History:

Knittelvers, also Knüttelvers or Knittel, can be traced back to Otfrid of Weissenburg “who, using Latin verse as a model, introduced couplets into German verse in the 9th century. From the Middle High German knittel meaning “rhyme”, but also knütte or keule meaning “club” because of it’s clumsy, irregular rhythm. Knittelvers was originally a German verse measure from the 15th-early 17th century, derived from the rhymed couplet of medieval narrative, and can be traced back to Otfrid of Weissenburg “who, using Latin verse as a model, introduced couplets into German verse in the 9th century.

Structure:

  • Since the 18th century, there have been two types of Knittelvers: free Knittelvers, and strict Knittelverse.
    • free Knittelvers consists of lines varying in syllable count (usually 6-15 per line)
    • strict Knittelvers, which was mainly used in the 16th century and sometimes called Hans-Sachs-Vers, consists only of 8 syllable masculine lines and 9 syllable feminine lines in couplets.
  • each couplet rhymes, so a stanza would be aabb
  • each line has four stresses
  • commonly the topic is political and social satire, vulgarity, and depicting “lower-class” people in mock-heroic and tragicomic situations
  • any number of couplets and stanzas
  • In the 1780s Karl Arnold Kortum developed a new form of Knittelvers which consists of quatrains in which a masculine couplet is followed by a feminine couplet. Many lines are 15 of more syllables which results in the syllables bearing word-stress often occurring in metrically unstressed positions.

Sources:

Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knittelvers

The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics