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A literal translation of the ballad:
Who is riding, so late, through night and wind?
It is the father with his child.
He has the boy well in his arm
He holds him safely, he keeps him warm.
"My son, why do you hide your face so anxiously?"
"Father, do you not see the Erl king?
The Erl king with his crown and tail?"
"My son, it's a wisp of fog."
"You dear child, come, go with me!
Very lovely games I'll play with you;
Many colourful flowers are on the shore,
My mother has many golden robes."
"My father, my father, and don't you hear
What Erl king quietly promises me?"
"Be calm, stay calm, my child;
The wind is rustling through withered leaves."
"Do you want to come with me, pretty boy?
My daughters shall wait on you finely;
My daughters will lead the nightly dance,
And rock and dance and sing you to sleep."
"My father, my father, and don't you see there
Erl king's daughters in the gloomy place?"
"My son, my son, I see it clearly:
There shimmer the old willows so grey."
"I love you, your beautiful form entices me;
And if you're not willing, then I'll use force."
"My father, my father, he's grabbing me now!
Erl king has done me some harm!"
It horrifies the father; he swiftly rides on,
He holds the moaning child in his arms,
Reaches the yard with trouble and hardship;
In his arms, the child was dead.