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Here are the first verses of Goethe's Gefunden:

Ich ging im Walde
So für mich hin,
Und nichts zu suchen,
Das war mein Sinn.

My question is about the meaning of so für mich hin.

From what I could find, this doesn't seem to be an usual collocation (correct me if I'm wrong).

My first guess, based purely on intuition, was that it means something like "for my sheer pleasure" or "just by desire".

By the translations I've found on google, it means either "by myself" or "on a whim of mine", both of which apparently make sense on the context.

Any suggestion?

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2 Answers 2

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The phrase etwas vor sich hin tun means doing something without an aim. At Goethe's time, für was used instead of vor.

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    Not necessarily without aim. But without need and without any rush to do so can also be implied: Ich werkel so am Design des neuen Stuhl herum. Thus I work on it, but unsure which direction to go, trying different styles etc. There still is the aim to find a good design. But definitely lack to come to a quick conclusion Mar 15, 2023 at 17:11
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    To you, Ich werkel vor mich hin. has an aim?
    – Janka
    Mar 15, 2023 at 19:02
  • @planetmaker: the problem is perhaps in the wording. Ich werkel vor mich hin." might have a *goal (after all, it is something you "werkel" on), but it might not have an aim: the thing you "werkel" on is probably not strictly defined in shape or form. Furthermore, consider: Ich baue also grade den neuen Schrank. Ich werkel so vor mich hin, da höre ich einen Knall. That doesn't sound like maxed-out piecework, but it doesn't give the impression of aimlessly either, no?
    – bakunin
    Apr 30, 2023 at 21:54
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"Ich ging so für mich hin" is a rather vague expression. As pointed out by Janka, in contemporary German one would say "Ich ging so vor mich hin". The phrase "so vor mich hin" intrinsically evokes an aura of aimlessness. Moreover, the aimlessness of the walk becomes clear if one reads the next two verse lines

Und nichts zu suchen,
Das war mein Sinn.

Very likely Goethe used the word "Sinn" because it rhymes with "hin". The meaning of the above two verses is nothing else than Und nichts zu suchen war mein Ziel. This paradox is a variant of the modern der Weg ist das Ziel (the journey is the reward).

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