Heartbreak is something that many poets do well, but none do it better than Heinrich Heine. His first substantial collection, which came out in 1827, when he was thirty years old, contained compelling poems of love and loss that amply justified its title, Buch der Lieder (‘Book of Songs’). Heine’s lyrics soon attracted the attention of musicians, starting with Franz Schubert, who immediately set six of them to music, bringing extra fame and power to such phrases as ‘Daß ich dich verloren hab!’ (‘that I have lost you!’). In 1840, Robert Schumann took up sixteen other poems to produce the song cycle Dichterliebe (‘Poet’s Love’), making lines like ‘Ich grolle nicht’ (‘I don’t complain’) still more famous. Buch der Lieder became a bestseller: Heine noted that his publisher, a better businessman than him, bought a mansion with the proceeds.
Heine had to content himself with a reputation as the lovelorn poet whose sufferings had inspired some of the greatest works of contemporary music. If you examine the poems more closely, however, you will discover that they are not so much the lyrical outpourings of a tormented soul as the