The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Trakl, like Else Lasker-Schüler, to whom this poem is dedicated, is a poet of the German expressionist movement. The expressionists, who viewed the image as the basic unit of poetry, sought to intensify the vividness and expressive power of their images. They composed their poems of intense images much as one might compose music of notes or musical phrases. The coherence of a sequence of images is thus often thematic or emotional instead of logical, temporal, or spatial.

In “The Occident,” Trakl’s images are not connected with spatial transitions, as one might expect in the realistic description of a landscape, and one cannot piece together a story that the poem might tell. His sentence structures are also often incomplete or interrupted, so the images do not fall into a logical pattern of explanation. The first word of the poem, for example, the noun “Moon,” appears in isolation, and serves no identifiable grammatical function in a sentence. A dependent clause compares the moon to something indefinite but pale, a “dead thing” as it would look if it were to step from a blue cave, but here the sentence breaks off and is never completed. As a result, the moon seems to loom symbolically. The reader can see this moon, with a patch of the sky lit up to a shade of blue around it, and has a sense of its eerie, deathlike presence. It stays before the mind, and a strong tone is established. Rather than subduing the image by means of description or a logical context, Trakl instead presents the reader with a series of other images, of petals falling across a stone path, a “sick thing” that is silver weeping by the “evening pond,” and lovers who “died over” on a black boat.

In most poems by Trakl, one can reconnect the isolated images in a stanza by imagining them to be fragments of a landscape, but not without first sensing a strong undercurrent, a...

(The entire section is 772 words.)