Georg Trakl’s poetry can be divided into three phases which followed one another within the brief period of approximately eight years. During these years, Trakl’s poetic diction underwent profound changes. His early poetry (that written prior to 1909) reflects his groping attempts to find his own “voice.” In the early poems, Trakl is unable to free himself fully from the Romantic and neo-Romantic stereotypes of German poetry. His major themes are sorrow, loneliness, the past, and biblical and erotic scenes. His extensive use of the refrain and of four trochee sequences also betrays the influence of Romantic writers, particularly Friedrich Hölderlin and Novalis. Trakl admired the nineteenth century French poet Charles Baudelaire as well as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Fyodor Dostoevski, all of whom left their mark upon his writings. A noteworthy feature of Trakl’s early poems is the presence of the first-person singular, which in his later poems dissolves to a point beyond recognition. This “I” and its inner world of feelings is distinguishable from externally perceived reality, even though, as in Romantic poetry, the boundary between a mimetic presentation of objects discernible to the senses and a configuration of images expressing the vision of the poet’s “inner eye” is often impossible to delineate.
During the years from 1909 to 1912, Trakl’s style changed noticeably. Whereas the early poems frequently show hypotaxis, the poems of this middle phase are predominantly paratactical. The reflective element that is still present in Trakl’s earlier poems disappears and gives way to a more “lyrical” or musical principle, and semantic and syntactical patterns are selected according to the interplay of emotional impulse and sound patterns. The emotional impulse translates itself into language in the form of many emotionally charged verbs, such as “threaten,” 4“shiver,” “tremble,” “be silent,” and “hark.” The same anthropomorphic tendency that informs Trakl’s use of verbs can be observed in his adjectives, most of which do not increase the visibility of his images but convey a vague yet suggestive emotional aura: for example,...
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