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I’m trying to understand the following lyrics:

Eine Stimme aus dem Licht
Fällt dem Himmel vom Gesicht

How does that second line work, syntax-wise? “Falls the sky from the face” doesn‘t sound like a good translation. I guess it would make sense if dem Himmel and vom Gesicht were swapped, but I’m not sure how that helps.

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    'I guess it would make sense if "dem Himmel" and "vom Gesicht" were swapped' - that wouldn't make any difference; in German, the meaning of the various objects is not derived from their position in the sentence, but from the combination of their preposition (if any) and the case they appear in. – O. R. Mapper Aug 2 '15 at 11:14
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The main phenomenon you are encountering here is the so-called dativus commodi or Dativ des Vorteils which is a rather rare construction in German that indicates to whose advantage or disadvantage (dativus incommodi or Dativ des Nachteils) something is happening, or more generally to whom something is happening. This is a free dative that is not related to a certain verb requiring this case.

A few simple examples:

Der Krug zerbrach ihm.
literally: The jug broke and this happened to him.
freely: He (unintentionally) broke the jug.

Er putzte ihr die Schuhe.
literally: He cleaned the shoes for her.
freely: He cleaned her shoes.

Now let’s look at your sentence and add sentence parts one-by-one:

Eine Stimme fällt.
A voice falls.

Eine Stimme fällt vom Gesicht.
A voice falls from the face.

Eine Stimme fällt dem Himmel vom Gesicht.
literally A: A voice falls from the face to the sky’s disadvantage.
literally B: A voice falls from the face and this is happening to the sky.
freely: A voice falls from the sky’s face.

Eine Stimme aus dem Licht fällt dem Himmel vom Gesicht.
A voice from the light falls from the sky’s face.

As already noted by O.R. Mapper, switching the order of dem Himmel and vom Gesicht would not change the meaning, but result in an unusual or marked sentence structure, emphasising Himmel.

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  • That sentence breakdown helped very much, thank you! – Hassan Aug 2 '15 at 16:51
4

"Gesicht" is used as a poetic synonym for visible surface or front, so the mentioned voice is simply falling from the visible portion of the sky.

In a semantic translation / one focused on meaning, I'd drop the face part: "Is coming from the sky". In a "lossless" translation / one focused on syntax or vocabulary, I'd use "Is falling from the face of the sky".

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