphasis is usually placed on the poetical and lyrical qualities of the work, the blatant political commentary is either ignored or passed off as irrelevant to a "poetic" analysis. Along these lines, Benno von Wiese states that the poem is a clear indication of Heine's "bewußt vollzogener Rückkehr zur romantischen Poesie," and sees in it a noticeable "Absage an die politischen Tendenzen."  As any careful reader can discern, however, Atta Troll is simply overflowing with political criticism, commentary, and statements: the very figure of Atta the bear is used primarily as a vehicle for Gesellschaftskritik. Models such as E. T. A. Hoffmann's Kater Murr certainly played a role in this respect, as did certain French precedents, fables in which animals held revolutionary speeches. All of these were, however, less satirical and, in many respects, less revolutionary -- as Brummack explains, "die Gesamttendenz dieser Tierfabeln [war] politisch eher resignativ."  Heine's choice, too, of this particular verse form was quite intentional: the idyllic Biedermeier poetry was already common by the time, as was the nationalistic, "deutschtümlerisch" poetry which bears the brunt of Heine's sarcasm in Atta Troll. In contrast to these genres, however, Heine's unique blend of styles and his very conscious attempt to break conventional rules help to convey the poem's message of calm critique. Heine's innovative use of romantic irony (cf. the poetological discourses in Caput III) upholds the poem's autonomy; this "Zwecklosigkeit" may divorce the poem from reality in one sense of the Romantic ideal, but at the same time it creates a separate realm in which society can be freely observed, dissected, and assessed.
Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen has suffered a similar fate at the hands of critics: it has mostly been accepted as the "successor" to Atta Troll -- in Heine's words the "neues" and "besseres Lied" to supplant the earlier. Despite the abundance of political references and outright attacks on German society in the poem, though, Heine has by no means thrown off the yoke of Romanticism and poetic idealism. He himself called the poem a series of "versifizierte Reisebilder," and indeed there is a remarkable similarity to these works in both substance and form. In basing his poem in part on models like Dingelstedt, who drew many ideals from earlier Romantic poetry, Heine was in essence hearkening back to the Romantic poetry of his own youth; in addition, the poem's meter is that of a simple Volkslied or popular ballad, perhaps the favorite from of the Romantics. Instead of a highly stylized verse structure, though, the Wintermärchen retains a remarkable freedom: the frequent shifts in register, tone, and language produce what Brummack calls "eine radikale Ausweiterung der lyrischen Ausdrucksskala,"  the fantastic range of conflicting emotions that is so characteristic of Heine's later years. In the Wintermärchen Heine clearly undergoes a direct confrontation with the ideals of Romanticism. In doing so, though, he does not wish to discredit or defrock the entire notion of "Romantik," rather only a particular aspect of it -- in Clasen's words it is "nicht eine generelle Abrechnung mit »der« Romantik ... sondern [die] Kritik ... an einem ganz bestimmten Entwickungsstadium dieser Bewegung"  -- a stage which Heine found not only unpleasant but dangerous for his homeland.
Thus, Heine's two poems, though often maligned or ignored by critics -- H.G. Atkins found that to read Deutschland after Atta Troll "is to experience a plunge from the realms of serene humour and airy romantic phantasy to the level of ruthless and rather vulgar polemics"  -- do form a "polar" unity, much as the subtitles indicate: the summer dream attempts to recall an idyllic warmth and harmony but is coupled with the winter's tale presenting the harsh and bitter reality. Both poems, though, are shaped by Heine's cynical wit and his skeptical views of the future of Germany; both also call upon Romantic ideals for support in their arguments and criticisms. In neglecting to address this aspect of the poems' position in the literature of the 1840's, critics have done a disservice not only to their readers but to Heine as well.
Written and © Nancy Thuleen in 1995 for German 704 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
If needed, cite using something like the following:
Thuleen, Nancy. "Conference Proposal: A Summer's Tale, A Winter's Dream." Website Article. 12 December 1995. <http://www.nthuleen.com/papers/704confprop.html>.