Der König in Thule

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Pierre Jean Van der Ouderaa, The King of Thule, 1896

"Der König in Thule" ("The King in Thule") is a German poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, written in 1774.

Goethe wrote the poem "Geistesgruß" as a precursor of "Der König in Thule", while he was travelling to Lahneck Castle on the river Lahn in July 1774. 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. It has been set to music by a number of composers, notably Franz Schubert.


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,
Was faithful till the grave,
To whom his mistress, dying,
A golden goblet gave.

Nought was to him more precious;
He drained it at every bout;
His eyes with tears ran over,
As oft as he drank thereout.

When came his time of dying,
The towns in his land he told,
Nought else to his heir denying
Except the goblet of gold.

He sat at the royal banquet
With his knights of high degree,
In the lofty hall of his fathers
In the castle by the sea.

There stood the old carouser,
And drank the last life-glow;
And hurled the hallowed goblet
Into the tide below.

He saw it plunging and filling,
And sinking deep in the sea:
Then fell his eyelids for ever,
And never more drank he![1]


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


  1. ^ Translation by Bayard Taylor in The Works of J. W. von Goethe, vol. 9, p. 130

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