Comp. Lit R1B Section 15
September 2, 2012
The Erl King: Choosing Sides
In the poem “Erl-King”, the author presents three characters. A father and his son running through the night with his son having supposed delusions of the Erlking coming to take him away from his father. The author carries the reader through the poem through multiple perceptions and forces the reader to choose sides. Even more so when there is a subtle conflict between the poem’s forms, being more nursery-rhyme like and the poem’s context, being more on the gloomy and dark side. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Erl- King” uses complex sentence structure and emotional conflicts to confuse the reader’s decisions about the characters’ role throughout the poem, intensifying the sense of urgency and discourse between the characters in the text.
One might assume that the difference between the child’s father and the Erlking is that the father represents the light while the Erlking represents the darkness. This could be true, unless I go ahead and say that the father represents the “darkness” and the Erl King represents the “light”. By presenting this counterargument, what it means is that this poem is about the child’s coming of age and independence and that the father is actually preventing the child from experiencing new things and going off on his own path of “darkness”. Looking at my first argument, the reason that I believe the father represents the “light” is because of the example and guidance he gives to the child. For example, when the son says: Father, don’t you see the Erlking? / The Erlking with crown and flowing robe? (6-7). The father reassures him that it’s just a wisp of fog. The father is representing light through making sure that the son does not fall into the path of greed, rather into the path of humility. The Erlking promises the son “many a golden garment”, while the father brushes it off saying that it’s just the leaves rustling in the...