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Harvard University

Words and images dealing with silence recur with higher frequency
in Trakl's poetry than almost any others. Their usage bespeaks a near
obsession with the phenomenon of silence. This fixation becomes increas-
ingly evident following Trakl's encounter with Rimbaud's poetry. He uses
metaphors of silence in various combinations to characterize four basic
conditions. They are 1) the innocence of childhood; 2) the holy, detached
state of the "unborn" called Abgeschiedenheit; 3) the state of fallen man;
and 4) the muteness accompanying the dead. Following a pattern found
throughout the lyrics, "Kindheit" and "Jahr" juxtapose the present silence
of man's desolate state with the blissful quiet of past innocence or of the
Abgeschiedenheit of the unborn. Elsewhere communion with the muted
dead seems to represent the poetic ego's attempt to evoke his former in-
nocent sell. Metaphors of silence also represent the dread which man senses
when he realizes God has withdrawn and his childhood faith is gone. The
poem "Psalm" bitterly indicts a silent God, while "De profundis" uses
the central image of "drinking God's silence" to express man's despair.
Finally, Trakl's war poems, especially "Die Schwermut" and "Grodek,"
employ the image of "muted" or "broken" mouths to represent the unre-
deemed silent state of the damned. (JKL)

I. Trakl's uses of silence

When Mallarm6described a certain type of modern poetry as a
"musiciennede silence" ("Sainte"), he touched on an essentialsimilarity
between much modernmusical and poetic composition.Just as rests and
pauses are a basic stuff for composers,so, too, many modern poets find
that rests, silence, and the inexpressibleare as essentialto poetic creation
as wordsare.
Georg Trakl's commentatorshave repeatedlycalled attentionto his
efforts to express the inexpressibleby shaping silence and working with
what lies near or beyond the limits of speech. Rilke's descriptionof the
poem "Helian"will suffice to summarizewhat many consider to be an
essentialtrait in Trakl'spoetry:1"JedesAnhebenund Hingehenin diesem
schinen Gedichtist von einer unsaiglichenSiiMigkeit, ganz ergreifendward
es mir durch seine inneren Abstlinde,es ist gleichsamauf seine Pausen
MfdU, Vol. 62, No. 4, 1970
Georg Trakl 341

aufgebaut,ein paarEinfriedigungenum das grenzenlosWortlose:so stehen

die Zeilen da. Wie Z~une in einem flachen Land, tiber die hin das Einge-
ziunte fortwlihrendzu einer unbesitzbarengrolSenEbene zusammen-
schligt.'"2While Rilke's descriptionof a poem "built on its pauses," of
the "infinitewordless"which is stakedoff with a few words, and of "inner
spaces" separatingparts of the poem is highly impressionistic,a routine
word count in Trakl'sother poems would confirmRilke's impressionthat
Trakl'spoetryoften dealswith the phenomenonof silenceand the inexpres-
sible. Nouns such as Schweigenor Stille, verbs such as schweigen and
verstummen,and related adjectives,adverbs,and gerundssuch as namen-
los, schweigend,sprachlos, still, stumm, unsdiglich,etc., occur with such
frequencythat they demandmore than fleetingattention.
While word counts and cataloging of images are low in order of
critical importance,they do help establish a writer's preoccupationor
obsession.3Curiously,no one has investigatedTrakl'snear obsessionwith
words and imagesof stillness,silence,quiet, and muteness,thoughscarcely
a critic fails to mention them. Nor has anyone investigatedhow he uses
them or what role they play in his poetry. Leitgeb'sword count of Trakl's
poetry does list thirty-threeoccurrencesof the noun Stille and twenty-six
of Schweigenfrom the 108 poems and three prose works representing
Trakl's maturewriting.4But he fails to record all the other occurrences
of wordsrelatingto this imagecluster,e.g. twentyoccurrencesof schweigen
in some form (schweigend,schweigsam,etc.), nine of stumm,nine of still,
seven of sprachlos,plus such peripheralwords as verstummen,namenlos,
and unsiiglich.Taken together,they representa formidableword group
(second only to images of darknessand night) and underscorewhat can
safely be taken as a preoccupation.5
The density of such words increases in the last half of the volume
known as Dichtungen.Though this is not arrangedin exact chronological
order, it does reflect the general progressionfrom early to late poems.
In the last sixty-threepoems, more than a quarterof them have two or
more occurrencesof words from this image cluster (many have four or
five such words), and nearly all reflect the motif of silence or muteness
by using otherimagesnot directlywithinthis word cluster.For this reason,
later poems providethe best examplesof imagesand metaphorsof silence
in Trakl'spoetry.
When such words and metaphorsof silence occur in the volume of
early poems entitled Aus goldenem Kelch (which Trakl rejected as im-
mature) or in the earlypoemsof Dichtungen,one is struckby theirunimag-
inative, derivative usage: "....Girten,/ Die sich in Paradiesesschweigen
sonnen,"(II,85); "IhrSchweigenbreitendie Wolkenam Hiigel" (II,109);
"Rund schweigenWilder wunderbar"(1,34). The conventionalusage of
342 Monatshefte

