Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

(28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832 / Frankfurt am Main)

The Erl-King - Poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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.



fr om a translation by
Edwin Zeydel

--------------------------- ------------------------------------------------- ----

Who rides so late where winds blow wild?
It is the father grasping his child;
He holds the boy embraced in his arm
He clasps him snugly, he keeps him warm.

"My son, why cover your face in such fear?"
"O don't you see the ErlKing near?
The ErlKing with his crown and train!"
"My son, the mist is on the plain."

"Sweet lad, o come and join me, do!
Such pretty games I'll play with you;
On the shore gay flowers their colors unfold
My mother has made you a garment of gold."

"My father, my father, o can you not hear
The promise the ErlKing breathes in my ear?"
"Be calm, stay calm my child, lie low
In withered leaves the night winds blow."

"Will you, sweet lad, come along with me?
My daughters shall care for you tenderly;
In the night my daughters their revelry keep,
They'll rock you and dance you and sing you to sleep."

"My father, my father, o can you not trace
The ErlKing's daughters in that gloomy place?"
"My son, my son, I see it clear
How grey the ancient willows appear."

"I love you, your comeliness charms me, my boy
And if you're not willing, then force I'll employ!"
"Now father, o father, he's seizing my arm
The ErlKing has done me the cruelest harm!"

The father shudders, his ride is wild
In his arms he's holding the shivering child
He reaches home with toil and dread.
In his arms, the child was dead.

Comments about The Erl-King by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

  • Veteran Poet - 1,567 Points Oilibheir Álain Christie (11/17/2014 7:01:00 PM)

    Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
    Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind;
    Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm,
    Er fasst ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm.

    Mein Sohn, was birgst du so bang dein Gesicht? —
    Siehst, Vater, du den Erlkönig nicht?
    Den Erlenkönig mit Kron’ und Schweif? —
    Mein Sohn, es ist ein Nebelstreif. —

    „Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir!
    Gar schöne Spiele spiel’ ich mit dir;
    Manch’ bunte Blumen sind an dem Strand,
    Meine Mutter hat manch gülden Gewand.“ —

    Mein Vater, mein Vater, und hörest du nicht,
    Was Erlenkönig mir leise verspricht? —
    Sei ruhig, bleibe ruhig, mein Kind;
    In dürren Blättern säuselt der Wind. —

    „Willst, feiner Knabe, du mit mir gehn?
    Meine Töchter sollen dich warten schön;
    Meine Töchter führen den nächtlichen Reihn
    Und wiegen und tanzen und singen dich ein.“ —

    Mein Vater, mein Vater, und siehst du nicht dort
    Erlkönigs Töchter am düstern Ort? —
    Mein Sohn, mein Sohn, ich seh’ es genau:
    Es scheinen die alten Weiden so grau. —

    „Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt;
    Und bist du nicht willig, so brauch’ ich Gewalt.“ —
    Mein Vater, mein Vater, jetzt faßt er mich an!
    Erlkönig hat mir ein Leids getan! —

    Dem Vater grauset’s; er reitet geschwind,
    Er hält in Armen das ächzende Kind,
    Erreicht den Hof mit Mühe und Not;
    In seinen Armen das Kind war tot. (Report) Reply

    1 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • Rookie - 54 Points Cassandra Jasmine (9/9/2013 12:49:00 PM)

    I love listening to the German version of this; with Franz Schubert's composition.
    Goethe is a great composer for words, as Schubert for music. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 68 Points Ingeborg Von Finsterwalde (7/25/2012 1:25:00 PM)

    This poem the” Erlking” has to be one of the best translated poems right down to the rhyming from German into English. It has to be a true art to master this. Nothing of the haunting saga is lost in the translation. A pleasure to read… (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Saky Ruby (4/8/2010 10:27:00 PM)

    It must be the same poem but a different transaltion of it.
    Here's a third translation, although I doubt the one you are looking for:
    http: //

    I read a few lines off yet a fourth translation in a Theodor Geisel biography. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Debbie Kerns (12/29/2005 5:22:00 PM)

    I am trying to find a poem I read in highschool that is something like this one. I thought it was the Elf King. It goes Who douth ride thru wind and wild. Tis a father with his child. Closely he sheild the boy in his arms. He hold him close he folds him warm. Can anyone tell me anything about this poem? I would like to know who the author is and where I can get a copy. It is very important to me. Thanks (Report) Reply

Read all 5 comments »

Read this poem in other languages

This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.

I would like to translate this poem »

word flags

What do you think this poem is about?

Read poems about / on: father, son, child, dance, mother, sleep, night, sad, beauty, fear, home, wind, dark, daughter, children, flower, rose

Poem Submitted: Thursday, January 1, 2004

[Hata Bildir]