Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea

by

Ruta Sepetys

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Heinz, “The Shoe Poet” Character Analysis

The Poet is an older German man who is fleeing East Prussia along with Joana, Ingrid, Eva, and Klaus. A former shoemaker, he pays close attention to everyone’s footwear, and believes that shoes hold secrets about the past and personality of the wearer. His foot-related ruminations lead his friends to dub him “the Shoe Poet,” or “the Poet” for short. He and Klaus form a close friendship, to the point where Klaus calls him Opi, or grandfather. The Poet dies during the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. He makes sure Florian, Klaus, Halinka, and Joana board a lifeboat, even giving Florian his lifejacket. Then he sacrifices himself by jumping into the sea, weighted down by coins in his pocket.

Heinz, “The Shoe Poet” Quotes in Salt to the Sea

The Salt to the Sea quotes below are all either spoken by Heinz, “The Shoe Poet” or refer to Heinz, “The Shoe Poet”. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Agency, Willpower, and Fate Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of Salt to the Sea published in 2016.
7. Joana Quotes

The old man spoke of nothing but shoes. He spoke of the with such love and emotion that a woman in our group had crowned him, “the shoe poet.” Them woman disappeared a day later but the nickname survived.

“The shoes always tell the story,” said the shoe poet.

“Not always,” I countered.
“Yes, always. Your boots, they are expensive, well made. That tells me that you come from a wealthy family. But the style is one made for an older woman. That tells me they probably belonged to your mother. A mother sacrificed her boots for her daughter. That tells me you are loved, my dear. And your mother is not here, so that tells me that you are sad, my dear. The shoes tell the story.”
I paused in the center of the frozen road and watched the stubby old cobbler shuffle ahead of me. When we fled from Lithuania she rushed me to Insterburg and, through a friend, arranged for me to work in the hospital. That was four years ago. Where was mother now?
I thought of the countless refugees trekking toward freedom. How many millions of people had lost their home and family during the war? I had agreed with Mother to look to the future, but secretly I dreamed of retuning to the past. Had anyone heard from my father or brother?

Related Characters: Joana Vilkas (speaker), Heinz, “The Shoe Poet”
Related Symbols: Shoes
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
47. Joana Quotes

The bombing propelled everyone forward at a quicker pace, anxious to reach Frauenburg and possible shelter. I didn’t want to move forward. I needed to go back, to help the injured. But they would not allow it.

“What good will you be, my dear, if you are injured?” said the shoe poet. “You must preserve yourself in order to help others.”
Poet didn’t know the truth. I had already preserved myself. I had left Lithuania and those I loved behind.

To die.

Related Characters: Joana Vilkas (speaker), Heinz, “The Shoe Poet”
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Salt to the Sea LitChart as a printable PDF.
Salt to the Sea PDF

