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Augen hat des Menschen Bild,

hingegen Licht der Mond.

I am particularly troubled by the first line quoted here from Friedrich Hölderlin's In lieblicher Bläue.

Augen hat des Menschen Bild seems to make no grammatical sense: Augen = eyes; hat = has; des Menschen = the people's (genitive case); Bild = picture.

How do you put all this together intelligibly? Eyes has picture of the people? That would be the closest version to a sentence actually making sense. If so, why hat and not haben, to agree with Augen? Why not die Augen haben das Bild des Menschen (instead of the more natural, in my opinion, die Augen sind das Bild des Menschen)? Is this what the poet actually meant: die Augen sind das Bild des Menschen? And why are both Augen and Bild without their respective definite articles?

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  • The subject is “des Menschen Bild”. “Der Mensch” means “the man” (in the sense of human), but in English one would, I think, not use an article here.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 13:57
  • @CarstenS I know what der Mensch means. But there is no "der Mensch" in this text; it is "des Menschen." And if the subject is des Menschen Bild, how do you translate that into English? Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 14:02

1 Answer 1

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„Des Menschen Bild“ is an archaic/poetical genitive construction, moving the genitive noun in front of the subject noun (in German: „vorangestellter Genitiv“). In modern German, one would say "das Bild des Menschen":

„Das Bild des Menschen hat Augen, der Mond hat Licht.“

"The people's / man's sight / picture has eyes, the moon has light"

For „Bild“, i would propose "sight" instead of "picture", because the preceding lines tell of someone looking into a mirror. That's also the reason for proposing "man" instead of "people" - it's a person spotting his own mirror image:

Wenn einer in den Spiegel siehet,
ein Mann, und siehet darinn sein Bild, wie abgemahlt;
es gleicht dem Manne.
Augen hat des Menschen Bild,
hingegen Licht der Mond.

(Bibliotheca Augustana: In lieblicher Bläue)

Regarding the missing definite article: i can't provide a source, but i would generally expect the subject noun to be definite in such a construction. At least, i didn't find an example where the subject is indefinite.

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  • Where could I find all these peculiarities of archaic German explained? Could you please recommend me a book that has them all explained? Like a historical grammar, maybe... (And about this archaic genitive construction: my intuition was correct that this could only mean das Bild des Menschen, right?) Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 14:58
  • I'm very sorry, but i would have to search for such books first. There are some examples for that construction at Wikipedia on Genitive (german).
    – tohuwawohu
    Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 15:02
  • @ΥΣΕΡ26328, maybe this is helpful: german.stackexchange.com/questions/8359/…
    – Carsten S
    Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 16:41
  • @ΥΣΕΡ26328, yes das Bild des Menschen and des Menschen Bild mean the same thing. Both are correct, you can use them. The first is the "normal" one. Similarly, das Bild Alfreds and Alfreds Bild mean the same and can both be used. Here, the second one is the "normal" choice.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 16:45
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    @BlauKakapoW: The genitive noun is "des Menschen". "Bild" has nominative case.
    – tohuwawohu
    Commented Feb 21 at 16:31

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