Authors: Georg Trakl

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Austrian poet

Author Works

Poetry:

Gedichte, 1913

Sebastian im Traum, 1914

Die Dichtungen, 1918

Aus goldenem Kelch, 1939

Decline: Twelve Poems, 1952

Twenty Poems of Georg Trakl, 1961

Selected Poems, 1968

Poems, 1973

Georg Trakl: A Profile, 1983

Drama:

Fata Morgana, pr. 1906 (lost)

Totentag, pr. 1906 (lost)

Miscellaneous:

Gesammelte Werke, 1949-1951 (3 volumes)

Dichtungen und Briefe, 1969 (poetry and letters)

Biography

Even though Georg Trakl (TRAHK-uhl), in his shockingly short lifetime, produced only a slender number of poems, many critics consider these among the greatest to have been produced in the twentieth century, ranking with the work of Rainer Maria Rilke, Federico García Lorca, William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Osip Mandelstam, and Anna Akhmatova. In 1917 Rilke declared that “Trakl’s poetry is to me an object of sublime existence . . . [which has] mapped out a new dimension of the spirit.” Trakl’s life was filled with almost incessant suffering caused by depression, incest, and addiction to drugs. He was born into a prosperous Protestant family in Salzburg’s overwhelmingly Catholic society. His mother was a taciturn woman who suffered from depression, became addicted to opium, and often retired to her room for days on end. The father also held himself aloof from his seven sons and single daughter. Georg formed a close attachment to his sister, Grete, and he focused in many of his poems on the erotic attraction between a brother and a sister. Most Trakl scholars accept the likelihood of an incestuous intimacy between Georg and his sister. Grete Trakl, who suffered from emotional disturbances similar to those of her brother, shot herself three years after his death.{$I[AN]9810001581}{$I[A]Trakl, Georg}{$I[geo]AUSTRIA;Trakl, Georg}{$I[tim]1887;Trakl, Georg}

Georg Trakl

Trakl was an indifferent student at school, but, having been taught French by an Alsatian governess, he read the Symbolist poets Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud as well as the German poets Friedrich Hölderlin, Eduard Mörike, and Stefan George, and the Austrian Hugo von Hofmannsthal. His thought was also strongly influenced by Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, and particularly Fyodor Dostoevski. In early adolescence he was introduced to narcotics by a pharmacist’s son, and toward the end of his school years he grew moody and unsociable, began to talk of suicide, drank heavily, carried a bottle of chloroform around with him, and dipped his cigarettes in an opium solution.

In 1905, after it had become evident that Trakl would not be able to finish his secondary schooling, he began a three-year apprenticeship in a Salzburg pharmacy. In 1908 he went to Vienna for a two-year program at the university to obtain his pharmaceutical degree. Trakl’s life there remained lonely, and he moved frequently from one furnished room to another. He did produce some poems, but critics consider them unremarkable.

In 1910, immediately upon his having obtained his degree, Trakl was conscripted into the Austrian army for a one-year term during which he served in the medical corps. Upon his return to civilian life he began to work in a Salzburg pharmacy, but, emotionally oppressed and unable to keep his job, he reenlisted in the army. In April, 1912, he was sent to work in the pharmacy of a military hospital in Innsbruck, where he stayed for half a year. This time was a turning point in Trakl’s life. He was befriended by Ludwig von Ficker, the editor of the biweekly journal Der Brenner, who became his patron, intellectual guide, and surrogate parent for the remaining two and a half years of Trakl’s life. Every issue of Der Brenner, from late 1912 until Trakl’s death, published at least one of his poems. Almost all the work on which Trakl’s reputation as a major poet is founded was composed after he had joined the literary circle presided over by Ficker.

From December, 1912, through January, 1913, Trakl wrote “Helian,” his first major as well as his longest poem. This difficult work, which has been subjected to varying interpretations, moves toward death and then toward rebirth, contrasting images of decay, dissolution, and demonism with pastoral landscapes and an idyllic past. Critics have stressed two other areas of meaning in “Helian”: its prophecy of the decline of Occidental civilization and its use of Christian imagery without commitment to a specifically Christian range of meanings. Like his French Symbolist forerunners, Trakl concentrates on the suggestive power of images and lines rather than on the exposition of a sequence of ideas or events. The work represents a significantly new development in German poetry. By 1913 Trakl had become irreversibly addicted to drugs. In December he nearly died of an overdose of veronal. In July, 1914, he received a considerable sum of money anonymously from the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who was dispossessing himself of his material inheritance. Wittgenstein wrote to Ficker about Trakl’s poetry: “I don’t understand it; but its tone delights me. It is the tone of genius.” In August, 1914, Trakl left Innsbruck for Galicia, as a lieutenant attached to Austria’s medical corps. A few weeks later, after having either threatened or attempted suicide, he was diagnosed as schizophrenic. His treatment consisted of being locked up in a cell. There Trakl, at the age of twenty-seven, died of an overdose of cocaine.

Perhaps no other twentieth century poet has been open to more contradictory interpretations than Trakl. The perspectives of critics have ranged from arch-Christian to expressionist, ethical, and psychoanalytic. Most critics tend to agree, however, that Trakl laments the difficulty of living in an age of cultural decline and spiritual corruption and that, at least in some of his poems, he affirms an existential Christian faith akin to that of Kierkegaard and a compassion akin to that of Dostoevski.

BibliographyGraziano, Frank, ed. Georg Trakl: A Profile. Durango, Colo.: Logbridge-Rhodes, 1983. This biographical study of Trakl’s work concentrates on the poet’s family relations, drug addiction, poverty, and depression as well as the influence of World War I.Sharp, Francis Michael. The Poet’s Madness: A Reading of Georg Trakl. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1981. Critical interpretation of selected poems by Trakl. Includes the texts of poems in English and German.Williams, Eric. The Mirror and the Word: Modernism, Literary Theory, and Georg Trakl. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993. A critical study of Trakl’s works that focuses on his contributions to modernism in Austria. Includes bibliographical references and index.Williams, Eric, ed. The Dark Flutes of Fall: Critical Essays on Georg Trakl. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1991. A collection of essays on the works of Trakl. Includes bibliographical references and index.
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