Sunday, August 31, 2014

On Vitzliputzli



1. Heidegger in the Tropics

Cancun is an awful place. Once, there was a barrier island, a strip of wild jungle guarding a great, tepid lagoon frayed by the Caribbean into beaches on its seaside. The adjacent Yucatan is entirely flat, venomous with serpents, an immense scrub forest rooted in crumbling limestone. The sea has undercut the entire peninsula in subtle and sinister ways and so the whole limestone landscape seems a raft tenuously floating on subterranean waters. The ground is not earth, but a kind of crust, like the scab over a wound.

Huge resorts tower over the lagoon on the land side and the soupy water is slashed and cut and whipped by jet skis and catamarans skimming the glassy estuary. The fragile scimiter of the barrier island is heaped with hotels and all-inclusive resorts, cheek-by-jowl, the pale beach subdivided into two-hundred yard segments up and down miles of sea-coast. The resorts look like ziggurats or Mayan pyramids or the kind of stubby high-rise hotels that ring big-city airports. They are too big and heavy and overbuilt, too pompous for the slender, attenuated crescent of the barrier island and one has the feeling that some day a hurricane or earthquake will simply whisk all of this rubbish into the turquoise sea. To be sure, the turquoise sea and the tumultuous thunderheads rising over it, and the neon blue sky are pretty enough, but the manmade detritus huddled on the beaches is garish and dispiriting.

In the hotels, there are bars where workers dressed like French chefs dispense watery drinks endlessly to all-inclusive patrons. Mule-like housekeepers trudge miles of carpeted corridor, always gritty with sand marched into the place by the tourists. At dawn, buses prowling the lane that stretches along the island disgorge college girls who vomit disco-tequila into the flower bushes while emerald green iguanas stare at them impassively. In steamy office-suites buried in the hotels, lady-realtors bully drunken tourists into buying timeshare – if you spend $20,000, they will give you a big jug of Kahlua or a bottle of rot-gut Mezcal. The buffets never close down and the air stinks of rotting shrimp and scallops and hustlers crouch beside ruined, waterless fountains or in the arcades of hotels that have gone bankrupt and are under new management and, therefore, being remodeled, sallying forth to importune you with surreal offers, threats, sinister innuendo – "Senor, the place where you are shall I say...’condemned’...due to...intestinal complaints from the food and the water is –" Of course, you can avoid this misery if you cancel your reservation and stay at the place that the hustler is promoting and this would do him a great kindness also since he is studying veterinary medicine and hopes to care for the sheep and cattle in his remote village, but has, now, run out of money, and his mother is sick as well with cancer and his sister’s baby is anemic and if you will just come out of the noonday glare into this quiet bar with murals of Aztecs tearing out human hearts on the walls, he will buy you and the missus a drink and, perhaps, you can transact some business together...

Every day the sea on the beach-side of the island swallows one or two drunken tourists and their bodies are sometimes recovered and sometimes not and far away, on the horizon where Cuba lurks, some big ships are becalmed in the tropical sea, floating factories that leak black smoke up into the skies and the sands are wriggling with pale-skinned bodies, men and women like crabs piled up along the edge of the surf and blindly waving their claws to summon waiters with fresh drinks and someone is towed by on a parasail high above and casts a shadow like a vulture or turkey buzzard over the sunbathers and you shudder a tiny bit in the shadow at the restaurants, management makes a Kabuki-drama of hygiene and cleanliness, the Mexican cooks exhibited in glass boxes as if at a zoo, all of them swathed in mouth-masks as if, even, a tremor of Mexican breath might carry germs capable of infecting your food, the men and women wearing surgical gowns and gloves and those white masks so that you can see only their eyes, impassive, dark, expressionless as black obsidian, looking at you over the mask and through the steam-fogged glass. The tourists are fat, rude, demanding, imperious – they stride through the lobbies and past the liquor bars that seem crammed into every nook, and cranny of the resorts, this multitude of building contractors, lawyers, retired accountants, HVAC vendors, financial advisors – all of them adopting a grand manner as if they were kings and queens, princes and princesses or, at least, TV stars or minor diplomats, emissaries of a conquering army that has occupied these beaches and lagoons and irrevocably ruined them.

At Cancun, every day is the same and every day is good – there are no weekends, no holidays, rather it is all weekend and all holiday and sun shines interminably and the lizards feast on the garbage and the meaningless rot and repetition of nature (one vine-enshrouded tree, one cockroach, one beach edged with flotsam and sea-wrack the same as every other beach, tree, and cockroach) has been supplanted by the febrile redundancy of the leisure industry, like Vegas, like south Florida, a huge concatenation of the same human artifacts over and over again, the same scoured and swept sand beach like a lawn dipping into the surf, the same cabanas, high-rises, buffets, drinks, a febrile fever dream of the same thing endlessly repeated, and, therefore, a sort of nightmare.

In an glass-enclosed skyway, overlooking the Caribbean, some Mexican kitchen-workers were on break. They wore uniforms and some of them still had their hair encased in plastic hair-nets and they were chattering and smoking cigarettes. The sun was high overhead and its rays were magnified by the glass and the plastic tables where the Mexican workers were taking their breaks were scalded by the bright light. I supposed that this was the closest that these workers came to sunbathing on the beaches spread out below the skyway, the resorts, more or less, inaccessible to the laborers who had come here by bus from small villages in the Sierra Madre or from the barrios of the Federal District. A studious-looking young man was bent over a paperback. I thought that he was a bus-boy that I had seen at our resort, unobtrusively sliding dirty dishes out from under your nose while you sat with other revelers at dinner, waiting for the danza folclorico floor-show of half-naked girls in feathers and the caballeros, with gigolo-eyes, in their silver-brimmed cowboy hats. As I passed the young man, I could see that he was reading Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Will to Power. He was, I supposed, a college student. But he peered into that book lit by the superfluous scalding sun as if it were a mighty abyss that his eyes were searching, a darkness in the center of all that majestic, unnecessary light.

What would happen if German idealism were to take root in the tropic, in ancient fatalistic Mexico? What would Heidegger be like in this torrid zone? How might the world be changed? Outside, on the beaches, handsome young boys hurled themselves into the surf. A jet ski had toppled onto it’s side and, now, unattended it rose and fell like a barrel on the long diagonal waves. The jet ski’s rider was missing. A motor-boat circled the abandoned jet ski. Storms stood on the horizon hurling water into water.


