Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Georg Trakl and James Wright

I mentioned in last week's post on James Wright's "Milkweed" that, while doing some research, I discovered Wright's love for the work of Georg Trakl. I recently finished Trakl's Autumn Sonata: Selected Poems, translated by Daniel Simko, and I thoroughly understand Wright's attraction. Here's a standout poem that shares a tonal quality similar to Wright:

In Springtime
Snow sank softly from the dark footsteps.
In the shade of a tree
Lovers raise their rosy eyelids.

The dark calls of sailors are always followed
By stars and night;
The oars beat softly in time.

Soon the violets will begin to blossom
By the crumbling wall,
The lonely man's temples softly turn green.
Georg Trakl

The nature imagery is reminiscent of work in The Branch Will Not Break. The closing revelation is not, however, typical of Trakl and, in this case, really stands out. Like all great poets, Trakl works the same territory over and over, tilling and re-tilling his garden to bring forth myriad varieties of the genus lyrical. Some images are so constant as to be all pervasive: a deer, tentative and feeding at forests' edge; the sound of bells, blending together as they fade; the clarity of twilight; autumn's pervasive sadness; the sensed presence of the dead, all around us; small details of village life, with human activity strangely absent; and a deep, resonant melancholy.

I was totally taken over by this work. It dominated me for the last few weeks and, though it is as different from my own as possibly could be imagined, it stimulated me to write and write and write. Wright of The Branch Will Not Break shares with Trakl the approach of recording in detail, imagistically, what is about him. In Wright, it gives the sense of the present moment, of seeing what the poet sees as it is observed. With Trakl, there is a sense of the eternal quality of what is observed. A denouement often results from these images of Wright; with Trakl, normally the images and tone are the end in and of themselves. Wright's images aren't in any sense repetitive; Trakl's are very much so and, though this might challenge the modern reader, it is this repetitiveness that gives them their eternal, immortal quality. Trakl's work is predominately in the 3rd person, Wright utilizes a 1st person persona in many cases, particularly in Branch. Both share a quality of sadness that occasionally implies unnamed, past transgressions. The flawed quality of human nature is never far from the surface in the work of both these fine poets. Here is another haunting piece by Trakl:

Hohenburg (Second Version)
No one at home. Autumn fills the rooms;
Moon-bright sonata
And the awakening at the edge of the twilit forest.

You always think of the white face of mankind
Far from the turmoil of the times–
A green branch bends willingly over the one dreaming.

Cross and evening.
The star of the one singing embraces him with purple arms
As it rises to the empty windows.

Therefore, the stranger trembles in the darkness
As he softly raises his eyelids over a human shape.
In the distance, the silver voice of the wind in the hallway.
Georg Trakl

I've yet to read the twenty poems by Trakl translated by Wright and Robert Bly (pdf file). I am looking forward to it very much. I'll close these thoughts with Wright's poem, "I Was Afraid of Dying." The library poetry discussion group I co-moderate will be considering three poems by James Wright next week, which I am also looking forward to. It will be difficult, indeed, to keep my enthusiasm for his work in check. I have a feeling others will match it.

I Was Afraid of Dying
I was afraid of dying
In a field of dry weeds.
But now,
All day long I have been walking among damp fields,
Trying to keep still, listening
To insects that move patiently.
Perhaps they are sampling the fresh dew that gathers slowly
In empty snail shells
And in the secret shelters of sparrow feathers fallen on the
James Wright


The submission period for the 2nd Annual Bashô Haiku Challenge has ended and the response was excellent. This year there are 99 entries from all over; the UK, Eastern Europe, Japan, and New Zealand are all well represented, as well as the US. The total is close to 500 haiku. Last year there were 34 entries with around 150 poems. So, the reading period has begun and it will be taking quite some time, no doubt.

I'll keep everybody posted on my progress.


This week's featured issue of Lilliput Review is #153, from November 2006. Enjoy.

In this life where, from the womb,
---we step from dark to darkness,
what joy when a few fireflies
---rise up
------------to light our way.
Dan Stryk

Black Bread
-- found phrase (after a poem by Anna Akmatova)
Made of tears, blood and bile, mixed to
a paste of black sorrow and yeasty obedience,
you rise like an envelope full of stale air.
Pounded, meek and quiet into a mass of hope,
fibrous connections tearing, kneaded
again and again, torn and prayered, cornered.
I taste your salty promises of flesh and suckle
the finger offered. I breathe the moist air
made of grief tissue. I eat the corpse proffered.
Lita Sorenson

Never turn away from
a blessing,
no matter how
Greg Watson

full moon
half moon

just don't know
Ed Baker

And Issa's parting word(s) ...

in every direction
ten thousand blessings...
croaking frogs
translated by David G. Lanoue



Ed Baker said...

heck speaking/reading that ISSA poem and I just wrote another frog poem

as a reply to those 1.3 million Basho to his plash/plop/sound famous famous poem.. (and about so many of my (poet) friends dieing since about 2000:




Issa's Untidy Hut said...

This one is perfect, Ed ... just perfect. Thanks.

Grant Hackett said...

I am under the influence of your enthusiasm for Wright and Trakl. Bless you.