Thursday, 3 September 2009

70 years on from World War II (Georg Trakl)

Molotov, Dulles and the poet at the end of the war

Bloggers like Weaver of Grass are remembering that it's exactly 70 years today since Neville Chamberlain announced that Britain was at war with Germany.
The poem chosen to mark this date is one from the so-called Great War and is by the Austrian poet Georg Trakl who died following a complete nervous breakdown on witnessing the terrible scenes on the eastern front as a medical orderly.

In the following translation I've taken a few liberties to make the English version of the poem stronger than it would otherwise be. Trakl held back. A sensitive man, I feel he knew the breakdown was imminent.

In the East

Wild organs in the winter storm,
the dark pains of the people,
the purple surge of battle,
the fallen leaves and stars.

Broken browed and silver armed
night hauls the dying soldiers.
In the shadow of the autumn ash
the deafeated spirit sighs.

Thorny wildness grips the town.
On bleeding steps the moon
pursues the frightened woman.
Wild wolves break down the doors.

Georg Trakl (1887-1914)
(translation / gw 3 Sept 2009)

Im Osten

Den wilden Orgeln des Wintersturms
Gleicht des Volkes finstrer Zorn,
Die purpurne Woge der Schlacht,
Entlaubter Sterne.

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.


  1. I await your poem p-i-r. There are plenty of poems from the first world war which I love and which really strike to the heart - I once taught the great war poets to a fairly illiterate lot of fifth form boys - and it really caught their imagination. The phrase which they all found so emotive was "those who die like cattle" - I have never forgotten the impact on those lads.
    Not so sure about second world war poems but I am sure you will choose an apt one.

  2. I think the line 'those who die like cattle' is memorable for the 'illiterate...fifth form boys' obvious reason that 'cattle' rhymes with 'battle' - so they would pick up on that.
    I tend to think in modern wars that often the symbolism of 'pigs' would be more suitable.
    I saw, for example, a recent TV programme in which hundreds of pigs which have never seen the light of day were marched to their inevitabel deaths under a subdued green light.


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