2. Heine

In Fontane’s novel "Effi Briest," I came upon a reference to a narrative poem by Heinrich Heine that I had never read, something called "Vitzliputzli." In the novel, Major Crampas applies himself to seducing the young and innocent Effi Briest, the child-wife of a Prussian civil servant Baron von Instettin. Crampas makes reference to the poetry of Heinrich Heine, verse that he intends to have an aphrodisiac effect on Effi. The young woman is superstitious and easily frightened and so Crampas mentions "Vitzliputzli" as an example of the sadistic and gruesome, hoping to induce a shudder in Effi – it is the strategy of the adolescent escorting his girlfriend to a horror movie in the hope that his date’s terror will urge her into his arms. Crampas clearly thinks that the macabre and brutal poem will frighten Effi and that Heine’s cynical romanticism, the poet’s frank treatment of sex in his love poems, will encourage her to adultery with him. Fontane’s plotting is beside the point – my interest was piqued by the idea that the German poet had devoted his energies to writing narrative verse about an Aztec war god. I immediately thought of Cancun and the bus-boy reading Nietzsche – Heine’s long poem seemed similarly unlikely, the northern writer improbably immersing himself in the gory mythology of the ancient Mexicans.

Heine published "Vitzliputzli" in 1851 in his great volume of poems Romanzero. This book was the last collection of poetry that Heine published during his life; a later volume of poems printed in 1853 was posthumous. Romanzero was written during Heine’s final exile in Paris, the city that he called "the capitol of freedom." The first section of Romanzero is entitled "Histories" and includes as its last poem the lengthy ballad, "Vitzliputzli." "Lamentations" is the title of the second part of the book, a miscellaneous collection of verse that includes satirical attacks on other German poets and the famously bitter and mournful cycle of lyrics entitled "Lazarus," poems that address directly Heine’s debilitating illness. Many of the poems in the book were dictated to Heine’s secretary. By this time in his life, Heine was completely paralyzed, confined to a bed that he called his Matratzengruft ("mattress-grave"). Heine’s doctors claimed that he was suffering from an exacerbation of "lead poisoning" and, ineffectively, treated him for that illness – in fact, as Heine himself understood, he was dying of tertiary syphilis and, during the composition of Romanzero, was largely dependant on morphine for analgesia. The final sequence of poems in the volume is entitled "Hebraic Melodies," a reference both Heine’s own Jewish origins as well as Byron’s famous "Hebrew Melodies" of 1815. (The first verses that Heine published were translations from Lord Byron that the German poet made before 1825.)

Not a page in Romanzero is without something unexpected, startling, even shocking. Heine indulges in romantic and sentimental conceits only to savagely undercut and disavow them. Heine’s history poems focus on the losers, defenders of lost causes, people at the margins of historical narrative – characteristically, his account of the battle of Hastings takes the perspective of the defeated Anglo-Saxon King, Harald. Heine’s version of the French revolution features a soiree of court ladies, all of them headless, gathered around the similarly headless Marie Antoinette – the beheaded corpses communicate through their rumps. The last poem in the "History" section of the book is "Vitzliputzli," ostensibly Heine’s account of the final days of the Aztec empire, although, of course, digressive and inflected with other, and more subversive, concerns as well.

In my reading, the Cortez and the Aztec death-god, Vitzliputzli, represent the clash of civilizations, a theme that obsessed Heine. Elsewhere in Romanzero, Heine considers the Moor’s "last sigh," the mournful Boabdil looking down upon the groves of Grenada one last time before being expelled by the Christian crusaders. Boabdil, in turn, is a figure, an anti-type, as it were, for the Sephardic Jews, later also driven from their immemorial homes by the intolerant Spanish. The Sephardic Jews, appear in several poems, particularly a long ballad-like narrative (really a digressive anti-narrative) in the third section of Romanzero, "Jehuda Ben Halevy." "Jehuda Ben Halevy" feints toward biography – the verse suggests that it will be an account of the Sephardic poet’s life in Toledo, but, somewhat like Tristram Shandy, can’t quite muster the fortitude (or the linear logic) to tell the story of Jewish writer’s life: the text slips into Jewish mysticism and love poetry and, then, abruptly, fizzles out, a note announcing that it is a "fragment." "Jehuda Ben Halevy" is followed by a long satirical account of a theological debate between Christian monks and Jewish rabbis, also Sephardic, an apocryphal encounter said to have occurred under the supervision of the Spanish Queen. Both sides heap amusingly vitriolic abuse on one another leaving the Queen with the equivocal conclusion that "both monks and rabbis stink equally." I interpret the final two poems of Romanzero set in Grenada as a rejoinder, and commentary on, "Vitzliputzli". As evidence for this proposition, I cite the fact that "Jehuda ben Halevy" is written in the same meter as "Vitzliputzli" – that is, unrhymed trochaic quatrains almost invariably containing four feet, or eight, syllables per line. (When Heine rhymes these lines as in Deutschland, Ein Wintermaerchen, the effect is like the knittelvers in which the Niebelungenlied is composed.) "Jehuda ben Levy" is composed in three sections and the final poem depicting the debate between the monks and rabbis seems an appendix to the ballad-like verse about the Sephardic poet. "Vitzliputzli" similarly is composed in three sections with a Prelude comprising the fourth part of the poem. Both "Vitzliputzli" and the poems at the end of "Hebraic Melodies"involve a potentially violent clash (or violent) clash between Catholic Spanish Christians and non-Christian people. In my view, Romanzero is mirror-symmetrical: the prelude and three long chapters in the story of Vitzliputzli and Cortez mirror the three long chapters in the story of Jehuda ben Levy (whose people were exiled from Spain by the same kind of militant Christians who destroyed the Aztecs) with the pendant account of the theological debate equivalent to the prelude preceding the appearance of Cortez in "Vitzliputzli."

Probably, Heine viewed both historical situations – the plight of the Aztecs and the Sephardim – as manifestations of the age-old theme of intolerance and bigotry opposed to freedom. Heine was in exile in Paris as a result of his support of German revolutionaries who had attempted in 1848, and failed, to liberate the German-speaking principalities from autocratic rule. Undoubtedly, the theme of exile resonated with him. Jehuda ben Levy’s people are exiled; the Moors were exiled; at the end of Vitzliputzli, the ugly little death-god goes into exile in Europe. Not surprisingly, Romanzero was banned both in Munich and Prussia.


