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.
(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