"Schweigen"in an early poem by that title (II,88) is only one example

of an apparentlyindifferentusage of both the term and the metaphor.
Traklat this point apparentlyhad no obsessiveconcernwith silence, mute-
ness, and relatedmetaphorsand motifs. This observationis confirmedby
comparingthe relativelylow frequencyof this word cluster in the early
poems with the higher frequencyin later poems.6
Sometimeduringthe last two years or so of Trakl'slife, this pattern
of usage changes.One now encounterstropes such as "GottesSchweigen/
Trank ich aus dem Brunnendes Hains" (1,67); "schweigenderAnblick
der Sonne"(1,147); "Aberstilleblutetin dunklerHihle stummereMensch-
heit" (1,131); "Sonjas Leben, blaue Stille" (1,119). It is tempting to
relate this increasedoccurrenceand sovereignusage to Trakl's encounter
with Rimbaudin the Karl Klammer (K.L. Ammer) translation.Grimm
dates this encounteraround1911-1912, just when this word clusterbegins
to appearwith increasingfrequencyand to assumeincreasingimportance.'
But in Grimm'sexhaustivedocumentationof everythingTrakl seems to
have borrowed, there is virtually no evidence that Trakl appropriated
anythingfrom Rimbaudrelatingto the motif of silence. Rather it appears
to have been an independentdevelopment,since there are almostno words,
images, or motifs in the Klammertranslationwhich might have provided
the necessaryimpulses.It seems that the encounterwith Rimbaudhelped
Trakl find his own style, but that Trakl developed this word cluster and
its metaphoricsignificanceautonomously.
This does not imply that Trakl createdin a vacuum and was totally
out of touch with the thought and temper of his times. The contraryis
probablytrue. The skeptical attitudetoward language in the writingsof
Fritz Mauthnerand GustavLandauerduringthe first two decades of this
century,the varioustestimonialsof Sprachnotby Hofmannsthal,the long
periods of silence in Rilke and Val6ry, and general distrusttoward con-
ventional poetic languagefound in many writers from Mallarm6to T.S.
Eliot are all symptomaticfor a prevailinghabit of mind.8While Trakl's
indebtednessto his contemporariescannot be clearly established,his pre-
occupationwith silence and the inexpressibleis only a highlyindividualistic
manifestationof the prevailingclimate of opinion, regardlessof whether
one calls it Sprachnot,Sprachskepsis,or awarenessof the limitationsof
poetic language.
In his poetic struggleto articulate,Trakl'susage fromthe word cluster
of silencerangesover a scale from accepted,traditionalsyntaxand imagery
("die schweigendenWiilder"1,183; "Stille der Diirfer" 1,167) through
catachresticconstructions("blaue Stille" 1,119; "die milde Stille" 1,121)
on to the most jolting,unconventionalsymbolic and syntacticalstructures
("seine stillereKindheit"1,133; "iiberder griinenStille des Teichs"1,137;
"Stilleleuchtet die Kerze"1,166).
GeorgTrald 343

Silence is a dominant feature in Trakl's world, though one might

more accuratelyspeak of "muteness,"since there often are sounds such
as the singingof birds or the activitiesof workmen.But human speech is
almost totally lackingin the poetic landscape.When a figure does speak,
his speech is usuallyqualifiedby a restrictiveadjectiveor adverbimplying
quiet or near muteness,e.g. "LeisesagendvergesseneLegende des Walds"
(I,111) or "Die dunkle Klage seines Munds" (I,113).
Metaphorsof silence play an essential role in nearly every phase
of human existence. They range over a spectrum from childhood and
innocence through man's fallen state of wickedness on to the state of
death. One might classify "conditionsof silence" accordingto their uses
in recurrentsituations.
First, the innocenceof childhoodis nearly always attendedby meta-
phors of silence ("Dunkle Stille der Kindheit"1,168; "Jenerging . .. In
seine stillereKindheit"1,133; "Geduldund Schweigender Kindheit"I,143;
"Der Platz vor der Kirche ist finsterund schweigsam,wie in den Tagen
der Kindheit"1,63). Usually this state is blissful and serene.
In a second categoryclosely connectedwith childhood,silence often
attends the Ungeborenen,the unborn innocents nearly always portrayed
as youths who have not yet incurredguilt through"birth"into the sinful
Trakl usually gives specific names to these innocents, e.g. Kaspar
Hauser, Elis, Helian, and Sonja, though certain generic designationsalso
seem to apply, e.g. "Der Schauende,""Der Novize," etc. But whatever
the designation,they are either partiallyor completely silent. Elis lives
in "vollkommeneStille" (1,96); in "Helian" one reads "Schin ist die
Stille der Nacht" (1,84); in "Afra"one hears of quiet evening coolness
and of "des HolundersSchweigen"(I,123); and Sonja'slife itself is "blaue
Stille" (1,119).
Martin Heideggercalls the pure, innocent state in which they exist
Abgeschiedenheit.9 This term, derivingfrom Germanmystics (notably of
MeisterEckhart'sschool),1ooriginallydenoteda state of spiritualdisinter-
estedness or self-denial,the detachmentand withdrawalfrom the world
necessaryto allow God to enter the subject. In the course of time the
meaning of spiritual separation from the world was graduallyreduced
to mean separationfrom the world by death. Trakl'spoem "Gesangdes
Abgeschiedenen"(1,174), which seems to extend the term again to com-
prehendmany aspects of its originalmeaningof separationand isolation
from the world, providedHeideggerwith his formulationfor what he sees
as the prevailingmood, the innercondition,and the state of mindin Trakl's
entirepoetic world."
Accordingto Heidegger,silence and mutenessare fundamentalto this
state of A bgeschiedenheit. He asks, "Ist die Abgeschiedenheit nicht ein
344 Monatshefte

