10 summer poems to make you fall in love with the German language

Finn Provan
Finn Provan - [email protected]
10 summer poems to make you fall in love with the German language
Sunset in Brandenburg. Photo:DPA

Summer's in full swing. The birds are chirping, the bees are buzzing and the flowers are in full bloom. But does the promise of sunny days fill you with delight or foreboding? These German poems describe summer at its best and worst and will inspire you to get out that German dictionary again.


It’s a common trend that the desire to explore a nation’s literature will inspire language learners to take their linguistic skills to the next level.

You may have experienced that jolting feeling when reading a translation of a foreign book or poem. Or perhaps you have found yourself at a dead end when that piece you’ve always wanted to read just hasn’t been translated.


Most of us are probably in agreement that poetry is the hardest art-form to translate. How can the myriad of structural choices stay in tact during translation to deliver the same reading experience as the original? This tends to be the reason that so many poems are just never officially translated.

So why wait for the English version? Here's a list of ten German poems which take on the sunny season that are worth learning German for.

1. Sommer by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1810)



Goethe is one of Germany's literary giants. His works spanned the genres of drama, prose, poetry, autobiography and literary criticism. While many may know his famous works like "Faust" and "The Sorrows of Young Werther", he is little read outside the German-speaking world.

His poem "Sommer", or "Summer", is only eight lines long and delivers powerful imagery of days growing alongside the heat. Meadows are ablaze in the summer's heat and fiery storms show no mercy. 

"Der Sommer folgt. Es wachsen Tag und Hitze,

und von den Auen dränget uns die Glut;"

Goethe's poem stands out from visions of a calm summer's day but nevertheless ends with the image of love smiling beneath the stormy weather. Goethe's literary talent should not be missed just because of a language barrier.

Full text available here.

2. "Dämmernd liegt der Sommerabend..." by Heinrich Heine (1827)

Heine's works are some of the most famous literary exports from Germany in the 19th century. His lyric poetry garnered particular acclaim after it was set to music by Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert.

His untitled poem paints a more positive picture of summer than Goethe's did. Heine sets the scene of the summer evening stretching across a forest and green meadows at twilight. The moon is golden and sounds of crickets are in the air.

"Dämmernd liegt der Sommerabend

Über Wald und grünen Wiesen;"

The poem ends with a girl bathing in the river, her bare skin shimmering in the moonlight, evoking a sense of purity and mystique in the summer's night.

Full text available here or listen to a recording of the poem.


3. Wie freu' ich mich der Sommerwonne! by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben (1872)

August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben is a bit of a mouthful to say, but this summery poet wrote probably the most famous words in Germany. In 1841 Fallersleben penned "Das Lied der Deutschen" which was to become the German national anthem from 1922 onwards.

While the famous line "Deutschland, Deutschland über allies" is no longer part of the anthem today, the line "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit" ("unity and justice and freedom") is considered by most as Germany's unofficial motto.

His poem "Wie freu' ich mich der Sommerwonne!", or "How I rejoice the summer delight!" is full of exultation and merriment in summer's nature.

"Wie freu’ ich mich der Sommerwonne, 

Des frischen Grüns in Feld und Wald"

This poem showcases the dizzying qualities of summer which can rejuvenate your spirit and also embraces the sense of satisfaction and belonging with oneself.

Full text available here.

4. Abseits by Theodor Storm (1847)

Theodor Storm is considered as one of the most important figures in German realism. His upbringing in the town of Husum in Germany’s north inspired much of his later poetry. Storm would often draw on the vast mudflats and the dark expanse of sea which characterised his childhood home.

His summer poem “Abseits”, which can only roughly be translated into English as “away from” or “aside” or “off the beaten track”, is a great example of Storm’s incorporation of the plains of his childhood with the longing for a peaceful summer’s day. 

"Es ist so still; die Heide liegt

Im warmen Mittagssonnenstrahls"

The poetic landscape is that of his childhood - the mudflats lying still in the mid-day sun. The poem touches upon the relationship between nature and civilisation. And whether mankind’s engagement with nature is purely exploitative or one of appreciation, is left unanswered. 

The somewhat Romantic images of nature which Storm creates seem to expose a sense of longing for his youth, a dream in which the sun is shining and ground beetles and bees are going about their own business.

Full text available here.

5. Sommerabend by Rainer Maria Rilke (1913)

A summer fire in Brandenburg. Photo:DPA

Rilke is one of the most talented German writers and his poetry alone is reason enough to make you improve your language skills.

