Giovanni Rossi. ‘Il Mondo Bucolico’. Oil on canvas. Private collection.
The life of the Austrian poet Georg Trakl (1887-1914) was short, brilliant and tragic. With the result that I don’t have the heart to attempt even a summary of it here, lest it overshadow the fine poem I have attempted to translate. It is one of Trakl’s best known works. Its German title, ‘Untergang’, can be variously rendered, depending upon the context, by such English words as: ‘destruction’ ‘setting’, ‘(down)fall’, ‘ruin’, ‘death’, ‘doom’, ‘decline’ or even ‘sinking’ or ‘shipwreck’. There are yet other possibilities. Among the many remarkable features which are part of this poem, we might note the pervasive upward and ascending images which repeatedly assert themselves, and which seem quite startlingly juxtaposed with both the title and the feeling of doom which otherwise prevails. Trakl wrote at least four other, and in some ways very different versions of this poem. It is his final version which appears here. It forms part of the collection entitled ‘Sebastian im Traum’, first published by Kurt Wolff Verlag in Leipzig in 1915.
(to Karl Borromaeus Heinrich)
Over the white pond
The wild birds have drawn away.
An icy wind sheers from our stars at evening.
Over our graves
The shattered brow of night inclines.
Under the oaks we rock in a silver skiff.
The white walls of the city resound continually.
Under arches of thorn
O my brother we climb, blind clock hands toward midnight.
(An Karl Borromaeus Heinrich)
Über den weissen Weiher
Sind die wilden Vögel fortgezogen.
Am Abend weht von unseren Sternen ein eisiger Wind.
Über unsere Gräber
Beugt sich die zerbrochene Stirne der Nacht.
Unter Eichen schaukeln wir auf einem silbernen Kahn.
Immer klingen die weissen Mauern der Stadt.
O mein Bruder klimmen wir blinde Zeiger gen Mitternacht.