Friday, February 3, 2012
3 February 1887 - 3 November 1914
These mountains: blackness, silence, and snow.
The red hunter climbs down from the forest;
Oh the mossy gaze of the wild thing.
The peace of the mother: under black ﬁrs
The sleeping hands open by themselves
When the cold moon seems ready to fall.
The birth of man. Each night
Blue water washes over the rockbase of the cliff;
The fallen angel stares at his reﬂection with sighs,
Something pale wakes up in a suffocating room.
Of the stony old woman shine, two moons.
The cry of the woman in labor. The night troubles
The boy’s sleep with black wings,
With snow, which falls with ease out of the purple
His language was simple and clear, even in translation, resembling the work of Hoelderlin, with strong and precise imagery, darkly brooding sensitivity, and an adept feeling for color. He wrote about death, decay, and doom, hiding himself in lyrical metaphor and the ambiguity of his images. Trakl saw the world collapsing around him and taking him with it; and while his poetry is overwhelmingly negative, critics find in it a gesture of affirmation.
Otto Dix - Sunrise (1913)
The Ravens (1913)
Over the black crevice
at noon the ravens rush with rusty cries.
Their shadows touch the deer’s back
and at times they loom in gnarled rest.
O how they derange the brown stillness,
in the one acre itself entranced,
like a woman married to grave premonitions,
and at times you can hear them bicker
about a corpse they sniffed-out somewhere,
and sharply they bend their flight towards north
and dwindle away like a funeral
march in the air, shivering with bliss.
One year after Georg Trakl's poem and Otto Dix' painting, visions of the impeding disaster, both men were called to the military. World War I had begun. In July 1914, shortly before being drafted by the Austro-Hungarian Army, Georg Trakl received a large monetary gift from the then unknown philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein who was distributing his enormous inheritance to artists. Unfortunately, Trakl never was able to use the money. His emotional instability became worse under the strains of war and he was hospitalized numerous times as a result of depression and suicide attempts. After several bloody defeats at the hands of the Russians, Trakl was left to single handedly care for 90 wounded men in a barn near Grodek where he wrote the following poem:
Den Namenlosen (Those Who Have Lost Their Names)
At evening the autumn woodlands ring
With deadly weapons. Over the golden plains
And lakes of blue, the sun
More darkly rolls. The night surrounds
Warriors dying and the wild lament
Of their fragmented mouths.
Yet silently there gather in the willow combe
Red clouds inhabited by an angry god,
Shed blood, and the chill of the moon.
All roads lead to black decay.
Under golden branching of the night and stars
A sister's shadow sways through the still grove
To greet the heroes' spirits, the bloodied heads.
And softly in the reeds Autumn's dark flutes resound.
O prouder mourning! - You brazen altars,
The spirit's hot flame is fed now by a tremendous pain:
The grandsons, unborn.
Trakl could not adequately relieve the pain of his patients on his own, and he witnessed the splattered brains of one soldier who shot himself. Trakl then went outside, and after seeing some of the local Ruthenians hanging from trees, suffered a mental breakdown and threatened to shoot himself. In October, Trakl was hospitalized in Cracow, Poland, and received a visit from a friend who encouraged Trakl to send for his benefactor Wittgenstein. Unfortunately, Trakl injected himself with a fatal dose of cocaine, a probable suicide attempt, on November 3, 1914, three days before Wittgenstein arrived.
~ history and commentary from poetry foundation