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Georg Trakls Poetry of Silence

Georg Trakls Poetry of Silence

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Published by: levinas on Apr 13, 2011
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GEORGTRAKL'SPOETRY OFSILENCE
JAMES
K.
LYON
HarvardUniversity
Words andimagesdealingwith silence recur withhigher frequencyin Trakl'spoetrythanalmostanyothers. Theirusage bespeaksanearobsession with thephenomenonofsilence.Thisfixationbecomes increas-inglyevidentfollowingTrakl'sencounterwith Rimbaud'spoetry.He usesmetaphorsofsilence invariouscombinations tocharacterizefourbasicconditions.Theyare1)the innocenceofchildhood;2)theholy,detachedstate of the"unborn"calledAbgeschiedenheit;3)the stateof fallenman;and4)the mutenessaccompanyingthe dead.Followingapatternfoundthroughoutthelyrics,"Kindheit" and "Jahr"juxtaposethepresentsilenceofman's desolate statewiththeblissfulquietofpastinnocence oroftheAbgeschiedenheitofthe unborn. Elsewhere communionwith the muteddeadseems torepresentthepoetic ego's attemptto evoke hisformerin-nocentsell.Metaphorsofsilencealsorepresentthedread whichman senseswhenherealizesGodhas withdrawn and his childhoodfaithisgone.Thepoem"Psalm"bitterlyindictsasilentGod,while "Deprofundis"usesthe centralimageof"drinkingGod's silence"toexpressman'sdespair.Finally,Trakl's warpoems,especially"DieSchwermut" and"Grodek,"employtheimageof"muted" or "broken" mouths torepresentthe unre-deemed silent stateofthe damned.(JKL)
I.Trakl'susesofsilenceWhenMallarm6described a certaintypeof modernpoetryasa"musiciennede silence"("Sainte"),hetouchedonanessentialsimilaritybetweenmuch modern musical andpoeticcomposition.Just asrestsandpausesare a basic stuffforcomposers,so,too,manymodernpoetsfindthatrests, silence,and theinexpressibleare asessentialtopoeticcreationaswords are.GeorgTrakl'scommentatorshaverepeatedlycalledattentionto hiseffortstoexpresstheinexpressiblebyshapingsilenceandworkingwithwhat lies nearorbeyondthe limits ofspeech.Rilke'sdescriptionof thepoem"Helian"will sufficetosummarizewhatmanyconsiderto beanessentialtraitin Trakl'spoetry:1"JedesAnhebenundHingehenindiesemschinenGedichtist voneinerunsaiglichenSiiMigkeit,ganz ergreifendwardesmir durchseine innerenAbstlinde,es istgleichsamaufseine PausenMfdU,Vol.62,No.4,1970
 
GeorgTrakl341
aufgebaut,einpaarEinfriedigungenumdasgrenzenlosWortlose:so stehendieZeilenda.Wie Z~une ineinemflachenLand,tiberdiehin dasEinge-ziuntefortwlihrendzueiner unbesitzbarengrolSenEbene zusammen-schligt.'"2While Rilke'sdescriptionofapoem"built on itspauses,"ofthe "infinitewordless"which is staked off with a fewwords,and of "innerspaces"separatingpartsofthepoemishighly impressionistic,a routineword count inTrakl'sotherpoemswould confirmRilke'simpressionthatTrakl'spoetryoftendeals with thephenomenonof silence andtheinexpres-sible. Nouns such asSchweigenorStille,verbs such asschweigenandverstummen,and relatedadjectives,adverbs,andgerundssuch as namen-los,schweigend,sprachlos,still, stumm,unsdiglich,etc.,occur with suchfrequencythattheydemandmore thanfleetingattention.While word counts andcatalogingofimagesare lowinorder ofcriticalimportance,theydohelpestablishawriter'spreoccupationorobsession.3Curiously,no one hasinvestigatedTrakl'snear obsessionwithwords andimagesofstillness,silence,quiet,andmuteness,thoughscarcelya criticfails tomention them. Norhasanyoneinvestigatedhowhe usesthem orwhat roletheyplayinhispoetry.Leitgeb'swordcountofTrakl'spoetrydoes listthirty-threeoccurrencesofthe nounStille andtwenty-sixofSchweigenfrom the 108poemsand threeproseworksrepresentingTrakl's maturewriting.4But he fails to recordall theother occurrencesof wordsrelatingto thisimagecluster,e.g. twentyoccurrencesofschweigenin someform(schweigend,schweigsam,etc.),nine ofstumm,nine ofstill,seven ofsprachlos,plussuchperipheralwords asverstummen,namenlos,andunsiiglich.Takentogether,they representaformidablewordgroup(secondonlytoimagesof darknessandnight)and underscorewhat cansafelybetaken asapreoccupation.5Thedensityof such words increases in thelasthalf ofthevolumeknown asDichtungen.Thoughthis is notarrangedinexactchronologicalorder,it does reflect thegeneral progressionfromearlytolatepoems.In the lastsixty-threepoems,more than aquarterofthem have two ormore occurrencesof words from thisimagecluster(manyhavefour orfive suchwords),andnearlyallreflectthe motif ofsilenceormutenessby usingotherimagesnotdirectlywithinthis wordcluster.For thisreason,laterpoems providethebestexamplesofimagesandmetaphorsof silencein Trakl'spoetry.When such words andmetaphorsof silence occurin thevolume ofearly poemsentitledAusgoldenemKelch(whichTraklrejectedasim-mature)orin theearlypoemsofDichtungen,one is struckbytheirunimag-
inative,derivativeusage:"....Girten,/Die sich inParadiesesschweigen
sonnen,"(II,85); "IhrSchweigenbreitendie WolkenamHiigel"(II,109);"RundschweigenWilderwunderbar"(1,34).The conventionalusageof
 
