Stories + Views
A powerful warning of the consequences of not listening to children: the Erl-King may snatch them away!
I was saddened to hear about the death of the baritone singer, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, this week, surely the greatest interpreters of Schubert’s songs there has ever been. My own favourite are his amazing performances of the Erl-King. Here’s the translation from Wikipedia, which is worth reading:
Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
“Mein Sohn, was birgst du so bang dein Gesicht?” –
“Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir!
“Mein Vater, mein Vater, und hörest du nicht,
“Willst, feiner Knabe, du mit mir gehen?
“Mein Vater, mein Vater, und siehst du nicht dort
“Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt;
Dem Vater grauset’s, er reitet geschwind,
Who rides, so late, through night and wind?
“My son, why do you hide your face so anxiously?”
“You dear child, come, go with me!
“My father, my father, and don’t you hear
“Do you want to come with me, pretty boy?
“My father, my father, and don’t you see there
“I love you, your beautiful form entices me;
It horrifies the father; he swiftly rides on,
Who rides there so late through the night dark and drear?
“My son, wherefore seek’st thou thy face thus to hide?”
“Oh, come, thou dear infant! oh come thou with me!
“My father, my father, and dost thou not hear
“Wilt go, then, dear infant, wilt go with me there?
“My father, my father, and dost thou not see,
“I love thee, I’m charm’d by thy beauty, dear boy!
The father now gallops, with terror half wild,
Here’s Diskau singing it:
The poem is about the consequences of not listening to children; they get distracted by the “Erl-Kings” of this world; the snake-oil merchants promising easy money, easy pleasure, a new life, a complete escape. The father in the poem never listens to his son crying out for help and the terrible cost of this is the child’s death. It makes me think of all the children I encounter in school who tell me how much they hate exams and testing; I haven’t really met more than a handful who enjoy it. As we know from the best systems in the world, like the Finnish ones, high-pressure, high-stakes exams DON’T WORK; they demoralise, they deceive and they demotivate. Our children are telling us this, and yet we, like the father in Goethe’s great poem, are NOT listening. What is the consequence of this going to be?
This video illustrates a Diskau version of the song:
This video is the most professional for showing the story and poem in its original German version, but it is NOT the Schubert song: