With Georg Trakl in the Evening


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.
Unter Dornenbogen
O mein Bruder klimmen wir blinde Zeiger gen Mitternacht. 


One comment on “With Georg Trakl in the Evening

  1. I love this poem (sadly, I have virtually no German so can’t really read the original – though I suppose I can grasp just enough to make out the shape of the words and the poem, which is how I read Celan, with facing translations. Celan has actually taught me at least a few German words and phrases!)

    I wonder if you might be agreeable for me to reproduce this translation on my blog and write an entry about it. (I always ask, because I’m quite hung up on copyright issues.) Do let me know, and if so please let me know also how you’d like it to be credited, ie. if there’s a specific credit line you’d like me to use. Another possibility is for me to put a link on the entry to it, but I’d rather reproduce it in the entry if possible. Of course, I would also provide a link back to your blog.

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