Languages › German German Poet Heinrich Heine's "Die Lorelei" and Translation Share Flipboard Email Print Westend61 / Getty Images German History & Culture Pronunciation & Conversation Vocabulary Grammar By Ingrid Bauer German Language Expert M.A., German Studies, McGill University B.A., German and French Ingrid Bauer, who is fluent in German, has been teaching and tutoring the German language since 1996. She has a teaching degree and an M.A. in German studies. our editorial process Ingrid Bauer Updated April 29, 2019 Heinrich Heine was born in Düsseldorf, Germany. He was known as Harry until he converted to Christianity when he was in his 20s. His father was a successful textile merchant and Heine followed in his father's footsteps by studying business. He soon realized he did not have much aptitude for business and switched over to law. While at the university, he became known for his poetry. His first book was a collection of his travel memoirs called "Reisebilder" ("Travel Pictures") in 1826. Heine was one of the most influential German poets in the 19th century, and German authorities tried to suppress him because of his radical political views. He was also known for his lyrical prose, which was set to music by classical greats, such as Schumann, Schubert, and Mendelssohn. "The Lorelei" One of Heine's famous poems, "Die Lorelei," is based on a German legend of an enchanting, seducing mermaid who lures seamen to their death. It has been set to music by numerous composers, such as Friedrich Silcher and Franz Liszt. Here is Heine's poem: Ich weiss nicht, was soll es bedeuten,Dass ich so traurig bin;Ein Märchen aus alten Zeiten,Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.Die Luft ist kühl, und es dunkelt,Und ruhig fliesst der Rhein;Der Gipfel des Berges funkeltIm Abendsonnenschein.Die schönste Jungfrau sitzetDort oben wunderbar,Ihr goldenes Geschmeide blitzet, Sie kämmt ihr goldenes Haar.Sie kämmt es mit goldenem KammeUnd singt ein Lied dabei;Das hat eine wundersame,Gewaltige Melodei.Den Schiffer im kleinen SchiffeErgreift es mit wildem Weh;Er schaut nicht die Felsenriffe,Er schat nur hinauf in die Höh.Ich glaube, die Welllen verschlingenAm Ende Schiffer und Kahn;Und das hat mit ihrem SingenDie Lorelei getan. English translation (not always translated literally): I don't know what it meansThat I am so sadA legend of bygone daysThat I cannot keep out of my mind. The air is cool and night is coming.The calm Rhine courses its way.The peak of the mountain dazzlesWith evening's final ray.The fairest of maidens is sittingUp there, a beautiful delight,Her golden jewels are shining,She's combing her golden hair.She holds a golden comb,Singing along, as wellAn enthrallingAnd spellbinding melody.In his little boat, the boatmanIs seized by it with a savage woe.He does not look upon the rocky ledgeBut rather high up into the heavens.I think that the waves will devourThe boatman and boat in the endAnd this by her song's sheer powerFair Loreley has done. Heine's Later Writings In Heine's later writings, readers will note an increased measure of irony, sarcasm, and wit. He often ridiculed sappy romanticism and over exuberant portrayals of nature. Though Heine loved his German roots, he often critiqued Germany's contrasting sense of nationalism. Eventually, Heine left Germany, tired of its harsh censorship, and lived in France for the last 25 years of his life. A decade before he died, Heine became ill and never recovered. Though he was bedridden for the next 10 years, he still produced a fair amount of work, including work in "Romanzero und Gedichte" and "Lutezia," a collection of political articles. Heine did not have any children. When he died in 1856, he left behind his much younger French wife. The cause of his death is believed to be from chronic lead poisoning.