Georg Trakl: The Solitary’s Autumn


German Woodcut on Paper. Early 20th Century.

Here is my translation of a poem by the Austrian Georg Trakl. The original was first published in 1915, shortly after the author’s death, by Kurt Wolff Verlag, Leipzig. It is the eighth and last poem in the cycle entitled ‘Sebastian im Traum’.  Readers of the German text will note the various examples of rhythmic versus broken cadence, feminine rhyme, alliteration and assonance. I hope my English translation conveys something of the gradually darkening mood from beginning to end, the use of color, temperature, sound and feeling, and the further realities, both dark and light, to which the more distant edges of the poem seem to point. As a matter of trivial interest, the German text of this poem was used in the 2009 album ‘Der Herbst des Einsamen’ as recorded by the dark metal band ‘Eden Weint im Grab’ (‘Eden Weeps in the Grave’). The first letters of the band’s name spell the German word for ‘eternal’, but I find myself at a total loss as to what Trakl himself might have thought of any of this. 

The Solitary’s Autumn

Dark autumn comes with fruit and fullness,
Yellow glow of fine summer days.
Chaste blue from mouldering husks emerges;
The flight of birds sounds tales of old.
Pressed is the wine, the mild quiet
Filled with sombre questions’ soft replies.

And here and there a cross on desolate hill;
A herd dissolved into reddish woods;
A cloud adrift on a mirror-like pond;
The farmer’s peaceful mien is still.
So softly the evening’s blue wings graze
The roof of dry straw, the blackened earth.

Stars soon nest in the weary one’s brow;
A still content invades the chill rooms
And angels step softly from the blue
Eyes of lovers, whose suffering is sweet.
The reeds rustle; bone-dry dread descends,
When black from naked willows drips the dew.

Der Herbst des Einsamen

Der dunkle Herbst kehrt ein voll Frucht und Fülle,
Vergilbter Glanz von schönen Sommertagen.
Ein reines Blau tritt aus verfallener Hülle;
Der Flug der Vögel tönt von alten Sagen.
Gekeltert ist der Wein, die milde Stille
Erfüllt von leiser Antwort dunkler Fragen.

Und hier und dort ein Kreuz auf ödem Hügel;
Im roten Wald verliert sich eine Herde.
Die Wolke wandert übern Weiherspiegel;
Es ruht des Landmanns ruhige Gebärde.
Sehr leise rührt des Abends blauer Flügel
Ein Dach von dürrem Stroh, die schwarze Erde.

Bald nisten Sterne in des Müde Brauen;
In kühle Stuben kehrt ein still Bescheiden
Und Engel treten leise aus den blauen
Augen der Liebenden, die sanfter leiden.
Es rauscht das Rohr; anfällt ein knöchern Grauen,
Wenn schwarz der Tau tropft von den kahlen Weiden. 










3 comments on “Georg Trakl: The Solitary’s Autumn

  1. This reminded me of Rilke’s ‘Autumn Day’ (“Lord, it is time…”). There seemed a little of Keats’s ‘To Autumn’ in the opening lines, too. I haven’t read a lot of Trakl yet but compared to some of his other poems this seemed rather on the optimistic side. Then it all went monumentally dark in the last few lines when the “still content” gives way to “bone-dry dread” (an incredibly ominous phrase).

    As for the dark metal connection, I also tend to wonder what poets and other writers would think of these references. (I think Tolkien was still alive when Led Zeppelin referenced his work in ‘Ramble On’ and one or two other songs. I’d love to know what, if anything, he thought of that. To me, an allusion by Led Zeppelin seems an enormous compliment, but I suspect the Zep might not have been Tolkien’s cup of tea.) I think it’s all good (unless the music is really horrible, of course) – and poor Trakl seemed to have such a sad, tortured life that maybe he would resonate with that kind of music.

    • leifhendrik says:

      Tolkien and Zeppelin: I think you could really do a lot with this topic. As for Trakl, I think of him as someone who never had any kind of chance at all at a happy life. As if he were a person plunged into a huge deep vat of black murky water, forever trying to climb out, but forever being pulled back under into the cold and malevolent depths. I’ve read bits of his correspondence, thinking it would be interesting to translate, but was left so depressed and even internally conflicted by so much of what I found that I decided to give it up. Poor fellow–indeed he might have loved Zeppelin. Perhaps his life was a non-auditory version of some of that band’s darker moments of creative experience. Tolkien again: what most fascinates me about him was what he called his ‘mad hobby’ of inventing languages. But isn’t that what poets, or even all writers, are, in their own ways, continually about?

      • Poor Trakl, it sounds as though he was born with tendencies towards mental illness and then he had a very unstable background and all sorts of terrible circumstances to cope with. It is hard to in any way blame someone like that for committing suicide. I’m sure his correspondence would be harrowing. I find him very oppressive to read and personally wouldn’t care to translate him (whether poetry or prose). As for Tolkien, I love the fact that he created a world where his languages could fit. I don’t have impulses to create actual languages myself, but I agree that you can sort of create your own “language” as a writer with what already exists. I sort of relate to the way that Tolkien absorbed enormous amounts of influences from mythology, history, faith, other languages (his High Elvish is close to Finnish, which he adored) and created from those as a starting point. To me he truly understood “subcreation” in a way that the vast majority of fantasty writers don’t. (Ursula Le Guin is another who does, though her perspectives are very different from Tolkien’s.)

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