Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > German
The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vol. XII: German
By Heinrich Heine (1797–1856)
From “Latest Poems”

THE BODY lay on the bier of death,
While the poor soul, when gone its breath,
Escaping from earth’s constant riot,
Was on its way to heavenly quiet.
Then knocked it at the portal high,        5
And spake these words with a heavy sigh:
“Saint Peter, give me inside a place,
I am so tired of life’s hard race.
On silken pillows I fain would rest
In heaven’s bright realms, and play my best        10
With charming angels at blind man’s buff,
Enjoying repose and bliss enough!”
A clatter of slippers ere long was heard,
A bunch of keys appeared to be stirred,
And out of a lattice, the entrance near,        15
Saint Peter’s visage was seen to peer.
He spake: “The vagabonds come again,
The gipsies, Poles, and their beggarly train,
The idlers and the Hottentots—
They come alone, and they come in knots,        20
And fain would enter on heaven’s bright rest,
And there be angels, and there be blest.
Hullo! Hullo! For gallows’ faces
Like yours, for such contemptible races,
Were never created the halls of bliss!        25
Your portion’s with Satan, far off from this.
Away, away, and take your flight
To the black pool of endless night!”
The old man thus growled, but hadn’t the heart
To continue to play a blustering part,        30
So added these words, its spirits to cheer:
“Poor soul, in truth thou dost not appear
To that base troop of rogues to belong;
Well, well, I’ll grant thy desire so strong,
Because it is my birthday to-day,        35
And I feel just now in a merciful way.
But meanwhile tell me the country and place
From whence thou comest; and was it the case
That thou wast married? It happens sometimes
A husband’s patience atones for all crimes;        40
A husband need not in hell to be stewed,
Nor need we him from heaven exclude.”
The soul replied: “From Prussia I came.
My native town is Berlin by name;
There ripples the Spree, and in its bed        45
The young cadets jump heels over head;
It overflows kindly, when rains begin.
A beautiful spot is indeed Berlin!
I was a private tutor when there,
And much philosophy read with care.        50
I married a canoness; strange to say,
She quarreled frightfully every day,
Especially when in the house was no bread.
’Twas this that kill’d me, and now I am dead.”
Saint Peter cried: “Alack, alack!        55
Philosophy’s but the trade of a quack;
In truth, it is a puzzle to me
Why people study philosophy.
It is such tedious and profitless stuff,
And is, moreover, godless enough;        60
In hunger and doubt their votaries dwell,
Till Satan carries them off to hell.
Well thy Xantippe might make exclamations
Against the thin and washy potations
From whence upon her, with comforting gleam,        65
No eye of fat could ever beam.
But now, poor soul, pray comforted be!
The strictest commands are given to me,
’Tis true, that each who, while he did live,
To philosophy used his attention to give,        70
Especially to the godless German,
Should be driven away from hence like vermin.
Yet ’tis my birthday to-day, as I
Have said, so there is a reason why
I’ll not reject thee, but ope for a minute        75
The gate of heaven. Quick—enter within it
With utmost speed!
                Now all is right!
The whole of the day, from morn’s first light
Till late in the evening, thou canst walk
Round heaven at will, and dreamily stalk        80
Along its jewel-paved streets so fair;
But mind, thou must not meddle, when there,
With any philosophy, or I shall be
Soon compromised most terribly.
When angels thou hearest singing, assume        85
A face of rapture, and never of gloom;
But if an archangel sings a song,
Be full of inspiration strong,
And say that Malibran ne’er pretended
To have a soprano so rich and splendid;        90
And ever applaud each tuneful hymn
Of cherubim and of seraphim.
Compare them all with Signor Rubini,
With Mario and Tamburini;
Give them the title of Excellencies,        95
And be not sparing of reverencies.
The singers in heaven, as well as on earth,
Have all loved flattery since their birth.
The world’s great Choirmaster on high,
E’en He is pleased when they glorify        100
His works, and delighteth to hear adored
The wonders of God, the mighty Lord,
And when a psalm to His glory and praise
In thickest incense clouds they raise.
Forget not me. Whenever to thee        105
The glory of heaven causes ennui,
Then hither come, and at cards we’ll play;
All games alike are in my way;
From doubledummy to faro I’ll go.
We’ll also drink. But, à propos,        110
If thou shouldst meet, when going from hence,
The Lord, and He should ask thee from whence
Thou com’st, let no word of Berlin be said,
But say from Vienna or Munich, instead.”

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