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  #1  
Unread 05-24-2019, 06:33 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Default Georg Trakl, "To the Boy, Elis"

To the Boy, Elis. Translated by Christopher Newton

Elis, when the blackbird calls in the dark forest,
this is your downfall.
Your lips drink the cool of the blue
rock spring.

Invoke, when your brow lightly bleeds,
ancient legends
and dark interpretations of bird flight.

You, though, go with soft paces in the night
that hangs full of purple grapes
and you wave arms more beautifully in blue.

A thornbush chimes
where your mooning eyes are.
O, how long Elis, are you dead?

Your body is a hyacinth
a monk dips his wax finger into.
A black cave is our silence.

Sometimes a soft beast treads out of it
and slowly sinks its heavy lids.
Black dew beads on your temples.

The last gold of fallen stars.



An Den Knaben Elis

Elis, wenn die Amsel im schwarzen Wald ruft,
Dieses ist dein Untergang.
Deine Lippen trinken die Kühle des blauen Felsenquells.

Laß, wenn deine Stirne leise blutet,
Uralte Legenden
Und dunkle Deutung des Vogelflugs.

Du aber gehst mit weichen Schritten in die Nacht,
Die voll purpurner Trauben hängt,
Und du regst die Arme schöner im Blau.

Ein Dornenbusch tönt,
Wo deine mondenen Augen sind.
O, wie lange bist, Elis, du verstorben.

Dein Leib ist eine Hyazinthe,
In die ein Mönch die wächsernen Finger taucht.
Eine schwarze Höhle ist unser Schweigen,

Daraus bisweilen ein sanftes Tier tritt
Und langsam die schweren Lider senkt.
Auf deine Schläfen tropft schwarzer Tau,

Das letzte Gold verfallener Sterne.
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  #2  
Unread 05-24-2019, 06:38 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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I'm reading Trakl at the moment in the Doss-Schmitt bilingual edition; not bad, but I do feel it could be better. He was a leading Austrian expressionist, who published three volumes of poetry, 1908-1914, anonymously financed by Ludwig Wittgenstein. He died young of a cocaine overdose after serving in World War One. The poem here gave Doss and Schmitt their title: The Last Gold of Expired Stars.
I hear echoes of Trakl in Paul Celan.

Cheers,
John
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  #3  
Unread 06-09-2019, 12:16 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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John,

Thanks for sharing this. Trakl is perpetually on my "To Read" list.

If the work you're reading is subpar, why not have a go at it? Trakl is in the public domain, right?
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  #4  
Unread 06-09-2019, 02:35 PM
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Allen Tice Allen Tice is offline
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This is definitely Trakl. He has a unique voice. I don't always like it, but it's a modern German-language voice I can tolerate reading fairly closely, along with Rilke and Morgenstern. Nobody else that I know of yet. Nobody I can stand for more than a line or a title. And I like the German language of my forebears and their current freundschaft. Speaking of bears, there's the true story about the three Pennsylvania Dutchmen who were out hunting when about noon they came to a sign at a fork in the path. Amos said to Sam (in English), "Now, what does that mean?" Martin said, "It says, 'BEAR LEFT'." Sam agreed, and added "We're too late today." So they turned around and went back home.
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  #5  
Unread 06-09-2019, 06:55 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Andrew, hi Allen,

Andrew, the translation isn't terrible, it just says things like "I lift the eyes" or "goldenly" or "the blueness" - a bit Yellow Submarine-y in fact. Trakl writes free verse, so it's possible to stick fairly closely to syntax and vocabulary without massacring the poem. The bilingual edition I mentioned is certainly worth considering for anyone interested.
Allen, I do love Morgenstern, funny and light and sometimes thoughtful. Very German. I don't know if you've tried Brecht or Benn or George, but if not, they're worth a look. Here meanwhile is Celan's Todesfuge, which is a contender, with the Duineser Elegien and maybe the Moritat von Mackie Messer, for the most famous German poem of the last 100 years. Translation by Michael Hamburger:

Death Fugue

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at sundown
we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night
we drink and we drink it
we dig a grave in the breezes there one lies unconfined
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden hair
Margarete
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are flashing he
whistles his pack out
he whistles his Jews out in earth has them dig for a grave
he commands us strike up for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink in the morning at noon we drink you at sundown
we drink and we drink you
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden hair
Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith we dig a grave in the breezes there
one lies unconfined.