einziges Schweigender Stille? Wie kann die Abgeschiedenheitein Sagen

und Singen auf den Weg bringen?"'12 He answersby pointingout that in
Trakl'sworld silence in the unborninnocentsis somethingholy and trans-
cendent, a more profoundaspect of speech in which the true essence of
languageand music is found. This is not incongruouswhen one considers
how often Trakl structureshis poetic world in antithesescomprehended
in such terms as Gut-BWise; Paradies-Hblle;Schuld-Gerechtigkeit; Often-
barung-Untergang;and Traum-Umnachtung.13 Silence is not only the
antithesisof speech; it is also quintessentialspeech, for as he puts it,
"das Wesen der Sprache"is nothing more than "das Geliut der Stille,"
a silentsoundingwhichremainsunarticulated,but whichthe unbornfigures
perceive.14This would explain the frequencyof the verbs liiuten, tinen,
and klingenin these poems. Elis, for example,hears the soundingof bells
withinhim: "Ein sanftesGlockenspielt6nt in Elis' Brust"(1,96). It would
also explainwhy anotherunborninnocent called "Der Einsame"in "Der
Herbst des Einsamen" (1,121) listens in silence and hears ". .. die milde
Stille/ Erfiilltvon leiser Antwort dunklerFragen."The inner harmonyof
these unborn innocents enables them to perceive the ineffable.They are
mute, but silence here is by definitiona higherform of communication.
This is no longerthe case in a thirdcategoryof silent existence.Here
man has incurredunspeakableguiltby being "born,"i.e. comingin contact
with sin and evil ("Grol ist die Schulddes Geborenen"1,132; "Weh,der
unsiiglichenSchuld, die jenes [Grab]kundtut"1,158). The characteristic
harmonioussilence of unborn innocents has been supplantedby over-
whelmingmutenessin the face of enigmatichuman existence ("Unsiiglich
ist derVi5gelFlug,Begegnung/Mit Sterbenden"1,123), inexpressibledread
of the ineffable("Uber Stoppelfeldund Pfad/ Banget schon ein schwarzes
Schweigen"1,122), and silentresignationto man'sfallenstate ("Aber stille
blutetin dunklerHihle stummereMenschheit"1,131; "Ein Herz/ Erstarrt
in schneeigerStille"1,173). Existence has lost all meaning, and man has
been left helpless and inarticulate.A letter Traki wrote to Ludwig von
Ficker sometime during November, 1913, laments the loss of coherent
existence in his personallife. His anguishedtone intimateshow ineffable
he consideredsuch sufferingto be: "Es ist so ein namenloses Ungliick,
wenn einem die Welt entzweibricht.O mein Gott, welch ein Gericht ist
iiber mich hereingebrochen"(III,170).
One might say Trakl'sworld begins and ends in innocence,the inno-
cence characterizedby two large groups--children;and those whom Trakl
would call "the unborn" (die Ungeborenen). This silent condition of
primevalinnocence("ruhigwohntedie Kindheit/ In blauerHShle"1,102),
i.e. not having incurredthe guilt inherentin adult existence by entrance
into the world of sin, does not necessarilysymbolizea privateexperience.
GeorgTrakl 345

Rather it standsas a metaphorfor all mankindbefore falling from grace.

In light of this interpretation,one can comprehendTrakl'swish expressed
in an earlierversionof "Passion"that he who is born into the world might
die before tastingthe bitterfruit of guilt-riddenexistence:
Weh, des Geborenen,dab er stiirbe
Eh er die gliihendeFrucht,
Die bittereder Schuldgenossen.
Physical birth alone does not bring guilt. Guilt comes throughexposure
to and immersionin human sinfulness."Birth"into life and loss of inno-
cence come with this increased awareness ("GroB ist die Schuld des
Geborenen"1,132), a situationwhichin Christiantermswould correspond
to man after the fall of Adam.
In a fourth and final use of metaphorsof silence, the dead, too, are
almostalwaysdescribedin such terms.One recallsthe meaningof the word
Abgeschiedenheitdenotingdeath. In some cases the dead actuallyreturn
to the beatificstate of silent innocenceupon dying: "Jeneraber ging .../
In seine stillereKindheitund starb"(1,133). Just as often, however,death
means ultimate loss of articulation("Stille bliiht die Myrthe iiber den
weiBl3enLidern des Toten" 1,147; "O [weh] der Verwesten, da sie mit
silbernenZungendie H511eschwiegen,"1,161; "VomHiigel .../ Stiirztdas
lachende Blut [der Soldaten] - / Unter Eichen/ Sprachlos . . ." 1,181).

II. Blissful Silence: Past Innocence and Present Recall

Among the charactersin Trakl'spoetic landscape,the child and der
Ungeboreneappear most often. Both seem to be counters for the poet
himself, the poet's "anti-self"as Yeats would call it. Both have not yet
enteredlife, have not been "born,"i.e. initiatedinto sinfulness.Trakl once
confessed to Hans Limbach, "Ich bin ja erst halb geboren" (II1,115).
Accordingto Limbach,he claimedto be totallyunawareof the worldabout
him until age twenty. The connection between this personal aspect of
Trakl's life and those Ungeborenenliving detached from the world is
The poem "Kindheit"(1,102) illustratesthe blissful, serene state of
silencewhich obtainedduringchildhood:
Voll Friichtender Holunder;ruhigwohntedie Kindheit
In blauerHdhle.tObervergangenen Pfad,
Wo nun briunlichdas wildeGrassaust,
Sinntdas stilleGelist;das Rauschendes Laubs
Ein gleiches,wenn das blaueWasserim Felsentint.
Sanftist derAmselKlage.Ein Hirt
Folgtsprachlosder Sonne,die vom herbstlichen
346 Monatshefte

Ein blauer Augenblickist nur mehr Seele.

Am Waldsaumzeigt sich ein scheues Wild und friedlich
Ruhn im Grund die alten Glocken und finsterenWeiler.
Frammerkennst du den Sinn der dunklen Jahre,
Kiihle und Herbst in einsamen Zimmern;
Und in heiliger Bliue liuten leuchtende Schritte fort.
Leise klirrt ein offenes Fenster; zu Trinen
Riihrt der Anblick des verfallenenFriedhofs am Hiigel,
Erinnerungan erzihlte Legenden;doch manchmalerhellt sich die Seele
Wenn sie frohe Menschen denkt, dunkelgoldeneFriihlingstage.
Here images of a sheltered, peaceful world intermingle with images of
silence and darkness. Ruhig, sanft, scheu, friedlich, leise, dunkelgolden
in lines one, six, fourteen, and seventeen describe the mood, while still and
sprachlos in lines four and seven refer to the silence of childhood. Closer
examination shows that adjectives in the first group (with the possible
exception of the last one) also either imply or denote the silent condition.
The basic situation is peaceful (ruhig); the sound of the black bird is
barely audible (sanft); the animal, often a counter for the poetic ego
("Du, ein blaues Tier" 1,128; "er, ein wildes Tier" 1,157), has the same
qualities a silent child has (scheu, friedlich); the window rattles quietly
(leise). Trakl's ambiguous use of adjectives subtly reinforces the basic
The shepherd, the "blue cave" of childhood security, the deer, and
the "holy blue" connected with childhood here are standard components
wherever Trakl sketches this silent landscape of innocence. Even the
sounds made by the swaying grass, the rustling leaves, the water striking
the rocks, and the blackbird's cry underscore the muteness of this landscape
where no human voice is heard. The entire poem to this point might be
viewed as an extended metaphor for the silent tranquillity of childhood.
Not until the final line where the transitive usage of denkt describes
the soul thinking of or recalling joyful days does one realize that the poem
is actually reflecting on the past. This may refer to the childhood of the
poetic ego; more likely it is a metaphorfor the childhoodof the race. The
past tense (wohnte) used in the first line to describe how peaceful and
quiet childhoodonce was confirmsthat this state no longer obtains. The
season is autumn,as the ripenedelderberrybushes and the brown grass in
stanza one and the "autumnhill" in stanza two testify. While the speaker
walks along a path familiarfrom childhood,the "quiet"branches,the soft
rustlingof leaves, and the "sound"of the blue waterscombineto evoke the
memory of this innocent Abgeschiedenheit.Everythingin this landscape
familiarto the speakerfrom youth combinesto producethe "bluemoment
Georg Trald 347

