Medusa's Mirror: Studies in German Literature

By August Closs | Go to book overview

IX
Georg Trakl

AN AUSTRIAN POET (1887-1914)

In order really to be a great genius a man must be the exception. But in order that his being exceptional should be a serious matter he himself must be unfree, forced into the position. There lies the importance of his dementia. There is a definite point in which he suffers; it is impossible for him to run with the herd. That is his torture. Translated by A. DRU, The Journal of Søren Kierkegaard, 1850

GEORG TRAKL, THE passionate admirer of Dostoevsky, is a true child of his tormented era. He was only twentyseven years old when in the beginning of the First World War, sick in spirit as in body, he died in the military hospital at Cracaw. One year before he had completed his first volume of poems. Of his work, as of his life, nothing is left but fragments, yet they testify to his genius.

A native of Salzburg in Austria, Georg Trakl was by profession a dispensing chemist. Quite early in his career he fell a victim to alcohol and drugs. Since his death in 1914 the little volume of verse in the Inselbücherei Gesang des Abgeschiedenen had, for some time, become almost the only means of rescuing his name from oblivion, for the public was practically unacquainted with the volume of Trakl's collected verse published in 1919 (Gesamtausgabe). None the less, Georg Trakl, like Georg Heym and Kurt Heynicke, is incontestibly one of the most significant lyric poets figuring in the expressionist anthology, Menschheits Dämmerung ( 1920).

He shares their macabre hankering for the morbid and terrible, for death and decay. In Trakl, however, these are mingled with tender melancholy which none the less cannot be dismissed as mere traits of decadence and irresponsible

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