This post is on "Die du" as occurring in this poem by Christoph August Tiedge and set to music by Beethoven in An die Hoffnung Op. 32 or Op. 94.

I quote only the first two stanzas of the poem as follows.

Ob ein Gott sei? Ob er einst erfülle,
Was die Sehnsucht weinend sich verspricht?
Ob, vor irgendeinem Weltgericht,
Sich dies rätselhafte Sein enthülle?
Hoffen soll der Mensch! Er frage nicht!

1 Die du so gern in heil'gen Nächten feierst
2 Und sanft und weich den Gram verschleierst,
3 Der eine zarte Seele quält,
4 O Hoffnung! Laß, durch dich empor gehoben,
5 Den Dulder ahnen, daß dort oben
6 Ein Engel seine Tränen zählt!


  1. Is Die in the nominative or the accusative case?

  2. Is du a reference to Hoffnung or not?


To set the questions in context, I will describe how I have tried to understand the second stanza.

I assuming that the first three lines form a relative clause that attaches to Hoffnung in line 4 (and that line 3 is a relative clause attaching to Gram in line 2).

When I read only line 1, the syntax seems unproblematic. We have someone, being addressed as du, who celebrates hope on Christmas nights, or grammatically speaking Die is in the accusative case and du in the nominative.

But that hypothesis is made untenable by line 2. If Die is still in the accusative, then verschleierst seems to have two accusative objects, i.e. Die and Gram.

One way to give verschleierst only one accusative object is to put Die in the nominative.

But if so two problems seem to arise in line 1. First, what is du? Is it apposite to Die? Which might give us something like:

O hope! Who, o you, so gladly celebrate on Christmas nights and gently and softly veil the grief, which torments a delicate soul.

Second, what does it mean for hope to celebrate on Christmas nights (or at any other time for that matter)? Does it mean that he who celebrates is in a state of hope, or that it is hope that permits anyone to celebrate? (A rather pessimistic worldview as one might think one celebrates what one has, not what one merely hopes for.)

If, as I have ventured to guess, du is setting the grammatical person of Hoffnung (as second), please comment on how common it is to use a relative pronoun followed by a personal pronoun for this purpose.

For anyone interested, I found the full text of Urania, the work in which the quoted lines occur. See page 15.

  • While Christmas is sometimes described as holy night - it is not the only holy night. I'd rather say it refers to a spiritual/solemn feeling one gets on special occasions – Arsak Nov 5 '18 at 19:07
  1. Die is Nominativ case here.
  2. Yes, du is referring to Hoffnung.

The whole thing is an invocation to the personified hope (Hoffnung), which could also be written as "Du, die du so gern in heil'gen Nächten feierst" and could be translated into english as follows:

You, who you celebrate so gladly on holy nights
And gently and softly veil the grief
Which tortures a delicate soul,
O hope! ...

The structure is common in poetical speaking. The term used in literature theory for this is Invocatio (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invocatio). Since it is poetical language, in normal everyday language, its use would be of overly high tone and it would be stylistically inappropriate in most situations I can think of.

Another pretty famous example for this (amongst many others) is Goethe's poem "Wanderer's Nachtlied" which goes

Der du von dem Himmel bist,
Süßer Friede,
Komm, ach komm in meine Brust!

See https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wandrers_Nachtlied

  • 1
    @IQV Why did yo change the formatting of my post? As far as I can see, you replaced all code-styles the which were supposed to indicate a reference by italics, which are just supposed to indicate emphasis - like in Invocation. To my eye this is less consistend and I consider it worse than it was before. Could you please change it back to my original formatting? – jonathan.scholbach Nov 5 '18 at 11:02
  • Wenn du unbedingt meinst. So entspricht es halt nicht den Standards hier. – IQV Nov 5 '18 at 11:24
  • 2
    Wo stehen denn diese Standards? – jonathan.scholbach Nov 5 '18 at 11:31
  • it can be an accessibility issue: meta.stackexchange.com/a/301372/400197 – dlatikay Nov 5 '18 at 16:48
  • 1
    OK, I am convinced. Changed the formatting to remove the code styles. Thanks for the constructive exchange of arguments! – jonathan.scholbach Nov 7 '18 at 7:08

Not only in poetry, but in general in what I would call Classical German the relative pronouns der, die, das, if they refer to the first or second person, must be followed by the appropriate personal pronoun (ich, du, etc.) This is in keeping with Greek and Latin syntax, where the relative pronoun can be followed by a verb in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person, as required. Thus, in the Lord’s Prayer:

Latin: pater noster, qui es (=2nd sing.) in coelis

English: our father, who art (=2nd sing.) in heaven

German: Vater unser, der du bist in dem Himmel.

EDIT: Luther used the literal translation of the Latin (and Greek) version (Vater unser der du bist ym himel) in the Deudsch Catechismus of 1529, the paraphrastic version (Vnser Vater in dem Himel) in the Bible translation of 1545.

  • Right. I would consider the text of the Vaterunser as poetical language. Could you specify what you mean by "Classical German"? – jonathan.scholbach Nov 5 '18 at 11:33
  • I mean the language of literary texts (verse or prose) until the middle of the 20th century, if not later. @jonathan.scholbach – fdb Nov 5 '18 at 11:36
  • "Die Sprache der deutschen Klassiker". – fdb Nov 5 '18 at 11:46
  • I don't know if that's a well-defined notion. – jonathan.scholbach Nov 5 '18 at 11:50

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