Georg Trakl, born on February 3, 1887 in Salzburg, was one of the most notable Austrian expressionistic poets. Son of a renowned salesman and a rather neglecting, drug-addicted mother, he grew up in a bourgeois parental home, due to a lack of care on the part of his mother as well as because of being brought up by unhappily married parents, in a fragile mental condition ever since his early childhood. The only person capable of giving him some comfort was his sister Margarete he had a disputed incestuous relationship with, for his whole 27-year life unable to find another partner to replace her by, thus the mother and the sister becoming two of the most frequently used images in his poems.
After leaving Gymnasium early due to bad grades, he began an apprenticeship as a pharmacist in 1805, though in the meantime, poetry had already become his actual interest. Admiring Nietzsche and Dostojewski, strongly influenced by Baudelaire, he joined a Salzburger poet's circle mostly disapproved of by the local bourgeoisie before starting to study pharmacy in Vienna in 1908 and afterwards performing military service.
At this time, he had already sunk into deep depression, consuming an increasing amount of alcohol and cocaine, unable to find a job, slowly impoverishing, needing most of his time to overcome the "infernal chaos" 1 in his mind and around him.
In Innsbruck, he found shelter and material support with journalist Ludwig von Ficker, who from 1912 on regularly published Trakl's poems, a first collection of these first printed by Kurt Wolff in 1913, though this small income not improving his financial situation sufficiently.
Being sent to World War I in 1914, he was first confronted with all the horrors of war in Grodek, Galicia, later creating a poem of the same name about his experiences. After a suicide attempt, he was brought to a sanatorium in Krakau and diagnosed schizophrenia. There, he committed suicide by a cocaine overdose on November 3, 1914, 27 years old.
Trakl's poetry is strongly domineered by dreamlike pictures ("Boys play, dazed by dreams") of nature, night and water, painted in beautiful, rich colours ("Old places, sunlit, silenced, Deeply intertwined in blue and gold"), resulting in the impression of a surreal, miraculous still life, but never withouth being pierced by forebodings of fall, decay and death peering like "blossom's claws" through atumn trees' leaves.
Thus, since his early works, death's nearness can always be felt, like in (translation below)
Gewaltig endet so das Jahr
Mit goldnem Wein und Frucht der Gärten.
Rund schweigen Wälder wunderbar
Und sind des Einsamen Gefährten.
Da sagt der Landsmann: Es ist gut.
Ihr Abendglocken lang und leise
Gebt noch zum Ende frohen Mut.
Ein Vogelzug grüßt auf der Reise.
Es ist der Liebe milde Zeit.
Im Kahn den blauen Fluß hinunter
Wie schön sich Bild an Bildchen reiht-
Das geht in Ruh und Schweigen unter.
Thus, the year is ending powerfully
With golden wine and gardens' harvest.
Round, forests, silent, wonderful
Lonely man's companions.
Then, the countryman says: It is good.
Evening bells, long and gentle
Give cheers, now it's the end.
Birds greeting, on their journey.
It is love's mild time.
Down the blue river, boating
How beautifully image follows image-
Then vanishes in silence and quiet.
In his latter works, the literal meaning of the words gave slightly in to their sound and harmony (which of course I cannot render in my translations, as these aren't meant to be poetry themselves, but are simply representing the word-to-word sense as far as possible), creating more an overall picture rather than a chronological stream of thoughts. Written down short before his death, the premonitions turn into shear horror in
Den wilden Orgeln des Wintersturms
Gleicht des Volkes finstrer Zorn,
Die purpurne Woge der Schlacht,
Mit zerbrochnen Brauen, silbernen Armen
Winkt sterbenden Soldaten die Nacht.
Im Schatten der herbstlichen Esche
Seufzen die Geister der Erschlagenen.
Dornige Wildnis umgürtet die Stadt.
Von blutenden Stufen jagt der Mond
Die erschrockenen Frauen.
Wilde Wölfe brachen durchs Tor.
In The East
The furious organs of the winter storm
Similar to people's dark wrath,
The battle's purple wave,
Of naked stars.
With broken eyebrows, silver arms
Night waves to dying soldiers.
In the shadow of autumnal ash-tree
The ghosts of the stroken dead sigh.
Thorny wilderness girds the town.
The moon hunts the frightened women
Down bleeding stairs.
Wild wolves broke though the gate.
Although these poems were, like his other works, not the result of nightmares immediatley written down, but instead were created artificially and worked upon and changed many times, they still served the purpose of tackling with the "hell" in his own "heart"1 as well as compensating what he saw in his few months on the battlefield.
1Taken from: Georg Trakl: Achtzig Gedichte, Langewiesche-Brandt KG, Ebenhausen, Germany, 1997.
Poems taken from http://gutenberg.spiegel.de/trakl/gedichte/0htmldir.htm (Projekt Gutenberg), where you can also find several of his (original) works.