He calls out jab deeper into the earth you lot you others sing now
and play
he grabs at the iron in his belt he waves it his eyes are blue
jab deeper you lot with your spades you others play on for the
dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon in the morning we drink you at sundown
we drink you and we drink you
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith he plays with the serpents

He calls out more sweetly play death death is a master from
Germany
he calls out more darkly now stroke your strings then as smoke
you will rise into air
then a grave you will have in the clouds there one lies unconfined

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon death is a master from Germany
we drink you at sundown and in the morning we drink and we
drink you
death is a master from Germany his eyes are blue
he strikes you with leaden bullets his aim is true
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
he sets his pack on to us he grants us a grave in the air
he plays with the serpents and daydreams death is a master from
Germany

your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith
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  #6  
Unread 06-19-2019, 05:57 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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What am I missing? What is it that you admire about "To the Boy, Elis," John? I see nothing particularly swoon-worthy about it, but maybe I'm just swoon-immune.

I think that first quatrain is supposed to be a tercet, BTW.
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  #7  
Unread 06-19-2019, 06:41 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Julie,

Fair questions.
Yes, it's a tercet. I may have inadvertently reformated it in copying and pasting.
I tried to put some of what I like about Trakl in my little Trakl poem, under D & A. Let's see if I can put some things in words. First, here are some details that strike me in this poem:

Elis, when the blackbird calls in the dark forest,
this is your downfall.

A thornbush chimes
where your mooning eyes are.
O, how long Elis, are you dead?

The last gold of fallen stars.


It's a kaleidoscopic poem, surreal avant la lettre and to my mind more interesting than almost any surrealist work I've read. Trakl has a habit of naming birds and trees precisely, as here (not so common in surrealist writers). I love "this is your downfall." The translation isn't great; "are you dead?" is an ugly version of "bist du gestorben?", a question I like a good deal. I can imagine better English throughout. As Rilke writes, the angels cannot tell the living from the dead, and that seems to be the N's case here. The last line I find mythic, in a sort of end of the world-y way.
There's stuff I like less well here, and there's definitely a mental furniture to Trakl that one comes to recognize, but then that's true of Rilke or Baudelaire as well. I'm not claiming that Trakl is another Rilke, but I think he is intermittently splendid, and that's worth knowing in the history of German C20th poetry, which is not broadly known in the US. Trakl died young after six good years of writing and might have produced more; what he did paved the way for, say, Breton and Eluard, and maybe Neruda. Surrealism per se, which he preceded.
Here's a twenty-page pamphlet on Trakl by James Wright and Robert Bly: https://www.dreamsongs.com/Files/Trakl.pdf COming out of his complete poems, I think they're right about his silence.

Cheers,
John
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  #8  
Unread 06-19-2019, 10:53 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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I dunno, John. I respect your opinion, and I appreciate your efforts to help me connect to Trakl's work. And I tried, I really did. But I seem to be a hopeless case.

Maybe I'm just not patient enough to hear all this silence speaking.

I do like the color palette of this poem...

     (black[bird], dark, blue, dark, night, purple, blue, hyacinth, black, black, and the fading gold from a fallen star)

...somewhat better than the color palette of the twenty poems in the other document that you linked to...

     (black*, dark**, blue***, purple*4, red*5, gold*6, silver*7, white*8, pale*8b, and grey*9).

To be brutally honest, reading through those (yes, I know, way too fast) and being smacked in the face with color word after color word, I was reminded of the palette of Chapter 4 (Twilight Town, Forest, and Creepy Steeple) of the Paper Mario 2: The Thousand Year Door video game. The scenery's contrasting gloom and luridness is all drama, drama, drama and despair, despair, despair.

Everything's autumnal and decaying and sickly, and the same elements seem to pop up in every poem. Oh, goody, more thorns*10. That gloomy mood becomes almost a caricature of itself after a while, in my opinion. Read through the lists of color words below. Wow.

In the OP poem, "Your body is a hyacinth / a monk dips his wax finger into" is certainly untrodden territory, but I can't quite make it mean anything much. The mythological Hyacinth died of a head wound, as Elis seems to have also, but I don't recall any monks (with or without a wax finger--is that meant to be phallic? a candle? an actual finger?) in Ovid's version of the story, if that is one of the "ancient legends" referred to in S2L2.

But great poetry is often great poetry without my understanding or endorsement.

