Der Werwolf

Can this poem be translated?  Click here to find out!


This is a fun/nonsense poem, but it also includes a serious message.
The relationship depicted in this poem is a bit different from those in other selections. Here we see not a personal (dis)connection between two people, or within one’s self, but one more influenced by social and educational distinctions.

The Werwolf knows for a certainty that he has a wife and child, but in the face of the rationality of the Schoolmaster (who is more highly educated and therefore must have better access to the “Truth”) the humble (“ergeben”) Werwolf accepts the schoolmaster’s answer despite all evidence to the contrary (“er hatte ja doch Weib und Kind!”).

How might this be applied to the learning process? There is, of course, the presentation of the four cases. But there is also an opportunity to pursue the dangers of unquestioning acceptance of authority. In my own literature classes I have used this poem to emphasize to students that even though I may have a broader base of knowledge in the subject matter than they, they should not accept my suggestions at the expense of their own insights and knowledge.

Technical points:

1) Rhyming couplets, except stanza 1 (I wonder why?)

2) meter: iambic tetrameter (four-foot iambs, that is, 4 sets of unstressed/stressed syllables), with occasional extra unstressed syllable at the end of a line (Fälle/Augenbälle; musste/wusste). Iambic tetrameter is a fairly lively metric form and perhaps adds to the playfulness of the poem.

3) run-on line/Zeilensprung: lines 1-2, 17-18, for ex. 
This helps to move the poem along, since the reader cannot stop at the end of each line. In fact, the first two stanzas are each just one sentence. Perhaps this serves to suggest the Werwolf’s eagerness to find out about "conjugational" self. When the schoolmaster/Gelehrter speaks (stanza 3) the action slows down, the content is much more "erudite", and we perhaps think of some (boring?) lectures we once attended. The schoolmaster is dead, after all! Irony?

  • Why does the Werwolf go to the school-master? Can this been seen as a kind of search for his full identity? ("Bitte, beuge mich")
  • How does the Werwolf react with resp[ect to the schoolmaster? ("geduldig"). What is their spatial relationship? (Schoolmaster up, Werwolf down = Teacher/Student relationship)
  • Does the author attach any "blame" to the Werwolf for his later disappointment? ("Dem Werwolf schmeichelten die Fälle"; that is, he was happy to have his whole self identified by a scholar)