4. Mexico City – A Matter of Pronunciation

At a Sanborn’s in Mexico City, I ate mole on chicken. The mole was too spicy for me. My brow and cheeks were wet with sweat. Outside, across the busy street, several men were repairing a panel of concrete on the sidewalk in front of a hotel. The hotel was a nice place with a wreath of floral wrought iron woven around its door. A doorman in a tasseled uniform with epaulets surveyed the concrete workers and the floods of taxis, almost all of them battered-looking Volkswagen beetles, surging up and down the road. Two men were squatting to adjust the flimsy-looking lathe form into which two other workers were shoveling cement. Some sacks of concrete slumped against the facade of the hotel and two or three other men were mixing the stuff in big plastic buckets. A craftsman with a trowel stood ready to smooth the cement where it had been shoveled into the form. A hose supplied water for the project and, when not in use drained a trickle of water over the curb and along the gutter. The hose was screwed into another length of hose that ran up the sidewalk, creating a sinuous trip hazard, to yet another hose section, leaking at that connection so that a pale stream of water flowed out over the pavement at the foot of a dark-skinned, nervous-looking soldier who was holding a machine gun across his belly. The young soldier shuffled back and forth; he was guarding at ATM in the foyer of a bank. I wondered how many hose lengths had been screwed together to convey water to the sidewalk in front of the hotel where the little construction project was underway. Perhaps, the hose ran up alleyways and past the apartment buildings with the big, black vats of water on their roofs, along avenues where the busts of famous men stood on battered pedestals gazing with inert, bulging eyes at the tattered-looking trees separating them, section after section of hose rising into the denuded mountains scarred by mudslides into the shanty-towns where the only light at night was the beer signs at the cantinas upward to a tanker truck parked at the intersection of two nameless streets overlooking the vast city. It seemed to me that the five or six workers were too many men to assign to the task of replacing a panel of concrete sidewalk the size of a small table-cloth.

Later, we took a bus tour through the city. In Mexico City, everyone is working, but the work is done piece-meal by gangs of laborers, simple tasks broken down into small, and bizarre sub-tasks. There are bosses bossing other bosses and every laborer seems to have a subordinate helper extending downward in the hierarchy of work to the ragged children whose jobs seemed to involve running errands to the nearby convenience store, carrying messages and burritos along the city streets. On the bus tour, a dignified older man wearing a brown suit, his sunglasses clipped to his breast-pocket pointed out landmarks. He seemed to be a retired High School teacher. The teacher had an assistant, a younger man, perhaps a guide-in-training, who whispered cues to him, providing a commentary to his commentary sotto voce. The busdriver had a "spotter" who stood at his side, precariously clinging to a vertical steel pole as the bus lurched and writhed through the dense traffic. The "spotters" job was to exit the bus at tight corners, entering the deadly traffic to ease the vehicle around turns, waving and gesturing to both the driver and flocks of VW beetles swirling through the intersection. There was a fifth man crowded into the front of the bus. His sole function was to carry the two plastic bins, turned downward to make impromptu stools for the guide and his subordinate. All five of the men chatted with one another in Spanish between announcements made by the dignified, silver-haired guide. They seemed to be commenting on the weather and pointing out stylishly dressed women on the street corners and, perhaps, cursing in a good-natured way, the heavy traffic.

At the Plaza de los Tres Culturas (the Plaza of the Three Cultures), the bus inserted itself between several school buses and we stepped down to stroll among the ruins in that place. Big heaps of stone formed low platforms and ruined walls hedged pits that were dark, underground grottos full of human bones. These ruins had once been the center of the Aztec metropolis, Tenochtitlan, and the place was, as the scholar David Carrasco has written, "a city of sacrifice." Tens of thousands of men and women and children had been sacrificed to Aztec gods in this place and fissures in the field of shattered walls and blunted pedestals, their tops hacked-off by the Spaniards to make their own temples, were clogged with skeletons.

The dignified guide gestured at the ruins. The stonework was heavy, ominous, black rubble and the outcroppings of the ruins looked like lava-fields exposed under the cone of great, smoking volcano. I will never forget how the guide pronounced the name of the Death god whose rites were celebrated in these temples. "Here is where human beings were sacrificed daily to the great god, Huitzilopochtli." "Huitzilopochtli," the current spelling for the god that Heine calls "Vitzliputzli," is pronounced "Tweet - see - loh - POACH -lee." The school teacher emphasized the "Poach" and, indeed, gave a slightly hard, even, Germanic sound to the "ch" – something like a combination of "k" and "sh." The syllable sounded rich and deep, a confection of vowels – it tasted in the mouth like the fiery mole at Sanborn’s: a dense, rich chocolate vivid with dissolved chile, tasting of the sun and the mud of the earth at the same time.


5. The Humming Bird of the Left

Huitzili is a Mexica word for "humming bird." Opochtli means "left hand" or "left side" in the same language. It is seductive to name the god that Heine calls Vitzliputzli, "Humming bird of the left." But linguists observe that this appellation ignores the grammatical construction of the compound word Huitzilopochtli – "left hand" doesn’t modify "hummingbird," rather, the reverse is true. Thus, Huitzilopochtli means something like "humming bird-like lefthandedness" – no one knows for sure what this means. (I will venture a guess: Muhammed Ali said that he could "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee;" I think Huitzilopochtli means something similar – the deity was initially a war-god and the name means, I think, to strike a swift blow that is almost unseen from the left side. In other words, I suspect the name celebrates a certain kind of deft unexpected, left-hand punch that "stings like a bee.")

The warlike Aztecs spoke Nahuatl. Originally, Huitzilopochtli was of little interest to them. But when they conquered the Mexica, like the Romans assuming Greek cultural traditions, they adopted the customs and deities of the more urban and civilized tribes in the valley of Mexico. Huitzilopochtli was elevated to sun-god and worshiped at the Templo Mayor at the center of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capitol. As he was promoted to solar status, the god became progressively more demanding and bloodthirsty. The Aztecs boasted that they had sacrificed more than 20,000 victims in just four days in 1484 on Huitzilopochtli’s feast day. Undoubtedly this was a gross exaggeration. But what if the Aztec priests had killed only four- or five-thousand sacrificial victims? What would this have looked like?

Huitzilopochtli was the last and most aggressive son of the virgin Earth Mother, Coatlicue – "Serpent skirt." One day, while she was sweeping out a temple, Coatlicue encountered a whirling ball of feathers. Somehow, the feathers impregnated her and she gave birth to the beautiful Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent, and his brother, Xolotl, the god of death, deformity, and disease. The spinning globe of feathers was virile and, later, Coatlicue, gave birth to 400 warlike sons, the Centzonuitznaua, and their sister, Coyaolxauhqui. These things happened on Serpent Mountain, a place called in Nahuatl, Coatepec.

