Saturday, June 30, 2007

Der Erlkönig

Here's another of my favorite German poems. It is a widely known tale, the Erlkönig being a much-feared bogeyman under many a child's bed. Goethe wrote it in 1782 & Franz Shubert, always on the lookout for a good text, set it to music and still stands today as one of his most loved lieder.

It's a tale of great tension and horror: a blustery night, lots of wind: a father cradling his sick young son in his arms as he gallops through the night on his horse. While the father is concerned about the sick child, the sick child is more concerned with the apparition that beckons him along side the horse and the terrifying reality that his father isn't buying any of it.

The father, thinking the boy is delirious, doesn't give much weight to the boy's cries and, en fin, both meet with a bad end. Not exactly a "Date Poem".

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

~Johann Wolfgang Goethe

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.

-- Transliterated by
Sir Walter Scott (1731 - 1832)

Here is the complete lieder sung by, I believe, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau - THE master of Shubert lieder. Click on Frankie's original manuscript below to hear the entire drama.