In Heinrich Heine's Im Walde wandl’ ich und weine, there are four things I don't understand:

Im Walde wandl’ ich und weine,

Die Drossel sitzt in der Höh’;

Sie springt und singt gar feine:

Warum ist dir so weh?

„Die Schwalben, deine Schwestern,

Die können’s dir sagen, mein Kind;

Sie wohnten in klugen Nestern,

Wo Liebchens Fenster sind.“

What is the meaning of wandl'?

Why is there an 's after können?

Is the -s in Liebchens the mark of plural or the mark of the genitive case? (I would rather say it is the latter, which would perhaps render the whole verse into English as Where the darling's windows are.)

Even though I'm only a beginner, my encounter with Heine was, to me, almost magical. So now I want to read more of his poems, which I somehow liken to Keat's.

If such grammar-applied questions are not off-topic (which I sincerely hope are not as I have no other place to go to for this kind of textual assistance), I will in the very near future be asking a lot more questions about the grammatical difficulties in Heine's poetry.

  • @Takkat Done as suggested. All OK now? (Thank you for the good suggestions you've given me.)
    – indoxica
    Jul 22, 2013 at 11:23
  • yeah - all good: "Gut gemacht!"
    – Takkat
    Jul 22, 2013 at 12:17

3 Answers 3


Well, the apostrophes mark omitted letters (final sounds respectively). Mostly these have been omitted for reasons of rhyme and meter.

In the following I add the omitted letters:

Im Walde wandl[e] ich und weine,

Die Drossel sitzt in der Höh[e];

Sie springt und singt gar feine:

Warum ist dir so weh?

„Die Schwalben, deine Schwestern,

Die können [e]s dir sagen, mein Kind;

Sie wohnten in klugen Nestern,

Wo Liebchens Fenster sind.“

The 's after können is short for es, as you see. The -s after Liebchen is indeed the genitive marker.

  • Then the verse Die können [e]s dir sagen, mein Kind is to be translated thus: Which can tell you, my child, where the elided [e]s actually doubles the subject die Schwalben. Am I correct in all this?
    – indoxica
    Jul 22, 2013 at 12:21
  • No, the "es" refers to what the swallows could tell the "Drossel": "The swallows, your sisters, they can tell it [es] to you, my child; they live in clever nests, where the beloved's windows are." Something like that.
    – bouscher
    Jul 22, 2013 at 12:28
  • In the greater context "es" refers to the reason, why he is so depressed and that is because the girl he loves has been married to another guy and, as he learns soon, is pregnant.
    – bouscher
    Jul 22, 2013 at 12:36
  • I see. So the [e]s refers to the it in they can say it to you. One last question, though: How do you know the girl was married off to another man? And that she soon got pregnant? I mean, there is no reference to either event in the poem itself (at least, to the best of my understanding of it...)
    – indoxica
    Jul 22, 2013 at 12:52
  • Well Heine's "Die Heimkehr" is of quite some length, it is not only the two stanzas you quoted. Those are neither the beginning nor the end of the whole poem.
    – bouscher
    Jul 22, 2013 at 12:58

In German, apostrophes usually indicate elisions; the apostophe replaces a missing letter. Poets use elisions for rhythmic purposes.

  • Wandl' is really wandle; 1st person singular of wandeln.
  • Höh' is Höhe
  • können's is können es

The ' indicates that the -e of the conjugation is missing. The verb is


and it can be conjugated like this:

ich wandle

du wandelst

er wandelt ...

Skipping the final -e is very common and I bet 30 years from now German conjugation will have changed. Anyway, today many people would say this:

Ich wandel'...

As far as I know, the apostrophe is not even mandatory any more.

Edit: I didn't fully answer the question so here is the rest:

Liebchens is indeed a Genitive -s and können's is short for können es. Es is a pronoun and refers to the answer to why the person feels so miserable.

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