By: Rainer Maria Rilke. Translation: mamalisa.com.
Es treibt der Wind im Winterwalde
die Flockenherde wie ein Hirt
und manche Tanne ahnt, wie balde
sie fromm und lichterheilig wird,
und lauscht hinaus. Den weißen Wegen
streckt sie die Zweige hin, bereit
und wehrt dem Wind und wächst entgegen
der einen Nacht der Herrlichkeit.
There in the wintry forest the wind blows
a flock of snowflakes like a shepherd,
and many a fir-tree guesses how soon
it will be pious with holy lights,
and listens. Towards the white path
it stretches out its branches, ready,
and braving the wind and growing toward
that one Night of Glory.
“Advent” was written by Rainer Maria Rilke in 1898 as part of a sizable poetry collection. The collection took its name from this main poem.
Even though Rilke was born in Prague, he spent most of his twenties traveling around Europe and spent a while in Germany.
In this poem, there’s one very clear simile, die Flockenherde wie ein Hirt (a flock of snowflakes like a shepherd). This poetic technique shows how to use comparatives in German. Wie often means “how” but when it’s used as a comparison, it means “like” or “as.”
The poem also mentions the Nacht der Herrlichen (Night of Glory). Though this isn’t completely clear, it’s fair to suggest that this is a reference to Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve is the big day of celebration in Germany, unlike in the U.S. where we primarily celebrate on Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve, many German families will go to church, enjoy a big Christmas dinner and open all of their gifts.
By: Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff. Translation: Barry Tobin.
Markt und Straßen stehn verlassen,
Still erleuchtet jedes Haus,
Sinnend geh’ ich durch die Gassen,
Alles sieht so festlich aus.
An den Fenstern haben Frauen
Buntes Spielzeug fromm geschmückt,
Tausend Kindlein stehn und schauen,
Sind so wunderstill beglückt.
Und ich wandre aus den Mauern
Bis hinaus ins freie Feld,
Hehres Glänzen, heil’ges Schauern!
Wie so weit und still die Welt!
Sterne hoch die Kreise schlingen,
Aus des Schnees Einsamkeit
Steigt’s wie wunderbares Singen –
O du gnadenreiche Zeit!
The market and streets stand still and ghostly,
Each house in all the silence glows,
Along the lanes my thoughts come with me,
As the festive spirit ever grows.
In every window a housewife places
A toy with colours of faith a‑gleam
A thousand children’s enchanted faces
Silently wonder their happy dream.
Now away I wander beyond the wall
Out to where the fields are free,
To towering beauty, to holy awe,
To the grand and silent world I see!
The stars weave round and all the spheres
And in that solitude of snow
Are songs such as an angel hears –
And oh, the time of grace I know.
“Weihnachten” was written by Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff, a novelist, poet and playwright from Prussia. In his poem, Freiherr von Eichendorff describes the traditional German Christmas markets.
Each German town and village has its very own Christmas market that runs throughout Advent and sells authentic festive foods such as Glühwein (mulled wine) and Christmas gifts.
Do you notice something about the line an den Fenstern haben Frauen (in every window a housewife places)? It has to do with the plural.
Usually, the plural of Fenster (window) is simply Fenster. However, in this case, they’ve added an extra “n.” This is because the noun Fenster is in the dative case as it comes after the preposition an (on).
This is one of the many prepositions that automatically change the sentence case to dative. So, it takes the dative plural definitive article and an “n” is added to the end of all plurals in the dative form.
“Der Stern” (“The Star”)
By: Wilhelm Busch. Translation: ThoughtCo.com.
Hätt einer auch fast mehr Verstand
als wie die drei Weisen aus Morgenland
und ließe sich dünken, er wär wohl nie
dem Sternlein nachgereist wie sie;
dennoch, wenn nun das Weihnachtsfest
seine Lichtlein wonniglich scheinen läßt,
fällt auch auf sein verständig Gesicht,
er mag es merken oder nicht,
ein freundlicher Strahl
Des Wundersternes von dazumal.
If someone had almost more understanding
than the Three Wise Men from the Orient
And actually thought that he would never have followed the star like them,
Nevertheless when the Christmas Spirit
Lets its light blissfully shine,
Thus illuminating his intelligent face,
He may notice it or not:
A friendly beam
From the miracle star of long ago.
