“Psalm” ushered in what is known as Georg Trakl’s middle period, in which his poems were longer and his imagery more complex than had been the case in his previous work. The influence of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud is well documented. “Psalm” is written in long, flowing lines of free verse. In the original German, it contains the mellifluous language that ensured that Trakl would continue to be read, even if he was not entirely understood.
“Psalm” has four stanzas of nine lines each, and a single, isolated line at the end. Semantic associations between adjacent lines are not always readily apparent.
Although everything is described in the third person, the poem is highly autobiographical, as is all of Trakl’s work. The title seems to indicate a devotional poem, but “Psalm” is devotional only in that for Trakl, the act of writing was a means of atoning, at least in part, for his sins.
The first stanza is a good illustration of the extreme contrasts that characterize Trakl’s poetry. Four consecutive subjects are operated on by negative forces. They are extinguished, abandoned, burned, and misused. A madman dies and is replaced, exactly halfway through the stanza, by the sun god in an idyllic South Sea island paradise, an image qualified only by the closing observation that it is a paradise lost.
At first, the second stanza seems to consist of nine unrelated images. The sense of danger, though, is...
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