of recall"mentionedin stanza three. Blue in this poem apparentlyrefers

to that lost age of innocence (cf. the opening lines), though critics have
establishedhow difficultit is to assign one meaningto colors (and most
other images) in Trakl. The last line suggeststhat the color gold also has
some connectionwith childhood.
Trakl sometimesequates the time of childhoodtranquillitywith the
spring season. This is explicit in "Jahr"(1,168) with the lines "Dunkle
Stille der Kindheit.Unter griinendenEschen/ Weidet die Sanftmutbliu-
lichen Blickes,"and is impliedin many other poems. Such usage contrasts
sharplywith the subject'spresentlocation in the symbolicautumnseason
where he knows the darkness,coldness, and lonelinessof the intervening
years ("Friammerkennst du den Sinn der dunklen Jahre,/ Kiihle und
Herbst in einsamen Zimmern"). These "darkeryears" imply the inex-
pressiblenature of sin which the subject (or mankind) experiencedafter
leaving the primeval state. Thus the recall of the spring of childhood,
which momentarilydispels the darkness of the soul ("doch manchmal
erhellt sich die Seele,/ Wenn sie frohe Menschen denkt, dunkelgoldene
Frtihlingstage"),stays withina consistentframeof reference,since the verb
erhellenmeansboth visionaryrecalland relieffromthe oppressivedarkness
often associatedwith sinful silence.15If the view of a cemeteryin the final
stanza is read as a symbolicreminderof dead childhoodor youth (either
of the individualor of mankind) one understandshow it can help evoke
the vision of guiltlesssilencewhichis the focal point of this poem.
The poem "Jahr"(1,168) contraststhe "quiet"of man in his fallen
state of "autumn"with the bliss of virtuousAbgeschiedenheit.This juxta-
positionprevailsin many poems. Whilethe twelvelines here might suggest
a symbolic "Jahr der Seele," the poem actually begins in the spring of
childhood and ends in autumn (or, one might conclude, at the onset of
DunkleStilleder Kindheit.UntergriinendenEschen
Weidetdie SanftmutbliiulichenBlickes;goldeneRuh.
Ein Dunklesentziicktder Duft der Veilchen;schwankendeAhren
Im Abend,Sonnenund die goldenenSchattender Schwermut.
Balkenbehautder Zimmermann; im diimmernden Grund
Mahltdie Miihle;im Hasellaubwdlbtsich ein purpurnerMund,
Miinnlichesrot tiberschweigendeWassergeneigt.
Leiseist derHerbst,der GeistdesWaldes;goldeneWolke
Folgt dem Einsamen,der schwarzeSchattendes Enkels.
Neige in steinernemZimmer;unteraltenZypressen
Sind der TriinenniichtigeBilderzum Quellversammelt;
GoldenesAuge des Anbeginns,dunkleGedulddes Endes. (1,168)
Again Trakl sketchesa mute landscape.No humanvoice is heard,though
348 Monatshefte

soundsof humanindustryare present.The quiet of childhoodpervadesthe

first four lines. The next four lines portrayinghuman activity allude to
humanguilt (lines six and seven probablyrefer to erotic experience). The
autumnalseason is quiet ("Leise ist der Herbst"), but now mutenessno
longer seems to be blissful. In the poem "Kindheit"(1,102) man spent
autumnalone "in einsamenZimmern";here man is "Der Einsame,"the
embodimentof humandesolation.
The golden cloud followingman, which is simultaneouslya vision of
an "unborn"grandchild,shows affinitiesto the cemetery in "Kindheit."
Just as the restingplace of the dead there evoked a vision of innocence
to which one longed to return,so the shades of an unborngenerationhere
(or perhapsof a dead child?) allude to the conditionof innocenceto be
found in non-life.Again the implicationof prevailingsilence is overwhelm-
ing. The connectionbetweenthe innocent state of the Enkel who has not
yet been born, and the "unborn"whom Trakl refers to in several poems,
nearly compels one to equate the silence of the unbornwith the state of
those who have not yet entered "life."
In this poem one glimpsesan eschatologicalvision structuredout of
silence. It is as though death were a new beginningof innocence,a return
to the startingpoint. While the cypress tree, an ancient symbol of death,
announces the end of suffering,the "Goldenes Auge des Anbeginns"
simultaneouslymeans a new beginning.
WhereverTrakl treats this apparentcyclical movement from inno-
cence into adult culpability (and sometimes back again--cf. "Abend-
liindischesLied" 1,137; "Ruh und Schweigen"1,108; and "Traumund
Umnachtung"1,161), he does it in terms of silence. This implies varying
types of silence,since the mutenessof sufferingmankind("Aberstille blutet
in dunklerHihle stummereMenschheit"1,131) is radicallydifferentfrom
the seeminglyserene and joyful silence of the dead in such poems as "'An
einen Friihverstorbenen"(1,133), which describes how a young person
died and returnedto his "quieterchildhood":
Jeneraberging die steinernenStufendes Mainchbergs
Ein blauesLiichelnim Antlitzund seltsamverpuppt
In seine stillereKindheitund starb.
Und im Gartenbliebdas silberneAntlitzdes Freundeszuriick,
Lauschend im Laub oder im alten Gestein . . .
The mutenessof deathand of childhoodAbgeschiedenheitare equated
here. It is as thoughdeathhad restoredman to pristineunity and redeemed
him from presentguilt. In effect, the silence of death representsa return
to man's startingpoint. The speaker's communionwith the quiet dead
Georg Trakl 349

