The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Grodek” is a free-verse poem of seventeen lines. The title is highly significant; Georg Trakl served in the Austrian medical services during the World War I battle at Grodek in Galicia in 1914. He was charged with the care of some ninety wounded soldiers at an inadequately supplied field hospital; unable to ease their suffering, he himself broke down and was hospitalized for psychiatric observation. “Grodek” was the last poem Trakl wrote before his death from a cocaine overdose—perhaps a suicide—shortly after his breakdown. It quickly became one of the best-known war poems of World War I.

Though not separated into stanzas, four complete sentences (in the original) divide the poem thematically as well as syntactically. The first six-line sentence describes the close of a day of battle; as evening comes the sounds of combat—tones of “deadly weapons” and the “wild lament” of “dying warriors”—are embraced and surrounded by the approaching night.

Trakl’s opening image of the human and mechanical sounds of battle echoing through the woods into the evening twilight is cut off by the “But” which begins the second, four-line sentence: “But,” says the poet, even though the battle continues, the spilled blood of the day also “gathers” “quietly there in the pastureland” under the coolness of the moon. This silent return of shed blood to the earth points to the endless circle of life and death, which is at work even on the battlefield. The first ten lines of the poem remind the reader of a pastoral scene because of their familiar...

(The entire section is 649 words.)