21

English has nonsense poetry, such as The Owl and the Pussycat, by Edward Lear, and the incomparable Jabberwocky, by Lewis Carroll:

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

The poem is written in English, mixed with invented nonsense words (see nonce word), but still manages to tell a story of heroism and the killing of the Jabberwock.

Question: is there anything similar in German?

  • 2
    There is even a book collecting some of these at Reclam. – guidot May 22 at 7:12
  • Incidentally, where did you get the quoted text from? As far as I can make out this is not Jabberwocky. Jabberwocky itself was based on a single stanza Carroll had written earlier, but your quoted text also doesn’t match that; rather, it seems to be a mishmash of different versions. – Konrad Rudolph May 22 at 13:50
  • 2
    @KonradRudolph I suspect it's the version from "Through the Looking-Glass": study.com/academy/lesson/… – Simon F May 23 at 8:43
  • @KonradRudolph it's from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jabberwocky, with "Ye" changes to "the". Well spotted :-) – Mawg May 23 at 9:41
  • @Mawg Well the Wikipedia excerpt you quote isn’t Jabberwocky, it’s the precursor. I believe accurate citation is important so I hope you don’t mind my fixing it. – Konrad Rudolph May 23 at 10:06

12 Answers 12

25

I am starting a community Wiki here for collecting examples / authors of Unsinnspoesie or poetry using at least sometimes nonsensical words and expressions.

Caveat: one might object that speaking of "nonsense" here is actually nonsense, as sense and meaning are being created in the mind of the reader inadvertently.

Moreover, the line between "nonsense" and onomatopoeia is rather blurred, see Jandl's schtzngrmm.

  • Ernst Jandl (schtzngrmm, schtzngrmm)
  • Matthias Koeppel ("Starckdeutsch") - http://www.matthiaskoeppel.de/dr_land.htm - Starckdeutsch. Oine Orrswuuhl dörr schtahurcköstn Gedeuchten. Eine Auswahl der stärksten Gedichte, 1993
  • Robert Gernhardt
  • Joachim Ringelnatz
  • Karl Valentin
  • Loriot: Melusine
  • Loriot: Parlamentsrede - Here the nonsense is not on the level of non-existing words; he uses only existing words typical for political speech; however, the entire speech is void of any meaning; it is a play with empty forms.
  • Ch. Chaplin: Speech by Dictator Hynkel - This might be a bit surprising as Charlie Chaplin is not usually counted as an author of German poetry. However, the speech by Dictator A. Hynkel in "The Great Dictator" (1940) is clearly meant to parodize German, and it is, on the level of word-meaning, pure nonsense, so it should qualify for this collection.
  • 5
    Just in case someine feels the urge to downvote this: " Die schärfsten Kritiker der Elche waren früher selber welche" Although it has to grow bigger and better than de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unsinnspoesie – LangLangC May 20 at 12:05
  • 1
    Ich frage mich: Würden Dinge wie Noch nie in seinem ganzen Leben / hat sich der Hirsch so übergeben / wie gestern / bei seinen Schwestern auch zum hier Gesuchten zählen? Oder gelten nur Gedichte, in denen sonst nicht existente Wörter vorkommen? – Christian Geiselmann May 20 at 14:41
  • 1
    I think the OP makes it pretty clear that they mean texts “mixed with invented nonsense words”, which is also what the Jabberwocky poem is known for. – mach May 20 at 15:26
  • 5
    Ich finde zu Gernhardt, Ringelnatz und Valentin müssen exemplarische Werke mit angegeben werden, weil viele ihrer Produktionen nicht den Kriterien entsprechen. – user unknown May 20 at 22:44
  • 1
    Nicht zu vergessen: Hurz! – Martin Schröder May 21 at 19:28
16

A very literal answer: there's a German translation of Jabberwocky called Der Jammerwoch!

Es brillig war.  Die schlichte Toven
Wirrten und wimmelten in Waben;
Und aller-mümsige Burggoven
Die mohmen Räth' ausgraben.

It captures both the sense and the nonsense, tweaking the made-up words to sound Germanic as appropriate.  Full version here.

(You might think Jabberwocky the epitome of untranslateability, but several poets have attempted it, often with surprising ingenuity and success.)

  • There are multiple translations of that particular poem, of varying quality. – Konrad Rudolph May 20 at 16:34
  • 2
    The cited translation is one of the worse, ignoring the prose explanation later in the book. – guidot May 22 at 7:09
11

German mixed with nonsense words

This is what the OP has asked about: texts where normal meaningful German words are mixed with meaningless nonsense words. There seem to be very few German texts of this kind. An example that is well-known in German-speaking Switzerland is Franz Hohler’s Totemügerli (in Bernese German).

Nonsense words exclusively

Texts composed entirely of meaningless nonsense words are found in the Lautpoesie, pioneered by Christian Morgenstern and often used in the Dada movement (e.g. Hugo Ball’s Gadji beri bimba or Kurt Schwitter’s Ursonate). These poems consist entirely of meaningless nonsense words and do not contain any normal meaningful German.

Nonsense verse (without nonsense words)

Nonsense verse, also known in German as Unsinnpoesie, has been known for a long time and from many different authors. While the verses do not make much sense, they are still composed entirely of normal meaningful German words and do not contain any meaningless nonsense words.

Visual poetry

Visual or concrete poetry, known in German as konkrete Poesie, is somewhat related. Here, the typographical visual form is the most important aspect. Normal meaningful words may or may not be present.

