The Snail’s Monologue.

From Christian Morgenstern’s Galgenlieder:

Gespräch einer Hausschnecke mit sich selbst

Soll i aus meim Hause raus?
Soll i aus meim Hause nit raus?
Einen Schritt raus?
Lieber nit raus?
Hausenitraus –
Rauserauserauserause …

(Die Schnecke verfängt sich in ihren eigenen Gedanken oder vielmehr diese gehen mit ihr dermaßen durch, daß sie die weitere Entscheidung der Frage verschieben muß.)

At the link you can hear it read in a very lively fashion. Max Knight’s translation:

The Snail’s Monologue

Shall I dwell in my shell?
Shall I not dwell in my shell?
Dwell in shell?
Rather not dwell?
Shall I not dwell,
shall I dwell,
dwell in shell
shall I shell,
shallIshellIshallIshellIshallI …

(The snail gets so entangled in his thoughts, or rather, the thoughts run away with him so that he must postpone the decision.)


  1. I know the feeling.

  2. shallIshellIshallIshellIshallI …

    The Loch Ness Monster’s Song and performance by the poet

    (And an honourable mention for the German translation of Jaberwocky — in your Annotated Alice, of course.)

  3. That’s an excellent companion piece!

  4. David Eddyshaw says

    It’s interesting that Morgan’s performance is immediately recognisable as being in Scots (as is, of course, entirely appropriate to the subject.)

  5. The translation was something I recognized, but I could not recall from when or where.

    Google Books finds the translation of Galgenlieder as being from 1963 ¹ , by Max E. Knight ², University of California Press.

    It must have gone from there to various collections of children’s (or adult?) literature (I certainly didn’t read it in the original collection of Morgenstern’s poetry).

    1: GB’s page says 1966, but the copyright page can be read and clearly says 1963, second printing 1964 ³
    2: who is not in Wikipedia — there is only a “Max Knight: Ultra Spy”, sigh
    3: Edit: There is an edition with the correct date here

  6. Yes, I have the 1963 first printing and was leafing through it when I happened on this poem and thought it would make a good post; it was a nice bit of luck that both the original and the translation were online.

  7. @David Eddyshaw: I played that reading of “The Loch Ness Monster’s Song” for my ten-year-old as I was driving him to school this morning. He asked, “Is he doing it in some kind of Scottish I can’t understand?”

  8. recognisable as being in Scots

    As well as the Scotsness, I recognise the wateriness. Not ice-clear mountain rill, but ink-black, peat-soaked, almost palpable.


    And the way the froth persists long after all the splashing about.



  9. John Cowan says

    There’s an element in the English that’s not in the German at all: the etymology of shilly-shally ‘procrastinate; vacillate’.

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