The poem’s German title, “Abendland,” usually translated as “The Occident,” names the West as the land of evening (Abend), the land where the sun sets. In Georg Trakl’s time, the word referred primarily to the Western European nations. In haunting imagery of evening and approaching night, the poet found a perfect metaphor for what he saw as the late hour in the decline of Western culture, a powerful tool for expressing his sense of foreboding about the depth of night to which that decline might lead. The poem was written in the last months before the outbreak of World War I. The very name the Occident (Abendland) invoked for Trakl this imagery of evening and this sense of lateness.
“The Occident” is divided into three sections. In the first, the central tension of the poem is established in the contrast between two stanzas. The first contains remarkable images of death and decline, and the second centers on the image of Elis, a boy who seems to be unaffected by decline and to await a time of rebirth or springtime. Elis, a subject of two other poems by Trakl in the same volume, represents the original world from which the real world has declined, as well as the rebirth that will come after decline reaches its nadir.
The second section of the poem evokes a quiet tone of lament for the heartbreaking beauty and peace of late evening. The world of evening is lovely and restful, but it is fragile and is only a...
(The entire section is 466 words.)