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I saw a translation of Der Lindenbaum by Wilhelm Müller here:

Der Hut flog mir vom Kopfe
Ich wendete mich nicht

My hat flew into darkness,
I did not turn to see.

Is this translation correct? I would translate as follows:

The hat (der Hut) flied (flog) to me (mir) from head (vom Kopfe)
→ My hat fluttered from my head
(→ not flown away, like a flag flies or flutters)

I didn’t turn myself.
(Even though that hat flapped across my face, I didn’t turn and went my way.)

I would appreciate if a native speaker explained this to me.

ADD : What is 'mir' in the first line doing? If it tries to mean my hat had flown away from my head, it would be Der Hut flog von meinem Kopf weg. or Der Hut flog von mich vom Kopfe. I'm curious if the had had really flown away from me or just fluttered, or flapped on my face.

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  • Can you please edit your question to elaborate what aspect you are skeptical about? Is it to fly vs. to flutter or something else? – Wrzlprmft Jul 8 '17 at 5:36
  • @Wrzlprmft, yes my question is flown away vs flutter. What's the original meaning of the peom? I mean gramatically. – Chan Kim Jul 8 '17 at 7:21
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    The poem is not from Franz Schubert. Wilhelm Müller wrote it. Schubert just wrote the music. (I corrected this in your posting) »Der Lindenbaum« is poem #5 within a cycle of 24 poems called "Die Winterreise" de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winterreise Schubert wrote the music to this 24 poems, but Müller wrote the lyrics (before the music). – Hubert Schölnast Jul 8 '17 at 7:55
  • @HubertSchölnast, Hi, I already knew this. and you added Schubert or Wilhelm Muller to my question :) I like classical music! – Chan Kim Jul 8 '17 at 8:42
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This question touches on a fundamental point of German syntax. When referring to inalienable body parts (head, hand, foot etc.) German tends not to use possessive pronouns, but prefers the dative of personal pronouns. Thus, where English says “I am scratching my head”, German says “Ich kratze mir den Kopf”, in the same way that English says “I am washing my hands” where German says “Ich wasche mir die Hände”. And in this case: “flog mir vom Kopfe” for “flew from my head”.

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  • Wow, this is the exact answer to my original question. – Chan Kim Jul 9 '17 at 8:52
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    By the way, it is exactly the same in French (je me lave les mains) and many other languages. – fdb Jul 9 '17 at 9:00
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    Good answer, but please think about the examples again. Nobody says Ich schüttele mir den Kopf. People say Ich schüttele mit dem Kopf. – Janka Jul 9 '17 at 9:05
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    @Janka. You are right. I have put in a different example. – fdb Jul 9 '17 at 9:16
  • In English, we say 'The ball hit me on the head' instead of 'The ball hit my head'. It looks similar though Germans use the form when the subject is is the body part's owner. "Der Ball traf mir den Kopf."(correct?) – Chan Kim Jul 10 '17 at 0:24
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Der Hut flog mir vom Kopfe

You are curious about mir. Actually, the full sentence has to be:

Der Hut flog mir vom Kopfe weg.

weg is left out for poetical reasons. Native speakers will understand it as missing and put it back in while reading.

So the verb is not fliegen but wegfliegen. That verb can take an object in dative, which is the person left abadoned.

Warum weint Lisa? — Der ist ihr Wellensittich weggeflogen.

Mir ist der Schirm weggeflogen.

Other common verbs with the person in dative who previously owned the subject/accusative object are weglaufen, wegnehmen, wegkommen.


Oh, and of course in another poem, wegfliegen may be as appropriate as fliegen is in the one above:

Der Hut flog mir vom Kopfe weg,

im Sturm verfolgt er seinen Zweck.

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  • ok I learned a new use of dative form (with some verbs). – Chan Kim Jul 8 '17 at 9:07
  • This construction is called a dative external possessor. The alternative phrasing "Mein Hut flog vom Kopf(e)" which uses the genitive is also possible. – RHa Jul 8 '17 at 9:19
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My hat flew into darkness,

Obviously this translation has been made to sing the song with an English text and not to translate the text 100% correctly.

The German text does not mention darkness at all.

I did not turn to see.

Although the German text only says: "I didn't turn" it is clear from the context that "I didn't turn to see it" is meant.

