Rilke said that for him a Trakl poem is “an object of sublime existence” and Heidegger considered him to have achieved a true poetry of unmediated being. Ludwig von Ficker, publisher of what Karl Kraus called the only honest periodical in Austria, arranged for Wittgenstein to support him with an anonymous stipend. Yet despite his centrality to continental modernism, Trakl’s work remains remote from English poetry. An expanded reissue by Copper Canyon of Robert Firmage’s erudite versions for North Point Press and a lyrical new volume from Stephen Tapscott for Oberlin’s Field series invite us to revisit his redolent, terrifying, exalted world.
“On the Moor”
translated by Robert Firmage
Wanderer in the black wind; the gaunt reed whispers softly
In the silence of the moors. Against the gray sky
Soars a flight of wild birds,
Crosswise over dark waters.
Uproar. In a ruined hut
Decay flaps upward on black wings;
Stunted birches sigh in the wind.
Evening in an abandoned inn. The gentle melancholy
Of grazing herds envelopes the way home.
Apparition of the night: toads emerge from silver waters.
Evening in an empty inn. The placid sadness
of grazing herds enwraps the long way home.
Night’s epiphany: toads bubble up from silver waters.
And Alexander Stillmark from 2001:
Evening in deserted tavern. The homeward path is shrouded
By gentle melancholy of grazing herds,
Appearance of night: toads surface from silver waters.
Firmage and Stillmark’s editions are bilingual, and the introductions are essential for Trakl’s astounding biography.
More translations by Robert Bly and James Wright here, in PDF.
Hear settings of Trakl by Anton Webern here; “Sebastian im Traum,” an orchestral work based on Trakl poem by Hans Werner Henze, here
Read Heidegger’s “Language in the Poem,” in On the Way to Language
Robert Walser wrote a poem about Trakl and let’s hope it shows up in the new volume of his poems coming from New Directions. Meanwhile here’s a very faint recording of a reading of it by Christian Hawkey at a program on Trakl at Poets House last spring.