Der König in Thule

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Der König in Thule ("The King in Thule") is a German poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, written in 1774. The ballad is composed in an artificially obsolete poetic language to make it sound like a traditional folk song.

Goethe wrote a poem entitled "Geistesgruß", regarded as a precursor of "Der König in Thule", whilst travelling along the river Lahn in July 1774 and visiting Lahneck Castle. Under Herder's influence, the setting was changed to the mythical island kingdom Thule, which was thought to be the northernmost place Greek seafarers ventured in antiquity.

Goethe used it later in his tragedy Faust (part I, lines 2759–82) as Gretchen's (Margaret) introduction.


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.


The poem attained wide popularity, and was set to music by the following composers:

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