Coyaolxauhqui was jealous of her mother and enflamed her 400 brothers to revolt. They threatened Coatlicue with dismemberment. This peril engendered its own nemesis: Coatlicue gave birth to her last son, Huitzilopochtli. He defeated the Centzonuitznaua in a pitched battle, seized his sister Coyaolxauhqui on the summit of Serpent Mountain, and tearing off her head, cast her body down from the heights.

The central Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan was a lofty pyramid that represented Coatepec, Serpent Mountain. Excavations have revealed a huge monolith carved to represent a headless female corpse fountaining blood from her severed neck. This colossal statue stood at the foot of the temple mount. The bodies of virgins sacrificed to Huitzilopochtli were thrown from the top of the pyramid and, then, dragged to rest under the huge stone image of the butchered Coyaolxauhqui. Hundreds of headless skeletons were found in that area when excavations for a new subway station were undertaken at the edge of the Templo Mayor complex.

The Templo Mayor, located in what is now called the Plaza of Three Cultures, is dark and bloody ground. In 1968, students protesting in that Plaza were attacked by the police and hundreds of them were murdered. The bodies were carted away and loaded into helicopters to be dropped into the Gulf of Mexico. Some of the people falling from the sky were wounded and still alive when they were flung down from the brilliant sky into the blood-warm waters of the Gulf.


6. Neil Young

He came dancing across the water

With his galleons and guns

Looking for the new world

In the palace in the sun

On the shore lay Montezuma

With his coca leaves and pearls,

In his halls he often wondered

With the secrets of the worlds,

And his subjects gathered ‘round him

Like leaves around a tree

In their clothes of many colors

For the angry gods to see...



He came dancing across the water

Cortez, Cortez,

What a killer.



Behold this America!

Behold this brave new world!

Not today’s hemisphere,

Now wilted europeanized —

Behold here this new world

As when Christopher Columbus

Yanked it forth from the ocean

Sparkling still in its flood-freshness,

Dribbling still pearls of water

Dispersed, spraying colors about

As they kiss the light of the sun,

So sound and healthy this world!

Here, no churchyard, all romantic,

Here no old midden of shards

Made from moldering symbols

And petrified powdered wigs.

And from wholesome soils sprout

Wholesome fruit, no tree

Bloated nor infected

Nor sick in its spinal marrow. 20

On the limbs of trees, rocking

Immense birds. Their feathered wings

Iridescent. Equipped with grave

Elongated beaks and eyes

Bepectacled with black horn rims,

They peer at you below, silent –

‘Til, suddenly, they shriek shrilly

And chatter, like gossips at coffee.

Oh, I don’t what they’re saying

Thought I’m fluent in bird-language,

Wise as old King Solomon

Who possessed a thousand wives

And knew all avian tongues

Not only the modern tones

But also ancient moribund

Dialects stuffed-up like roast turkeys.

Brand-new terrain, brand new flowers!

New flowers and and new fragrances!

Unheard of, savage fragrances

Driven in my nostrils
 Tempting, tickling, passionately

And my sense of smell rooting around

Tormented: Where did I once

Smell something so similar?

Was it, perhaps, on Regent Street

In the sunburnt yellow arms

Of that slim girl from Java

Perpetually hawking flowers,

Or was it in Rotterdam

Next to the Erasmus column

In the white-washed waffle-booth

With the mysterious curtain?

But while I propose to address

The New World like a casual friend,

Seemingly, I inspire still

Greater revulsion – a monkey

Who absconds appalled, bush-wards

Crosses himself on glimpsing me

Crying fearfully: "A ghost

A ghost come come from the old world!" 60

Monkey! Have no fear. I’m not

Andy sort of ghost, nor a spook,

Life boils in my arteries,

I’m life’s most loyal son.

Though through decades of intercourse

With the dead, I have assumed

The mannerisms of the extinct

And their concealed oddities.

O! The best years of my life —

Those I spent in Kyffhauser cave

Or in Venusberg and various

Grottoes of Teuton romanticism.

Do not fear, my simian friend!

I hold you dear since on hairless

Leathery-chafed buttocks, you carry

Those colors that I salute!

Precious hues! Black-red-yellow-gold

Those ape-ass tints, swaths of color

That remind me most sadly

Of Barbarossa’s brave banner. 80



On his head, he wore laurel wreathed

And on his boots there sparkled

Golden spurs – and, yet, this man was

Not a hero, also no knight.

Only a bandit chieftain this man

Who inscribed in the book of fame

With his own bold, battering fist

His own bold, brutal name: Cortez.

Beneath the name of Columbus

He wrote "Cortez" closely lettered

And the school boy at his school desk

Learns by heart both of those names.

After Christopher Columbus

Now he names Fernando Cortez

As the second greatest man

In the New World’s pantheon.

Heroic destiny’s best jest:

Our good name coupled, at the end,

With that of a two-bit hustler

Always in human memory. 100

Better, by far, to fade away

Unknown than to be hauled through

Tediously long eternities

In such close association.

Monsieur Christoper Columbus

Was a hero and his spirit

Like the sun was nothing but

Solar generosity.

Many, of course, have given much,

But Columbus granted us all

The gift of an entire new world –

And it’s name is America.

No liberation for us

From our foul geographic prison,

But, at least, he enlarged it

And lengthened the chains binding us.

Thankful mankind praised his great feat,

Those not merely tired of Europe,

But also Africa and Asia,

At last, equally dull to us — 120

One only, a singular hero,

Gave us more than Columbus

And Cortez – and that hero

Was given the world by God.

His honored father was named Amram

And his mother named Jochebeth,

The man himself was called Moses

And he is the greatest hero.

But my Pegasus, you tarry

Much too long with Kit Columbus,

Our winged excursion today

Involves the lesser man, Cortez.

So spread your colorful pinions

Winged horse! And carry me

To that lovely New World land

Which goes by the name, Mexico!

Bear me to that fortress

Where the great King Montezuma

Hospitably offered lodging

To his warlike Spanish guests 140

And not shelter alone and food

In profligate abundance,

But gave the prince of those strange knights

Gifts as well, rich and splendid.

Precious things, cleverly fashioned

Of weighty gold, glittering jewels

Attesting to the monarch’s

Generosity and splendor.

