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 skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

2 Responses to “Der Struwwelpeter – Slovenly Peter – A German Poem with Recording”

  1. Monika Says:

    I stumbled upon your website tonight while looking for some German lullabies. My parents were German, and my brothers and I are 1st generation Americans. We grew up flying to Germany nearly every year to visit the extended family. Our parents only spoke German at home when we were young.
    Unfortunately, so much has been lost over the years. First and foremost, both my parents died somewhat prematurely from cancer in their early 70’s.
    My oldest daughter spoke perfect German until she was 5. She was the only one who had the influence of my parents regularly (and my own German speaking) for the first 5 years of her life.
    Moving away from my parents, it became increasingly more difficult for me to speak it hearing it so little, and practicing less and less. My daughter would lose the language eventually, and none of our other 4 ever picked it up. 😞

    Fast forward 15 years…Much to my surprise, I have been given the opportunity with our oldest and youngest (currently 20 & 5) to join my brothers next April for a family reunion in Germany for my brother’s 50th birthday. My 5 yr. old daughter is ecstatic! She’s never been, but has seen pictures from my brothers’ previous trips, and my 20yr. old hasn’t been since she was 2 1/2 (also my last time, 18 yrs ago).
    My little one and I were looking at pictures tonight, and, as I said, listening to German lullabies looking forward to our trip next spring when I found your awesome site! I cannot to tell you how thankful I am for all the work you’ve done, and how much it meant to me to see so many of the German children’s songs and stories that I grew up with in one place.
    I plan on using your site frequently between now and next April to help my little one begin to feel comfortable with the language, and hopefully my oldest will consider using it as part of her studies to try to gain back some of what she lost.
    A great big “Thank You!/Vielen Dank!” for the joy and inspiration you have brought me tonight! You can’t even begin to imagine how much this blessed me, and how desperately I needed this right now! May GOD bless your work❤️

  2. Adele Says:

    I’m a fan of this collection of poems! Probably my favorite is “Augustus, The Boy Who Would Not Eat His Soup”. I think Roald Dahl was influenced very much by this book while writing “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”!

Leave a Reply