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“Were this Whole World Mine” – More German Love Poems – Happy Valentine’s Day!

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More German Medieval Love Poems
From Middle High German (ca.1050-ca.1450)

1. Were this Whole World Mine

Were this whole world mine
From the great sea to the Rhine
I’d leave it without qualms,
if only the queen of England
were in my arms.

Could this have been for
Eleanor of Aquitaine or Poitiers?

For our Valentine purposes:

If this whole world were mine,
without qualms,
I’d give it up any time,
My queen of charms,
Just to have you in my arms.

Modern German:

Wär alle Welt mein,
vom Mär bis an den Rhein,
des wolt ich keineswegs ersparen,
so nur die Königin von England
liegen würde in meinen Armen.

In Middle High German:

Wær diu werlt alliu mîn
Von dem mere unz an den Rîn,
dez wolt ih mih darben,
daz diu künegîn von Engellant
læge an mînen armen.

These following two poems are macaronic, that is, they are written in Latin and German (MHG) and I have stayed as close as I could to the originals. What do you think? My Latin could use improvement.

2. Stetit puella, rufa tunica

Stay awhile, Puella
in your red hair
and tunica bella:
Should I touch it,
Don’t make much-of it. Ah, yes!

Stay awhile, Puella,
for a fella!
Your face glows
and like a rose,
your mouth blossoms. Ah, yes!

Stay awhile, Puella,
under the umbrella
of this tree.
I’ll carve amorem
in this arborem.
Stay awhile, Puella, with me.

Then just when Venus came,
Puella’s heart took flame,
and courtly from above,
Gave her man
all her love.

In Modern German

Bleib ’ne Weilchen, Puella,
Rothaarig in tunica bella.
Wie kann ich fühlen
Ohne dein Kleid zu berühren? Eia.
Bleib ’ne Weilchen, Puella,
so schön in tunica bella.
Im Glanz deines Gesichts
blüht dein roter Mund
Wie eine Rose. Eia.
Bleib ’ne Weilchen, Puella,
so schön in tunica bella.
Ich schreibe amorem
An diesen arborem.
Plötzlich kam Venus an.
Erbarmung magnam.
Viel minnige Liebe,
bot sie ihr Man.

In Middle High German

Stetit puella
rufa tunica:
si qui seam tetigit,
tunica crepuit. Eia.
Stetit puella
tamquam rosula
facie splenduit,
et os ejus floruit. Eia.
Stetit puella
bî einem boume,
scripsit amorem
an eime loube.
Dar chom Vênus alsô fram;
caritatem magnam,
vil hôhe mine
bôt si ir manne.

(“fram” bedeutet “sogleich”)

3. May Forests Flourish

May forests flourish where’er you go;
No, my friends, I feel so much woe.
Again and again the forest gets green,
My love, however, I have not seen,
Since he’s ridden into it.
Woe is me, who will love me?

In Modern German:

Floret silva undiquê

Der Wald wächst um mich je,
Neh, meine Gesellen, mir ist weh.
Grünet der Wald allenthalben,
wo ist mein Geselle, all so lange?
Der ist geritten hinnen,
Oh weh, wer soll mich lieben?

In Middle High German

Floret silva undiquê
nâh mime gesellen ist mir wê.
gruonet der walt allenthalben,
wa ist mîn geselle alse lange?
der ist geriten hinnen:
owê, wer sol mich minnen?

4. The nightingale sang so well

The nightingale sang so well,
that thankfulness my heart did swell,
and for the other little birds.
Then longingly I thought
of my woman, the queen of my heart.

Modern German:

Die Nachtigall sang so wohl
Dass man ihr’s ewig danken soll
Und andern kleinen Vögellein.
Dann an meine Frau
gingen meine Gedanken hin,
Die ist meines Herzens Königin.

In Middle High German:

Diu nahtegal sanc sô wol
daz man irs iemer danken sol
und andern kleinen vogellîn.
dô dâhte ich an die frouwen mîn:
diu ist mîns herzen künigîn.

If you like these, see three more German love poems.

Also see “Love Poem: I say to you, I say to you.”

And for a real favorite, see “Du Bist Mein, ich Bin Dein”

These poems are taken from the Heath Anthology of German Poetry, edited by August Closs and T. Pugh Williams, (Boston: D.C. Heath and Company, Undated, 1950?), pages 73-75.


