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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Elfin-King

By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832)

Translation of Theodore Martin and William Edmondstoune Aytoun

WHO rides so late through the midnight blast?

’Tis a father spurs on with his child full fast;

He gathers the boy well into his arm,

He clasps him close and he keeps him warm.

“My son, why thus to my arm dost cling?”—

“Father, dost thou not see the elfin-king?

The elfin-king with his crown and train!”—

“My son, ’tis a streak of the misty rain!”

“Come hither, thou darling, come, go with me!

Fine games I know that I’ll play with thee;

Flowers many and bright do my kingdoms hold,

My mother has many a robe of gold.”

“O father, dear father, and dost thou not hear

What the elfin-king whispers so low in mine ear?”—

“Calm, calm thee, my boy, it is only the breeze,

As it rustles the withered leaves under the trees.”

“Wilt thou go, bonny boy, wilt thou go with me?

My daughters shall wait on thee daintily;

My daughters around thee in dance shall sweep,

And rock thee and kiss thee and sing thee to sleep.”

“O father, dear father, and dost thou not mark

The elf-king’s daughters move by in the dark?”—

“I see it, my child; but it is not they,

’Tis the old willow nodding its head so gray.”

“I love thee! thy beauty it charms me so;

And I’ll take thee by force, if thou wilt not go!”

“O father, dear father, he’s grasping me,—

My heart is as cold as cold can be!”

The father rides swiftly,—with terror he gasps,—

The sobbing child in his arms he clasps;

He reaches the castle with spurring and dread;

But alack! in his arms the child lay dead!