Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 487

Virtually all Trakl’s poems possess the same thematic concerns. Throughout his canon, Trakl perpetually laments the fallen state of humanity and humanity’s inability to return to a state that is not laden with corruption. “Evening Song” is no exception.

In stanza 2, Trakl first makes reference to something white: “We...

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Virtually all Trakl’s poems possess the same thematic concerns. Throughout his canon, Trakl perpetually laments the fallen state of humanity and humanity’s inability to return to a state that is not laden with corruption. “Evening Song” is no exception.

In stanza 2, Trakl first makes reference to something white: “We drink the white waters of the pool,/ The sweetness of our mournful childhood.” Here, the water clearly becomes a symbol of purity, not only because of the word “white,” but also because of the implication of “white water.” White water implies a purity of cleansing or baptism—something truly pure. In this verse, Trakl associates the “sweetness” of his childhood with the white water, suggesting that Trakl perceives childhood as a state of innocence to be envied.

This preoccupation of Trakl is reaffirmed in the following stanza when he says, “Dead, we rest beneath the elder bushes.” Because Trakl and his friend have moved out of childhood, they have fallen from innocence. For Trakl, this is a lethal fall; he aligns the fall from innocence with the inescapable fall into death. Trakl’s fall from innocence is strikingly similar to William Blake’s fall in his Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1794), though Trakl’s fall into knowledge is the fall into the knowledge of decay.

The only unsoiled beings in “Evening Song” are the monks. As was stated earlier, because they are from a purer, “nobler” time, they alone can silence the moans of the dying city. It is plausible to argue that Trakl believes the world would be much better if only it were possible to return to those noble times. Interestingly, Trakl appears to equate childhood and the noble times of the monks. Perhaps he synthesizes them because of their irretrievability in the past.

Trakl’s nostalgia for the past appears in stanza 5: “You opened your soft round eyes./ That was a long time ago.” The past tense suggests the distance of the event. The speaker, musing “That was a long time ago,” almost echoes “The sweetness of our mournful childhood,” found in stanza 2. Again, the reciprocity of action between the first and second halves of the poem is rooted in a shared perspective and shared experience.

What is happening in the poem, then, is the realization of the poet’s desire to return to the past. The actions of the figures almost mirror each other, the two halves of the poem seem to join, and the final couplet is a revision of the first couplet in which the poet’s companion is actually able to appear “white,” symbolizing her purity. All these factors combine to achieve the desired effect of past becoming present, and present past.

Throughout this cyclical poetic evolution, Trakl is able to restore, if not himself, then his friend, to the state of innocence for which he desperately longs, and for which his entire body of poetry ceaselessly yearns.

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