This wholly uncivilized

Blindly superstitious heathen

Who believed still in honor and

The sacred troth owed to the guest.

He acceded to the offer

To attend at a grand feast

That the Spaniards hosted in his

Honor at their encampment.

And, accompanied by his court,

Unafraid, glorious, the King came

Into the Spaniard’s living quarters

Where fanfares saluted him. 160

The title of this comedy

I know not. Perhaps, it’s named

"Spanish Honor" – Yet, I know

The Author – Fernando Cortez.

Cortez gave the sign – suddenly

The King was ambushed, set upon,

And they tied and imprisoned him

In the fortress as a hostage.

And, so. Montezuma died

And the dam was shattered

That protected the rash hero

From the rage of the King’s subjects.

Then, the horrid tempest began

Like a wild, unruly sea,

Tossing, raging, coming ever

Closer, waves of frenzied warriors.

Boldly, the Spaniards beat back

Each storm. But, day after day,

The fortress was besieged, battered

And the combat was exhausting. 180

After the King’s murder, provisions

Were cut off, embargoed all,

And, as rations grew shorter,

Faces frowned and grew longer.

And, so, with these long visages

Hispaniola’s sons brooded

And they sighed as they recalled

Their beloved Christian homeland

That distant and precious homeland

Where the pious bells resound

And at the hearth, peacefully

Steaming, Ollea - Potrida

Smothered thick with garbanzo beans

Under which: the rascal fragrance,

The sizzling giggle of concealed

And worthy chorizo sausages.

A council of war was convened,

The captain commanded retreat.

The next morning, at dawn,

The troop would depart the city. 200

Easy enough to enter

Before by Cortez’ cunning

But, withdrawal toard firm land

Posed deadly difficulties.

Mexico, island-city,

Built in the big lake’s center,

In the middle, flood-enveloped,

A proud aquatic fortresss.

Egress to lake-shore afforded by

Canoes and rafts and causeways

Resting on giant wooden pilings,

Little islands linked as bridges.

So, before the sun began to rise

The Spaniards set forth marching

Without the beat of a drum,

Without trumpet to blow reveille,

Didn’t want to rouse their hosts

From their sweet slumbers

(A hundred-thousand Indian warriors

Encamped in Mexico City 220

The Spaniard’s plan to sneak away

And avoid the bill owed for their stay.

But, this daw, even earlier,

The Mexicans had arisen.

At the bridges, on the floating rafts,

Blocking all the fords, Indians

There to tip a cordial cup

To their Spanish lodgers.

Body pressed to body, tight-packed,

And, on naked warrior torsos

The imprint embossed in flesh of

Armored breastplate arabesques.

Throttling, choking a tumult of

Butchery that slowly, so slowly,

Raged, creeping over the causeway,

Across bridges, floating rafts, the fords.

The Indians sang, bellowed,

But the Spaniards were grim, silent,

Battling step by step to conquer

Earth enough for their retreat.  240

In this claustrophobic combat

Old Europe’s rigorous war-craft

Of armor, firearms, horses

Offered only slight advantage.

And many Spaniards were also

Heavily laden with the gold

That they had just extorted, looted

So that yellow burden of guilt

Lamed them, restrained them in battle,

And that satanic metal

Not only cost them their souls

But also destroyed their bodies.

At the same time, the lake was

Covered over with boats, canoes,

Warriors floated there and shot

At the causeway and rafts and fords.

In the chaos, their darts hits

Many of their own brothers,

But, also, struck down enough

Arrogant hidalgos.

On the third bridge, there fell

The cavalier, Gaston, who

Carried the banner that day, an

Image of the Blessed Virgin,

This picture itself a magnet

To arrows of the Indians,

Six projectiles were left thrust

Through her heart – naked arrows

Like unto those golden swords

that pierced the suffering breast

Of the Mater Dolorosa

Carried in Lenten processions.

Mortally wounded, Don Gaston

Handed to the flag of Gonsalvo

Who was hit and dropped

Down in death himself – Then, Cortez

Himself seized the precious banner,

Their leader and captain, and he

Carried it aloft on horseback

Until evening when the slaughter ceased.  280

One-hundred sixty Spaniards died

On that bloody day.

Over eighty were taken

Alive by the Indians.

Badly wounded, there were many

That only later perished.

Almost a dozen horses were

Either killed or captured.

It was evening when Cortez

And his band reached terra firma

Solid ground, a lake-shore planted

Rudely with weeping willow trees.



After combat’s day of terror

Comes the spectral night of triumph,

A hundred-thousand festive lamps

Flickering in Mexico.

A hundred-thousand festive lamps,

Hard wood torches, creosote flames,

Cast the lurid light of day

On  palaces, shrines of the gods.  300

Gilded houses and, also,

Brightening Vitzliputzli’s temple,

Idol-summit of red brick,

Strangely reminiscent of

Egyptian, Babylonian,

Assyrian structures -- vast,

Colossal, like monstrosities

In paintings by John Martin.

Yes, here are those self-same

Ramps with stairs, also immense,

Upon which waves rise and fall

Of many thousand Mexicans,

Encampments on the terraces,

Regiments of wild warriors

Orgies of banqueting, men

Drunk on victory and palm-wine.

These ramped stairs ascend upward

Toward the high platform,

Like a balustrade around

The monstrous temple's thatched roof. 320
There upon his altar-throne

Sits the great Vitzliputzli,

Mexico’s bloodthirsty war-god,

An evil chimera, horrid.

Yet, his visages seems cute –

So grotesque an so childish

That, despite our inner shudder,

We’re tickled into laughter –

And, at his sight, we recall

At the same time, things whimsical

Such as the pale Death of Basel

Or Brussel’s Manneken-Pis.

At the deity’s side stand

Laity on the right, priests left

In ornate gowns of colored feathers

That adorn the clergy this day.

Atop the altar’s marble steps

Squats a hundred-year old man,

Tiny, no hair on chin or skull,

Wearing a scarlet camisole.  340

This is the sacrifice-priest

And he hones his agate blade,

Hones it smiling as he gazes

Now and then, up to his god.

Vitzliputzli acknowledges,

It seems, the glance of his servant

Bats his stony eyelashes and

Even moves his lips as if to speak.

On the altar-steps gathered,

The temple-musicians in force,

Drums beaten, conch-shell cornets,

A rattling and a tooting –

A rattling and a tooting

And added, choral voices

A Mexican Te Deum,

A miaowing like that of cats -

A miaowing like that of cats,

But of the largest species

That we sometimes call tiger-cats,

And that devour people, not mice!

