Monday, May 27, 2013

To a Solider-Poet on Memorial Day: George Trakl

In August 1914, the Austrian poet Georg Trakl was sent with his unit to Poland to meet the Russian advance.

“The armies met in the battle of Grodek, and the Austrians were routed. In the aftermath, they found themselves in such disarray that Trakl, although nominally a pharmacist, was commanded to care for ninety severely wounded men, who had been hospitalized in a barn. Lacking all means to alleviate their distress, Trakl was driven to a state of frenzy by their suffering…. One of the wounded, unable to bear his pain any longer, shot himself in the head, and Trakl, rushing in at the sound of gunfire, was greeted by the sight of pieces of the victim’s brain sticking to the wall. Distraught, he rushed back outside, only to be confronted by the apparition of corpses dangling from a row of bare trees—local peasants, hanged on suspicion of disloyalty to the Austrians. He stormed in upon a group of officers at lunch, declared his intention to shoot himself, and was finally restrained only by physical force. He was soon sent to Krakow for psychological evaluation, where he was placed in a prison cell.”

On November 4, 1914, he committed suicide in prison.

In The East

The wild organs of the winter storm
Are like the dark wrath of the tribesmen,
Like the crimson surge of battle,
Of defoliated stars.

With shattered brows and silver arms
The night beckons dying soldiers.
In the shadow of autumnal ashtrees,
Sigh the spirits of the slain.

Thorny wilderness girdles the city.
The moon drives frightened women
From the bleeding steps.
Wild wolves broke through the gate.

[From Song of the West: Selected Poems of Georg Trakl. Translated with an introduction by Robert Firmage]

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