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One of my favorite poems, and one for the wintery season. 

Goethe’s poetry, to the Englishman, is perhaps best comparable to the poetry of Burns and Scott. Coleridge, compared to Goethe, is more sentimental, and later, more focused on transcendent themes. When Coleridge embraces catholicism, Goethe begins to express religious criticism that reaches from general defiance to formulating his own religious theory.

But more about that, later: “The King in Thule” is, primarly, a narrative poem. The motif of the dying king is a popular one in German literature. Later, Uhland, Franz Schubert, and others, will pick it up.

Also, notice how the trope of “The City by the Sea” is foreshadowed in the 3rd stanza: I wonder if Goethe, being arguably the most popular German writer of the 18th AND the 19th century, might be one of the Romantic trope namers. – Internet lingo, for sure, but you know what I mean.

Enjoy! I think this might even be the first “serious” poem I ever read, as a child with five or six years of age, in a songbook from my mother.

The following tranlation, I took from Wikipedia: While I am not sure about the source (could be Coleridge, but that’s for later), I consider it excellent!

Der König in Thule/The King in Thule

Es war ein König in Thule,
Gar treu bis an das Grab,
Dem sterbend seine Buhle
einen goldnen Becher gab.

Es ging ihm nichts darüber,
Er leert’ ihn jeden Schmaus;
Die Augen gingen ihm über,
So oft er trank daraus.

Und als er kam zu sterben,
Zählt’ er seine Städt’ im Reich,
Gönnt’ alles seinen Erben,
Den Becher nicht zugleich.

Er saß beim Königsmahle,
Die Ritter um ihn her,
Auf hohem Vätersaale,
Dort auf dem Schloß am Meer.

Dort stand der alte Zecher,
Trank letzte Lebensglut,
Und warf den heiligen Becher
Hinunter in die Flut.

Er sah ihn stürzen, trinken
Und sinken tief ins Meer,
die Augen täten ihm sinken,
Trank nie einen Tropfen mehr.

There was a king in Thule,
So faithful to the grave.
His love, when she was dying,
a goblet of gold him gave.

He used to love it deeply,
And always drank from it.
His eyes they filled with tears
Whenever he emptied it.

And when his time to die came
He counted all his wealth,
And everything gave to his heirs,
But only kept that cup.

He sat at the royal banquet,
With all his knights around,
In his forefathers’ lofty hall
There in his castle by the sea.

There stood the old carouser,
And drank life’s final glow,
Then threw the holy goblet far
Deep down into the waves.

He watched it fall, and drinking
it sank deep into the sea.
He closed his eyes forever,
And never drank a drop more.