Sunday, 8 September 2019

Surrender to Night: The Collected Poems of Georg Trakl

Surrender to Night: The Collected Poems of Georg Trakl
Poems first published in German in various Austrian books and magazines from 1913-1915. English language translation by Will Stone first published as To The Silenced by Arc Publishing in 2005. Surrender To Night is an extended collection published by Pushkin Press in April 2019.

My 1910s read for my 2019-20 Decade Challenge and one of my WorldReads from Austria

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A new translation by acclaimed poet Will Stone of the visionary Austrian poet Georg Trakl

Georg Trakl is recognised as one of the most important European poets of the twentieth century. His visionary poetry has influenced not only later poets but also composers, artists and filmmakers. The full measure of Trakl's genius can be appreciated in this extensive Collected Poems, intuitively translated by poet Will Stone, which features the key collections including the posthumously published Sebastian in Dream, 1915. Supplementary to these are the poems originally published in the literary journal Der Brenner as well as a discerning selection of Trakl's uncollected work.

Trakl's trademark tonal qualities, his melancholy stamp, the often apocalyptic but eerily beautiful language gradually infect the reader. His poems are awash with images, symbolic colours and signs; mysterious dream-like figures appear and vanish, and an alternative world is born out of the unconscious. The most sensitive observer of Trakl's poetry was his contemporary, Rainer Maria Rilke, who concluded: 'For me, the Trakl poem is an object of sublime existence...'

There's nothing quite like reading an amazing poetry collection to help me really see and appreciate the world around me. In Surrender To Night, Trakl's gorgeous observations of village life and the natural world did just that and I was blown away both that he was so young to have written such vivid poetry and that he isn't far more widely known. I don't think I had even seen his name prior to spotting this new Pushkin collection on NetGalley yet the poems themselves are over a century old! Despite their age, I found no problem in envisaging the imagery Trakl presents, yet I did experience a strange sense of not quite grasping his meaning. It's hard to describe - perhaps almost a magickal veil? I felt, as read many of these poems, that I was absolutely there in the moment yet as I finished each one and thought back over it, something of that clarity evaporated. Does that make sense?

I learned from the informative introductory essays that Trakl himself was a disturbed soul who struggled with mental illness for much of his short life. His translator for this book, Will Stone, has arranged most of the poems in a chronological order so I could appreciate the darkening of repeated themes over the years. Colour is important to Trakl and the blues and browns of his earlier works tends to be replaced by reds, blacks and bone whites later on. Deer and birds are common metaphors as are trees, both for their appearance and their sound, and the Föhn wind which I recognised from Where The Wild Winds Are and remembered it traditionally is said to affect mental stability. I noticed mentions of wine were usurped by the idea of being 'drunk on poppy' as Trakl's opium addiction took a stronger hold on him, and his uses of more Christian imagery including angels and ruined churches.

I cannot say with any confidence that I actually completely understood Trakl's poetry, especially not in the case of the darkest later works. However I could feel his sense of isolation and the idea of an outsider always looking in to a community of which he cannot be part. I am very grateful to Pushkin Press for having made this breathtakingly original collection available again to readers and to Will Stone for his sympathetic translations.

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  1. Poetry is subjective sometimes I think. It means something different to each person that reads it.

    1. Especially with Trakl's poetry. It has obvious imagery, but deep symbolism too and I'm sure I didn't spot all the references

  2. I absolutely love how you review books. It doesn't matter which genre, you are so eloquent. :)

  3. As much as I love poetry, I haven't read much translated poetry, and maybe that is something to branch into. I love poetry about nature and that makes you look at life and the world again in a new way. So I love this review and recommendation!

    1. I'd never heard of Trakl prio to spotting this on NetGalley and was blown away by his talent - and that of the translator!