Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Aug. 28, 1749 - Mar. 22, 1832


The Erl-King

by 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 dost 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 dost 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 dost 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!

Mr. Lewes, In his elaborate and deeply interesting Life of Goethe, has been at some pains to show that this ballad was neither a translation nor an adaptation from the Danish; and he has given a short account of the old Danish ballad, which was published in Herder's "Volkslieder," under the title of "Eul-Koenig's Tochter." Mr. Lewes is no doubt right in the main; but it seems to us very evident that Goethe took the hint from Herder's version, though he did not in this instance, as in The Water-man, limit himself to the original. The term Erl-King, which the Germans have adopted, seems to have puzzled many of our English writers. Erle, in German, means alder-tree; and, misled by this derivation, modern mythologists have invented a spiritual guardian of the alders! In reality, Erl is a corrupted form of the word Elve, or Elf, common to the English and Danish languages. The old Norse ballad, which is to be found in the Danske Viser, is entitled Elveskud, or The Elf-stroke, and the following is a very close translation of it, with the omission of the two last stanzas, and also of a refrain, which was commonly used by the professional reciters both of Denmark and Scotland.


Poems And Ballads Of Goethe
Copyright 1859
William Edmondstoune Aytoun, D.C.L. ("A.")
and Theodore Martin ("M.")
Delisser & Procter
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