Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Heart” is about social disintegration and the destruction of not only an empire but also a way of life and a historical period, as well as about the strength of the human spirit, which can transcend adversity by means of goodness of the heart. This is the basic theme of the entire oeuvre of the Austrian Georg Trakl, who gave an apocalyptic interpretation of the impending collapse of the Austrian Empire during World War I. In Trakl’s poetry, the doom of his native country is foreshadowed by a sense of decay and the social disintegration that affected both the family and the individual.

Trakl’s vocabulary denoting decay and his extensive use of color were strongly influenced by the French Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud. In the context of Trakl’s poems, this imagery acquired new significance, as it came to cluster around his premonitions of the social and political disintegration of his country and his search for personal resolution in poetry and feeling, which he considered redemptive.

Trakl’s sense of social disintegration is often conveyed in his presentation of a polarized sister-brother relationship, the friendship, love, guilt, and suffering of two figures who are envisioned as both the same and irrevocably divided. The female figure, which may be associated with the anima or spiritual part of a person, is usually sublimated or envisioned as a consoling superior being in Trakl’s poems.

This theme is...

(The entire section is 427 words.)