Written by peterkrey

February 12, 2009 at 8:07 am

Posted in My Poems, Translation

14 Responses

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  1. These poems are fascinating. I especially was fascinated by two of them. One was the one in German and Latin. What an interesting hybrid that was. It seemed like such a foreign language the mix of both german and latin. When was that poem from around? could it have been influenced by Roman power in German territory? when I read the poem I kept thinking of oma’s maiden name Deus and how that’s such a latin sounding name. That poem is very fascinating. Especially because the name Puella sounds so latin.
    I also loved the one about the woman’s true love ridding into the forest. That one had haunting ideas and imagery in it. On the one hand it’s like a blessing or andacht “may forests be green where ever you go”. It was like an irish blessing. But then the next line is such a juxtaposition. She’s not happy with the green forests because they seem to cover up something terrifying. Her lover rode off into these beautiful woodlands that seem to be getting greener and greener, but now he’s vanished the forest has swallowed him up and he wont come out of it’s serene green depths. It’s freaky. I really liked this poem. It made me think of those epic hikes I went on back in palm springs over the summer. After a while I felt as though the forest swallowed me up and I was in the depths of this hulking wilderness. I was at it’s mercy.
    When was this poem from? It fascinates me because right now in my comparative literature class we’re reading stories from antiquity to the middle ages and the professor picked the stories that all have a common theme. Nature versus Culture. Culture is the thing we created. It consists of civilization ( food, clothing, art, war and many other things) we created it to separate ourselves from nature says my teacher. or at least that’s what we ended up doing whether we intended it or not. But in every story we see this struggle at the root of every hero’s spirit. the struggle between culture and nature. Culture wants to tame nature, wants to control it, wants to in some cases to destroy it, while nature’s ultimate equalizer and limiter is death. In the epic of gilgamesh gilgamesh constantly tries to control nature and comes to the conclusion that nature will ultimately get the better of him by ending his physical world. The idea of the woman’s lover ridding off into the forest and not coming out is so haunting because it’s like this being who is apart of culture being pulled into nature where boundaries and rules are all bent and crossed. The idea of a lover as well (could perhaps be a construction of culture?) so the idea of her saying who will love me almost feels like this core question of nature vs. culture. If we let nature rule how will we have love (the only purpose for connection would be reproduction) , but if we let culture rule how do we bid farewell to the green forests? Sorry, that was a long post. these are just the thoughts the poem brought to mind. I like it a lot.


    February 17, 2009 at 7:47 am

  2. dear Mark,

    Thank you so much for your feedback on so many of my posts.

    Rome fell in 476 AD, at least that is the traditional date. The legacy of Rome and its Latin language continued very much through the church services remaining in Latin and all intellectual work remained in Latin as well. Latin also merged with other languages to become the Romance languages: Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian.

    These poems were written in the early medieval and high medieval times, sometime between 1050 to 1450 AD. Latin was still very much alive and some early German poetry seemed to be a translation of old Latin poems. When authors wrote a mixture of the two languages, it was called Macaronic. Like for fun someone called E.C.B. wrote:

    Cane carmen SIXPENCE, pera plena rye,
    De multis atris avibus coctis in a pie.

    Sing a song of sixpence, pocket full of rye,
    four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie, etc.

    They just do this mix for fun. But it could be that people sometimes spoke a mixture of languages. At home we would mix English and German.

    “Mom, where are my socks?”
    “have you looked in your Schoup?” (the dresser drawer)

    “The ball went down the Bahndam!” It went down the railway embankment. Usually you chose the easy word from one language to avoid a hard in word in the other.

    My mother would say, “Jetzt gibt’s trooble!” because “trouble” was so much easier to say than “Schwierigkeiten.”

    So it could be that people still mixed the languages, but also the rhymes could have been easier in one language over the other.

    In translating some of these poems I also had the feeling that the German culture was very thin and nature really encroached on them until they always had to beat it back. They probably did not even have a written language yet. Then there was Latin with its long classical tradition there for their helping.

    In that poem the forest also seemed to surround the little castle the lady was writing from. These are poems from the tradition of courtly love. In France all around Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) the troubadours wrote their love poems. They adored the ladies from a distance for their beauty, kindness, gaiety, or wisdom. I don’t think the German ones that I’ve picked up here stood by all the platonic rules of courtly love. But in later ages, this courtly love tradition brought about the attachment of romantic love to marriage, which still did not exist in medieval days.

    The forest was a place where nature ruled. It was mysterious and all manner of wild things could lurk in its darkness. Her man went riding into that, perhaps out of the culture of their courtly love and all the meaning and fulfillment that brought to their lives. Eleanor of Aquitaine was also the mother of Richard the Lion-Hearted. She was a celebrated high spirited Lady with many a troubadour around her, singing her praises. She would not be the woman who asked, “Who will love me?” When the king of France annulled his marriage with her because she bore him no sons, she went and married the king of England.

