Silence at the forest’s edge encounters
A dark beast;
On the hill, evening’s breeze quietly fades,
The plaint of the blackbird hushes
And the gentle flutes of autumn
Fall silent in the reeds.
You float on black clouds
Drunk on poppies
The nocturnal pond,
The starry sky.
Forever sounds the lunar voice of the sister
Through the spectral night.
(Translated by Glenn Wallis)
It is the silence of matter annihilating the sacred dream—mind’s weft, the works of the yearning spirit.
Are you not a dark beast? Did you think your were a god? For the gods are the wind and their naming. Silence is a mode of mute beasts, who live in the forest, our home, of timber, stone, and shit.
The gentle flutes of autumn fall silent in the reeds; the beast and the blackbird respond.
Languidly, we gaze into the nocturnal pond, beguiled by our own reflection. We see ourselves everywhere. The danger here, though, is more than the willfulness of our human narcissism. Hovering above the earth in the black wisdom of our “knowing,” that poppy of forever makes us drunk.
But the poet has the kindness to remind us that the night is spectral. Long before forever, every star in the nocturnal pond will burn out. Our heaven, once lit, however dimly, by our pale lunar sister, will become perfect darkness. The resplendent glories of heaven and earth will become coal-like husks of collapsed matter. Stellar corpses will lumber, for one final instant, through space. Then, the last atom will dissolve.
The poet awakens in us a searing, living memory of our ancestral scope. His “edge” is a line of horizon that renders facile all notions of homo sapiens as guardians of the axis mundi, and of earth, indeed, the cosmos, as “home.” How much more so does Trakl’s edge obliterate fantasies of an unscathed exit, such as heaven or rebirth? How infinitesimally puny does the ostensible cognitive fizzle known as “enlightenment” appear against the cosmic catastrophe. This is ancestral anamnesis. It means: remember, remember! Remember what you are!
The German original:
Stille begegnet am Saum des Waldes
Ein dunkles Wild;
Am Hügel endet leise der Abendwind,
Verstummt die Klage der Amsel
Und die sanften Flöten des Herbstes
Schweigen im Rohr.
Auf schwarzer Wolke
Befährst du trunken von Mohn
Den nächtigen Weiher,
Immer tönt der Schwester mondene Stimme
Durch die geistliche Nacht.
In evening, the lament of the cuckoo
grows still in the woods.
The grain bends its head deeper,
the red poppy.
A black thunderstorm is threatening
above the hill.
The crickets’ ancient song
dies in the field.
Leaves on the chestnut tree
no longer stir.
Your dress rustles
on the spiral stair.
The candle glows silently
in the dark room;
a silver hand
puts it out;
windless, starless night.
(Translated by Glenn Wallis)
Am Abend schweigt die Klage
des Kuckucks im Wald.
Tiefer neigt sich das Korn,
der rote Mohn.
Schwarzes Gewitter droht
über dem Hügel.
Das alte Lied der Grille
erstirbt im Feld.
Nimmer regt sich das Laub
Auf der Wendeltreppe
rauscht dein Kleid.
Stille leuchtet die Kerze
im dunklen Zimmer;
eine silberne Hand
löschte sie aus;
windstille, sternlose Nacht.
Autumn of the Lonely
by Georg Trakl
(Translated by Glenn Wallis)
Dark autumn returns full of fruit and bounty,
Golden luster of beautiful summer days.
A pure blue alights out of a fallen hull;
The flight of birds resounds from ancient sagas.
The wine is pressed, the mild silence
Suffused with the quiet answer of dark questions.
And here and there a cross on a desolate hill;
In the red forest a herd is lost.
A cloud wanders over the surface of a pond;
The peasant’s calm gesture rests.
Quietly, the blue wing of evening stirs
A roof of dry straw, the black earth.
Soon stars will nest in the brows of the weary one;
In cool rooms a silent modesty returns
And angels step quietly out of the blue
Eyes of the lovers, who suffer more softly now.
The reed breathes; a boney horror attacks
When the thaw drips blackly from barren fields.
Der Herbst des Einsamen
Der dunkle Herbst kehrt ein voll Frucht und Fülle,
Vergilbter Glanz von schönen Sommertagen.
Ein reines Blau tritt aus verfallener Hülle;
Der Flug der Vögel tönt von alten Sagen.
Gekeltert ist der Wein, die milde Stille
Erfüllt von leiser Antwort dunkler Fragen.
Und hier und dort ein Kreuz auf ödem Hügel;
Im roten Wald verliert sich eine Herde.
Die Wolke wandert übern Weiherspiegel;
Es ruht des Landmanns ruhige Geberde.
Sehr leise rührt des Abends blauer Flügel
Ein Dach von dürrem Stroh, die schwarze Erde.
Bald nisten Sterne in des Müden Brauen;
In kühle Stuben kehrt ein still Bescheiden
Und Engel treten leise aus den blauen
Augen der Liebenden, die sanfter leiden.
Es rauscht das Rohr; anfällt ein knöchern Grauen,
Wenn schwarz der Tau tropft von den kahlen Weiden.
The Silence of Georg Trakl
The poems of Georg Trakl have a magnificent silence in them. It is very rare that he himself talks—for the most part he allows the images to speak for him. Most of the images, anyway, are images of silent things.
In a good poem made by Trakl images follow one another in a way that is somehow stately. The images have a mysterious connection with each other. The rhythm is slow and heavy, like the mood of someone in a dream. Wings of dragonflies, toads, the gravestones of cemeteries, leaves, and war helmets give off strange colors, brilliant and sombre colors—they live in too deep a joy to be gay. At the same time they live surrounded by a darkness without roads. Everywhere there is the suggestion of this dark silence:
The yellow ﬂowers
Bend without words over the blue pond
The silence is the silence of things that could speak, but choose not to. The German language has a word for deliberately keeping silence, which English does not have. Trakl uses this word “schweigen” often. When he says “the flowers/Bend without words over the blue pond”, we realise that the flowers have a voice, and that Trakl hears it. They keep their silence in the poems. Since he doesn’t put false speeches into the mouths of plants, nature has more and more confidence in him. As his poems grow, more and more creatures live in his poems—first it was only wild ducks and rats, but then oak trees, deer, decaying wall- paper, ponds, herds of sheep, trumpets, and finally steel helmets, armies, wounded men, battlefield nurses, and the blood that had run from the wounds that day.
[From a preface by James Wright and Robert Bly]
Georg Trakl (1877-1914).