Watch Goethe’s Haunting Poem, “Der Erlkönig,” Presented in an Artful Sand Animation

Back in col­lege, I took a fall-quar­ter intro­duc­to­ry music course. We hap­pened to have class on Hal­loween (an event quite seri­ous­ly tak­en around the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, San­ta Bar­bara, in case you did­n’t know), and the pro­fes­sor held an espe­cial­ly mem­o­rable lec­ture that day. He had us study “Der Erlkönig,” music by Franz Schu­bert, words by none oth­er than Johann Wolf­gang von Goethe. While I will not claim that this tale of the haunt­ing of a mori­bund child, even with its dri­ving score, gen­uine­ly fright­ened me, I will say that it put the fear into me in a more exis­ten­tial way, a blow which only a sim­ple sto­ry can land effec­tive­ly.

“Who rides, so late, through night and wind?” asks Goethe’s poem, trans­lat­ed from the Ger­man. “It is the father with his child. He has the boy well in his arm. He holds him safe­ly, he keeps him warm.” The man feels con­cern for his ail­ing son, but the boy has trou­bles of his own: “Father, do you not see the Erlk­ing?” The father explains his son’s vision of this men­ac­ing­ly regal fig­ure away as the fog, as the wind, as the trees. But the child insists: “My father, my father, he’s grab­bing me now! The Erlk­ing has done me harm!” By the time their horse reach­es home, indeed, the Erlk­ing — or some obscure agent of mor­tal­i­ty — has him. Hear this fable sung, and watch it vivid­ly ani­mat­ed with sand on glass (no doubt a painstak­ing process) by Ben Zelkow­icz above. Hal­loween itself may have just passed, but “Der Erlkönig” remains time­less­ly haunt­ing.

We’ll add “Der Erlkönig” to the Ani­ma­tion sec­tion of our col­lec­tion of Free Movies Online.

via NFB

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Tale of the Fox: Watch Ladis­las Starevich’s Ani­ma­tion of Goethe’s Great Ger­man Folk­tale (1937)

Goethe’s The­o­ry of Col­ors: The 1810 Trea­tise That Inspired Kandin­sky and Ear­ly Abstract Paint­ing

World War II Reliv­ed through Sand Paint­ing

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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