Even though he’s better known for his comical drawings and illustrations, Wilhelm Busch’s poem “Der Stern” has become one of the most popular Christmas poems in Germany.
Actually, you might already know a few of Busch’s illustrations—he created the Max and Moritz children’s books. If you want to see more of Busch’s works, you can visit the Wilhelm Busch Museum for Caricaturenext time you’re in Hanover.
One notable bit of grammar to point out in this poem is the use of the conditional tense in the opening sentence.
The poem begins with hätt einer auch fast mehr Verstand (if someone had almost more understanding). The use of the word hätte (shortened to just hätt in this case) signals the conditional, as it translates to “would have” or “if.”
In fact, hätten is itself a short form, as you could use würde haben (would have) instead.
“Vom Christkind” (“From the Christ Child”)
By: Anne Ritter. Translation: ThoughtCo.com.
Denkt euch, ich habe das Christkind gesehen!
Es kam aus dem Walde, das Mützchen voll Schnee, mit rotgefrorenem Näschen.
Die kleinen Hände taten ihm weh,
denn es trug einen Sack, der war gar schwer,
schleppte und polterte hinter ihm her.
Was drin war, möchtet ihr wissen?
Ihr Naseweise, ihr Schelmenpack-
denkt ihr, er wäre offen, der Sack?
Zugebunden, bis oben hin!
Doch war gewiss etwas Schönes drin!
Es roch so nach Äpfeln und Nüssen!
Can you believe it! I have seen the Christ child.
He came out of the forest, his hat full of snow,
With a red frosted nose.
His little hands were sore
Because he carried a heavy sack,
That he dragged and lugged behind him.
What was inside, you want to know?
So you think the sack was open,
you cheeky, mischievous bunch?
It was bound, tied at the top
But there was surely something good inside
It smelled so much like apples and nuts.
In Germany, most Catholic areas don’t believe in the Weihnachtsman (Santa Claus). Instead, they say that the Christkind (Christ Child) brings everyone gifts. The idea of the Christkind is portrayed in this poem from Anne Ritter (also written as Anna Ritter).
Rather than being an old man, like our idea of Santa Claus, the Christkindis a young, angelic figure. But the Christkind acts just like Santa as they both leave presents underneath the Christmas tree.
German children are told that they shouldn’t try and look for the Christkind, though, as if they do spot him, then he won’t leave any gifts for them. Some parents will ring a bell to let their children know that the Christkind has been there and it’s safe for them to go and look for their presents!
Ritter became well-known for her German poetry, but “Vom Christkind” remains her most beloved work.
“Die Weihnachtsmaus” (“The Christmas Mouse”)
By: James Krüss. Translation: via MyGurumi.
Die Weihnachtsmaus ist sonderbar –
sogar für die Gelehrten.
Denn einmal nur im ganzen Jahr
entdeckt man ihre Fährten.
Mit Fallen und mit Rattengift
kann man die Maus nicht fangen.
Sie ist, was diesen Punkt betrifft,
noch nie ins Garn gegangen.
Das ganze Jahr macht diese Maus
den Menschen keine Plage.
Doch plötzlich aus dem Loch heraus
kriecht sie am Weihnachtstage.
The Christmas mouse is rare I hear.
Even the learned agree.
For only once upon the year,
Its tracks we come to see.
Neither traps nor well spread bait
Will catch the clever mouse.
A skein of yarn, won’t suffocate,
Though spread throughout the house.
Throughout the year the mouse we say
Is friend to humankind.
But leaves its hole on Christmas day,
And puts us in a bind.
It was written by James Krüss, who is most well known for his children’s books and poetry. Krüss’ work has become so highly regarded that he received the Hans Christian Andersen Award from the International Board on Books for Young People in 1968.
Weihnachtsmaus (Christmas mouse) is an example of a German compound noun. One really important thing to remember when trying to make compound nouns is that the new word takes the case of the last word that has been joined together.
In this case, Weihnachten (the full form of the abbreviated word Weihnacht) is a neuter word and would normally take das or ein. But Maus is feminine, therefore Weihnachtsmaus is also feminine, so takesdie.
Hopefully, all of these festive German poems will get you in the mood for Christmas this year. Which ones do you think you’ll share with your family?