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The Erl King
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Newly Translated from the German by Joseph Dillon Ford

Stieler's Portrait of Goethe

Stieler's Portrait of Goethe

* * *

Who rides so late this windy night and wild?

It is a father with his little child;

he holds the boy securely 'neath his arm,

and keeps him warm and safe from every harm.

"My son, why hide your face so timidly?"

"The Erl King, Father, surely you can see?

The Erlking with his crown and hanging tail?"

"My son, 'tis nothing but a misty trail."

"Come, my dear child, and go away with me,

For I shall play the prettiest games with thee!

So many flowers bright grow by yon shore,

and mother's golden robes you will adore."

"Oh Father, Father mine, did you not hear

the promise Erl King whispered in my ear?"

"Be calm, stay calm, my child, 'twas but a breeze

that stirred the withered foliage in the trees.

"My handsome boy, wilt thou not go with me?

My daughters will attend thee eagerly;

'Tis they who'll lead the nightly roundelay,

and rock and dance and sing thy cares away."

"Oh Father, Father mine, can you not tell

where Erl King's daughters in the shadows dwell?"

"My son, my son, I can see well and clear

How gray old willows in the night appear."

"My love, thy lovely looks leave no recourse,

And since you are not willing, I'll use force!"

"Oh Father, Father mine, he's hurting me!

Alas! The Erl King will not set me free!"

The father speeds on, shaken to the bone;

the child within his arms doth bend and groan,

but ere he reaches home, consumed with dread,

the child lies in his arms, already dead!

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Last updated September 21, 2001
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© Copyright 2001 by Joseph Dillon Ford