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German Poetry (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe): Erlkönig – Erlking/Elfking Posted by on Aug 22, 2012 in Culture, Language, People

Here is another poem of my poem-series, so to speak. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Erlkönig” is a quite gloomy poem. By the way, the word “Erlkönig” is another term for “Schwarzer Mann” (bogeyman).




Wer reitet so spätdurch Nacht und Wind?Es ist der Vatermit seinem Kind;

Er hat den Knaben

wohl in dem Arm,

Er fasst ihn sicher,

er hält ihn warm.


“Mein Sohn, was birst 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 Erlkönig

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 she 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.

Who rides, so late,through night and wind?It is the fatherwith his child.

He has the boy

well in his arm,

He holds him safely,

he keeps him warm.


“My son, why do you

hide your face so anxiously?” –

“Father, do you

not see the Elfking?

The Elfking

with crown and tail?” –

“My son,

it’s a wisp of fog.”


– “You dear child,

come, go with me!

Very lovely games

I’ll play with you;

Some colourful flowers

are on the beach,

My mother has

some golden robes.” –


“My father, my father,

and don’t you hear

What the Elfking

quietly promises me?” –

“Be calm, stay calm,

my child!

The wind is rustling

through withered leaves.” –


– “Do you want

to come with me, pretty boy?

My daughters

shall wait on you finely;

My daughters

will lead the nightly dance,

And rock and dance

and sing you to sleep.” –


“My father, my father,

and don’t you see there

The Elfking’s daughters

in the gloomy place?” –

“My son, my son,

I see it clearly;

There shimmer

the old willows so grey.” –


–      “I love you,

your beautiful form entices me;

And if you’re not willing,

then I will use force.” –

“My father, my father,

he’s grabbing me now!

The Elfking has done

me harm!”


It horrifies the father;

he swiftly rides on,

He holds the moaning child

in his arms,

Reaches the farm

with trouble and hardship;

In his arms,

the child was dead.


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About the Author: Sandra Rösner

Hello everybody! I studied English and American Studies, Communication Science, and Political Science at the University of Greifswald. Since I have been learning English as a second language myself for almost 20 years now I know how difficult it is to learn a language other than your native one. Thus, I am always willing to keep my explanations about German grammar comprehensible and short. Further, I am inclined to encourage you to speak German in every situation. Regards, Sandra


  1. Allesa:

    Wow, quite an end.
    Thanks, this is exactly what I was looking for – getting to know Goethe’s poetry.

  2. joseph:

    thanks Sandra.This is great have more poems by Goethe and other german poets. thanks again

  3. Robert Shaw:

    Thank you Sandra. Could you please do a poem called “Sieges Fest”? I think that the author was Von Lilliecrom, or something like that.

    • Sandra:

      @Robert Shaw Hello Robert,

      probably you mean “Das Siegesfest” by Friedrich Schiller?


  4. jan vandenbroeke:

    Thank you for this article. I will also like to convey that it can often be hard when you are in school and starting out to initiate a long credit rating. There are many scholars who are simply just trying to survive and have a protracted or beneficial credit history can often be a difficult thing to have.

  5. Henri:

    Ich muss morgen Nachmittag den Erlkönig aufsagen und bin deshalb hier gelandet. Hätte mir aber gewünscht, dass der Text im Video “mitfließt”, so wie hier: Erlkönig auf Youtube. Da gibt es auch noch eine schöne gesungene Version, um das Gedicht zu lernen.

    Aber trotzdem, deine Version hat mir auch sehr geholfen 🙂

    Beste Grüße und drück mir die Daumen…, boah! ich kann einfach nicht schlafen, ich bin zu nervös, weil ich den Text vom Erlkönig immer noch nicht kann 🙁

  6. Carol:

    Hah, that is a gloomy poem indeed!

    I am searching for a poem initially explained to me from German writer Stolzer which I could not find, but I am thinking the person intended to say Schiller. It is a satirical piece about daughters, supposedly fourteen daughters– vierzehn toechter—? I am having a devil of a time finding it, as I’d like to read it and also buy a collection of poems to include that particular one.
    Any help you can give me would be much appreciated.

    • Sandra:

      @Carol Hi Carol,

      The author is Friedrich Stoltze and he wrote poetry in Frankfurt vernacular. The poem is called “Vierzehn Töchter” (Fourteen daughters.)
      Thanks’s for the tip. I’ll probably write about it.


      Sandra 🙂