342Monatshefte
"Schweigen"in anearly poem bythattitle(II,88)isonlyoneexampleof anapparentlyindifferentusageof both theterm and themetaphor.Traklat thispointapparentlyhad no obsessiveconcernwithsilence,mute-ness,and relatedmetaphorsand motifs. This observationisconfirmedbycomparingtherelativelylowfrequencyof this word cluster in theearlypoemswith thehigherfrequencyin laterpoems.6Sometimeduringthe lasttwoyearsor so of Trakl'slife,thispatternofusagechanges.Onenow encounterstropessuch as"GottesSchweigen/Trankich aus dem Brunnen desHains"(1,67);"schweigenderAnblickder Sonne"(1,147);"Aberstilleblutetin dunklerHihlestummereMensch-heit"(1,131);"SonjasLeben,blaueStille"(1,119).Itistemptingtorelate thisincreasedoccurrenceandsovereignusagetoTrakl'sencounterwithRimbaudin the Karl Klammer(K.L.Ammer)translation.Grimmdates this encounteraround1911-1912,justwhen this word clusterbeginstoappearwithincreasingfrequencyand to assumeincreasingimportance.'ButinGrimm'sexhaustive documentationofeverythingTraklseems tohaveborrowed,thereisvirtuallyno evidencethatTrakl appropriatedanythingfromRimbaudrelatingto the motif ofsilence.Ratheritappearstohavebeen anindependentdevelopment,since there are almostnowords,images,or motifsin theKlammertranslationwhichmighthaveprovidedthenecessaryimpulses.It seems that the encounterwithRimbaudhelpedTraklfindhisownstyle,but thatTrakldevelopedthis word cluster anditsmetaphoricsignificanceautonomously.Thisdoes notimplythatTraklcreatedin a vacuum and wastotallyout oftouchwith thethoughtandtemperof histimes. Thecontraryisprobablytrue. Theskepticalattitude towardlanguagein thewritingsofFritzMauthnerandGustav Landauerduringthe first two decades of thiscentury,the various testimonialsofSprachnotbyHofmannsthal,thelongperiodsof silence inRilkeandVal6ry,andgeneraldistrusttoward con-ventionalpoetic languagefound inmanywriters from Mallarm6toT.S.Eliotare allsymptomaticforaprevailinghabit ofmind.8While Trakl'sindebtednessto hiscontemporariescannot beclearlyestablished,hispre-occupationwith silenceand theinexpressibleisonlyahighlyindividualisticmanifestationof theprevailingclimate ofopinion,regardlessof whetheronecallsitSprachnot,Sprachskepsis,or awarenessofthelimitations ofpoeticlanguage.In hispoetic struggletoarticulate,Trakl'susagefrom the wordclusterofsilencerangesover a scale fromaccepted,traditionalsyntaxandimagery("dieschweigendenWiilder"1,183;"Stille derDiirfer" 1,167) throughcatachresticconstructions("blaueStille"1,119;"die mildeStille" 1,121)onto themostjolting,unconventionalsymbolicandsyntacticalstructures("seinestillereKindheit"1,133;"iiberdergriinenStille des Teichs"1,137;"Stilleleuchtetdie Kerze"1,166).

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