Sea-Sickness


The grey afternoon clouds
Droop, descending upon the sea
Which rises darkly to meet them,
And between them races the ship.

Sea-sick I sit, still, at the mast
And make meditations about myself,
Very old, ashen-grey meditations,
Which already Father Lot made
When he had enjoyed too much bounty
And found himself so ill afterwards.
Then, now and again, I think of old stories,
How cross-carrying pilgrims of earlier time
Believing, kissed, on the storm-tossed voyage,
The Virgin's image, rich in comfort,
How knights brought low in this sea-emergency
Pressed the dear glove of their cherished lady
Against their lips and were likewise comforted–
I, however, sit and chew disagreeably
An old herring, the salty comforter
In cat-crises and dog's distemper.

Meanwhile the ship contends
With the wild, upheaving tide;
It lands back now like a rearing war-horse
On the stern, so that the rudder cracks,
Now plunges down again headlong,
Into the chasm of moaning water,
Then again, as if carelessly love-weary,
It hovers, thinking to rest
On the black bosom of the giant wave
Which mightily rages on,
And suddenly, a confused sea-cataract,
Crashes into whit water-curls
And covers my self with foam.

This rolling and hovering and pitching
Is unendurable!
Vainly my eye peers out, seeking
The German coast. But ah! only water,
And once again water, stirred-up water!

As the traveller in Winter longs at evening
For a hot cup of tea inside him,
So my heart now longs for you,
My German Fatherland.
Though your precious earth may always be covered
With insanity, hussars, bad verses,
And tepidly thin little treatises;
Although your zebras may always
Feed on roses instead of thistles,
Though your aristocratic apes may always
Swagger in grand, idle clothes refinedly,
And think themselves better than all the other
Heavily plodding low-browed cattle;
Though your council of snails may always
Consider itself immortal
Because it crawls on so slowly,
And though it may daily collect its votes
On whether the cheese belongs to the maggots,
And deliberate a long time
On how to perfect Egyptian sheep
So that their wool would grow better
And the shepherd could shear them like others
Without distinction–
Though folly and injustice may always
Cover you whole, O Germany;
Nevertheless I long for you,
For you are at least firm land.


                         German; trans. Vernon Watkins


Heinrich Heine, German, trans. Vernon Watkins, The Collected Poems of Vernon Watkins, 1955, Faber & Faber, Ltd.