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

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

"Du, liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir?
Gar schoene Spiele speile ich mit dir:
Manch bunte Blumen sind an dem Strand
Meine Mutter hat manch guelden Gewand."

Mein Vater, mein Vater, und hoerest du nicht
Was Erlenkoenig mir leise verspricht?
Sei ruhig, bleibe ruhig mein Kind:
In duerren Blaettern saeuselt der Wind.

"Willst, feiner Knabe, du mit mir gehen,
Meine Toechter sollen dich warten schoen;
Meine Toechter fuehren den naechtlichen Rhein
Und wiegen und tanzen und singen dich ein."

Mein Vater, Mein Vater und siehst du nicht dort
Erlkoenigs Toechter am duestern Ort?
Mein Sohn, Mein Sohn, ich sehe es genau:
Es scheinen die alten Weiden so grau.

"Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schoene Gestalt,
Und bist du nicht willig, so brauche ich Gewalt!"
Mein Vater, Mein Vater, jetzt fasst er mich an.
Erlkoenig hat mir ein Leids getan!

Dem Vater grauset's, er reitet Geschwind,
Er haelt in Armen das aechzende Kind.
Erreicht den Hof mit Muehe und Not
In seinen Armen das Kind war tot.

Who rides by night in the wind so wild?
It is the father, with his child.
The boy is safe in his father's arm,
He holds him tight, he keeps him warm.

My son, what is it, why cover your face?
Father, you see him, there in that place;
The elfin king with his cloak and crown?
It is only the mist rising up, my son.

"Dear little child, will you come with me?
Beautiful games I'll play with thee:
Bright are the flowers we'll find on shore,
My mother has golden robes full score."

Father, oh Father, and did you not hear
What the elfin king breathed in my ear?
Lie quiet, my child, now never you mind:
Dry leaves it was that click in the wind.

"Come along now, you're a fine little lad,
My daughters will serve you, see you are glad;
My daughters dance all night in a ring.
They'll cradle and dance you and lullaby sing.

Father, now look, in the gloom, do you see
The elfin daughters beckon to me?
My son, my son, I see it and say:
Those old willows, they look so grey.

"I love you, beguiled by your beauty I am,
If you are unwilling, I'll force you to come!"
Father, his fingers grip me, O
The elfin king has hurt me so!

Now struck with horror, the father rides fast
His gasping child in his arm to the last,
Home through thick and thin he sped;
Locked in his arm, the child was dead.

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

(Everything2 editor's note: have combined German and English versions here, formerly two write-ups.)
The most famous poem ever written in German. See Erlkoenig, auf Deutsch.

Here is an alternate translation, by Sir Walter Scott:

        The Erl-King

    O who rides by night thro' the woodland so wild?
    It is the fond father embracing his child;
    And close the boy nestles within his loved arm,
    To hold himself fast, and to keep himself warm.

    "O father, see yonder! see yonder!" he says;
    "My boy, upon what dost thou fearfully gaze?"
    "O, 'tis the Erl-King with his crown and his shroud."
    "No, my son, it is but a dark wreath of the cloud."

      The Erl-King Speaks :
    "O come and go with me, thou loveliest child;
    By many a gay sport shall thy time be beguiled;
    My mother keeps for thee many a fair toy,
    And many a fine flower shall she pluck for my boy."

    "O father, my father, and did you not hear
    The Erl-King whisper so low in my ear?"
    "Be still, my heart's darling--my child, be at ease;
    It was but the wild blast as it sung thro' the trees."

    "O wilt thou go with me, thou loveliest boy?
    My daughter shall tend thee with care and with joy;
    She shall bear thee so lightly thro' wet and thro' wild,
    And press thee, and kiss thee, and sing to my child."

    "O father, my father, and saw you not plain
    The Erl-King's pale daughter glide past thro' the rain?"
    "Oh yes, my loved treasure, I knew it full soon;
    It was the grey willow that danced to the moon."

    "O come and go with me, no longer delay,
    Or else, silly child, I will drag thee away."
    "O father! O father! now, now, keep your hold,
    The Erl-King has seized me--his grasp is so cold!"

    Sore trembled the father; he spurr'd thro' the wild,
    Clasping close to his bosom his shuddering child;
    He reaches his dwelling in doubt and in dread,
    But, clasp'd to his bosom, the infant was dead.

Many composers have created music for this famous poem by Goethe. I have heard in excess of 40, but I haven't verified it. However, the most successful of them all has to be Franz Schubert.

His version of Erlkönig has been hailed as the beginning of German romanticism in music. It's quite a feat considering he was only 18 at the time.

So what about the music? To start off with it is written for piano and voice in the German "lieder" tradition. It starts out with triplets of octaves in the right hand to illustrate a galloping horse, a pattern that goes through almost all the way to the end, and then an ominous sounding melody in the left hand. (I'd sing it to you if I could but it doesn't really work in plain text.) Then the singer starts. At this point I have to add that Erlkönig is fun to sing, partly because you get to play four different characters, the narrator, the father, the son and the elf king. Anyway, the singer starts with the narrator, who is calm and neutral. The second paragraph brings in the other characters. The father is all through the song attempting to be calm and reassuring while obviously worried for his son. The son gets more and more scared as the song goes on, and I would like to think that he is ill with a high fever. That would explain the father's worry as well as being out late at night. Finally, the elf king starts off being very nice and seductive, but ending up being purely evil.