Packed into just ten lines, Rilke’s poem “Sommerabend”, or “Summer’s Evening”, paints an intense picture of a summer evening. His choice of words have you swaying between heaven and hell. 

"Die große Sonne ist versprüht,

der Sommerabend liegt im Fieber"

Rilke personifies the summer evening, which lies in a fever, its cheeks glowing with the heat. The heat appears to drain the energy out of everything in its midst. One man, Jach, cannot finish a sentence and heaves with exhaustion.

Later the poem makes use of religious imagery: the bushes reciting litanies, and the small white rose wearing a red halo.

Rilke creates a sense that everything is trapped in a state of motionless paralysis amidst an eternal light. “Sommerabend” may be just a short poem, but it captures all your senses and has you contemplating the power of summer.

Full text available here.


6. Ein Morgen im Juli by Claudia Malzahn (1969)

Two people enjoying a summer's morning by a lake in Berlin. Photo:DPA

Malzahn’s poem is less raging hell on earth and more the bright dawning of a summer’s morning. The poem’s title translates as “A Morning in July” and marvels in the splendour of the sun. The morning air is still cool and the dew-covered grass resembles millions of tiny crystals. 

"Die Sonne ist aufgegangen.

Prächtig, herrschend"

Malzahn doesn’t use any rhyme scheme but does take advantage of structure and enjambement to make certain words stand out. 

There is a nod towards the more foreboding sense of summer at the end of the poem with the black forest far in the distance standing like a “dark sea of flames” and the fog creeping along the meadows.

Full text available here.

7. Sommergedanken by Oskar Stock (1993)

The Bavarian poet Oskar Stock speaks the same language as an excited school pupil at the beginning of the summer holidays with the promise of glorious months stretched out ahead of them.

"Die Lerche jubelt in den Lüften

ein Lied und heller Sonnenschein"

Humanity and nature are simultaneously full of joy, the lark is rejoicing in the air and there’s greenery as far as the eye can see. Imagery of happy individuals having fun in the water and the delight of a holiday from the rest of the year are on full display, and heart and soul are rejuvenated.

Stock addresses summer directly in his final line, declaring it the "wonderful time".

Full text available here.

8. Hitze by Hans-Christoph Neuert (1998)

Hans-Christoph Neuert was born in Würzburg in 1958 and has a history of a disc jockey for local clubs and private events in his youth. 

It’s seems a recurring theme in many of these summer poems that the warm season be not just a time of joy and delight but one of the intense feelings and the destabilising effects of heat. Neuert’s poem, therefore, is pretty aptly titled “Hitze”, or “Heat”. 

"Der Sommer brennt heiß

die Felder versengt"

In his poem, the fields are singed, the sun has pained the persona’s eyes already for weeks and has relegated him to the intense feeling of thirst. 

Neuert suggests perhaps that the summer heat is almost too powerful for nature itself, exemplified in the final word of the poem, which stands alone: “gebrochen”, meaning “broken”.

Full text available here.

9. Sommerwind by Anita Menger (2012)

A honey bee pollinating a flower. Photo:DPA

Anita Menger is a contemporary German poet who took to writing poetry later in life. She has written many poems about summer, including this one “Sommerwind”, or “Summer’s wind”.

This poem is definitely in the happy summer camp and focuses on the colourful flowers and eavesdropping birds untouched in nature. The persona sits in a garden, enjoying the summer’s wind, taking in the sights of nature all around her.

"Behaglich sitze ich in diesem Garten,

genieß den leichten, warmen Sommerwind."

Much like Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben, the persona tries to experience the moment for what it is, without demanding an answer to the meaning or purpose of life and wants to enjoy the moment and all that she is at that particular moment.

Full text available here.

10. Sommerabschied by an unknown poet

“Sommerabschied”, or “Farewell to Summer” is the perfect way to end this list of summery poems.

Whether summer to you is a raging heat-wave, inflicting paralysis on the world, or whether it's the sweet time of year when you can engage with nature or simply enjoy the warmer weather and a well-deserved break, this poem gently bids farewell to the season and everything that comes with it.

"Luft wie Seide

wilder Wein und Herbstzeitlose"

The last ray of the sinking sun renders the world silent until thoughts quickly fly to summer’s antithesis - winter, where the “Christmas rose blossoms”.

Full text available here.


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