The original context is “Bang fleht ein liebkranker Mann.” (Viljaslied, Die lustige Witwe).

I once wrote a poem beginning,

Ich schaue dich so gerne an.
Du ließt mich immer so bang.

Bang is supposed to mean anxious, or afraid, or however a liebeskranker Mann feels.

Am I using bang correctly in this context?

In an earlier version of this question (since deleted), someone commented that my usage of bang was “Shakespearean,” and that few contemporary Germans would use it. Point taken, but the question means, “What would your German-speaking Shakespeare teacher (or grandparent) have said about the appropriateness of this usage?”

Is there anything obviously wrong with what I’m doing (that wouldn’t be allowed by “poetic license”)? In any event, what are examples of “correct” or better usage?

  • Shakespearean für einen deutschen Ausdruck? Goethisch vielleicht.:) Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 2:03

3 Answers 3


Du ließt mich immer so bang

is a malformed sentence. What tense is it supposed to be?

Present tense: Du lässt mich etc.

Past tense: Du ließest mich etc.

Second, you can’t use bang like that. In contrast, here are a few uses of bang (or the verb, bangen) that would not sound un-idiomatic:

Du lässt/ließest mich immer so bang zurück

Du lässt/ließest mich immer so sehr bangen

but they carry different meanings. In any case your two sentences do not fit together. In the first, the speaker is happy, in the second he is anxious. Why the sudden change?

But don’t feel bad about this, Tom. Even as great a poet as Nobel prize-winning Joseph Brodsky struggled to express himself when writing in a second language:

In contrast to other exiled writers who lock themselves up inside their mother tongue so as to protect their creativity, Brodsky delved headlong into the enticements of his second language (…) The results are sometimes words, or juxtapositions of words, that test the limits of poetic license. This is the vague criterion that has made some of us wrinkle our brows: when does the foreign poet, writing in English, trespass boundaries of legitimate linguistic inventiveness? For which lines, for which exact words, should Brodsky perhaps have heeded the (presumable) doubts of his co-translators or first Anglophone readers? In May 24, 1980, translated by the author, Brodsky seemingly recalls his open-heart surgery: “Twice have drowned, thrice let knives rake my nitty-gritty.” Note the proximity of the literary “thrice” and the slang “nitty-gritty.” Note the knives that “rake.” Note the way “nitty-gritty” has become, in Brodsky’s mind, a synonym of, say, “guts.” Of course, the poet is making a philosophical point: “nitty-gritty,” in the meaning the term takes on in the expression “getting down to the nitty-gritty,” posits the body—in general, matter—as the ultimate horizon or dead-end of existence. In any event, Brodsky’s mature poetry, whether written directly in English, or translated by himself from Russian originals, sometimes raises these stylistic and lexical questions. At times the questions become barriers, however slight or surmountable, to a full appreciation of a poem. Source

In case it isn’t immediately clear, the message the author of that review is trying to cloak in politeness is this: often when writing poetry in English, Brodsky sucked. Think of that as a cautionary tale …

  • 2
    :D... and cloak it he did. What a diplomat
    – Emanuel
    Commented May 5, 2013 at 20:23
  • Accepted because of the very helpful comments on tenses. Thank you. And here is a meta post (on another site) that may interest you, because it arose out of our earlier discussions. meta.politics.stackexchange.com/questions/1341/…
    – Tom Au
    Commented May 27, 2013 at 17:25

Bang can mean anxious, but clearly leaning towards scared, or afraid. “Mir wird angst und bange” ist a standing expression meaning I am scared.

Whether or not you used correctly bang in your poem is still yours to decide, but that’s the meaning of it anyways.

  • I edited the question to be asked in a "negative" way. Is there anything obviously WRONG with what I'm doing (that wouldn't be allowed by "poetic license")?
    – Tom Au
    Commented May 5, 2013 at 14:42
  • 1
    Well, poetic licenses are permissive by nature, so there is nothing wrong with it as such. I just don't know what "Du liesst mich immer so BANG" is supposed to mean. It sounds surreal to me (which might not be a bad thing for a poem...). Also, BANG! could also be the same comic-book-style sound as it might be in English (when a gun goes off or so), especially when spelled in capitals, so the unsuspecting reader might assume some kind of double meaning. Poets are artists after all ;-)
    – ssc
    Commented May 8, 2013 at 20:42

After “Ich schaue dich so gerne an” the word bang doesn’t make sense to me. Bang means afraid more than anxious.


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