The Poem

“Evening Song” is a short lyric poem written in a symmetrical structure that contributes to the poem’s cyclical effect. The poem is only fourteen lines long, the same length as a sonnet, although Georg Trakl’s poem does not function quite like a sonnet. Trakl creates his structure by repeating the pattern of a three-line stanza enclosed by two-line stanzas. In German, stanzas 3 and 4 contain the same number of syllables, which reinforces the poem’s symmetrical nature as well as acting as an echo. All of these elements lend a feeling of closure to the poem.

Although “Evening Song” is technically written in free verse, some of the couplets form end rhymes, which extends the symmetry of the poem. This technique and the intricate rhythms of the language are lost in translation, but the overall rhythms of Trakl’s poem come through in English, combining with the poem’s motion to create a circular, unified result.

Trakl begins “Evening Song” in the same way that he begins many of his poems: The speaker is somewhere unknown, walking on a dark path. Even in English, Trakl’s language reinforces the idea of walking. The rhythm of the language is steady and methodical, but occasionally pauses, reminding one of walking.

Despite the fact that Trakl goes to some effort to construct a sensation of motion for the reader, he is most concerned with what happens on the walk. Between stanzas 3 and 4, the fulcrum of the poem, a...

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Forms and Devices

Because “Evening Song” is such a short poem, there is not much room for weighty or repetitive poetic techniques, such as one might find in Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Duino Elegies” or Vicente Huidobro’s Altazor. Trakl does, however, infuse the lines of his poem with a mysterious force that derives from his use of adjectives and concrete nouns.

Almost no noun in the entire poem appears without an adjective, yet many of the adjectives are not particularly precise. In “Spring clouds rise over the dark city,” spring does not really describe the clouds, nor dark the city, because the function of these adjectives is not one of description but one of evocation. The images of spring clouds and of a dark city do not so much characterize the objects as create a mood. The images in a Trakl poem express auras and possess tonality and ambience, like the colors in a painting by the Russian Wassily Kandinsky.

“Spring clouds” rising above a “dark city” suggests that life or rebirth (something archetypally associated with spring) is commandeering the dark city, which seems to represent death or decay. The whiteness of the clouds contrasts with the darkness of the city, just as, in the final couplet, the “white” of the friend contrasts with the “darker melody” of the soul.

Trakl’s images may appear arbitrary and disjointed because they do not work progressively in the poem. The images seem to be linked...

(The entire section is 468 words.)