'Christ on the Baltic Sea' by Heine

I was reading Dostoyevsky's 'A Raw Youth' in the Constance Garnett translation and got to the bit where Versilov is expatiating on his idea of a future paradise on Earth, which concludes:
"My dear boy," he broke off with a smile, "this is a fantasy and a most improbable one; but I have pictured it to myself so often, for all my life I could not have lived without it, and the thought of it. I am not speaking of my belief: my faith is great, I am a deist, a philosophic deist, like all the thousand of us I imagine, but . . . but it’s noteworthy that I always complete my picture with Heine’s vision of ‘Christ on the Baltic Sea.’"

I decided to look up Heine's vision of 'Christ on the Baltic', couldn't find it in the collections I have and did a net search. For some reason absolutely nothing comes up apart from sites quoting a snippet of the above. So I started trawling through Heine and eventually located it, and thought I'd put it here for anyone else searching for it. It's in a poem called 'Peace' in a cycle called 'The Baltic'. (Perhaps the line above is a mistranslation or typographical mangling of 'Heine's vision of Christ in 'The Baltic', or Dostoyevsky or Versilov misremembered the title?) Anyway here it is:


High in the heavens there stood the sun
Cradled in snowy clouds,
The sea was still,
And musing I lay at the helm of the ship,
Dreamily musing, - and half in waking
And half in slumber, I gazed upon Christ,
The Saviour of man.
In streaming and snowy garment
He wander’d, giant-great,
Over land and sea;
His head reach’d high to the heavens,
His hands he stretch’d out in blessing
Over land and sea;
And as a heart in his bosom
Bore he the sun,
The sun all ruddy and flaming,
And the ruddy and flaming sunny-heart
Shed its beams of mercy
And its beauteous, bliss-giving light,
Lighting and warming
Over land and sea.

Sounds of bells were solemnly drawing
Here and there, like swans were drawing
By rosy bands the gliding ship,
And drew it sportively tow’rd the green shore,
Where men were dwelling, in high and turreted
O’erhanging town.
O blessings of peace! how still the town! Hush’d was the hollow sound
Of busy and sweltering trade,
And through the clean and echoing streets
Were passing men in white attire,
Palm-branches bearing,
And when two chanced to meet,
They view’d each other with inward intelligence,
And trembling, in love and sweet denial,
Kiss’d on the forehead each other,
And gazed up on high
At the Saviour’s sunny-heart,
Which, glad and atoningly
Beam’d down its ruddy blood,
And three times blest, thus spake they:
'Praisèd be Jesus Christ!'
* * *
Couldst thou this vision have only imagined,
What wouldst thou not give for it,
My dearest friend!
Thou who in head and loins art so weak,
And so strong in thy faith,
And the Trinity worship’st in Unity,
And the dog and the cross and the paw
Of thy lofty patroness daily kissest,
And hast work’d thy way upward by canting
As an Aulic Counsellor, Magistrate,
And at last as a Government Counsellor
In the pious town
Where flourish both sand and religion,
And the patient water of sacred Spree
Washes souls and dilutes the tea -
Couldst thou this vision have only imagined,
My dearest friend!
Thou hadst borne it up high, to the market-place,
Thy countenance pallid and blinking
Had been dissolved in devotion and lowliness,
And her Serene Highness,
Enchanted and trembling with rapture,
Had with thee sunk in prayer on the knee,
And her eyes, beaming brightly,
Had promised, by way of increase of salary,
A hundred Prussian dollars sterling,
And thou, with folded hands, wouldst have stammer’d:
'Praisèd be Jesus Christ!'

The rest of the cycle can be read at Project Gutenberg here.

Dec 2018

More amateur Dostoyevsky sleuthing


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