person ("da .. ./ Der Geist des Friihverstorbenenstille im Zimmer

erschien")who was once the speaker'sintimateplaymate("Da wir sanfte
Gespielenam Abend waren") duringtheir age of innocence,implieswhat
one often suspects in other poems-that the dead being representsthe
speaker'salter ego, his lost innocentself whomhe seeks to recognizeagain,
and to whomhe flees to findreleasefrom his presentguilt-riddencondition.
In effect, this is but anotherevocation or vision of former bliss. In this
poem, communionwith the dead in theirsilentA bgeschiedenheitrepresents
a partialfulfillmentof longingfor a lost state of peacefulinarticulation.
III. God's Silence-The State of Fallen Man
The type of Trakl interpretationin Eduard Lachmann'sKreuz und
Abend and similarlyorientedstudies16has givenrise to such oversimplifica-
tion and Procrustianstretchingthat it is now consideredalmost disrepu-
table to view Trakl'spoetry in light of the Christianreligion.Yet if one
considers questions of good and evil, sin and suffering,corruptionand
innocence,or guilt and redemptionto be religiousmatters,Trakl'spoetry
has indisputablereligiouscontent,howeverdevoidit mightbe of confession-
ally oriented matters.7 This is important,because it is precisely man's
torturedrelationshipto a God whose very existenceis questionablewhich
underliesmuch of the bitternessand sufferingTraklexpresses.An apparent
invocation addressedto God alludes to this inexpressibilityof shattered
existence: "Unstiglichist das alles, O Gott, da3 man erschtittertins Knie
bricht" (I,101).
In severalpoems Trakl employs metaphorsof silence to equate loss
of the primevalAbgeschiedenheitwith loss of what seems to be religious
faith. In "Abendlied"(1,81), for example, the city, Trakl's symbol for
man's total exposureto evil,18blots out the memoryof the spiritualpast:
"FriihlingsgewiSlke steigen tiber die finstreStadt,/ Die der M6nche edlere
Zeiten schweigt."And one passage in "AbendlindischesLied" (1,137)
utters a wish for a returnof innocent childhood stillness where personal
communionwith God was possible:
O, ihr Zeitender Stille und goldenerHerbste,
Da wir friedlicheMdnchedie purpurneTraubegekeltert;
Und ringsergliinztenHiigelund Wald.
O, ihr JagdenundSchlisser;Ruhdes Abends,
Da in seinerKammerder MenschGerechtessann,
In stummemGebetum GotteslebendigesHauptrang.
But the days of stillness when righteousbeings communedwith God in
silent prayerare lost. They have been transformedinto a silence of desola-
tion and despairat man's fallen state.
350 Monatshefte

The poem "Psalm"(1,61) is an anguishedportraitof man'ssenseless

suffering.Despite its title, it is no sacredsong of praiseor worshipdirected
to God, but ratherthe opposite.The firstsection depictsthe loss of original
harmonyand closes with the lamentation"O unser verlorenesParadies."
The second section catalogs human weaknesses and desolation before
closing with an image of man'stotal exposureto elementalsuffering:"Ein
weil3erDampferam KanaltriigtblutigeSeuchenherauf."The thirdsection
ends with the image of a blind girl which evokes a bittersense of lost inno-
cence andpresentgrief.Imagesof death,decay,anddamnationin the fourth
section convergein a traditionalimage of the evil which pervadeslife and
exercises almost magical control over men: "In seinem Grab spielt der
weile Magiermit seinen Schlangen."
The underlyingtone of accusationwould be enoughif Trakl stopped
here. But he adds a singletellingline which summarizeshis indictmentand
names the cause of man's condition: "Schweigsamiiber der Schlidelstlitte
iiffnen sich Gottes goldene Augen." Above this symbolic Golgotha, the
place of sufferingand death which is man'sdwellingplace, is a silent God
whose promiseof beauty and redemptionis intimatedby golden eyes, but
who is otherwiseunconcernedwith man. Underlyingthe metaphorof a
silent God is an awarenessof the terrorand brutalityof a worldabandoned
by God.
Trakl's poems contain several intimationsthat it is impossible to
communewith God throughprayeror any otherform,for God has deserted
man and withdrawninto silence. The plaintive cry "Gottes Schweigen/
Trank ich aus dem Brunnendes Hains" (1,67) is one such intimation.
Anotheris the use of the cry "O," which in Trakl'spoetrylies somewhere
between an apostropheand invocation.The statement"Unstiglichist das
alles, o Gott, daB man erschiittertins Knie bricht" (I,101) is representa-
tive of the many cases whereit is uncertainwhetherthe poet uses it as an
invocationto God, an apostropheto God, or an interjectionof complete
despair ("O, die bittereStundedes Untergangs"1,137; "O des Menschen
verweste Gestalt" 1,138; "O dunkle Angst" 1,176; "O Herz" 1,177; "O
Schweigen";"O Schmerz"1,179). But in the dozens of poems where
Trakl uses it--often three or four times in the same poem--this "o"
clearlybespeaksa dual problem:the lack of anyone or anythingto whom
to addressthe lament or complaint,and the incapacityof the speaker to
articulatewhat he feels. From Trakl'susage of this rhetoricaldevice alone
one could make a persuasiveargumentfor his fear of total mutenessand
his frustrationin finding someone or somethingto address. Such highly
fragmentedforms as "O Herz" (1,177) or "O Schweigen"(I,179), which
in no way furtherdescribe or expand on the object of invocation, also
testify that much remainsunsaid.'9
Another hint that an inaccessibleGod, a deus absconditus,cannot be
GeorgTrakl 351

