Place your hand, my love, against my heart
And feel the pounding in its tiny room.
A gnarled and wicked carpenter, I assume,
Is nailing my coffin’s last remaining part.
He hammers it and carves all day and night.
How long has it been since I was able to rest?
Hurry now, master builder, get it done right!
Let me sleep. Grant this final request.
Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)
Lieb Liebchen, legs Händchen aufs Herze mein;
Ach, hörst du, wies pochet im Kämmerlein?
Da hauset ein Zimmermann schlimm und arg,
Der zimmert mir einen Totensarg.
Es hämmert und klopfet bei Tag und bei Nacht;
Es hat mich schon längst um den Schlaf gebracht.
Ach! sputet Euch, Meister Zimmermann,
Damit ich balde schlafen kann.
Christian Johann Heinrich Heine was one of the most significant German poets of the 19th century. He was also a journalist, essayist, and literary critic. He is best known outside Germany for his early lyric poetry, which was set to music in the form of Lieder (art songs) by composers such as Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert. Heine’s later verse and prose is distinguished by its satirical wit and irony. His radical political views led to many of his works being banned by German authorities. Heine spent the last 25 years of his life as an expatriate in Paris.
J. D. McClatchy is the author of eight collections of poetry, most recently “Plundered Hearts: New and Selected Poems” (Knopf, 2014), and four of prose, including “Sweet Theft: A Poet’s Commonplace Book” (Counterpoint, 2016). He has edited dozens of other books, and written seventeen libretti for leading composers, performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, La Scala, and other opera houses around the world. He teaches at Yale, and serves as editor of The Yale Review.