Thursday, March 12, 2009

Oh those Germans.

Der Erlkönig (The Erl-King) is another of my favourite poems. It's haunting, dark and twisty and reminds me of German fairy tales I read growing up. I use the term 'fairy tales' very loosely. Ever heard of the German classic Struwwelpeter? Oh man! It's complete with color drawings of kids burning to death and having their thumbs (which shouldn’t be sucked) chopped off. And of course there's the Brothers Grimm. Could anything be further from Disney?

Anyhow, back to The Erl-King. There are many translations out there but this is the version I remember from junior high.

The Erl-King
By: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Who rides so late on a night so wild?
A father is riding with his child.
He clasps the boy close in his arm.
He holds him tightly, he keeps him warm.

"My son, you are trembling, what do you fear?"
"Look father, the Erl-King, he's coming near!
With his crown and his shroud, yes, that is he."
"My son, it is only the mists that you see."

"O lovely boy, O come with me!
Such games we'll play, how glad we'll be.
Such flowers to pick, such sights to behold;
My mother will make you clothes of gold."

"O father, O father, do you not hear
The Erl-King whispering in my ear?"
"Be still, my child, lie quietly;
It is only the wind in the leaves of the tree."

"Dear boy, if you will but come away
My daughters will wait on you every day.
They'll give you the prettiest presents to keep
They'll dance when you wake and they'll sing you to sleep."

"Look father, O father, do you not see?
The Erl-King's pale daughters waiting for me?"
"My son, my son, I see what you say,
The willow is waving, its branches are grey."

"I love you child, so come without fear or remorse
And if you're not willing, I'll take you by force!"
"O father, dear father, tighten your hold!
The Erl-King has caught me, his fingers are cold!"

The father shudders, he spurs on his steed,
He carries the child with desperate speed.
He reaches the courtyard and looks down with dread,--
For there in his arms, the boy lies, dead.


  1. Hi Amee,

    great poem. Joanne and I once stayed with our aging uncle and aunt in Holland for what was maybe only a week but seemed like an awfully long time. They're a bit eccentric, to say the least. But--to the Erl-Koning. They had this sheet music, I think, and I have this very distinct memory of Joanne playing this on the piano and singing the poem. I remember it in Dutch, but maybe it was in German--this haunting line: "mijn vader, mijn vader, die erl-koning komt". it was dusk and the room was getting dark and their house is surrounded by dark trees and she sang it with such feeling (we were in despair about being trapped in this house). I still get goosebumps when I remember it. The erl-koning gets me every time! but that's the nature of the beast...


  2. Goosebumps is right!!! I can't even imagine it being set to music, in a dark room with dark trees looming outside. Shiver! Another reason why I love The you said, it gets me EVERY time, no matter what.