reached by man is found in a frequentimage Trakl uses in connection

with God--the wind. There is an obviousrelationshipbetweenthis image,
the Greek pneuma, and such New Testament passages as "The wind
blowethwhere it listeth and thou hearestthe sound thereof, but canst not
tell whenceit cometh, and whitherit goeth: so is every one that is born of
the Spirit"(John 3,8). But Trakl reversesthis traditionalChristianusage
and makesthe wind a symbolof desolation,emptiness,and silence.20Again
adjectivesplay the decisive role in mappingout Trakl'sworld. One hears
their determiningforce in "Gottes einsamerWind" (I,97) and "Gottes
eisigerOdem" (1,130).21 In anotherpassage"God'swind"can be read as
a synonymfor silence: "Ein umnachteterSeher sang jener an verfallenen
Mauernund seine StimmeverschlangGottesWind"(1,160). The foregoing
evidenceilluminatesa passagewherethe poet portraysman'sdesolatecon-
ditionwith the term "Windesstilleder Seele" (I,138), whichmust be inter-
preted to symbolize God's absence. Or the passages "Immer tint/ An
schwarzenMauern Gottes einsamer Wind" (1,97) and "Gottes eisiger
Odem" (1,130) seem to be recombinedin the passage "Tant ein eisiger
Wind an den Mauern des Dorfs" (1,132). But without stretchingthe
concept to comprehendevery image of wind, there is enough evidence to
bolster the argumentthat Trakl's awarenessof God is primarilyof his
absenceor loss.
This awarenesspermeatesthe poem "De profundis"(1,67). In con-
trastto the 130th Psalm,this cry fromthe depthsof despairnever achieves
the hope and trust in a loving God's forgivenessfound in its Biblical
Es ist ein Stoppelfeld,in das ein schwarzerRegen fidllt.
Es ist ein braunerBau, der einsam dasteht.
Es ist ein Zischelwind,der leere Hiitten umkreist-
Wie traurigdieser Abend.
Am Weiler vorbei
Sammeltdie sanfte Waise noch spirliche Ahren ein.
Ihre Augen weiden rund und goldig in der Diimmerung
Und ihr SchoB harrt des himmlischenBrliutigams.
Bei der Heimkehr
Fanden die Hirten den siil3enLeib
Verwest im Dornenbusch.

Ein Schattenbin ich ferne finsterenDarfern.

Gottes Schweigen
Trank ich aus dem Brunnendes Hains.
Auf meine Stimrne tritt kaltes Metall.
Spinnen suchen mein Herz.
Es ist ein Licht, das in meinem Mund erlischt.
352 Monatshefte

Nachtsfand ich mich auf einerHeide,

Starrendvon Unratund Staubder Sterne.
Im Haselgebiisch
Familiarelementsseen earliermake most aspects of this poem accessible.
The waste land in stanza one representsthe barrennessof man's desolate
condition in the autumnseason. Stanza two portraysa child who would
normallyevoke the memory of Abgeschiedenheitin the viewer, but the
effect is quicklynullifiedwhen the child's decomposingbody is discovered
in stanzathree.
The entire poem turns on stanza four, since what follows is only a
furthermodificationof man'sbleak state. Here unrelieveddespairis repre-
sentedin the image of "drinkingGod's silence."An earlierversionhad the
speaker drinking "Hal3 und Bitternis" instead of "Gottes Schweigen."
"GottesSchweigen,"however, is more than a synonym;it unlocks other
levels of meaning.Besides hatredand bitterness,this image expressesthe
terrorand agony man senses at God's absence, God's inaccessibility,and
His silence. Man has no one to whom he can addressprayersfor aid or
The metaphorsof silenceTrakluses in relationto God have an affinity
to the traditionof Christianmysticismwhere the languageof God can be
heardonly in a mutedstate on a sub-auditorylevel.22One poem apparently
deals with this type of silent orison ("Ruh des Abends/ Da in seiner
Kammer der Mensch Gerechtes sann,/ In stummem Gebet um Gottes
lebendigesHaupt rang" 1,137); in general, however, the most frequent
metaphorsof silence are those of alienation, suffering,and despair at a
godless world where no answerto man's silent prayeris forthcoming.23
IV. Conclusion:The Silenceof the UnredeemedDead
An increasingnumberof Trakl'slater poems depict the silent dead
(cf. "Abendland"1,170; "Vorhlle" 1,172; "Schwermut"1,181; "Der
Abend" 1,183; "Im Osten" 1,195; "Grodek"1,197). While the use of
silence in the context of death is hardly peculiar to Trakl, some of his
metaphorsare. In several late poems he seems to equate death with the
inabilityof the dead to articulate.In "De profundis"(1,67) one reads "Es
ist ein Licht, das in meinemMund erl6scht."By comparingthis with the
opening lines of "Die Schwermut"(1,181), it becomes evident that the
"lightin one's mouth"which is extinguished,and the "darkmouthwithin"
are imagesof mutenessor inabilityto articulate:
Gewaltigbist du dunklerMund
Im Innern,aus Herbstgew6lk
Geformte Gestalt,
Goldner Abendstille
GeorgTrakl 353

In fact the text states that the dark mouth within is formed from the
"goldenstillness of evening,"a corroborationthat silence and the image
of the mouth are somehowinterrelated.ApparentlyTrakl uses the synec-
dochial image of the mouth to representthe entire human,because he at-
taches such significanceto man's only means of articulation.Articulation
is indeeda "matterof life or death"here.
"Grodek"(1,197), an apocalypticvision of deathandultimatesilence,
uses the image of "dying mouths"to symbolize death. A few lines will
Am Abend . . .

