The Erl King by Johann Wolgang von Goethe

The Erl King by Johann Wolgang von Goethe

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The Erl King by Johann Wolgang von Goethe


“Sore trembled the father: he spurr’d thro the wild. Clasping close to his bosom his shuddering child. He reaches his dwelling in doubt and in dread. But clasp’d to his bosom, the infant was dead.” Taken from “The Erl King,” by Johann Wolgang von Goethe, one can certainly sense the eerie and suspenseful mood. The author forms this mood by creating well-structured characters and a unique dialogue.
There were only three characters in “The Erl King”: the boy, his father, and the Erl King himself. Yet, each takes on an important role in conveying the eerie, suspenseful mood of this poem. The Erl King is actually a spirit, seen only by his victims. That fact alone gives the mood of the poem a supernatural, mysterious feeling. It is seen that not only is the Erl King mysterious, but he is quite manipulative. He tries to entice the boy into going with him, promising him great fun and happiness, but once he recognizes the boy does not want to leave his father, he becomes angry. All patience is lost and he becomes more forceful with the boy. His change in temperament quickly reassures the reader that the Erl King is out to get what he wants at all costs. The young boy is but a vulnerable child and is an easy target for the Erl King because of his young age. His father thinks that he is imagining up the Erl King, when in fact he is real. The knowledge that the reader holds adds suspense to the already eerie mood, because the reader knows that Erl King is real and that he is trying to take away the young boys life. The father remains clueless though and you hope the he soon realizes what is happening in order to save his child’s life.
The dialogue of the poems also displays the mood at hand. The author has the boy repeatedly warn his father that the Erl King was near, trying to take him away. Despite the boy’s fear, the father dismisses what the child says, after first telling him that it was something else altogether. “O father! O father! now, now keep your hold. The Erl King has seized me- his grasp is so cold.” The urgency in the young boy’s voice lets you know what a frightful thing is taking place.

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He yearns for his father to realize what was happening, adding urgency to the mood of the poem. As the Erl King is whispering into the boy’s ear, you can only pray that he will be safe in the arms of his father, as they together travel through Germany’s Black Forest in the dark of the night.
The eerie, suspenseful mood well created in this poem is unmistakable. The author has created a mood so that anyone that reads the poem will become aware of it. Word after word, Johann exceeds his boundaries of dramatic irony, until the final curtain closes of the young boy’s untimely death.
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