    Here I go into easy history. You had a deep empathy for medieval Germans when that civilization was still fragile and vulnerable to the forces of nature alive in the forest. (What’s in the primordial forest? The tyrannosaurus!) Do you remember the pop-up children’s book?

    All our love,


    February 17, 2009 at 11:02 pm

  3. […] If you like these, check out “Were this Whole World Mine.” […]

  4. […] If you like this poem, see four more: “Were this Whole World Mine.” […]

  5. Like it’

    otto regnald

    March 4, 2012 at 8:46 am

  6. Hi Peter,
    I translated this back in my student days (2003)
    Here’s my version:

    Should all the world belong to me –
    Right from the Rhine down to the sea –
    Gladly would I give it all away
    If in my arms England’s Queen lay.

    I studied all of the poems you mention when I learned MHG (in 2000) – and realised I knew all but the nightingale from Carmina Burana!


    June 21, 2012 at 5:36 am

    • Oh, and by the way, puella isn’t a name, it’s the Latin for ‘girl’. The translation should read something like “A girl stood in a red tunic. If someone touched her the tunic trembled.”


      June 21, 2012 at 5:42 am

      • dear Kate,

        I know that “Puella” means “girl” but leaving it in Latin was so much more poetic and romantic. It does seem to make it her name, however. Hmm. I went to direct address instead of third person, because that gets a person right into the drama of the poem. I wonder if I can get the “tunic trembled” into it. I should have translated “crepuit” but after the touching part, I guess I lost it.

        Are you in England? I live out here in California, the East Bay of San Francisco.



        June 21, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    • dear Kate,

      Thank you so much for responding. These little poems get thousands of hits, but very few responses.

      I like your translation, especially the alliteration of “Right from the Rhine.” I think the cadence of your last line would flow better if you made it, “If in my arms the Queen of England lay.”

      I have never learned MHG because I learned German at home where our parents spoke it to us and we would answer in English. I took French in College and also studied Spanish, but never German. When I pastored in Berlin for four years, I picked it up again.

      Now I challenge myself to translate MHG and German dialects. They are really hard. Have you read the others that I translated? There are 254 poems in the Carmina Burana collection and I’ve translated only ten or twelve. I’d covet your critique.

      In my links on the side I have Walter Aue’s poetry translation. He translates English poetry into German and vice versa. He does it very well.



      June 21, 2012 at 3:48 pm

  7. What a pleasure to find these poems. They’re fantastic. I’ve set 3 to music (Du bist mein, Ich hab eine sehnende Not, Die Nachtigall sang so wohl) for a song cycle called “Verfasser Unbekannt Liebeslieder” (maybe the title could use some work – I’m better with the music!) and am looking at setting a couple more.

    Curious – your spelling of Nachtigall as Nachtegal in the poem “Die Nachtegal sang so wohl” – was that in the Heath Anthology that you site?

    Regardless, your website is a treasure of fascinating information, and I’ve spent a rainy NYC day or two this summer perusing it and reading a ton of really cool things in English and German.

    Joel Weiss

    Joel Weiss

    August 8, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    • Dear Joel,

      it is always so good to get feedback. I’m s happy when I find that someone connected, because often what one does in the Internet just seems to blow away in the wind. It is especially rewarding, when someone gets meaningful enjoyment from my work on several rainy New York days.

      In Middle High German, “the nightingale” is “diu nahtegal.” (That’s the way it reads in Heath.) I think they pronounced the “h” hard, so therefore it became “Nachtigall” in modern German. I guess I misspelled it because of the MH German and I’ll fix it. Thanks for noticing that.

      The Heath Anthology of German Poetry heads the series of poems “Dichter Unbekannt.” But at the bottom of one page they write “Carmina Burana” or “Songs from Beuren.” 254 poems or songs were written some time between about 1050 and about 1450 and found in a Benedictine monastery in Beuren, Bavaria. I think those poems are part of those 234, but just now i couldn’t confirm it.

      Are you putting the modern German to music or the English? I’d love to be able to hear your work, when you have them done.

      peter krey


      August 9, 2012 at 5:56 am

  8. […] Also, check out “Were this Whole World Mine.” […]

  9. […] “Were this Whole World Mine” – More German Love Poems – Happy Valentine’s Day! […]

  10. […] “Were this Whole World Mine” – More German Love Poems – Happy Valentine’s Day! […]

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