Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 414 words.)