Der Struwwelpeter – Slovenly Peter – A German Poem with Recording

“Der Struwwelpeter” is a collection of 10 story poems written in 1845 by German physician, Heinrich Hoffmann (1809 – 1894). He wrote the book for his 3 year old son, after searching for a children’s book for Christmas and not being happy with any he found. All of the poems have a moral about the consequences of bad behavior. They’re somewhat like Grimm’s Fairy Tales in that they’re cautionary tales for children in a dangerous world.

One of the more mild poems in the book is about the results of not grooming. It’s the first poem and the title of the book, “Der Struwwelpeter”. Long ago, the title was translated into English as “Shock-headed Peter”. Mark Twain translated it as “Slovenly Peter”. Meanwhile, Wordsmith gives the definition of “A person with long, thick, disheveled hair.” In my translation below, I used Mark Twain’s translation.

Here you can see an early illustration of Slovenly-Peter…


Below you can listen to 2 different recordings of the poem followed by the original German text and an English translation…

MP3 of Der Struwwelpeter in German as recited by Kara Shallenberg.

MP3 of Der Struwwelpeter in German as recited by Roman Buettner.

Der Struwwelpeter

Sieh einmal, hier steht er,
Pfui! der Struwwelpeter!
An den Händen beiden
Ließ er sich nicht schneiden
Seine Nägel fast ein Jahr;
Kämmen ließ er nicht sein Haar.
Pfui! ruft da ein Jeder:
Garst’ger Struwwelpeter!

English Translation by Lisa:

Look! Here he stands,
Yuck! The Slovenly-Peter!
The nails on both hands
For nearly a year
He wouldn’t let them be clipped!
He wouldn’t let his hair be combed
Yuck! Everyone shouts:
Gross Slovenly-Peter!

Here’s a less-literal but more rhyming translation from “The English Struwwelpeter, or, Pretty Stories and Funny Pictures” from 1909:

Just look at him! There he stands,
With his nasty hair and hands.
See! his nails are never cut;
They are grim’d as black as soot ;
And the sloven, I declare,
Never once has comb’d his hair;
Any thing to me is sweeter
Than to see Shock-headed Peter.

Some of the other verses in the book are downright creepy, including one where a child’s thumbs are chopped off because he wouldn’t stop sucking them. You can tell that some German people agree with my assessment when you read comments on different sites on the internet. Half of the commentators refer to it as a beloved childhood book, while the other half is still creeped out or has nightmares about it!

It’s no surprise that it was an inspiration for Tim Burton’s movie, Edward Scissorhands.

An interesting defense of the author is by a commentator on Wordsmith who wrote, “As a physician, Dr Hoffmann experienced firsthand the diseases and accidents that might befall children in the streets where sanitation and safety were not yet of concern.  His intent was to scare kids – including his own children – into washing their hair, watching where they were going, and keeping their fingers out of their mouths.”

If you’d like to read more of the poems, you can find online versions of the book at the links below…

German online version of book: Lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder

English online version of book: The English Struwwelpeter, or, Pretty Stories and Funny Pictures


Mama Lisa

This article was posted on Tuesday, April 10th, 2018 at 6:59 pm and is filed under Austria, Books & Stories, Countries & Cultures, Der Struwwelpeter, German, Germany, Heinrich Hoffman, Kids Books, Languages, Mama Lisa, MP3's, MP3's of Poems, Poems, Poems about Children, Poems about Cleanliness, Poems about Neatness, Poetry, Poets, Recordings, Recordings of Poems, Struwwelpeter. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe without commenting