Although it's a delightful piece of music to listen to, and fun to perform, it is to the performers a bit like a 400 metre race. It's fast, it lasts for 4 minutes (OK, the metaphor is not that good), it is difficult and leaves you gasping for air afterwards.

If you want to listen to a nice interpretation I would recommend that you go to your local library and look for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as singer. Any of his recordings will do Erlkönig, and most other Schubert and Schumann lieder, justice.

Name of a famous song, composed by Franz Schubert in 1815. Based on a poem with the same name by Goethe. The theme of the song centers around a father who is riding on his horse like mad to save his dying child. The dwarf king (Erlkönig, also known as the Erlking) tries to entice the child in his arms. The song ends on a sad note, with the father holding the dead child in his arms.

Wer reitet so spat durch Nacht und Wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind...

The Erlkönig theme also plays a prominent role in the book by Robert Pirsig 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'.

Der Erlkönig

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 grausets, er reitet geschwind,
Er hält in Armen das ächzende Kind
Erreicht den Hof mit Mühe und Not;
In seinen Armen das Kind war tot.

Der Erlkönig, or The Elf King was a poem written by rennaissance man Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. A master of lyrical poetry, this ballad evokes the wonder and terror humanity felt, and sometimes still feels, for the unknown. A father rides his horse, his child cradled in his arms. The galloping rhythm of the poem, difficult to recreate in English, underscores the urgency of this trip through the night. In his fever dream the child takes the stern and forboding landscape rushing past him and weaves its elements into a sickly sweet demon dogging him. His father desperately tries to pull his son back into reality, but the child is unreachable within his nightmare. There is no Elf King, he is only a phantom of mind, yet the power this imaginary being exerts over the child is enough to kill him.

Through metaphor, Goethe makes a powerful statement about the nature of humanity's fascination with the supernatural. The main occurance of the poem is simple. A child dies of a fever. It happened often during the author's time. Yet this mundane force is unknown and uncontrollable. Human beings project patterns on even that which they cannot understand, resulting in a supernatural being to which one can at least relate unlike the disinterested physical progression of disease. Whether or not this phantom really exists is irrelevent, it still holds just as tight a grip on the child's psyche as the purely materialistic disease. Der Erlkönig expresses with precise technical skill and deep emotional comprehension the paradox of the human mind's immense power and terrifying helplessness.

Through the pipelinks above I gave you a literal gloss, but the differences between German and English are great enough to cause that to be somewhat nonsensical, and certainly far less beautiful than the original. A more finessed translation that accurately brings across most of the meaning (though not the full meaning) can be given, but then the rhyme is lost. A translation which tries to keep to the rhyme and rhythm is bound to deviate in literal equivalency from the original, sometimes by a significant amount. I am not a poet, nor a master of the German language by any means, but for the purposes of comprehension I wrote both a translation that tries to approximate the rhyme and rhythm, and one that's truer to the literal meaning. Both follow (hint: Goethe was a master of concise wording. It shouldn't take much to figure out which one shows that your dear noder is not).

The Elf King

Who rides so late through night and winds wild?
A father, racing with his dearest child;
He has his boy wrapped safely in arm;
He holds him sure, he keeps him warm.

Your face is so fearful, Son, what do you hide?
Don't you see, Father, the elf king beside?
With robe train and crown, Lord of Elvenkind?
My son, it's only the mist of your fevered mind.

"With me, dear child, you should come away!
Such lovely games together we'll play;
Colorful flowers line my land's shore,
My mother has garments gold as in lore."

My father, my father, didn't you hear,
What promise the elf king whispered in ear?
Be still, my child. Cause me no grief;
It's only the Autumn wind rustling leaf.

"Don't you, fine boy, wish with me to go?
My daughters will wait on you, cheeks all a-glow
My daughters will dance and through the night leap
They'll rock you and whirl you and sing you to sleep."

My father, my father, don't you see there
In yon gloomy clearing the daughters so fair?
My son, my son, I see nothing fay:
Only the time-weary willows so grey.

"You charm me, your youth should not run its course;
And if you're unwilling, I'll take you by force."
My father, my father, I cannot break free!
The elf king takes hold, he's hurting me!

The father shudders and all the more speeds,
Held tightly against him, the child moans and pleads,
With pain and struggle he reaches his farm;
The child's limp body lies dead over arm.

The Elf King

Who rides so late through night and wind?
It is the father with his child;
He has the boy safely in arm;
He holds him surely, he keeps him warm.

My son, your face is so fearful, what do you hide?
Don't you see, Father, the Elf King?
The Elf King with crown and train of robe?
My son, it is a rising mist.

"You lovely child, come away with me!
Delightful games will I play with you;
Many colorful flowers are on the shore;
My mother has many golden garments.

My father, my father, and don't you hear,
What the Elf King quietly promised to me?
Be quiet, remain still, my child;
The wind rustles through dry leaves.

"Do you want, fine child, to go with me?
My daughters should well serve you;
My daughters lead the nightly ring dance,
And they will rock you and dance you and sing you to sleep."

My father, my father, and don't you see there
The Elf King's daughters in that gloomy place?
My son, my son, I see it exactly:
The old willows there seem so grey.

"I love you, your beautiful form charms me;
And if you are not willing, then I will need to use force."
My father, my father, now he grabs at me!
The Elf King has done me pain!

The father shudders, he rides quickly,
He holds in arms the moaning child,
He reaches the farm with great difficulty;
In his arms the child was dead.

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