Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Two Bleak Poems

Two morbid and bleak poems by Austrian poet Georg Trakl. These are two of his last poems that he wrote while stationed at a town called "Grodek" in Galicia (currently in Ukraine) during the first world war. Not long after he committed suicide. First of both translations are taken from this PDF book which contains his poems and a brief introduction. The second ones are from an introductory book I am reading. (The online dictionary says "Klage" means "complaint", I don't know why it is translated as "mourning.")

There is also this comment in the book that I found interesting:

"In Anglo-american poetry, as opposed to German, the issue is no longer the sublime style versus the anti-sublime; the reign of the sublime, which has never had the hold on English that it has on German, was effectively destroyed through the efforts of Eliot and Pound early in this century. For poets such as Bly, Wright, Creely, and James Dickey, the central issue is directness of vision as opposed to discursive reasoning in poetry; and in his critical pronouncements Bly has constantly invoked Trakl has the great modern visionary poet."


The dark eagles, sleep and death,
Rustle all night around my head:
The golden statue of man
Is swallowed by the icy comber
Of eternity. On the frightening reef
The purple remains go to pieces,
And the dark voice mourns
Over the sea.
Sister in my wild despair
Look, a precarious skiff is sinking
Under the stars,
The face of night whose voice is fading.


Sleep and death, the somber eagles
Resound all night around this head:
The icy waves of eternity
Would swallow
Man's golden image. The purple body
Is dashed to pieces on horrible reefs
And the dark voice laments
Over the sea.
Sister of stormy melancholy
See, a fearful boat is sinking
Under stars,
Under the silent face of the night.


At evening the woods of autumn are full of the sound
Of the weapons of death, golden fields
And blue lakes, over which the darkening sun
Rolls down; night gathers in
Dying recruits, the animal cries
Of their burst mouths.
Yet a red cloud, in which a furious god,
The spilled blood itself, has its home, silently
Gathers, a moonlike coolness in the willow bottoms;
All the roads spread out into the black mold.
Under the gold branches of the night and stars
The sister’s shadow falters through the diminishing
To greet the ghosts of the heroes, bleeding heads;
And from the reeds the sound of the dark flutes of
autumn rises.
O prouder grief! you bronze altars,
The hot flame of the spirit is fed today by a more
monstrous pain,
The unborn grandchildren.


In the evening the autumnal woods resound
With deadly arms, the golden plains
And blue lakes, over which the sun
Darkly revolves; the night embraces
Dying warriors, the wild lamenting
Of their broken mouths.
Yet quietly in the low pasture they gather
Red clouds, in which the wrathful God lives,
The spilt blood, moonlike coolness;
All streets run into black decay.
Under golden branches of night and stars
The sister's shadow hovers through the silent grove
To greet the spirits of the heroes, the bleeding heads;
And softly in the reeds the dark flutes of autumn resound.
Oh prouder mourning! You brazen altars,
Today the hot flame of the spirit is fed by an immense pain,
The unborn grandchildren.


Matt Zoller Seitz said...

Thank you for posting these poems.

Alok said...

Hi Matt, Glad to see you here!

Cheshire Cat said...

Maybe one needs to know (or be) German to appreciate these poems...

Certainly English is ill-suited to the sublime (and the sublime is alien to the English temperament). English is a mongrel language; a teeming, chaotic tongue. The sublime is fragile - it doesn't have a chance to survive in this kind of environment.

Alok said...

You may be right. There is an element of practicality and an scepticism of big ideas and abstractions in anglo-american literature... Germans (and Russians too) seem to be more willing to go to extremes, beyond common human experiences and practicalities of life. This is of course a generalisation but to a large extent it is true I think.

Cheshire Cat said...

There's more to it than that - it has to do with the language. Translated into English, Trakl's poetry just sounds overblown, completely ineffective. But a German speaker is required to tell us if the problem is with the English language or with Trakl himself...

Alok said...

Hmm. I found it very effective, specially these two. Overblown? yes may be, actually this is what i liked about these poems, the extremity of vision and images.

Cheshire Cat said...

My problem was that there were too many stock images in the poems - they seem like mood poems and hence the translation plays more of a part (perhaps?). Also, the natural comparison is with Rilke, whose poems are simultaneously more subtle and more powerful.

Alok said...

Yes Rilke is an obvious comparison though I find him very difficult. Trakl is easier to read and more straightforward (comparatively).

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