Treasures from afar: Atta Troll by Heinrich Heine

Art & Lit Literature

A funny German writer? What on earth do you mean? Yes, but that is why I fell in love with Heinrich Heine; for me, he was one of the major reasons for wanting to study German literature at degree level. This is also one of the few texts that, despite having spurted out an essay on it, still remains dearly beloved in my heart.

Heine is truly one of the wittiest sausages of the German canon. *Spoiler alert* His mock epic poem Atta Troll tells the story of a partisan dancing bear named, well, Atta Troll, his escape from slavery to liberation, his recapture and ultimate execution. The destiny of our ursine protagonist is a fur rug. At the beginning, he is chained up with his beloved wife, Mumma, and the duo is forced to dance the cancan to entertain the populace of a village in the French Pyrenees. While Mumma bear pathetically dances away, Atta Troll feels debased. Spurred on by his desire to regain his dignity, he breaks away from his oppressor and escapes into the mountains to find his children. But as he preaches at length to his cubs his idealistic values, little does he know that the ghoulish Laskaro, helped by his medieval witch-mother, Uraka, is beginning his hunt for him.

The poem’s duality in meaning gives many witty remarks about the period of Germany at the time. Heine criticises, through the power of satire, the old-fashioned and unrealistic Romantic ethics. Atta Troll’s way of liberating himself from the oppressive humans is not longsighted; he becomes nauseatingly verbose and radical. He loses sight of his goal, and thus his freedom comes to an end.

Although pregnant with political undertones, this poem is light to read and understandable. The plot is exciting and unexpected. This is one of the few works that break the stereotype of German literature being heavy and over-philosophical. Although it was written in the nineteenth century, I am still surprised by how relevant it still is to the concerns of today’s society. Heine is such a bae!