The Erl-King

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Who rides so late through the grisly night?
'Tis a father and child, and he grasps him tight;
He wraps him close in his mantle's fold,
And shelters the boy from the piercing cold.

"My son, why thus to my arm cost cling?"
"Father, dost thou not see the Erlie-king?
The king with his crown and his long black train!"
"My son, 'tis a streak of the misty rain!"

"Come hither, thou darling! come, go with me!
Fine games know I that I'll play with thee;
Flowers many and bright do my kingdoms hold,
My mother has many a robe of gold.

"Oh father, dear father! and cost thou not hear
What the Erlie-king whispers so low in mine ear?"
"Calm, calm thee, my boy, it is only the breeze,
As it rustles the wither'd leaves under the trees!"

"Wilt thou go, bonny boy! wilt thou go with me?
My daughters shall wait on thee daintilie;
My daughters around thee in dance shall sweep,
And rock thee, and kiss thee, and sing thee to sleep!"

"O father, dear father! and cost thou not mark
Erlie-king's daughters move by in the dark?"
"I see it, my child; but it is not they,
'Tis the old willow nodding its head so grey!"

"I love thee! thy beauty, it charms me so;
And I'll take thee by force, if thou wilt not go!"
"O father, dear father! he's grasping me -
My heart is as cold as cold can be!"

The father rides swiftly - with terror he gasps -
The sobbing child in his arms he clasps;
He reaches the castle with spurring and dread;
But, alack! in his arms the child lay dead!

1782, translation by W.E. Aytoun and T. Martin, 1859       

Versions --> German - English:  Bowring / Dyrsen / Zeydel
Interact --> Dual language - German & dictionary

© 1994-1999 Robert Godwin-Jones
Virginia Commonwealth University