. . umfingtdie Nacht
SterbendeKrieger,die wildeKlage
Ihrerzerbrochenen Miinder.
Doch stille sammeltim Weidengrund
RotesGewilk, darinein ziirnenderGott wohnt,
Das vergolneBlutsich,mondneKiihle;
Alle Stral3enmiindenin schwarzeVerwesung.
UntergoldnemGezweigder Nachtund Sternen
Es schwanktder SchwesterSchattendurchden schweigenden
Zu grii8en die Geister der Helden, die blutenden Hiiupter . . .
The images of blood collecting on the battlefield ("stille sammelt im
Weidengrund/Rotes Gewdlk")and the shadeof the sistermovingthrough
the silentgrove ("durchden schweigendenHain") strengthenthe impression
of total silence in death. The key image, however,is that of "zerbrochene
Minder" of the dead and dying. In normal German usage this expression
is meaningless.Trakl apparentlycoined the term as an analogue to the
commonexpressionfor death, "das Auge brach,"an image for the loss of
life fromthe eye. Hereit servesto emphasizethe mutenessinducedby death,
and though the dying raise a "wild lamentation,"it is clear that they are
about to become totally mute. In fact, one wonders whether their "wild
lamentations"are even audible,for in several other poems Trakl chooses
to repeat images of scarcely audible sound set up by the souls of the
muted dead. The second stanza of "Im Osten" (1,195) speaks of those
who have died in battle and whose souls can only utter half-audiblesighs:
Mit zerbrochnenBrauen,silbernenArmen
WinktsterbendenSoldatendie Nacht.
Im Schattender herbstlichenEsche
Seufzendie Geisterder Erschlagenen.
"Der Abend" (1,183), which begins:
Mit toten Heldengestalten
Erfiillst du Mond
Die schweigenden Wilder ..
354 Monatshefte

describesthese dead warriorsin its final lines as utteringthe same quiet

Ihr mondverschlungenenSchatten
Aufseufzend im leeren Kristall
Des Bergsees.
The scarcelyaudiblesighs and the mutenesssuggestedby the hardnessof
crystalagain emphasizethat death in these war poems is not a redeeming
force, but the avenueto absolutenegativesilence. Trakl himself explained
this type of deathin a conversationwith TheodorDiiublerwhen he claimed
the way we die is immaterial,since it transcendsanythingpreceding or
following: "Wir fallen in ein Unfal3bar-Schwarzes" (111,13). Had Trakl
gone on he
writing, might have added "into total silence."
Thereis probablyno singleadequatereasonto explainwhy Traklinter-
laced his poetry with various images and metaphorsof silence, nor is an
answernecessary.The fact is that he does, and what begins as a conven-
tional device becomes an obsession. One wonders to what degree this
preoccupationwas a reflectionof Trakl'sconcernwith poetic articulationas
a meaningfulform of existence. Whateverthe case, his work often corre-
sponds to that descriptionof poetry cited at the beginningas the "musi-
cienne de silence"--in this case a musicianconsciouslyworkingwith those
rests and pauses representedby muteness,quiet, and inarticulation.
1 For two other examples, cf. Walther Killy, "Er notierte das Unausdriickbare.
Zum fiinfzigsten Todestag von Georg Trakl," Die Zeit, Nov. 6, 1964, p. 23, and
Martin Heidegger, "Die Sprache im Gedicht. Eine Erbrterung von Georg Trakls
Gedicht," Unterwegs zur Sprache (Pfullingen, 1959), pp. 37-82.
2 Letter from Rilke to Ludwig von Ficker, February, 1915, published in
Erinnerung an Georg Trakl. Zeugnisse und Briefe (Salzburg, 1959), p. 10. All cita-
tions from this and other volumes containing Trakl's works will follow the procedure
used in Trakl studies of designating the volume with a Roman numeral and the
page number with an Arabic numeral. Die Dichtungen, 10. Auflage (Salzburg, n.d.)
is vol. I; Aus goldenem Kelch, 4. Auflage (Salzburg, n.d.) is vol. II; and Erinnerung
an Georg Trakl. Zeugnisse and Briefe, 2. Auflage (Salzburg, 1959) is vol. III.
8Cf. Joseph Warren Beach's study Obsessive Images. Symbolism in the Poetry
of the 30's and 40's (Minneapolis, 1960), p. 12, for a study which charts the pre-
occupations of American poets during the 30's and 40's on the basis of recurrence
and frequency of images.
4 Joseph Leitgeb, "Die Trakl Welt. Zum Sprachbestandder Dichtungen Georg
Trakls," Wort im Gebirge, Folge III (1951), 7-39.
5 This group of "silent words" could be expanded to include such words as
leise, sanft, seufzen, wehen, and other images which at first seem unrelated. Later
interpretation will clarify why the group listed initially represents only the basic
outline of a larger word and image cluster.
6 For early examples, cf. the
early prose works "Traumland" (11,11-16) and
"Verlassenheit"(11,27-30). Cf. also 11,52,58, and 62.
7 Reinhold Grimm, "Georg Trakls Verhiiltnis zu Rimbaud," GRM IX (1959),
308-309. Cf. also Bernhard Boeschenstein, "Wirkungen des franzisischen Sym-
bolismus auf die deutsche Lyrik der Jahrhundertwende,"Euphorion 58 (1964), 393,
Georg Trakld 355