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  • In the original poem, in the second verse, the speaker wanders in the darkness so the English translater put in in the darkness in the 3rd verse translation. I elaborated on my question. Do you mean it meant the hat had really flown away from my head by the wind? Then shouldn't we wirte Der Hut flog von mich vom Kopfe? or Der Hut flog von meinem Kopf weg? – Chan Kim Jul 8 '17 at 7:23
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    When talking about a poem you have to take into consideration that the author often had to stick to a certain meter. Here the poem has iambic meter, with three stressed syllables per line. Had the author written "Der Hut flog mir vom Kopfe weg" it would still have been iambic, but with four stressed syllables which would not harmonize with the other lines. – RHa Jul 8 '17 at 8:45
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Der Hut flog mir vom Kopfe

I understand, that you have problems to understand the meaning and grammatical function of "mir" in this sentence, and you are not sure about the exact meaning of "flog".

Before that, I just want to point out, that "Kopfe" is just an old dative form of "Kopf". The modern dative is "Kopf". Another thing: "vom" = short for "von dem" (you have such short forms in English too: "don't" = "do not"). Now you can read this sentence as:

Der Hut flog mir von dem Kopf.

flog

This is a form of "fliegen". This word does not only mean "to fly". I can mean almost all other forms of "move through the air". In combination with "davon" (away) one of this meanings is: to be blown away by the wind:

Das war ein Sturm gestern! Sogar das Dach unseres Hauses flog davon.
Literally:
This was a storm yesterday! Even the roof of our house flew away.
Better English:
What a storm yesterday! Even the roof of our house was blown away.

Sorry, English is a foreign language to me, so there might be an even better English version

In some regions you can also hear in colloquial speech in combination with "herunter/hinunter" (down) or similar constructions:

Halte deinen Teller gerade, sonst fliegt dir noch das Essen auf den Boden.
Hold your plate strait, otherwise your food will fly to the ground.
Keep your plate strait, otherwise your will drop your food.

mir

Compare:

Mir fliegt der Hut davon.
Dir fliegt der Hut davon.
Herrn Müller fliegt der Hut davon.

  • der Hut
    the hat
    The subject of this sentences is always "der Hut", because it is the only part of speech in nominative case. It is the thing that performs the action. (Who/what is moving through the air?)
  • fliegt
    flies
    The verb. It tells us, what the action is (something, i.e. the subject, is moving through the air)
  • davon
    away
    This is a direction. (Where-to is the subject moving?)
  • mir, dir, Herrn Müller
    me, you, Mr. Müller
    This part if speech is in dative case and tells us from who the hat is flying away. It is both: the starting point of the movement and the owner of the subject.
    You tried to translate this "mir" as "to me", but this is wrong. "from me" would fit better here.

your tries

Der Hut flog von meinem Kopf weg.

This is grammatically correct and means: "The hat flew away from my Head". But this sentence does not tell who's hat it was. It tells us only the starting point of the movement, but doesn't tell anything about the ownership. It might be anybody else's hat, that flew trough the air, passed my head, and then kept flying, but now away from my head.

Der Hut flog von mich vom Kopfe.

No, this is wrong. The preposition "von" always needs dative case, but "mich" is accusative case. So you might try:

Der Hut flog von mir vom Kopfe.

Better, but still wrong. You can say:

Der Hut flog von mir (weg).
The hat flew (away) from me.

(To have a complete sentence, you need the adverb, that I wrote in brackets, in both languages)
Here "von mir weg" is a prepositional object, and it is a direction (where-to is the head flying?). But "vom Kopfe" (or "von dem Kopf") also is a prepositional object that is a direction. Two direction is one direction too much.


Ich wendete mich nicht

This is simple. It is:

Literally:
I didn't turn myself.
Better English:
I didn't turn around.


My hat flew into darkness,
I did not turn to see.

In poems the rhyme is very important, and in lyrics you also must find the same rhythm. In most cases it is impossible to find a translation, that rhymes, has the same rhythm and transports line-by-line the exact same meaning.

The best you can do, is to find a translation, that rhymes and has in most lines the same rhythm. The meaning must only be close to the original, but not on a line-by-line level, but within the whole poem.

In the German Version of this line there is no darkness (Dunkelheit) and nobody is seeing something. But the darkness is in verse 2 (this line is in verse 3), so it's ok to use darkness here. "To see" (in the meaning of watching the flying hat) is an invention of the translator that doesn't exist in the German text. But here, in this poem, it is ok too, because what else might be the reason to turn around? This "to see" is already implicit contained in this line.

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  • Thanks, my main qustion was about 'mir' but learned some other things. (I didn't know the English version also rhymes). But I chose Janka's answer for being more explicit about mir (with usage with verbes like wegfliegen). – Chan Kim Jul 8 '17 at 9:14

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