Erlkönig —after Goethe


—after Goethe


He promised me games in the ocean

and blue silk robes.

I hid my face. Mein Vater, mein Vater,


while you drove past blossoming

flowers along the road, willow

branches shaking in fog,


did you hear him whispering

into my ear? You whipped the horses.

The sky darkened over the town closing in.


Pretty boy, pretty boy,

my daughters will dance for you the nightly

dance, dance and sing you to sleep.


He rode next to us and reached to touch

me under your arm.

Pressed against the seats, I began cursing.


Mein Vater, mein Vater, why didn’t you

see them,

the Erlking’s daughters?


They were not the willows shimmering gray.


Tranlator’s note: I compress and queer Goethe’s version further, by undermining expected gender roles. Goethe had already undermined the gendered roles of the Danish ballad “Hr. Oluf han rider” and Johann Gottfried von Herder’s ballad, “Erlkönig’s Tochter;” also, Goethe evoked fatal violence done to a boy, rather than adults. Is it a little boy seduced here? We know only from the Erlkönig’s voice, which, in my lyric, emphasizes prettiness and promise. I otherwise gave the poem to the child’s voice.


Dan Kraines is poet whose work has appeared in The Journal, PHANTOM, and The Saint Ann's Review, among other places. Currently, he writes and teaches at the University of Rochester, where he is a PhD candidate. He has received fellowships from the New York State Summer Writers Institute and has taught at Skidmore College.

 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1842) was a German poet, novelist, playwright, scientist, and statesman. His major works include Faust and The Sorrows of Young Werther.

 Original Artwork: Michael Welsh is an artist, writer, and curator living and working in Brooklyn, NY. He is a founding member of GWC Investigators, a paranormal research group and publisher of New World UNLTD. Welsh's work has been exhibited throughout the United States at High Desert Test Sites, Joshua Tree, CA; American Medium, Brooklyn, NY; Printed Matter, New York, NY; Appendix Project Space, Portland, OR; Bric Arts Media, Brooklyn, NY; GCA, Brooklyn, NY; Katherine E. Nash Gallery, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN;  Helper Gallery, Brooklyn, NY; among others. His artists books can be found on the Publication Studio and Social Malpractice Publishing labels.

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