A Reader's Guide to Fifty Modern European Poets

By John Pilling | Go to book overview
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Georg Trakl (1887-1914)

Born in Salzburg, the son of a Protestant businessman. Hypersensitive to the point of hysteria as a child. Of great physical stamina as a young man, though addicted to alcohol and narcotics. Trained as a dispensing chemist, a profession which offered him optimum access to drugs; attended Vienna University betweeen 1908 and 1910. Presumed to have had an incestuous relationship with his sister, who shot herself in 1917. Briefly an apothecary in Salzburg; in 1912 worked at the garrison hospital in Innsbréck. In the summer of 1914 received financial support from the philosopher Wittgenstein. Served as a medical lieutenant on the Galician front, where he attempted to commit suicide. Hospitalized in Krakow where he died from an overdose of drugs.

In a celebrated chapter of The Phenomenology Of The Spirit ( 1807), describing the turmoil experienced by the 'unhappy' consciousness, Hegel speaks of such a consciousness inhabiting a 'giddy world of perpetually self-creating disorder'. Of the many modern poets whose sufferings are prefigured by Hegel the Austrian poet Georg Trakl seems unhappier than most; his 'giddy world' was not one made meaningful by the Absolute Spirit of which Hegel had spoken. Trakl, on his own admission, suffered the agonies of 'an uninterruptedly precarious and in all things despairing nature'. In a letter to the Viennese satirist Karl Kraus, who admired his poetry, he spoke of moods of 'frantic intoxication and criminal melancholy'. Nowhere was the atmosphere of intoxication and melancholy which prevailed at the turn of the century more dynamic than

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A Reader's Guide to Fifty Modern European Poets
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