who tends to play down the importance of Trakl's borrowing from Rimbaud, but
who seems to agree with Grimm's dates for the Rimbaud encounter.
8 Cf. Alfred Liede, Dichtung als Spiel. Studien zur Unsinnspoesie an den Grenzen
der Sprache I (Berlin, 1963), pp. 273-349, for an interpretation of Morgenstern's
nonsense verse as an effort to escape the bankruptcy of traditional poetic language.
Cf. also the chapter entitled "Sprachskepsisund Mystik," Dichtung als Spiel I,
pp. 254-272, where Liede treats Mauthner and Landauer and their attitudes in
relation to their times.
o Cf. Heidegger, p. 52: "Weil die Dichtungen dieses Dichters in das Lied des
Abgeschiedenen versammelt sind, nennen wir den Ort seines Gedichtes die Ab-
geschiedenheit";p. 58: "Zur Abgeschiedenheit gehbrt die Friihe der stilleren Kind-
heit, gehirt die blaue Nacht, geharen die nichtigen Pfade des Fremdlings, geh6rt
der n~ichtlicheFltigelschlag der Seele, gehort schon die Dimmerung als das Tor zum
Untergang"; . . . p. 67: "Ist die Abgeschiedenheit nicht ein einziges Schweigen der
10Cf. Meister Eckhart's tracts Von abgescheidenheitand Von der abgescheiden-
heit unde von haben gotes for two prominent examples which delineate the meaning
the word had in medieval Catholic mysticism. This word appears repeatedly in
Catholic mystics from Suso and Tauler up to Angelus Silesius in the seventeenth
century and even continues in Protestant mysticism as late as the eighteenth century
in the verses of Gerhard Tersteegen.
11Trakl apparently became aware of the significance of Abgeschiedenheit
through a series of articles his friend Karl Borromiius Heinrich published in Der
Brenner of 1913 entitled "Briefe aus der Abgeschiedenheit,"in which the frame of
reference is to a state or condition similar to what Trakl portrays in his poems. Trakl
even dedicated the poem "Gesang des Abgeschiedenen" (1,174) to Heinrich.
12 Heidegger, p. 67.
13Clemens Heselhaus, "Die Elis-Gedichte von Georg Trakl," D VLG XXVIII
(1954), 396-397; 409, demonstrates how helpful these categories can be in inter-
preting many poems. Cf. also Reinhold Grimm, "Georg Trakls Sonne," Strukturen.
Essays zur deutschen Literatur (Gittingen, 1963), p. 155; 157; 166, where Grimm
discusses this structuringin antitheses.
14Heidegger, p. 30. For a further interpretation of Heidegger's somewhat ab-
struse thoughts in his Trakl essay and other essays where he refers to Trakl, cf.
Walter Falk, "Heidegger und Trakl," Literaturwissenschaftliches Jahrbuch der
Gijrresgesellschaft,n.F. IV (1963), 200.
1 Trakl uses more images of darkness and night than any other type. It is
tempting to relate them to muteness or inarticulation, and Trakl himself does this
on several occasions, e.g. "dunkle Stille der Kindheit" (I,168) or "Es ist ein Licht,
das in meinem Mund erlischt" (1,67).
16 Eduard Lachmann, Kreuz und Abend. Eine Interpretation der Dichtungen
Georg Trakls (Salzburg, 1954), and Alfred Focke, Georg Trakl. Liebe und Tod
(Vienna, 1955) are the chief interpretersof Trakl's poetry in a purely religious, i.e.
Christian context.
17 Many of Trakl's personal statements confirm his struggle with Christianity.
One which appeared posthumously as the motto of the 1915 Brenner Jahrbuch
(p. 15) underscores his own intense guilt feelings and his imperfect attempts at
expiation through his poetry. It can hardly be considered other than religious in tone
and intent: "Gefiihl in den Augenblicken toteniihnlichen Seins: Alle Menschen sind
der Liebe wert. Erwachend fuhlst du die Bitternis der Welt; darin ist alle deine
ungelaste Schuld; dein Gedicht eine unvollkommene Siihne."
18According to Erwin Mahrholdt, III,54, who claims to have heard this view
from Trakl during associations with the poet. Trakl also decries the evils of the city
in conversations reported by Hans Limbach, III,116-117. In a letter to Erhard
Buschbeck written in April, 1912, Trakl again expresses his view of the wicked
356 Monatshefte

world embodied in the city; "Ich hfitte mir nie gedacht, daB ich diese fiir sich schon
schwere Zeit in der brutalsten und gemeinsten Stadt wiirde verleben miissen, die auf
dieser beladenen und verfluchten Welt existiert" (III,141).
19If Trakl's letters have any bearing on his
poetry, use of the word "Gott" or
the interjective "o" in the letters tends to be an exclamatory figure of speech similar
to the colloquial "mein Gott!" or "Ach, Gott!" Cf. "Gott, nur einen kleinen Funken
reiner Freude und man wiire gerettet" (Letter to Ludwig von Ficker, June 26, 1913,
III,164); "O mein Gott, welch ein Gericht ist iiber mich hereingebrochen" (Letter to
Ludwig von Ficker, November, 1913, no date, III,170). Even if this is a simple col-
loquial usage, it reinforces the argument that God is not really invoked, since such
colloquialisms use a secularized form devoid of religious significance.
2o Heinrich Goldmann, Katabasis, oder der Abstieg zur Unterwelt. Zur Symbolik
der Farben, Gestalten und Vorgiinge in den Dichtungen Georg Trakls (Salzburg,
n.d.), p. 63: "Der Wind erscheint mehrmals als Gottes Odem . . . Gott wird
iiberhauptmit Wind verbunden,wie in der Symbolik im allgemeinen. Aber es handelt
sich hier nicht um befruchtendes Pneuma, sondern etwas Leeres, Zehrendes."
21 ".... fast jedes Hauptwort enthiilt ein Epitheton, eine Stiitze: sanftes Glocken-
spiel, schwarzes Kissen, blaues Wild ... Der Eindruck geht nicht allein von ihrem
Sinn aus, sondern von dem was hinzukommt." Walther Killy, "Die Entstehung von
Georg Trakls Gedicht 'Melancholie'," Text und Kritik. Zeitschrift fiir Literatur
4 (1964), 202.
22 In fact, silence is so basic to mystical communication that it has been called
a "Zwiegesprlich mit Gott" by Ismail Djavid, Das philosophische Problem des
Schweigens (Berlin, 1938), p. 18.
23 In a letter to Ludwig Ficker on July 26, 1913, Trakl speaks of his overwhelm-
ing sense of sinfulness in the "godless age" in which he lives; it is evident that God
has completely gone out of his world: "Ich sehne den Tag herbei, an dem die Seele
in diesem armseligen von Schwermut verpesteten Kdrper nicht mehr wird wohnen
wollen und k6nnen, an dem sie diese Spottgestalt aus Kot und Fiiulnis verlassen
wird, die ein nur allzugetreues Spiegelbild eines gottlosen, verfluchten Jahrhunderts
ist" (III,163-164).