Heinrich Heine’s poem, “Silesian Weavers” was inspired by a protest over the working conditions of weaving laborers in Silesian, Prussia. The poem confronts the issue of workers’ rights and their continuous exploitation and oppression by the rich and, along with worker riots, served as a key asset for the revolution that subsequently forced the King of Prussia to allow his people a constitution.
Heine’s poem, which pays sympathy to the working class, was intended to inspire and even arouse anger amongst his lower-class compatriots. He tacitly implies that a day of retribution is coming and that the rich will soon be forced to atone for their wrongdoings. While it was not uncommon for philosophers, writers, and artists to condemn wealthy individuals and their monarchy for their treatment of those less fortunate, Heine’s also denounces the less tangible set of institutions of religion and nationalism.
“One curse upon the God to whom we prayed […]”
“A curse upon the king, the rich man’s king[…]”
“A curse upon the false fatherland[…]”
Heine begins each stanza by damning an institution in which people were once comforted by. He curses to God, to whom the people once prayed, implying that the Germans clung to their faith even in the most despondent of times and foolishly hoped for savior, receiving nothing in return.
In his next stanza, Heine asserts that the people are not the ones being represented by the king and it is only the rich who benefit from the monarchy’s existence. Here, he insinuates that it is not the monarchy that will assist in terminating the workers’ struggle, but rather it will be the body that sucks them dry.
Heine criticizes the country of Germany, addressing it as a “false fatherhood” and rather than patriotism and nationalism thriving, despair and shame are the only things to prosper.
Unlike Herder and de Lisle, along with other political writers of the time who advocated that things such as religion and nationalism were essential, Heine actually blames these institutional practices for the deterioration of the working class.