When the night wind caught this music

And threw it toward the lake shore,

The Spaniards bivouacked there felt

Hung-over and desolate,

Weeping among the weeping willows,

The soldiers stood paralyzed

Staring toward that bright-lit city

Reflected in the gloomy lake,

A mirror mocking them cruelly,

Showing the joyous foe’s bonfires –

Spaniard’s standing as if in the stalls

Of an enormous theater,

On which the brightly-lit platform

Of Vitzliputzli’s shrine is stage,

Where a victory festival

Becomes a mystic tragedy,

A play called "Human Sacrifice,"

An ancient subject, this mythos,

In Christian adaptation

The drama is not so awful. (380)

Because the blood becomes red wine

And the corpse which is produced

Is transubstantiated

Into a harmless thin wafer –

But here, with these wild warriors

Their fun is rather raw, gravely

Literal: they feast on flesh

And the blood is from human veins.

Indeed, old Christian blood quaffed

Of rare and purest vintage,

Never adulterated with

Blood of the Moors or the Hebrews.

Rejoice Vitzliputzli, rejoice!

Today there will be Spanish blood

And the warm sweet aroma shall

Gladden your mighty nostrils.

This day slaughtered for you shall be

Eighty Spaniards, prideful bratwurst

For the table of your holy men

Whom their flesh shall nourish.  400

For these priests are merely mortal,

And mortals, with bellies to feed

Can not live on the reeking odor

Alone, nor on smoke like the gods.

Listen! The death-drum drones now

And the evil conch horn shrieks,

Sounds that announce the appearance

Of the column of condemned men.

Eighty Spaniards, abject, naked,

Their hands tightly bound behind

Their backs as they are dragged, yanked

Up the lofty temple stairway

To kneel before Vitzliputzli,

Forced to crouch beneath the idol

And, then, to dance comically

Compelled to this by tortures that

Are so gruesome and horrible

That the panicked screams of tormented

Men out-howl the entire savage

Cannibal choir’s bellowing – 420

Poor spectators on the lakeshore,

Cortez and his comrades-in-arms.

They hear clearly and recognize

Their friends howls of fear and pain

On that lofty stage, luridly lit

They saw it all, exactly enough,

The figures and their demeanor –

Saw the knife, saw the spray of blood,

And they wrenched their helmets from off

Their heads and together knelt down

Giving voice to that psalm of death,

All of them singing – De Profundis!

And, among those dying that night,

Was one Raimond de Mendoza,

Son of a lovely abbess,

Cortez’ first youthful beloved.

And, as he recalled the locket

Dangling upon the young man’s breast

Protecting the image her image,

Cortez wept bright, glistening tears, 440

‘Though he brushed them from his eyes

With his hard glove clad in chainmail,

Sighed deeply and sang with his men’s

Morose choir: Miserere!


Already more pale shimmering stars

And morning mists rising upward

From the lake water like specters

Trailing behind them appalled shrouds.

Feast and torches now extinguished

On the heights of the god’s temple

Where pastor and flock are snoring

Pillowed on blood-drenched paving stones.

Only Red-Jacket waits and watches

By the light of the final lamp.

Merrily grinning and jesting,

The High-Priest speaks to the idol:

"Vitzliputzli, Putzlivitzli,

Dear little god Vitzilputzli,

Are you well-amused by this day?

Have you sniffed the sweet smoke-perfume? 460

Today, good Spanish blood was spilled,

O, it steamed appetizingly

And your fine, delicate nostrils

Sucked the scent voluptuously.

Tomorrow, we’ll sacrifice horses,

Whinnying, noble, monstrous beasts,

Begotten by the wind’s spirit

On beloved sea-spirit manatees.

If you’re so inclined, I’ll slaughter

Both of my nephews to praise you,

Charming little lads, juicy blood,

The pride and joy of my old age.

You must be well disposed to us

And must grant us new victories.

Let us conquer, my dead godling,

Putzlivitzli, Vitzliputzli!

O destroy all our enemies,

These strangers from foreign lands,

Still undiscovered lands far away,

Men who have come across oceans – 480

Why did they depart their homeland?

Driven by hunger or blood-feud?

Stay at home and be nourished there

Honestly – an old wise proverb.

What do they desire? They secrete

Our gold in their armored pockets

And they wish, it seems, that we be

Happy only when in heaven above.

At first, we believed that they were

Beings of highest pedigree,

Sons of the sun, immortal,

Defended by lightning, thunder.

But they were people, killable

Like the rest of us, and my knife,

Last night, has proven most surely

Their poor human mortality.

Just human beings, no better

Or prettier than others here,

Ugly as the apes in the trees,

Hairy as those monkeys above 500

Their bearded faces -- and, they say,

Many concealed in their trousers

Prehensile monkey appendages:

If you’re not an ape, you don’t need pants.

Morals as ugly as their mugs,

No knowledge of the true faith,

And, it’s been said, that they even

Gobble up their very own gods.

O! Exterminate this no-good

Wicked brood, these god-devourers,

Vitzliputzli, Putzlivitzli,

Let us triumph, Vitzliputzli!"

Thus, the old priest spoke to his god

And the god’s answer resounded,

Sighing, rustling, like the night-wind

Caressing the lake-side reeds:

Red-Jacket, old blood-stained butcher

Who has slaughtered many thousands,

Drills now his sacrificial knife

Into his own ancient body, 520

Expelled from slit-open belly,

Dragged outward the old priest’s soul,

Over gravel, over twig, branch,

Skipping to celestial frogs in sky trees

Where Old Aunty squats there,

Queen of the rats – and she will say:

"Good morning, my dear naked soul,

How are you doing my nephew?

Is Vitzliputzli pleased with you

In this amber, honeyed sweet light?

Good fortune whisks away the flies

And drives all cares from your furrowed brow.

Or have you been scratched by horrid

Katzlagaza, misfortunes’ goddess,

With her iron-clawed, ink-black paws

Well-steeped in otter’s venom?

Naked soul, give me your answer:

Vitzliputzli bids me greet you,

And wishes pestilence on you,

In your belly, accursed soul! 540

Because you counseled him to war

And your advice was an abyss –

Fulfilling the evil, primal,

Ancient and wicked prophecies –

Of our Kingdom’s sudden collapse

Due to fearsome bearded strangers

Blown here out of the eastern sea,

Borne upon wooden, flying birds.

