Heinrich von Kleist Poems

Introduced and translated into English rhyming verse

by Peter Raina (Author)
©2020 Prompt XX, 96 Pages


This collection of poems by Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811) translated into modern English rhyming verse by Peter Raina will bring the stature of this contemporary of Goethe and Schiller into sharp focus and will reach a new readership of English speakers across the world.
The subjects treated in this anthology include reaction to major political events (particularly Napoleon’s incursions into German territory) and patriotic laudatory pieces as well as anti-military sentiments, down to shorter poems, especially the epigrams which explore everyday joys and tribulations.
Embarking on this challenging task of translation, the author was inspired by the thoughts of John Sparrow in his book "Great Poetry", Independent Essays: [words in poetry] ‘move us simply by their sound and through the appeal of rhythm and metre to the ear’.
Peter Raina was thus emboldened to replace the metre he found in the original with a new rhyme and rhythm in his English translation.
The effect is a fresh, arresting comment on issues in Kleist’s background often not so dissimilar from those we experience today.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • “Berlin Shall Crown His Deed”
  • A Girl’s Riddle
  • A Young Man’s Grievance
  • Catherine of France
  • To the Nightingale
  • Who is the Poorest?
  • The Witty Table Companion
  • Self-defence
  • Good Wishes
  • The Young Man to His Sweetheart
  • For Theodor Körner
  • To S.V.H. (1808)
  • To Our Iffland
  • Germania, to Her Children
  • The War Song of the Germans
  • Francis the First, the Emperor of Austria
  • To the Archduke Carl
  • To Palafox
  • To Archduke Carl (1809)
  • Deliverance of the Germans
  • The Utter Humiliation
  • The Last Song
  • To Friedrich Wilhelm the Third, the King of Prussia
  • A Dedicatory Note for the Drama: “The Prince Friedrich of Homburg”
  • Like and Unlike
  • Such is Life
  • The Fright While Bathing
  • The Two Pigeons
  • A Fable after La Fontaine
  • Prologue
  • Epilogue
  • The Angel at the Lord’s Grave
  • To Queen Luise of Prussia
  • Entry in the Almanac of the Becker-Biels-Höhle (Tavern)
  • Hymn to the Sun
  • Good Wishes on the New Year 1800 for Ulrike von Kleist
  • Good Wishes on the New Year 1800 for Gen. and Mrs von Zenge
  • For Wilhelmine von Zenge
  • Epigrams
  • A Funny Poster
  • A Challenge
  • The Critic
  • Under Guard
  • Voltaire
  • The Answer
  • Robert Guiscard, the Duke of Normandy
  • The Disclosure
  • The Unauthorized Critic
  • An Unforeseen Reaction
  • The Pedagogue
  • P … and F …
  • The Lively Plants To M …
  • The Peasant, as He Left the Church
  • Friendly Advice
  • The Lady Treasure Digger
  • Destination
  • The One Who Admires Shakespeare
  • Penthesilea’s Dedication
  • The Psychologist
  • The World and the Wisdom
  • Sophocles’ Oedipus
  • The Areopagus
  • The Marquise von O…
  • To …
  • The Susannas
  • A Trouble for Nothing
  • Ad vocem
  • The Distinction
  • A Musical View to Mrs v. P.
  • Demosthenes to the Greek Republics
  • The Precocious Genius
  • The Difficulty
  • An Urgent Amendment
  • An Error in Speech
  • The Repentant
  • The Horoscope
  • The Dangerous Incitement
  • The Stage-manager of the Penthesilea
  • A Call
  • An Archaeological Objection
  • Justification
  • The Order of the Day


Heinrich von Kleist is best known for his historical plays. On the basis of these plays he is variously characterised. Thomas Mann described Kleist as a “hypochondriac, abnormally radical, annoyingly disposed to fanciful ecstasy, almost always pathological in his choice of subjects, and never reconciled with his life”. All these observations turn out to be true. Yet you would hardly believe this when you look at Kleist’s portrait. He looks boyish, his face round and chubby; his head retains the simplicity of boyhood; his eyes, deep blue, are dreamy, musing; his lips, full, almost feminine. The impression you get is that you have before you a person, whose mental disposition is rather delicate and subtle, exuding love and tenderness. This is the character you discover in Kleist’s verses. The poems express wishes and desires, sometimes contradicting each other, sometimes making radical and ruthless outbursts. The poet suffers from disquiet caused by lack of access to life and to his surroundings. Perhaps because of this uneasiness he prefers to escape into isolation, to keep his distance. His inner life is full of emotional thought and sentiment, none of which seem to him to link up with the external world.

This produces aggressive fantasies. It is this juxtaposition of outrage and idyllic sentiment that we find both puzzling and mysterious. Yet Kleist’s poems go beyond mediocrity and deserve admiration.

Kleist was born on 18 October 1777 in Frankfort an der Oder into an old aristocratic Prussian family. After being educated privately, he joined the Prussian army in 1793. He was not much more than 16.

In this he was following the family tradition. Almost all Kleist’s ancestors, and his near and distant relatives, were or had been high officers in the Prussian army. The young corporal was on active service with his battalion during the War of Coalition in 1793–95. There then followed four years of garrison duty.

It was at this time that he fell in love with Wilhelmine von Zenge, the daughter of the commander of his garrison. Kleist had no intention ←ix | x→of making his career in the army, which he left in 1799. He first seriously considered studying graphic arts, but then he entered the University of Frankfurt an der Oder, where he wanted to study mathematics, philosophy, theology, and physics. His stay at this university lasted for only three terms. But then he privately devoted himself to the in-depth study of Greek and Latin literature. This study largely influenced his future writing.


XX, 96
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2020 (October)
Heinrich von Kleist translated into English rhyming verse Poem Peter Raina Heinrich von Kleist: Poems
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2020. XX, 96 pp., 1 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Peter Raina (Author)

Peter Raina is a distinguished historian with a long-standing association with the University of Oxford, as a Research Associate, St Catherine´s College; Senior Research Associate at the Grduate Centre, Balliol College; Honorary Member of High Table and Member of the Senior Common Room, Christ Church; Honorary Member of the Senior Common Room, Magdalen College; Visiting Research Scholar, Faulty of History. He is a Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge. His publications include a six volume history of the House of Lords reforms, and classic biographies: The Seventh Earl Beauchamp: A Victim of His Times; John Sparrow, Warden of All Souls College, Oxford; and George Dadie Rylands: Shakespearean Scholar and Cambridge Legend.


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118 pages