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Detail of “The Poet Heinrich Heine”, c.1831, by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim


I. Foreign Correspondent

Rushing to Prussia to write my story,
I reach a rustic, roadside cross
and, fixed to it fast, a fading figure.
My saviour cousin, they got your number.

Dismayed . . . deluded . . . desolate . . . dreamer!
You could not redeem a feeble plot.
Did you have to provoke the priesthood,
challenge the state and offend the council?

I am afraid your own time preceded
the miracle of the printing presses.
Otherwise, you could have composed
a treatise about the affairs of heaven.

The prudent censor would have deleted
the riskiest lines to let you off —
evading the pain, the trouble and even
the gossip of the crucifixion.

You might have waded more tactfully into
the rich in that Sermon on the Mount . . .
Misguided, lonely leader! How dared you
incite the bigotry of your neighbours?

And . . . you raised the audacious chutzpah
to drive the bankers out of the temple!
They’ve displayed your form on the cross,
as a warning, to the likes of me.
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