And, an old proverb says it all:

Woman’s desire, the god’s desire

And doubled when the god’s will

The desires of the Mother of God.

It is her who heaps scorn on me,

The prideful princess of Heaven,

A virgin beyond all compare,

Bewitching us, doing wonders,

She protects the Spanish soldiers

So we must go down to defeat,

I...the poorest of all the gods,

and my poor, sad Mexico... 560

Good and faithful servant, Red-Coat,

You naked soul shall creep into

A hole in the sand – rest in peace!

Happy not to see my sorrow!

This temple falls into itself,

And I...even I sink away

In the fog – only ruins, smoke,

None shall ever see me again.

But, I don’t perish: we gods wax

Old like the parrots in the trees,

And we only molt and, like them,

Exchange old feathers for new ones.

To the home of my enemies

– They call that world "Europa" --

I’ll fly, I think, and begin there

A new, illustrious career.

I’ll bedevil them, this god

Insinuated into their hymns;

Evil enemy of my foes,

There I’ll set up housekeeping. 580

Happily torturing my foes,

Terrorizing them with phantoms,

A little foretaste of hell, they

Shall smell sulphur’s stink all the time.

Their wise men and their idiots

I’ll cajole and tempt and tease,

I’ll tickle them in their virtues

Until they giggle like butchers.

Indeed, I’ll become their devil

And, as comrades, I’ll salute

Satan, old Nick, Belial,

Ashtaroth and Beelzelbub.

I’ll give you my regards, Lilith

Sin-mother, bald serpent’s consort,

Tutor me in your cruelty,

And your lovely arts of deceit.

My much beloved Mexico,

I’m no more your salvation –

But fearful shall be my revenge,

O my beloved Mexico!" 600





20 – "sick in its spinal marrow..." – Heine wrote Vitzliputzli while paralyzed with tertiary syphilis, a disease that attacks the cerebrospinal fluids.

45 – Regent Street – a commercial street famous for markets and upscale terrace homes located in the West End of London – Heine’s reference is self-consciously cosmopolitan.

50 – Erasmus’ column – a statue of Erasmus in Rotterdam, the oldest monument in the Netherlands. Characteristically, Heine references Erasmus, a symbol of European reason and skepticism as opposed to Martin Luther, a figure who, perhaps, represents Germanic irrationality and fanaticism for Heine

70 (et. seq.) – Kyfhauser cave and Venusberg – Kyffhaeuser cave is a legendary grotto within a dome-shaped mountain in Thuringia, Germany. Frederick Barbarossa ("red beard") is said to sleep there, awaiting the time that he is needed by the German people. Barbarossa was a German king who drowned during the Third Crusade crossing a river in Turkey. He is a symbol of German romanticism and the dream that German-speaking peoples would be united in a single country. Venusberg is a mythological mountain somewhere in Germany harboring another grotto. In this grotto, Venus lives and celebrates her rites. The German grail-knight Tannhaeuser is supposed to have spent a year there worshiping Venus.

76 (et. seq.) Black-red- yellow-gold and Barbarossa’ banner – Heine sardonically compares the colors on the buttocks of a New World ape to the colors on the German flag. In this regard, see Heine’s related remarks in the 1844 preface to Deutschland: Ein Wintersmaerchen:

(Referring to the "black-red-gold livery" of the lackeys of the German enemies of democracy, Heine says:) "I already hear their beery voices: You even dare to blaspheme our national colors. Despiser of the Fatherland, friend to the French whom you would like to see crossing the Rhine! Calm down: I will honor your colors and respect them when they deserve to be honored and respected, when they are no longer an idle or slavish mockery. Plant the black-red- gold banner on the heights of German thought, make them the rallying point of free humanity and I will shed the best blood of my heart for them..." (My translation)

160 - 181 – (Montezuma’s) murder – Heine’s account of Cortez and Monteczuma II’s is inaccurate, although dramatically effective. The poet compresses months of political maneuvering into a single continuous episode. In fact, Cortez entered Tenochtitlan and met the emperor, Monteczuma II, on the causeway in November 1519. Monteczuma gave Cortez several massive golden medallions as gifts. With his men, Cortez was lodged as a guest in Monteczuma’s huge palace. Gradually, Monteczuma seems to have become a prisoner in his own house. In May 1520, Cortez departed Tenochtitlan with a detachment of soldiers to fight a fellow Spaniard, Panfilo de Navaez. Cortez had entered the Valley of Mexico without orders from the Spanish crown and was thought to be a rebel by the King. Navaez was dispatched from Cuba to capture him for punishment. Cortez allied himself with local Indians and defeated Navaez. However, while he was absent from Tenochtitlan, his garrison in that city attacked Indian noblemen and their families attending a human sacrifice in the Templo Mayor at a festival to Huitzliopochtli. This led to a massacre and resulted in the Spaniards being besieged in Monteczuma’s palace. During these events, Monteczuma II died – it is not known how he was killed; both Bernal Diaz and Cortez claimed that Monteczuma was killed by his own countrymen in retribution for his weakness in dealing with the Spanish threat. 
241 – In this claustrophobic conflict – Cortez returned from his combat with Panfilo de Navarez to discover that the Indian population of Tenochtitlan was on the verge of revolt. Cortez decided to leave the city, a place that he now construed as a death-trap. He invited his soldiers to load up as much gold and other loot as they could carry and on June 30, 1520, in the dead of night, his army fled the city-center toward one of the causeways crossing Lake Texcoco. A woman saw the Spaniards fleeing raised the alarm and a desperate battle ensued. This fight, occurring mostly on the causeway between Tenochtitlan and the lakeshore suburb of Tlacopan. In Mexican history, the battle is called La Noche Triste ("Night of Sorrow"). Cortez ultimately reached Tlacopan but paid a heavy price – probably about 250 of his men were killed along with a 2000 of their Indian allies. (Almost all the camp-followers, mostly women and children who had become associated with the Spaniards were murdered.) A huge and ancient tree in Mexico City is said to mark the place on the shore where the conquistadors rested and bathed their wounds after the deadly combat.

272 – Don Gaston and Gonsalvo – Two of Cortez’ men. Gonsalvo was Cortez’ lieutenant who went with him to fight Panfilo de Navaez. In fact, Gonsalvo captured Navaez in the battle. Gonsalvo led the charge across the causeway on La Noche Triste. He survived the fight and the ensuing battles resulting in the conquest of Tenochtitlan. He died in 1528 while returning to Spain. In his luggage were 14 bars of solid gold ingot that were stolen before the ship reached Spain.

