Today I read an adaptation of the legend of the Erlking. While the adaptation I read today was not entirely satisfying it did put me into a mental state in which all I could think about was the Erlking. I then began to wonder if I have ever seen the Erlking without knowing it was the Erlking and just ignored his attempts to lure me altogether. That thought alone made me both panic and slightly excited. Had I overcome the Erlking’s advances with my sheer cunning? Or perhaps I overcame the king with my morbid personality that does occasionally make me overlook the obvious such as dead bodies trying to creep up from our cemetery grounds, floating orbs, and the incessant howling of ghastly canines beyond our graveyard wall.
If you are unfamiliar with the Erlking then let me share with you what I do know – quickly. The Erlking is a character common in European folklore. He is seen as a wickedly seductive fairy that entices people, and causes their death. Sound familiar? Our dear friend the Grim Reaper comes to mind. While the Erlking does bring death, like our black robed companion, he does seem like a much more compelling figure then the Angel of Death. Interestingly, the character in Scandanavian folklore was depicted as a female, the daughter of the Erlking. Many cultures depict death as a sentient being, and even some depict Death as female.
Sunday we hope to talk a bit more about the Erlking, as well as some varying concepts of the personifications of death.
For now, we leave you with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s poetic adaptation of the legend, which does stray greatly from the legend, but still we find it completely fascinating as the Erlking is seen only by the child.
English Adaptation of the original German poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s
Who rides there so late through the night dark and drear?
The father it is, with his infant so dear;
He holdeth the boy tightly clasp’d in his arm,
He holdeth him safely, he keepeth him warm.
“My son, wherefore seek’st thou thy face thus to hide?”
“Look, father, the Erl King is close by our side!
Dost see not the Erl King, with crown and with train?”
“My son, ’tis the mist rising over the plain.”
“Oh, come, thou dear infant! oh come thou with me!
For many a game I will play there with thee;
On my beach, lovely flowers their blossoms unfold,
My mother shall grace thee with garments of gold.”
“My father, my father, and dost thou not hear
The words that the Erl King now breathes in mine ear?”
“Be calm, dearest child, thy fancy deceives;
the wind is sighing through withering leaves.”
“Wilt go, then, dear infant, wilt go with me there?
My daughters shall tend thee with sisterly care
My daughters by night on the dance floor you lead,
They’ll cradle and rock thee, and sing thee to sleep.”
“My father, my father, and dost thou not see,
How the Erl King is showing his daughters to me?”
“My darling, my darling, I see it alright,
‘Tis the aged grey willows deceiving thy sight.”
“I love thee, I’m charm’d by thy beauty, dear boy!
And if thou aren’t willing, then force I’ll employ.”
“My father, my father, he seizes me fast,
For sorely the Erl King has hurt me at last.”
The father now gallops, with terror half wild,
He holds in his arms the shuddering child;
He reaches his farmstead with toil and dread,—
The child in his arms lies motionless, dead.