The lyrics are from Goethe's poem of the same name, in which a father rides with his sickly son through a forest. The son starts to see glimpses of a "King of Elves" amidst the trees, who is calling out for him to join him in his Kingdom. The father tries to reassure the son that what he sees is not real ("only a wisp of fog"); that or he himself is in denial. The father then turns his horse about and rides back whence they had come. The Elven King makes many offers to convince the boy, and soon takes him by force. They father arrives back home, but his son is dead in his arms.
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