ERLKOENIG ("The Elfking")

Schubert-Goethe (translated by Deloss Brown)

Is this a literal translation? No, it is not. It was written to be sung to Schubert's setting (his opus 1). Anybody know knows the German (available, naturally on Wikipedia) is likely to raise his or her eyebrows, but maybe not froth at the mouth. If you asked Goethe (you can't) he'd point out, "That's not exactly what I wrote," and then you could send him to me for a long discussion about rhymes and melisma.

But I know it's singable, because I performed it at Symphony Space on Wall-to-Wall Schubert Day. The pianist was David Tice. If you know the song, you know David's part was much harder than mine, and he played it to perfection. Here goes:

        "The Elfking"

Who rides late at night
Through wind so wild?
It is a father
With his young child.

The boy he shelters
Well in his arm,
All warm and hidden
And safe from harm.

"My son, what is it
You hide from in fear?"
"See, father, there,
The Elfking draws near,

The King of Goblins
With crown and cloak."
"My son, it is
A patch of smoke."

"You darling child,
Come go my way.
What lovely games
We two will learn to play.

The trees are blooming
In the land I hold,
And my mother's weaving you a robe
Of shining gold!"

"My father, my father,
And why can't you hear
The promises that
He speaks in my ear?"

"Be calm, child;
There's no cause for your fear.
The rustling leaves
Are all that you hear."

"You lovely boy,
Will you go with me?
All my daughters gladly
Your friends will be,

And at night, all around you
A vigil they'll keep;
They'll sing and they'll dance
And they'll charm you to sleep.
They'll sing and they'll dance
And they'll charm you to sleep."

"My father, my father,
And why can't you see?
His daughters wait
By the road for me."

"My son, my son,
At last I can see:
It shines in the dark,
The gray willow tree."

"I love you so, that I
Can no longer be still.
By choice or by force, but
Come with me you will!"

"My father, my father!
He pulls at my arm!
Elfking has done me
A dreadful harm!"

The father shudders.
He spurs to a run.
He holds more closely
His tormented son.

The lights of town.
Grow bright ahead.
The child he held in his arms
Was dead.

© 1978 by Deloss Brown

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