Happy World Poetry Day!Come and join First Edition’s virtual celebration of the UNESCO World Poetry Day! Read some of our team’s favourite (translated) poems below both in the original language and in English.

Do you have any poems close to your heart that have made a huge impact on you? Share them with us in the comments below! 

  • The Erl-King by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 

James shares one of Goethe’s poems, the famous Erl-King. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe probably needs no introduction, but… Born in 1749 in Frankfurt, he became a celebrated author by the age of 25. He was one of the greatest German Romantic writers, known for The Sorrows of Young Werther, Faust, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, and many more…


Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind;
Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm,
Er faßt ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm.

Mein Sohn, was birgst du so bang dein Gesicht? –
Siehst, Vater, du den Erlkönig nicht?
Den Erlenkönig mit Kron und Schweif? –
Mein Sohn, es ist ein Nebelstreif. –

“Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir!
Gar schöne Spiele spiel ich mit dir;
Manch bunte Blumen sind an dem Strand,
Meine Mutter hat manch gülden Gewand.”

Mein Vater, mein Vater, und hörest du nicht,
Was Erlenkönig mir leise verspricht? –
Sei ruhig, bleibe ruhig, mein Kind;
In dürren Blättern säuselt der Wind. –

“Willst, feiner Knabe, du mit mir gehn?
Meine Töchter sollen dich warten schön;
Meine Töchter führen den nächtlichen Reihn,
Und wiegen und tanzen und singen dich ein.”

Mein Vater, mein Vater, und siehst du nicht dort
Erlkönigs Töchter am düstern Ort? –
Mein Sohn, mein Sohn, ich seh es genau:
Es scheinen die alten Weiden so grau. –

“Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt;
Und bist du nicht willig, so brauch ich Gewalt.”
Mein Vater, mein Vater, jetzt faßt er mich an!
Erlkönig hat mir ein Leids getan! –

Dem Vater grausets, er reitet geschwind,
Er hält in Armen das ächzende Kind,
Erreicht den Hof mit Mühe und Not;
In seinen Armen das Kind war tot.


The Erl-King

Who’s riding so late where winds blow wild
It is the father grasping his child;
He holds the boy embraced in his arm,
He clasps him snugly, he keeps him warm.

“My son, why cover your face in such fear?”
“You see the elf-king, father?
He’s near! The king of the elves with crown and train!”
“My son, the mist is on the plain.”

‘Sweet lad, o come and join me, do!
Such pretty games I will play with you;
On the shore gay flowers their color unfold,
My mother has many garments of gold.’

“My father, my father, and can you not hear
The promise the elf-king breathes in my ear?”
“Be calm, stay calm, my child, lie low:
In withered leaves the night-winds blow.”

‘Will you, sweet lad, come along with me?
My daughters shall care for you tenderly;
In the night my daughters their revelry keep,
They’ll rock you and dance you and sing you to sleep.’

“My father, my father, o can you not trace
The elf-king’s daughters in that gloomy place?”
“My son, my son, I see it clear
How grey the ancient willows appear.”

‘I love you, your comeliness charms me, my boy!
And if you’re not willing, my force I’ll employ.’
“Now father, now father, he’s seizing my arm.
Elf-king has done me a cruel harm.”

The father shudders, his ride is wild,
In his arms he’s holding the groaning child,
Reaches the court with toil and dread. –
The child he held in his arms was dead.

translation by Edwin Zeydel[1]

If you are up for some musical treats, here are a couple of links to two very different adaptations: one by Schubert (click here to hear that) and the other one by Hypnotic Grooves feat. Jo Van Nelsen (click here for the techno piece).

  • Fantasy by Gérard de Nerval

Gérard de Nerval, whose poem was chosen by Isabelle, was a French poet, essayist and translator in the first half of the 19th century. He was a prominent figure of French Romanticism and his work later influenced Proust, Breton and the Surrealists. He was also well known for his translations of Goethe and Schiller which helped introduce French readers to the German Romantic poets. His themes included the juxtaposition of dreams and real life, fiction and reality, madness and sanity.


Il est un air pour qui je donnerais
Tout Rossini, tout Mozart et tout Weber,
Un air très-vieux, languissant et funèbre,
Qui pour moi seul a des charmes secrets.

Or, chaque fois que je viens à l’entendre,
De deux cents ans mon âme rajeunit :
C’est sous Louis treize; et je crois voir s’étendre
Un coteau vert, que le couchant jaunit,

Puis un château de brique à coins de pierre,
Aux vitraux teints de rougeâtres couleurs,
Ceint de grands parcs, avec une rivière
Baignant ses pieds, qui coule entre des fleurs ;

Puis une dame, à sa haute fenêtre,
Blonde aux yeux noirs, en ses habits anciens,
Que dans une autre existence peut-être,
J’ai déjà vue… et dont je me souviens ![2]


There’s music I’d exchange right willingly
For all the works of Mozart and Rossini
An ancient, sad, languorous melody
With secret charms only for me.

And every time I hear this air
It takes me back two hundred year,
To Louis Treize. Before me spread
Sloping green lawns in golden sunsets.

And châteaux built in stone and brick
With scarlet stained glass windows,
Girt in by parklands, and where brooks
Fringed by flowers indolently flow.

A damsel in a tower looking down
Blond with dark eyes, in medieval gown,
She whom I’ve seen in all her beauty
In past life, and in my present memory.

translation by Stan Solomons[3]


  • Boulevard dawn by Árpád Tóth

Anikó’s pick is by a Hungarian poet, Árpád Tóth (1886-1928). He was an important contributor to the contemporary literary life in Hungary with his signature style which was built around the feeling of melancholy, Schopenhauer’s philosophy, and his favourite literary device as an Impressionist poet, synaesthesia.

