In the Prolog im Himmel from Goethe’s Faust, the archangel Gabriel chants

Und schnell und unbegreiflich schnelle
Dreht sich umher der Erde Pracht;
Es wechselt Paradieses-Helle
Mit tiefer schauervoller Nacht;
Es schäumt das Meer in breiten Flüssen
Am tiefen Grund der Felsen auf,
Und Fels und Meer wird fortgerissen
In ewig schnellem Sphärenlauf.

(Wikisource link)

Now, I understand roughly what is being said, but the last word on the first line, schnelle, perplexes me. Presumably, it’s a form of the adjective or adverb schnell, but what grammatical function does the extra -e have in this context?

  • Hi and welcome to German Language Stack Exchange. Feel free to take the tour and visit the help center for any questions about the site. – Jan Oct 4 '15 at 21:11

It’s safe to say that the extra e has no grammatical purpose but is there only for rhyming and metric reasons.

The word schnelle is an adverb to drehen here, much like the first schnell in the line. The only difference is that the second schnelle has an additional describing adverb placed before it. Therefore, both words could be the same.

The meter of the verses, however, consists of a line of four trochees (with anacrusis) and a line of four iambs. The trocheeic lines and the iambic lines rhyme in pairs. For both to work, we cannot write schnell but need schnelle, adding an extraneous shwa to the end of the word.

  • 4
    A much younger example: Dunkel war's, der Mond schien helle, schneebedeckt die grüne Flur, als ein Wagen blitzesschnelle langsam um die Ecke fuhr. – chirlu Oct 4 '15 at 21:35
  • @chirlu Or rasend schnelle as I know it, but with the same argument. – Jan Oct 4 '15 at 21:38
  • 3
    According to DWB, schnelle is the original form. Modern standard language dropped the -e (apocope). – chirlu Oct 4 '15 at 21:48
  • well im a native and read the book at school. Its difficult even for me. Goethe uses a lot of metric speech. Sometimes he ignores grammar and sometimes he uses words wich did significally change in the later centuries – Tom Wellbrock Oct 6 '15 at 10:07

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