I'm currently attending a German B1 course and I've been listening to some "deutsche Volkslieder" by Brahms, and I'm noticing a lot of unusual syntax. For instance in the song "Es war ein Markgraf überm Rhein", in the last stanza there's the line "Ich will kein Weck, ich will kein Wein." Shouldn't it be "keinen" in both cases since both are masculine? In the song "Es ritt ein Ritter." the final line reads "mein jungfrisch Herze muss sinken", shouldn't it be "jungfrisches", also why is it "Herze" in stead of "Herz"?

I've also noticed word order being changed in ways that, from my admittedly sparse knowledge, the grammar shouldn't allow. In "Soll sich der Mond nicht heller scheinen" there's the line "So will ich diese Nacht gehn freien", again, shouldn't it be "So will ich diese Nacht freien gehn"?

I'm encountering a lot of examples of the grammar--for lack of a better word--ignoring its own rules, adjectives not declining, wrong verb order, etc. It seems that poetry allows for much more fluid construction, and I was wondering if this behavior had a name, or if there were limits to it?

  • 6
    Tweaking grammar to fit with meter, rhythm and rhyme is common in poetry in probably all languages.
    – jarnbjo
    May 8, 2018 at 13:51
  • @jarnbjo. You will find every one of these features in pre-modern prose as well.
    – fdb
    May 8, 2018 at 13:52
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    @ChristianGeiselmann Oh, these texts weren't from my class, I found them independently. I like to look for German music as much as I can.
    – Klaub
    May 9, 2018 at 9:04
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    @Klaub. Brahms's collection are of course "Volkslieder" (as he says). For a more literary and standard form of German listen to the Heine poems set in Schumann's "Dichterliebe". Great poetry and great music.
    – fdb
    May 11, 2018 at 10:26
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    @fdb Vielen Dank!
    – Klaub
    May 12, 2018 at 10:59

1 Answer 1


Poetry does not break the rules. What you need to take on board is that there are lots of different forms of German, both in time (diachronically) and in place (dialect variation). A lot of German poetry (especially folk poetry) is in local dialects, or uses archaic forms. A very common instance is the omission of case endings of adjectives and articles, as in your example “ich will kein Wein”, or Luther’s “ein feste Burg”. This is a very common feature in Early New High German, both in poetry and in prose.

  • Interesting, does this mean that case endings weren't a feature in Middle High German?
    – Klaub
    May 8, 2018 at 20:54
  • 2
    @Klaub No, not really. They were ever open to bend things for meter, rhythm and rhyme at anytime. Listen to HipHop. May 8, 2018 at 21:45
  • 1
    Herze is also an antiquated form; in modern German a lot of -e endings have been dropped. May 9, 2018 at 8:05

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