308 – John Martin – Martin was an eccentric British romantic painter and engraver. He specialized in vast canvases showing scenes of destruction and damnation. He illustrated Milton and the Bible, painted the Last Judgement as well as the devastation of Pompeii and Herculaneum. He died in 1858.

328 et. seq.Death of Basel and Manneken-pis – The Death of Basel is a carved figure that emerges hourly from a medieval clock in the townsquare to conduct a Totentanz ("Dance of Death"). Manneken Pis is a bronze statue 61 cm tall showing an infant boy urinating into a fountain. It is located in Brussels and was made in the early 17th century by Hieronymus Duquesnoy the Elder. Across the street is a modern correlate: Jeannacke Pis showing a little girl urinating. Nearby, you can see Zinnecke Pis, a bronze statue of a dog lifting its leg against a fire hydrant.

What did the idol of Vitzliputzli look like? This is a mystery. In Codex imagery, Huitzliopochtli is shown as a humming bird or a man with a black face and an elaborate headdress carrying a winged fire-serpent and a mirror. Dancers and warriors portraying Huitzliopochtli wore humming birds in the visors of their headdresses. In the Templo Mayor, there was an ancient cult image of Huitzliopochtli. It was thought to be destroyed by the Spaniards and has never been described. In fact, the idol was spirited away to a cave and protected by the god’s priests. The statue re-emerged during heresy and witchcraft trials conducted by Bishop Zumarraga in 1533 and, then, seems to have been lost once more.

432 – Raimond de Mendoza – Heine invents an illegitimate son for Cortez to die in the battle on the causeway. Cortez had a dozen illegitimate children, some of them with Monteczuma’s princesses, but this lad is fictional as is the "lovely abbess."

490 – beings of highest pedigree – The old priest is referring to the belief held by some Aztecs that Cortez and his men were avatars of Quetzalcoatl, the benign feathered serpent. Dismayed at human sacrifice, Quetzalcoatl was said to have fled Mexico and traveled east. According to the myth, his return to Mexico, which would bring an era of peace and harmony, was the subject of prophecy. It was said that he would arrive from the east on winged vessels. Cortez reports that he was mistaken for Quetzalcoatl in some of his accounts of the Conquest and that the Indians thought the sails on his ships were wings. Modern historians tend to disbelieve this story.

505 – Morals as ugly as their mugs – The irony of the conflict between the conquistadors and the Aztecs is that the two peoples were remarkably similar. Both thought of themselves as conquerors – the Aztecs conquered the vale of Mexico and made its people their subjects about one-hundred years before the Spaniards arrived; the Spaniards, of course, were the veterans of long and brutal wars fought against the Moors and had recently recaptured Alhambra. Both peoples were fanatical, warlike, and intensely religious, perceiving that their tribe was invested with a messianic role in world history. Both the Aztecs and Spaniards were ruled by castes of elite nobleman and warriors who were zealous about protecting the purity of their bloodlines. In order to preserve the purity of Spanish blood, the Spaniards had recently expelled all moors (Muslims) and Jews from the Iberian peninsula. The Aztec elites were similarly jealous of their pedigrees – Tenochtitlan was ruled by sumptuary laws that forbade commoners, for instance, from wearing cotton gowns and the city center was off-limits to most peasants. There was little distinction between Cortez and his Aztec enemies – when the Aztecs conquered a town, they tore down the idols on its temple pyramid and erected their own gods in its place. When Cortez captured the Templo Mayor, he smashed the idols and erected crosses on the platform’s gory heights. Heine, who was a Lutheran convert from Judaism, (to use the term in vogue in Spain in the 16th century, a Converso) has no regard for this sort of fanaticism. In the last poem in Romanzero, Heine uses ballad-form stanzas to recount a disputation between Jews and Christians conducted for the benefit of Spanish queen. Representatives of the two faiths heap abuse on one another. At the end, the Queen is asked to decide who has won the debate. She responds that no one has prevailed and, in her opinion, the disputation proves only that "priests of both sects stink."

Old Aunty525 – Surprisingly, it appears that Huitzliopochtli is really a minor god, a deity less significant that this Earth Goddess. This is a turning or reversal characteristic to Heine’s narrative poetry. The world of war and valiant conquistadors, even the sphere of awesome priestly power, are shown to be subordinate to something far older, female, and more primordial. Whether Heine refers here to Tonantzin, the Mother Goddess of the Aztecs, and a being so powerful that she was not visible and could not really be portrayed, is uncertain.

Katzlagaza532 – Allegedly, the Aztec goddess of misfortune, she is one of Heine’s inventions.

Woman’s desire, the gods’ desire – 550Part of the poem’s surprising reversal: what woman desires is what the gods’ desire. In other words, cycles of birth and death, the machinery of fertility driven by female desire, is the mechanism that controls the world. Note that Old Aunty, the Aztec Mother Goddess, views the conflict with the Spaniards as a female rivalry – the pale Virgin versus the dark mother goddess. In the battle, the arrows and javelins of the Aztecs pierce the banner showing the Mater Dolorosa – that is, the darts through the Virgin’s breast are like the sorrows that she feels when her son is crucified. This theme has an anthropological and syncretic echo in Mexican history. The Virgin of Guadulupe revealed herself to Don Juan Diego on the hill of Teyepec near the ruins of Tenochtitlan in January 1531 – on the hill of Teyepec was a shrine and temple that once been sacred to Tonantzin, the Mother Goddess. Thus, some have argued that the Mother Goddess Tonantzin and the Virgin of Guadulupe are, in fact, different incarnations of the same female deity.

Lilith - 593 – Heine ends the poem with a reference to another female demi-god. Lilith was Adam’s first wife in Jewish mythology, a kind of female demon. This allusion arises in the context of Heine’s revelation that the entire poem has proceeded under the auspices of a wrathful female goddess. In Heine’s imagination, the spirit of fanatical superstition and violent autocracy travels from beautiful Mexico to the true dark continent, Europe, there to reign as an idol to those dark and medieval forces of superstition and intolerance that persecuted Heine’s people and that were responsible, for instance, for the suppression of the revolutions of 1848.

As Heine famously wrote: Das war ein Vorspiel, dort wo an Buecher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen. (That was merely a prelude – there where they burn books, they will burn people in the end.)


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