Trakl: More Late Period Poems

Here are more of my translations from Trakl’s extraordinary May-July 1914 outpouring that produced “Das Herz” (“The Heart), “Der Schlaf” (“Sleep”), “Der Abend” (“Evening”), “Die Nacht” (“Night”), “Die Schwermut” (“Melancholy”), and “Die Hedmkehr” (“Homecoming”).  These, and the poems to come, are all affected by the impending sense of doom and of the war that would begin in August of that year.  The proximate trigger for World War I was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie in June, 1914.  But well before this an arms race had begun—between 1908 and 1913, the military spending of the European powers increased by 50%.  There was a first and second Balkan War, with territories lost and gained, and great powers maneuvering for influence.  Bosnia and Herzegovina were called the “powder keg of Europe.”  Reading these poems you can feel the poet’s sense of doom and even apocalypse, as he senses a world sliding inexorably toward the bloody conflict.

Evening

Moon, you fill
The silent forest with
The dead shapes of heroes,
Crescent moon—
With the soft embrace
Of Lovers,
Shadows of the great ages
Around the decaying rock;
The light shines bluish
Toward the city
Where cold & wicked
A decaying race
Prepares a dark future
For the white grandsons.
Their moon-twisted shadows
Sigh in the empty crystal
Of a mountain‑lake.

Night

I sing you, wild cliffs,
Towering mountains,
In the night‑storm;
You gray towers
Overflowing with faces of hell,
Fiery beasts,
Rough ferns, pines,
Crystal flowers,
Eternal torment,
You sought God
Gentle spirit,
Groaning in the cataract,
In the swaying pines.

The fires of nations
Burn gold everywhere.
Drunk with death
The whirlwind of light
Plunges over black cliffs,
The blue wave
Of the glacier
& the bell
Thunders in the valley:
Flames, curses,
& the dark
Games of lust,
A petrified head
Storms the heavens.

Sadness

Dark moon
Immense, inward
Shaped by autumn clouds,
& the stillness of gold evenings;
A green mountain‑stream in twilight,
Shadow‑zone
Of shattered pines;
A village
Devoutly fading in brown sepia‑prints.

See the black horses run
In the misty pasture.
Soldiers!
Laughing blood pours
From the hill where the sun rolls dying….
Under the silent
Oaks!
O bitter sadness
Of the army; a shining helmet
Sank clattering from a purple brow.

Autumn night comes
Cool, shining with stars,
Like a silent nun
Above the shattered remains.

Critics see four phases in Trakl’s work:  youth or juvenilia, followed by  an expressionist phase from about 1909 to 1912, a third phase which begins more or less with “Psalm” in 2012, and then a too-brief fourth and final phase which begins in 1914 and lasts until his death in November of that year.  These poems are from his final year, and point to the incredible brilliance yet to come, of “Grodek” and “Klage.”

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