Wagner’s use of Stabreim

Jul 6, 2006 9:25 pm
I always loved Wagner’s poetry. I do not know German very well, and certainly do not have a sense of how it sounds to the ears of a native speaker of the language. But I always loved the rhythm and the sound. The varied and uneven lines of Wagner’s alliterative Stabreim keep driving the reader forward. It does not get tiring because there is so much variation. It really seemed like the perfect vehicle for music, at least late Romantic or Modern music where we have moved away from strophic or thematic repetitions. However, I doubt that it would have impressed Rossini or Donizetti!

Some of it reminds me of certain early, experimental poems of Goethe, but I suspect a real German might find that idea ridiculous. I have never seen it included in any anthology of German poetry and as far as I can tell, it seems to have had no influence on subsequent German poetry. Although he does contribute several lines to T. S. Eliot‘s The Wasteland, which seems to me to have a rather similar prosody.


~ by severalfourmany on July 6, 2006.

2 Responses to “Wagner’s use of Stabreim”

  1. At 08:25 PM 7/6/2006 -0400
    I read in Porter:

    Schwarzes, schwieliges
    (p. 11)
    Scaly, spotted
    and sulphorous dwarf!

    Wie in den Gliedern
    brunstige Glut
    and brennt und gluht!
    (p. 14)
    Passionate fevers,
    fervid desires
    have set me on fire!

    Flimmer der flufi,
    flammet die Flut
    (p. 15)
    flash in the foam.
    flame in the flood

    A very fun exercise, if I’m right in my choices. I don’t know if I can really consider this poetry!

  2. Jul 6, 2006 9:54 pm
    Not poetry! How about this from Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney’s Whitbread Prize-winning translation of Beowulf:

    “away with a will in their wood-wreathed ship.
    Over the waves, with the wind behind her”

    Alliterative verse is one the oldest forms of poetic expression and very beautiful if done well. You can listen to Heaney reading from Beowulf as well as other readings of early English alliterative verse here:

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