Elisabeth’s Joy: Fireworks of Pronouns


The text of Elisabeth’s aria “Dich, teure Halle” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser is passionate like its music; it is fireworks of pronouns of all
walks of life. The first word is already one: “Dich”. From then on we find a pronoun in every line, a sign that Elisabeth, the character, is deeply involved with Tannhäuser, the namesake of the opera and the singer who is returning into her life and to the Sängerhalle, the medieval concert hall. Now, she enters the hall, eagerly awaiting the man she loves so much.

The grammar: The pronouns in this text are ich, du, mich, dich, mir and dir, as well as the reflexive pronoun sich.

Ich” and “du” mean I and you, when they are doing something in the sentence, but “mich” is me and “dich” is you when they are the object of the sentence receiving the action. Ich grüße dich, du grüßt mich.

In his typical style, Wagner rarely starts with the subject, the thing or person that is doing something in the sentence, but with the object: Dich grüße ich. (I greet you.)

Dir and mir are pronouns for the dative case. The dative changes articles (der turns into dem e.g.) when the noun plays the role of a location – in dir (in you) erwachen die Lieder (the songs awaken) – or follow certain prepositions, e.g. auser ist aus dir geschieden.

Similar as in other languages like Spanish, we can strengthen the sincerity of a statement with the dative pronoun: Sei gegrüßt might be sufficient for a greeting, but not for Elisabeth. She says, “Sei mir gegrüßt.”


teuer = (here) valuable
froh = glad, gladly, happy, happily
der Raum = space
erwachen = to wake up, awaken
wecken = to wake someone up
scheiden = to part (geschieden – parted)
öde = bleak, deserted, dreary
erscheinen = to appear (erschienen = appeared)
entfliehen = to flee, to escape (entflohen = fled, escaped)
ziehen = to move from one point to another
hehr = (old) sublime
Nicht laenger mehr = not longer anymore
weilen = to linger

Dich, teure Halle, grüss’ ich wieder,
froh grüss’ ich dich, geliebter Raum!
In dir erwachen seine Lieder,
und wecken mich aus düstrem Traum. –
Da er aus dir geschieden,
wie öd’ erschienst du mir!
Aus mir entfloh der Frieden,
die Freude zog aus dir. –
Wie jetzt mein Busen hoch sich hebet,
so scheinst du jetzt mir stolz und hehr;
der dich und mich so neu belebet,
nicht länger weilt er ferne mehr.
Sei mir gegrüsst! Sei mir gegrüsst!


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Bernd Hendricks. Born in Duisburg, Germany. Based in Berlin. Writer, German Language Educator. I was six years old when I went to the opera for the first time. My Grandma took me to Hänsel und Gretel at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duisburg. The first time I met an opera singer personally was during my time as foreign correspondent in New York when at a Christmas party a baritone pelted me with questions about the language of Zauberflöte. He was preparing for his role as Papageno. After my return to Berlin in September 2010, I have been giving German lessons to singers on their audition tours. My workshops in Berlin, Vienna, and London are based on my widely read book Ach, ich fühl’s—German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing. My latest book, Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas, takes you on a journey through the language of the most popular and often performed operas in the German-speaking countries. I am also the author of several non-fiction books and two novels.

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