  • Upvoted specifically for the "Totemügerli". It's a brilliant piece of work. I am native to this dialect and it's both wonderfully nonsensical (word-wise), but actually tells a quite scary story. Here's the link to a youtube video, with the start at the actual beginning of the "story" at 0:28. You would not recognise that point or notice it, if you not knew this dialect: youtu.be/OlY_minvSSg?t=28 – hitchhiker May 20 at 20:22
  • somewhat OT because it is prose, not a poem: martinauer.net/dfa/zwange.htm – dlatikay May 22 at 6:37
8

Christian Morgenstern - Galgendichtung

z. B.

Das große Lalula'

Kroklokwafzi? Semememi!
Seiokrontro - prafriplo:
Bifzi, bafzi; hulalemi:
quasti basti bo...
Lalu lalu lalu lalu la!

Hontraruru miromente
zasku zes rü rü?
Entepente, leiolente
klekwapufzi lü?
Lalu lalu lalu lala la!

Simarat kos malzlpempu
silzuzankunkrei (;)!
Marjomar dos: Quempu Lempu
Siri Suri Sei []!
Lalu lalu lalu lalu la!

Auch gut:

Fisches Nachtgesang

        -
       U U
       ---
     U U U U
       ---
     U U U U
       ---
     U U U U
       ---
     U U U U
       ---
       U U
        -

https://www.textlog.de/17379.html

  • Or, more similar to Jabberwocky, Gruselett: Der Flügelflagel gaustert / durchs Wiruwaruwolz, / die rote Fingur plaustert, / und grausig gutzt der Golz – Cephalopod May 21 at 9:08
6

There is quite a lot by the dada-ism movement. At the forefront there is Kurt Schwitters (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_Schwitters), two of his nonsense poems are 'Anna Blume' which is in legible German and the 'Ursonate' which is a sequence of nonsense sounds.

5

A German term used for this is

Unsinnspoesie

I remember that German public radio Deutschlandfunk once in the late 1980s had a three hours programme as part of its Lange Nacht series on Unsinnspoesie. This was of course full of examples. You can write to Deutschlandfunk (hoererservice@dradio.de) and ask for a copy of that programme on CD.

  • Auch noch Lautpoesie. – Janka May 20 at 11:50
3

One well known example (though none of the words are invented):

Dunkel war’s, der Mond schien helle

2

The chorus of Raxli Faxli by Gerhard Schöne, a famous (East-)German singer and writer of children’s songs:

Raxli, faxli, pullipaxli,
ronte – monte – mo,
tallatulla, tallamulla,
hucka – lucka – lo.

The song recounts the life of a boy who invents his own language.

  • Albeit he's famous for his children's songs, he wrote many more good songs that don't specifically aim at children. :) – Arsak Aug 1 at 15:28
1

I have written this poem in 2003:

Nebel

Seidner Himmel, graue Botschaft,
rauhgefärbter Maienschlag.
Schreiet lautlos! Werdet habhaft!
Träumt den neuen roten Tag!

Gasometer und Zephire
und der weiten Musen Schar.
Hüllt die Asche und die Tiere
ein in Setobs blaues Haar.

Tauft die Länge und den Morgen
mit der Schlachten gelbem Rat.
Seiet wachsam, bleibt verborgen
wenn von Süden Einfalt naht!

Hubert Schölnast, 2003

I have written this poem with the declared aim to create a poem without any meaning. It just should contain the word Gasometer (because I lived in a Gasometer when I wrote this poem). It also should rhyme nicely and should have a nice rhythm.

But in the 16 years since I've written this poem, I got lots of different reactions of people who told me what they found in this poem, and everyone interpreted it in a very different way.

So, the meaning of a text arises in the readers mind. If the author writes a nonsense text, most readers still will find a meaning.

  • 1
    Nettes Gedicht. – fdb May 23 at 15:32
1

I've always enjoyed Christian Morgenstern's nonsense poems. Here's one I particularly like, called 'Der Lattenzaun'. (I'm quoting from memory, so excuse any errors.)

Es war einmal ein Lattenzaun Mit Zwischenraum, hindurchzuschaun.

Ein Architect, der dieses sah, Stand eines Arbends ploetzlich da

Und nahm den Zwischenraum heraus Und baute draus ein grosses Haus.

Der Zaun indessen stand ganz dumm Mit Latten ohne was herum,

Ein Anblick graesslich und gemein, Drum zog ihn der Senat auch ein.

Der Architect jedoch entfloh Nach Afri- od' Ameriko.

1

ottos mops (von Ernst Jandl)

ottos mops trotzt
otto: fort mops fort
ottos mops hopst fort
otto: soso

otto holt koks
otto holt obst
otto horcht
otto: mops mops
otto hofft

ottos mops klopft
otto: komm mops komm
ottos mops kommt
ottos mops kotzt
otto: ogottogot

0

Since I don't have the reputation to comment, here a honorable mention:

There is a german version of Douglas Adams "The (Deeper) Meaning of Liff", "Der tiefere Sinn des Labenz". In the original version Adams took names and villages and give them a (kind of nonsense) meaning. The german translator changed some of the entries to german/swiss/austrian names.

Here some examples:

Laax, das
Geräusch, das beim Lösen eines sonnenverbrannten Oberschenkels von einem Plastikliegestuhl erklingt.

Isny, der
Maßeinheit. Definiert als die Zeit, die vergeht, bis man in der Fotoabteilung eines Kaufhauses bedient wird. Auch: Zeitraum bis zur Abschaffung der Einkommensteuer oder zur Wiederkunft Christi.

More examples: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Der_tiefere_Sinn_des_Labenz

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