At Sea

Christian Morgenstern’s 1905 nonsense poem “Fish’s Night Song” manages to be both charming and incomprehensible:

That’s it. Jeremy Adler and Ulrich Ernst list the interpretations that have been suggested:

The symbols signify the metre of silent song; the alternation of symbols indicates a fish mouth opening and closing; together, they resemble the frontal view of a choir of fish; they represent water; they resemble the shape of a fish without head or tail. These as well as other interpretations of the poem are quite permissible. Thus we have, in the framework of ‘nonsense literature,’ a new type of visual poetry: a poem of figures that does not imitate any particular form, the abstract figure poem.

“Or, expressed differently,” writes Heinrich Plett in Literary Rhetoric, “the referentiality of this isographemic configuration is polysemous.”