October 16th, 2018


Another poem for Hallowe'en

A little culture on order:  today's poem is a classic ballad from Goethe (with my translation).  Goethe got the story from a Danish poem.  In Goethe's version, the Erlking (elf-king) comes to steal away a child.  He is invisible to the child's father.  The child is sick, and certain sicknesses were associated with the malign influence of the elves.  When the father and the child reach their home, the child is dead.

The poem has been set to music by several composers.  Schubert's version is probably the most famous.  It's a challenging piece, in which the singer has to interpret all four characters (narrator, father, child, and erlking), each of whom is written in a slightly different register.  (I've sung it.  It's a workout.)

Anyway, it's dramatic and creepy -- and very fitting for Hallowe'en.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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.

      Who rides so late through the windy night?
      It is a father with his child;
      He has the boy secured by his arm,
      He holds him closely, he keeps him 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. –

      My Son, why do you hide your face?
      Father, don’t you see the Erlking?
      The Erlking, with crown and cape?
      My Son, it is a wisp of fog.

"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."

      You lovely child, come, go with me!
      I will play beautiful games with you;
      There are many colorful flowers on the shore,
      My Mother has many golden gowns.

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. –

      My Father, my Father, can’t you hear
      What Erlking softly promises me?
      Be calm, stay calm, my child;
      The wind is rustling through the dry leaves.

"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."

      You fine boy, will you go with me?
      My daughters will wait upon you beautifully;
      My daughters lead the nightly dance,
      And will rock you and dance and sing for you.

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. –

      My Father, my Father, can’t you see there
      Erlking’s daughters in that gloomy place?
      My Son, my Son, I see it clearly:
      It looks like old gray willows.

"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! –

      I love you, your beautiful appearance entrances me;
      And if you’re not willing, then I’ll use force.
      My Father, my Father, he’s got hold of me!
      Erlking has done me a harm!

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.

      It horrifies the father, he rides swiftly,
      In his arms he holds the moaning child,
      He reaches his yard struggling against the emergency;
      In his arms the child was dead.
says who

Thoughts from a Council Board meeting

I've started (or revived) seven or eight Scout units from scratch: got the charter partner's approval, launched the program, found and trained the other adults. No startup money and no gear, some of them in very poor or rural communities, most of them not associated with another unit we could go to for help: three Scout Troops, one or two Cub Packs, two Venturing Crews, and one Explorer Post. In addition, way back in the day when I was a District volunteer in the inner city, I helped start several units from scratch in schools and churches, mostly among families and communities with little or no previous Scouting experience.

Here's what I know. Every unit needs to have a stand-alone program with its own leadership and its own committee, even if it is linked with another unit that feeds into it or from it, even if there are some youth and adults who double-register in order to participate. Trying to run two units from a single committee means one unit will always be shorted of resources -- or you will wind up with a single unit doing a single program (even if you count noses separately on charters).

So, trying to launch all-girl Troops come February from existing all-boy Troops (meaning, basically, a single committee with different leaders for the girl Troop and boy Troop) is very like what we've done with Venturing. And Venturing is all but dead in our Council because of it.

It's easier to do it right than to make it right. But people who haven't done the heavy lifting of starting things from scratch don't know that. They insist that you can take short cuts to developing strong new programs and strong new leaders. Alas, there are no short cuts to effective Leadership, Organization, and Program. Our new all-girl Troops are going to experience significant struggles -- OR, they will simply wind up (effectively) as part of co-ed Troops (which I wouldn't object to, but that's not what BSA said they were trying to do).

In the end, we'll muddle through and there will be girls who get to enjoy our Scouts program. But I fear that a lot of girls who join with high hopes are going to be disappointed, and a lot of adults frustrated. They deserve better. (Of course, they may just re-invent Scouting on the fly without official approval, which is kind of happening in Cub Scouts now. Separate dens for girls and boys won't last through the first year, except on paper.)

Okay, I've said my piece. Nobody wants to hear it, so I'll shut up now.