“The Elf King” By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832).

This German ballad is woven into the belief that elves, fairies, and other semi-supernatural creatures do not possess souls and can only obtain them by snatching them from humans. In this poem, notice carefully who is speaking in each stanza–the father, the child, or the Elf King. Read to get excited about a story of fantasy and imagination. Try to read aloud to fully express the feelings expressed in the poem:


Who is it that rides through the night and the rain?
A father it is; he is riding amain–
His son he is holding close in his arms
To shield him from cold, to keep him from harm.

“Son, why do you hide your face in fear?”
“O father, my father, I see coming near
The Elf King wearing his crown and train.”
“It’s a vision my child, that you see through the rain!”

“Beautiful boy, come go with me–
Many a game I’ll play with thee,
Flowers bright in our garden sway;
My mother’s gown is golden and gay.”

“Father, O father, do you not hear
What the Elf King’s whispering in my ear?”
“Quiet, my son, you must not mind;
It’s only the rustle of leaves in the wind.”

“Beautiful boy, come go with me.
My lovely daughters shall wait on thee;
Gaily they’ll dance–ring upon ring–
Nightly they’ll dance for thee and sing.”

“Father, O father! Look!–over there
Wait the Elf King’s daughters with streaming hair.”
“I see over there at the edge of day
Naught but the willows sere and gray.”

“Beautiful boy, I love you so,
I’ll take you by force, if you will not go.”
The boy cries but in wide alarm,
“O Father, the Elf King! He’s done me harm!”

The father shudders; he rides with speed;
He flies through the night in terror and need;
He reaches the courtyard in anguished dread,
But there in his arms–the boy–is dead!

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