Heinz, “The Shoe Poet” Character Timeline in Salt to the Sea

The timeline below shows where the character Heinz, “The Shoe Poet” appears in Salt to the Sea. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1. Joana
Family and Community vs. Selfishness  Theme Icon
...of refugees fleeing north through East Prussia to the Baltic Sea. Her traveling companions include the Poet , Eva, and Ingrid.  Evacuation orders have not technically been issued, and so the group... (full context)
7. Joana
Family and Community vs. Selfishness  Theme Icon
...refugees. This group includes Ingrid, who is blind, and an old shoemaker whom she calls the Shoe Poet . (full context)
Memory and Survival  Theme Icon
Family and Community vs. Selfishness  Theme Icon
The Poet observes that the dead woman frozen on the side of the road died because of... (full context)
14. Joana
Memory and Survival  Theme Icon
Family and Community vs. Selfishness  Theme Icon
...the army but is wearing civilian clothes.  Joana makes the rounds, tending to the wounded. The Poet encourages her to “Make sure to treat their feet or all is lost.” (full context)
21. Joana
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The Poet knows of a nearby manor house and prepares to lead the group to it so... (full context)
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...Both Florian and Emilia would likely put the whole group in danger if caught. Even the Poet agrees. Joana isn’t sure that Florian is a deserter, but she knows he has a... (full context)
26. Joana
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The group of refugees is growing more and more skeptical of the Poet ’s claim that there is a manor nearby. As the group begins to complain, the... (full context)
34. Joana
Memory and Survival  Theme Icon
...leaves the mansion to look for oak bark that will help treat the refugees’ blisters. The Poet remains full of energy. Joana observes, “he refused to buckle under the burden of grief... (full context)
39. Florian
Memory and Survival  Theme Icon
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...and is playing a song by Swedish singer Zarah Leander, over and over. Eva and the Poet are dancing together. It reminds Florian of easier times. (full context)
Memory and Survival  Theme Icon
Family and Community vs. Selfishness  Theme Icon
The Poet invites Joana to dance and Florian watches and thinks back to his time with Dr.... (full context)
Family and Community vs. Selfishness  Theme Icon
...him. Joana suggests he leave it but Florian refuses. As he walks across the room the Poet stops him. The Poet has noticed Florian’s hollow left heel, which hides something secret. The... (full context)
47. Joana
Memory and Survival  Theme Icon
Family and Community vs. Selfishness  Theme Icon
...children scream and soldiers yell. Joana wants to help the injured, but the soldiers and the Poet usher her towards safety. The Poet argues, “What good will you be, my dear, if... (full context)
51. Joana
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The Poet offers to examine the soldier’s foot, which is injured and elevated. Grateful and distracted, the... (full context)
54. Emilia
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Storytelling and Fantasy  Theme Icon
The Poet wakes the refugees in the morning so they can cross the frozen lagoon. Joana plans... (full context)
59. Joana
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The Poet stops the arguing by saying that Florian saved Joana, and also Emilia, who had begun... (full context)
63. Florian
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...is a relief. However, as he turns to leave, he sees Joana, Klaus, Eva, and the Poet . Joana looks at him as if saying, “you owe us,” give us a ride.  (full context)
76. Joana
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Joana is happy for an opportunity to help, but unhappy to leave the group behind. The Poet reminds her to meet at the clock. As the group departs, Florian pulls her aside,... (full context)
79. Alfred
Agency, Willpower, and Fate Theme Icon
Family and Community vs. Selfishness  Theme Icon
...story. He is proud to help him, but has forgotten his promise to help Emilia, the Poet , and Klaus. They ask him to wait for them, and he watches as Emilia... (full context)
81. Emilia
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Emilia feels abandoned, both by Joana and Florian, her “knight.” However, she still has Eva, the Poet , and Klaus. Alfred leads Emilia to the front of a long line of refugees,... (full context)
83. Emilia
Agency, Willpower, and Fate Theme Icon
Memory and Survival  Theme Icon
...boards a ship, she will have nowhere to go. The inspecting officer grows impatient but the Poet pushes her forward and points out her pregnancy. Alfred points out her Aryan features, though... (full context)
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Emilia whispers to the Poet that it isn’t right for her to steal a woman’s identity. He convinces her that... (full context)
89. Joana
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...Dr. Richter will be angry with her, because she abandoned her post to look for the Poet and the rest of her friends. Emilia, the Poet, and Klaus have all received boarding... (full context)
102. Florian
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Florian brings the Poet and Klaus into the projection room to sleep.  The Poet asks Florian about his hollow... (full context)
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The Poet tells Florian that Klaus came out of the woods with an address pinned to his... (full context)
104. Florian
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...decides to try and board the ship sooner rather than later. He thinks traveling with the Poet and Klaus will help his case. Florian carries Klaus on his shoulders so that the... (full context)
Agency, Willpower, and Fate Theme Icon
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Florian, Klaus, and the Poet approach the harbor. Florian makes sure the blood from the wound on his side is... (full context)
107. Florian
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Florian, Klaus, and the Poet approach the officers. A soldier asks Klaus about his relationship to Florian and the Poet,... (full context)
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Before they go to the next inspection point, Eva appears, carrying the Poet ’s carpetbag and Joana’s suitcase. She managed to get passage on a different ship and... (full context)
109. Florian
Agency, Willpower, and Fate Theme Icon
...inspection. Florian is nervous. The line is efficient, and soon Florian is at the front. The Poet and Klaus make it through easily, but Florian is flagged for additional inspection. This new... (full context)
110. Alfred
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Family and Community vs. Selfishness  Theme Icon
...to keep a lookout for Florian, and this request has reinvigorated Alfred. He runs into the Poet and Klaus, who make their dislike of him known. The Poet tells Alfred he saw... (full context)
119. Emilia
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Back in the present, the Poet and Klaus have arrived in the maternity ward and want to see the baby. The... (full context)
138. Florian
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Family and Community vs. Selfishness  Theme Icon
Florian wanders through the ship to find the Poet and Klaus. Florian likes the Poet, and wishes he had apprenticed with someone like him... (full context)
146. Florian
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Florian rushes to evacuate to the deck of the ship with the Poet and Klaus, making sure they all stay together. Florian doesn’t have a life vest but... (full context)
150. Florian
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Florian, Klaus, and the Poet make it to the top deck. The Poet realizes that it is slippery and they... (full context)
152. Alfred
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...if the captain is evacuating, he should, too. Before he can, however, he sees Klaus, the Poet , and Florian, who is screaming for Joana. (full context)
154. Joana
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The lifeboat drops into the sea. Klaus cries for the Poet who jumps into the ocean behind them. Florian stands to dive in after him, but... (full context)
165. Florian
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The ship has sunk. Florian looks at the lifeboat and realizes they could have fit the Poet and Emilia. He considers his pack. Everything—his papers, his forgery tools, the swan—was in it. ... (full context)