Heine was born into a Jewish family in Düsseldorf, Germany. His father was a tradesman, who during the French occupation found new prospects opening up for Jews. When his father's business failed, Heine was sent to Hamburg, where his rich banker uncle Salomon tried to encourage him into a commercial career, without success. He studied law at the universities of Göttingen, Bonn and Berlin, but was more interested in literature than law, although he eventually took a degree in 1825. He converted to Protestantism that year.
As a poet Heine made his debut with "Gedichte" in 1821. Heine's one-sided infatuation with his cousins Amalie and Therese later inspired him to write some of his loveliest lyrics; "Buch der Lieder" (1827) was Heine's first comprehensive collection of verse.
Heine continued, however, to comment on German politics and society from a distance. Heine wrote "Deutschland: Ein Wintermärchen” (“A Winter’s Tale”), an account of his visit to Germany the previous year and the political climate there, in 1844; his friend, Karl Marx, published it in his newspaper "Forwards" in 1844. Heine also satirized the utopian politics of those opponents of the regime still in Germany in " Atta Troll: Ein Sommernachstraum " ("A Midsummer Night’s Dream") in 1847.
Heine wrote movingly of the experience of exile:
- IN DER FREMDE
- Ich hatte einst ein schönes Vaterland.
- Der Eichenbaum
- Wuchs dort so hoch, die Veilchen nickten sanft.
- Es war ein Traum.
- Das küsste mich auf deutsch und sprach auf deutsch
- (Man glaubt es kaum
- Wie gut es klang) das Wort: "Ich liebe dich!"
- Es war ein Traum.
Heine suffered from ailments that kept him bedridden for the last eight years of his life. He died in Paris and was interred in the Cimetière de Montmartre.
- . . . Dort, wo man Bücher
- verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.
- Where one begins by burning books
- One will end up burning people.
- Almansor (1821)
- Dieu me pardonnera. C’est son métier.
- God will forgive me; it’s His trade.
- (on his deathbed)
- Gedichte, 1821
- Tragödien, nebst einem lyrischen Intermezzo, 1823
- Reisebilder, 1826-31
- Die Harzreise, 1826
- Ideen, das Buch le Grand, 1827
- Englische Fragmente, 1827
- Buch der Lieder, 1827
- Französische Zustände, 1833
- Zur Geschichte der neuren schönen Literatur in Deutschland, 1833
- Die romatische Schule, 1836
- Der Salon, 1836-40
- Über Lunwig Börne, 1840
- Neue Gedichte, 1844 - New Poems
- Deutchland. Ein Wintermädchen, 1844 - Germany
- Atta Troll, 1847
- Romanzero, 1851
- Der Doctor Faus, 1851
- Les Dieux en Exil, 1853
- Die Harzreise, 1853
- Lutezia, 1854
- Vermischte Schriften, 1854
- Letzte Gedichte und Gedanken, 1869
- Sämtliche Werke, 1887-90 (7 Vols.)
- Sämtliche Werke, 1910-20
- Sämtliche Werke, 1925-30
- Werke und Briefe, 1961-64
- Sämtliche Schriften, 1968