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The Erl-King -- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Guest poem sent in by Vivian
(Poem #920) The Erl-King
 Who rides there so late through the night dark and drear?
 The father it is, with his infant so dear;
 He holdeth the boy tightly clasp'd in his arm,
 He holdeth him safely, he keepeth him warm.

 "My son, wherefore seek'st thou thy face thus to hide?"
 "Look, father, the Erl-King is close by our side!
 Dost see not the Erl-King, with crown and with train?"
 "My son, 'tis the mist rising over the plain."

 "Oh, come, thou dear infant! oh come thou with me!
  Full many a game I will play there with thee;
  On my strand, lovely flowers their blossoms unfold,
 My mother shall grace thee with garments of gold."

 "My father, my father, and dost thou not hear
 The words that the Erl-King now breathes in mine ear?"
 "Be calm, dearest child, 'tis thy fancy deceives;
  'Tis the sad wind that sighs through the withering leaves."

 "Wilt go, then, dear infant, wilt go with me there?
 My daughters shall tend thee with sisterly care.
 My daughters by night their glad festival keep,
 They'll dance thee, and rock thee, and sing thee to sleep."

 "My father, my father, and dost thou not see,
 How the Erl-King his daughters has brought here for me?"
 "My darling, my darling, I see it aright,
  'Tis the aged grey willows deceiving thy sight."

 "I love thee, I'm charm'd by thy beauty, dear boy!
 And if thou'rt unwilling, then force I'll employ."
 "My father, my father, he seizes me fast,
 Full sorely the Erl-King has hurt me at last."

 The father now gallops, with terror half wild,
 He grasps in his arms the poor shuddering child;
 He reaches his courtyard with toil and with dread,
 The child in his arms finds he motionless, dead.
-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
            (1782)
   Translated in the original metres by Edgar Alfred Bowring, 1853

Goethe's "Elf-King" is probably the grand-daddy of all literary ballads
about charming but devastating elves. I had to commit this to memory in the
original in my first-year German class in high school, and the duality of
these fey creatures has remained constant for me ever since. This is a drama
in three voices -- the narrator -- a "camera" that reports the facts, the
feverish child moving from a kind of puzzled interest to sheer terror, the
father who seeks to reassure the child through denial and by calling him
back to the natural world and  the seductive Elf-King, luring the boy with
childish delights and implied promises of the erotic. Essential listening:
Franz Schubert's setting of this poem, of which there are recordings by any
number of male and female singers.

-Vivian

Links:

  A biography of Goethe:
    http://www.blupete.com/Literature/Biographies/Science/Goethe.htm

  A Gutenberg copy of Bowring's "Poems of Goethe":
    [broken link] http://sailor.gutenberg.org/by-author/bo7.html

  An extensive Goethe page:
    [broken link] http://www.econ.jhu.edu/People/fonseca/goethe.htm

  Today's poem was a followup to Allingham's "The Fairies": poem #919

  And while on the subject of Goethe, don't miss Thackeray's "Sorrows of
  Werther": poem #183

16 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

garrrett rowlan said...

Where can I get the German original of this poem, particularly as it is used in the Schubert song.

garrett rowlan

Celia Hartnett said...

Oh my gosh... I have been studing German for years and I have not seen such a bad translation of the story. Not to mention you spell the man's name wrong. Well, I guess your just a novice. If you want to respond, do so with my other address please
thanks

William Bystrynski said...

By the way I wrote before,
IT IS NOT ERL KING IT IS ELF KING... HOW DUMB ARE YOU????????

Martin DeMello said...

--- Celia Hartnett wrote:
> Oh my gosh... I have been studing German for years and I have not seen such a
> bad translation of the story. Not to mention you spell the man's name wrong.
> Well, I guess your just a novice. If you want to respond, do so with my
> other address please
> thanks

Hi Celia,

As you doubtless guessed, we know no German, and hence could not tell how good
Bowring's translation was. Is there a preferred translation, do you know?

And thanks for pointing out the misspelling - that was definitely our mistake,
novices or no :)

martin

Martin DeMello said...

--- William Bystrynski wrote:
> By the way I wrote before,
> IT IS NOT ERL KING IT IS ELF KING... HOW DUMB ARE YOU????????

We're dumb. Really dumb. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely,
mind-bogglingly dumb we are. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the
evolutionary tree to the dodo, but that's just peanuts to us.

However, "Erl King" nonetheless seems to be the preferred translation - I
believe that's because the word "elf" has connotations in English that do not
match those of the German "erl", and adopting the German word therefore helps
keep the mythological reference in its proper cultural context.

martin

John Vizzuto said...

Martin,

You are indeed a gracious person not to point out her spelling error. I
suspect studied German so long, that she forgot how to spell in English.
Gott in Himmel!

John Vizzuto

From: Martin DeMello <martindemello@> --- Celia Hartnett <chartnett@> wrote:
> Oh my gosh... I have been studing German for years and I have not seen
> such a bad translation of the story. Not to mention you spell the
> man's name wrong. Well, I guess your just a novice. If you want to
> respond, do so with my other address please, gerdeuwas@ thanks

Hi Celia,

As you doubtless guessed, we know no German, and hence could not tell
how good Bowring's translation was. Is there a preferred translation,
do you know?

And thanks for pointing out the misspelling - that was definitely our
mistake, novices or no :)

martin

Tammy Benda said...

dude, sorry to say it is the ERL KING, because i am studying it in english.

John J. Vizzuto said...

Upon second glance at this review of "Der ErlKoenig" one gets to check the
math. The translator, Vivian says that there are THREE voices in the poem.
She names them as follows:

1. the narrator -- a "camera" that reports the facts

2. feverish child moving from a kind of puzzled interest to sheer
terror,

3. the father who seeks to reassure the child through denial and by
calling him

back to the natural world

4. and the seductive Elf-King, luring the boy with childish delights and
implied promises of the erotic.

OOPS! That makes four doesn't it?

Johnagain

the
father who seeks to reassure the child through denial and by calling him

Megan said...

ITS ERLKING YOU IDIOTIC TRANSLATOR!

Anonymous said...

this poem is definitely great. This is the poem i red in poetry reading when i was in grade 6 and i won 2nd place in the competition. kinda nostalgic.

Anonymous said...

You are all WRONG. its is "NERD king!" duuuuh!

Celestial Elf said...

Amazing poem thank you:D
thought you might enjoy my Beltane Blessing machinima film which features music from The Dolmens album The Elf King
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VElZSplpxQc
Bright Blessings
elf ~

Ideas de negocios said...

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Anonymous said...

Reminds me of Slender Man~

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