Love the Moon

How to Approach a German Text, Part 3: Try it out with Heine’s Die Lotosblume.

In part two you’ve learned a simplified method to understand the text of a German aria or Lied. To practice examine Die Lotosblume (The Lotos Flower), a poem by Heinrich Heine, set to music by Robert Schumann as well as other composers.

“Nur Liebesbriefe”, seen at Karl-Marx-Allee

Follow these steps:

1. Mark all nouns.

2. Identify the verbs (action words) and look how they are conjugated (changed in spelling according to ich, du, er, wir, etc.).

3. Look at the meaning of the verb and find the thing, person, or pronoun that is doing this action.

4. Find the thing, person, or pronoun to whom the action is directed.

But first, learn its vocabulary:

ängstigen reflexive = to be afraid of. Refl. die Lotosblume ängstigt sich

Pracht f = glory, magnificence, Der Sonne Pracht is in the genitive case, meaning one noun (Pracht) depends on the other noun (die Sonne).

senken = to lower, participle: gesenkt

Haupt (das) obsolete = head

Buhle (der) obsolete = lover

ihr = possessive her

seinem = possessive his

ihm = dative pronoun, indirect object to him

entschleiern = to unveil

fromm = pious

starren = to stare

Höhe f = here: up to the skies

Liebesweh n = a lover’s grief

Die Lotosblume ängstigt
sich vor der Sonne Pracht,
und mit gesenktem Haupte
erwartet sie träumend die Nacht.

Who ängstigt sich? 1*

Who erwartet? (And how?)1 ** Die Nacht? Das Haupt? Die Lotosblume?

Der Mond, der ist ihr Buhle,
er weckt sie mit seinem Licht,
und ihm entschleiert sie freundlich
ihr frommes Blumengesicht.

Who weckt? (And how?) 2*

Who entschleiert? 2** The moon or the lotus flower? Beware! Do not get tricked by the word order. Remember, only nouns whose gender agree with the article (feminine with die, sie; masculinewith der, er; neuter with das, es; plural with die, sie) can entschleiern.

What is entschleiert? 2*** (And to whom?)

Sie blüht und glüht und leuchtet,
und starret stumm in die Höh;
sie duftet und weinet und zittert
vor Liebe und Liebesweh.

The last verse contains seven verbs, all conjugated to the subject of the sentence, the Lotosblume. These verbs cannot have a direct object, which means the Lotosblume can glow, but it cannot glow a tree. It can cry, but it cannot cry a house.

Listen to Schumann’s Lotosblume, sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

1*: Die Lotosblume.

1**: Die Lotosblume erwartet, it appears as pronoun sie. She expects the moon mit gesenktem Haupte and träumend (dreaming).

2*: Der Mond which appears as pronoun er (In German, the moon is a masculine noun.)

2**: Don’t mind the word order! Find the verb first: entschleiert. Look at the noun (Blumengesicht) and the pronouns (ihm, sie) and decide which word does entschleiert. It only can be sie, she, the flower: sie entschleiert. The dative pronoun ihm is er (he, the moon) as indirect object. Sie gibt ihm einen Apfel. (She gives him an apple.) Sie entschleiert ihm

The German word order demands that the verb (entschleiert) has to appear in the second position, no matter what is placed in the first. Heinrich Heine placed ihm in the first position because it is the moon that begins the verse: ihm entschleiert sie. It also means that the Blumengesicht lingering at the very end of the sentence cannot be the one that entschleiert.

2***: Das Blumengesicht.

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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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