Review of “Grodek” (1915)
Georg Trakl (writer).
Read in 2022.
Read in its original language and in Swedish-language prose translation.
As written, the text is ambiguous, even grammatically elliptic in Trakl’s idiomatic style. Like the rest of the work from his later period, it is also loaded with the dark detritus of the Gothic tradition, extruded through expressionism. The poet’s biography, however, provides an obvious gloss that is, thankfully, not about the poet’s private troubles.
Gródek is the Polish name for what is now Horodok in Ukraine. In 1914, it was the site of a battle between Austrian and Russian armies in the early stages of WW1, being part of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, which was itself a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Trakl came there as a sort of medic: a field apothecary or chemist. He’d learned the trade over his father’s objections and had largely failed to establish himself in it over the preceding three years, but the army needed him and wasted whatever talent he had. As the episode is described in Modern utländsk lyrik, Trakl was behind the line, trying to help ninety badly maimed soldiers, in a barn, for two days, without medicine — not even painkillers. This and other horrifying experiences in the war drove the poet to nervous collapse. He dictated his last work to his publisher in the hospital and died of an overdose.
References here: Modern utländsk lyrik (1975/1985).