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,
Es ging ihm nichts darüber,
Und als er kam zu sterben,
Er saß beim Königsmahle,
Dort stand der alte Zecher,
Er sah ihn stürzen, trinken
There was a king in Thule,
He used to love it deeply,
And when his time to die came
He sat at the royal banquet,
There stood the old carouser,
He watched it fall, and drinking