Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 414

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In the highly politicized German literary world between the two world wars, Trakl’s “Grodek” was read and claimed by readers both on the right and on the left of the political spectrum. Although expressionism as a school or style of literature was disdained by the National Socialist regime as decadent in its public associations and indulgent in its subjectivity, “Grodek” maintains enough of the tradition of the elegy to have been read by Nazi readers as a memorial to the dead, to the “ghosts of the heroes.” At the same time, those who read closely or were privy to Trakl’s difficult private language were able to understand the poem as full of resignation and hopelessness, especially because many of them concentrated on the poem’s last line: “the grandsons (yet) unborn.” Are the grandsons to come being sacrificed on the brazen altars of war? Is some craving “spirit” of humankind being fed these unborn generations through the act of war? Will these “grandsons” ever be born, or have the deaths of their elders, the “dying warriors,” foreclosed their existence once and for all? Trakl leaves the interpretation to the reader.

Trakl’s poetry has traditionally been read autobiographically, and this poem—occasioned as it was by his own experience at Grodek—is no different. In general, though, most of his other poetry is far more private and intimate and has consequently been subjected to psychological, religious, sexual, and philosophical interpretations. “Grodek” presents readers with something of an exception among Trakl’s works since, unlike many of his poems which are grounded in some intensely private ordeal (experiences of religion, drugs, and incest), it has its roots in the common historical experience of World War I.

Because “Grodek” has been anthologized in collections of war poetry so often over the years, readers have been forced to interpret it in this context. So although academic readers and Trakl specialists like to trace the poem’s key words and images throughout Trakl’s oeuvre—to determine, for example, the various associations of “blue lakes” or of the “sister” in all his other poems—and interpret “Grodek” as the culmination of a consistent poetic journey, the poem actually stands well on its own as perhaps the most important German war poem of all. Within the context of twentieth century German history, Trakl’s mourning call, “the unborn grandsons,” might force readers to consider all the dead of the next war and to mourn them as well.