Körúti hajnal

Vak volt a hajnal, szennyes, szürke. Még
Üveges szemmel aludtak a boltok,
S lomhán söpörtek a vad kővidék
Felvert porában az álmos vicék,
Mint lassú dsinnek, rosszkedvű koboldok.

Egyszerre két tűzfal között kigyúlt
A keleti ég váratlan zsarátja:
Minden üvegre száz napocska hullt,
S az aszfalt szennyén szerteszét gurult
A Végtelen Fény milliom karátja.

Bűvölten állt az utca. Egy sovány
Akác részegen szítta be a drága
Napfényt, és zöld kontyában tétován
Rezdült meg csüggeteg és halovány
Tavaszi kincse: egy-két fürt virága.

A Fénynek földi hang még nem felelt,
Csak a szinek víg pacsirtái zengtek:
Egy kirakatban lila dalra kelt
Egy nyakkendő; de aztán tompa, telt
Hangon a harangok is felmerengtek.

Bús gyársziréna búgott, majd kopott
Sínjén villamos jajdult ki a térre:
Nappal lett, indult a józan robot,
S már nem látták, a Nap még mint dobott
Arany csókot egy munkáslány kezére…

Boulevard dawn

The dawn was blind, a dirty grey, asleep
the shops were, with glassy eyes they slept,
and janitors on stony wastes with will,
but half awake, swirled dust and made it mill,
like moody kobolds, like tardy djinns they swept.

Flash between two fire walls, a fire –
the eastern sky – on embers flames were mounting,
scores of suns turned every pane to pyre
and scattered in dirt, in pavement mire,
was Endless Light, its carats past the counting.

Enchanted stood the street. Beyond a lean
and gaunt acacia grew tipsy with the sun,
wavering, wafting in its topknot green,
some listless, palish blossoms could be seen:
tresses of springtime, a treasure every one.

From earthly sound to Light came no reply,
only colour-larks began to sing, rejoice:
displayed in a window, a lilac tie
sang lilac songs, though soon the bells nearby
rose from their slumber to add resounding voice.

A factory siren droned a mournful lay,
on wailing rails a tram had breached the square:
The day had come and in the toil of day
none saw the hand, – a labouring girl’s – the way
the sun threw gold, and how it kissed her there.

translation by Leslie A. Kery[4]

  • Stages by Hermann Hesse

Melanie’s choice is by the literary Nobel Laureate and Goethe Prize winner, Hermann Hesse. The notable German poet, known for The Glass Bead Game, Steppenwolf and Siddhartha, was born in 1877 in Germany but he was educated in Switzerland and later he moved there permanently. His main themes were centered around the individual’s struggle with the constraints of society and the search for identity.


Wie jede Blüte welkt und jede Jugend
Dem Alter weicht, blüht jede Lebensstufe,
Blüht jede Weisheit auch und jede Tugend
Zu ihrer Zeit und darf nicht ewig dauern.
Es muß das Herz bei jedem Lebensrufe
Bereit zum Abschied sein und Neubeginne,
Um sich in Tapferkeit und ohne Trauern
In andre, neue Bindungen zu geben.
Und jedem Anfang wohnt ein Zauber inne,
Der uns beschützt und der uns hilft, zu leben.

Wir sollen heiter Raum um Raum durchschreiten,
An keinem wie an einer Heimat hängen,
Der Weltgeist will nicht fesseln uns und engen,
Er will uns Stuf’ um Stufe heben, weiten.
Kaum sind wir heimisch einem Lebenskreise
Und traulich eingewohnt, so droht Erschlaffen,
Nur wer bereit zu Aufbruch ist und Reise,
Mag lähmender Gewöhnung sich entraffen.

Es wird vielleicht auch noch die Todesstunde
Uns neuen Räumen jung entgegen senden,
Des Lebens Ruf an uns wird niemals enden…
Wohlan denn, Herz, nimm Abschied und gesunde![5]


As every flower fades and as all youth
Departs, so life at every stage,
So every virtue, so our grasp of truth,
Blooms in its day and may not last forever.
Since life may summon us at every age
Be ready, heart, for parting, new endeavor,
Be ready bravely and without remorse
To find new light that old ties cannot give.
In all beginnings dwells a magic force
For guarding us and helping us to live.

Serenely let us move to distant places
And let no sentiments of home detain us.
The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us
But lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces.
If we accept a home of our own making,
Familiar habit makes for indolence.
We must prepare for parting and leave-taking
Or else remain the slaves of permanence.

Even the hour of our death may send
Us speeding on to fresh and newer spaces,
And life may summon us to newer races.
So be it, heart: bid farewell without end.

translation by Richard and Clara Winston[6]



[1] Source of poem and translation: https://germanstories.vcu.edu/goethe/erl_dual.html

[2] Source of poem: http://poesie.webnet.fr/lesgrandsclassiques/poemes/gerard_de_nerval/fantaisie.html

[3] Source of translation: https://feherilles.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/gerard-de-nerval-fantaisie-abrandozas.html

[4] Source of poem and translation: http://www.babelmatrix.org/works/hu/T%C3%B3th_%C3%81rp%C3%A1d-1886/K%C3%B6r%C3%BAti_hajnal/en/62206-Boulevard_dawn

[5] Source of poem: http://www.lyrikwelt.de/gedichte/hesseg1.htm

[6] Source of translation: http://www.gss.ucsb.edu/projects/hesse/works/stages.html