Thanks, John.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

* black wall (p. 7)
black waters (p. 9)
black horses (p. 10)
black fir branches (p. 10)
black wind (p. 12)
black wings (p. 12)
blackness (p. 15)
black firs (p. 15)
black wings (p. 15)
black rain (p. 16)
black fir trees (p. 18)
black swarms of flies (p. 19)
black voyages (p. 19)
black horses (p. 20)
black frost (p. 23)
Sleep is black. (p. 23)
black mold (p. 27)

** Darkening thunder (p. 6)
In the dark room (p. 6)
dark animals (p. 8)
forests that were growing dark (p. 9)
darkening woods (p. 10)
Icy winds quarrel in the darkness (p. 11)
over dark waters (p. 12)
I am a shadow far from darkening villages (p. 16)
Dark anxiety (p. 18)
The dark cry of trumpets (p. 18)
Out of the dark entrance hall (p. 18)
Black swarms of flies / Darken the stony space. (p. 19)
The motionless sea grows dark. (p. 19)
You dark mouth inside me (p. 20)
A mountain stream turns dark in the green light. (p. 20)
A dark future prepared / For the pale grandchild. (p. 21)
Oh the darkness of night. (p. 23)
a dark machine-gun nest (p. 23)
out of the darkness of my shadow (p. 23)
the dark eagles, sleep and death, (p. 25)
And the dark voice mourns (p. 25)
Not your dark poisons again (p. 26)
A dark pirate ship (p. 26)
the darkening sun (p. 27)
the dark flutes of autumn (p. 27)

*** blue skiff (p. 8)
blue grief of the evening (p. 13)
blue spring (p. 13)
blue water (p. 15)
The blue dove of the evening (p. 18)
The moon shines with blue light (p. 21)
blue ice (p. 23)
blue lakes (p. 27)

*4 purple fruits (p. 9)
purple grapes (p. 9)
purple clouds (p. 15)
purpled foreheads (p. 29)
purple wine (p. 23)
purple linen (p. 23)
purple surge (p. 24)
purple remains (p.25)

*5 red poppy (p. 6)
The fish rises with a red body in a green pond (p. 8)
red deer (p. 9)
red maple (p. 10)
red hunter (p. 15)
red evening (p. 18)
red fire (p 23)
A red wolf that an angel is strangling (p. 23)
Out of the door in the east the rose-colored day (p. 23)
red of evening (p. 26)
red cloud (p. 27)

*6 gold sun (p. 8)
golden harvests (p. 9)
golden clouds (p. 13)
Her eyes graze, round and golden, in the twilight (p. 16)
Dark anxiety / Of death, as when the gold / Died in the grey cloud (p. 18)
golden branches (p. 18)
The golden shape / Of the young girl (p. 18)
the agony / Of the golden day (p. 19)
golden evening stillness (p. 20)
The golden statue of man / is swallowed by the icy comber / of eternity. (p. 25)
full of the sound / Of the weapons of death, golden fields (p. 27)
gold branches of the night (p. 27)

*7 A silver hand / Puts the light out (p. 6)
silver eyelids (p. 9)
toads plunge from silver waters (p. 12)
silver skiff (p. 17)
silver light (p. 19)
silver snow (p. 20)
silver light (p. 23)
silver soles (p. 23)
silver arms (p. 24)

*8 the white moon of autumn shines (p. 11)
Over the white fishpond (p. 17)
The white walls of the city are always giving off sound. (p. 17)
The wild heart grew white in the forest (p. 18)
With her white habit glittering like the stars / Over the broken human bodies / The convent nurse is silent. (p. 20)
and your forehead is white before the ripe desire of the frost; (p. 23)
A white shirt of stars burns on your clothed shoulders (p. 23)
a white-washed room (p. 23)
Not your dark poisons again, / White sleep! (p. 26)
White birds from the outskirts of the night (p. 26)

*8b Something pale wakes up in a suffocating room (p. 15)
Surrounded by the pale moon (p. 18)
A dark future prepared / For the pale grandchild (p. 21)

*9 a grey malodorous mist from the latrine (p. 11)
the grey skies (p. 12)
the gray cloud (p. 18)

*10 the sweet body decayed in a bush of thorns (p. 16)
under arching thorns (p. 17)
thorny stairs (p. 23)
a thorny desert surrounds the city (p. 24)

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 06-19-2019 at 10:59 PM.
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  #9  
Unread 06-19-2019, 11:49 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Julie,

You make a compelling case, and I did like your comparison to the video game. Frankly, I didn't read the pamphlet's poems - I've just finished 500-odd pages of Trakl - I only scanned through the prefatory materials by James Wright, whom I like, and Bly, whom I don't much but others do. I didn't find the complete poems as monotonous as this pamphlet evidently is. The early poems are quite Catholic, opening up later into something more ecumenical. Death is a constant; he was pretty clearly depressive if not bipolar, and likely committed suicide (cocaine OD) after his early experience of WW I. But yes, he has a mental furniture, and in this pamphlet it seems relentless, not to say caricatural, as you establish.
In case you'd like (!) to see one more short Trakl poem, here's "Sebastian im Traum" translated by the gifted Michael Hamburger: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poe...ontentId=28696 It has some of the color palette you indicate, but used perhaps more effectively - dark stair, for instance.

Cheers,
John
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