Biography of Georg Trakl

Georg Trakl
Georg Trakl.jpg
Born(1887-02-03)3 February 1887
Salzburg, Duchy of Salzburg, Austria-Hungary
Died3 November 1914(1914-11-03) (aged 27)
Kraków, Austria-Hungary (now Poland)
OccupationPoet, pharmacist, writer
Alma materUniversity of Vienna (pharmacy)
Literary movementExpressionism
A poem by Trakl inscribed on a plaque in Mirabell Garden, Salzburg.

Georg Trakl (3 February 1887 – 3 November 1914) was an Austrian poet and brother of the pianist Grete Trakl. He is considered one of the most important Austrian Expressionists. He is perhaps best known for his poem "Grodek", which he wrote shortly before he died of a cocaine overdose.

Life and work

Trakl was born and lived the first 21 years of his life in Salzburg. His father, Tobias Trakl (11 June 1837, Ödenburg/Sopron – 1910), was a dealer of hardware from Hungary, while his mother, Maria Catharina Halik (17 May 1852, Wiener Neustadt – 1925), was a housewife of partly Czech descent; she was a drug-addict and left the education to a French "gouvernante", who brought Trakl into contact with French language and literature at an early age. His sister Grete Trakl was a musical prodigy; with her he shared artistic endeavors. Poems allude to an incestuous relationship between the two.

Trakl attended a Catholic elementary school, although his parents were Protestants. He matriculated in 1897 at the Salzburg Staatsgymnasium, where he had problems in Latin, Greek, and mathematics, for which he had to repeat one year and then leave without Matura. At age 13, Trakl began to write poetry.

After quitting high school, Trakl worked for a pharmacist for three years and decided to adopt pharmacy as a career; this facilitated access to drugs, such as morphine and cocaine. It was during this time that he experimented with playwriting, but his two short plays, All Souls' Day and Fata Morgana, were not successful. However, from May to December 1906, Trakl published four prose pieces in the feuilleton section of two Salzburg newspapers. All cover themes and settings found in his mature work. This is especially true of “Traumland” (Dreamland), in which a young man falls in love with a dying girl who is his cousin.

In 1908, Trakl moved to Vienna to study pharmacy, and became acquainted with some local artists who helped him publish some of his poems. Trakl's father died in 1910, soon before Trakl received his pharmacy certificate; thereafter, Trakl enlisted in the army for a year-long stint. His return to civilian life in Salzburg was unsuccessful and he re-enlisted, serving as a pharmacist at a hospital in Innsbruck. There he became acquainted with a group of avant-garde artists involved with the well-regarded literary journal Der Brenner, a journal that began the Kierkegaard revival in the German-speaking countries. Ludwig von Ficker, the editor of the journal Der Brenner (and son of the historian Julius von Ficker), became his patron: he regularly printed Trakl's work and endeavored to find him a publisher to produce a collection of poems. The result of these efforts was Gedichte (Poems), published by Kurt Wolff in Leipzig during the summer of 1913. Ficker also brought Trakl to the attention of Ludwig Wittgenstein, who anonymously provided him with a sizable stipend so that he could concentrate on his writing.

At the beginning of World War I, Trakl served in the Austro-Hungarian Army and was sent as a medical officer to attend soldiers on the Eastern Front. Trakl suffered frequent bouts of depression. On one such occasion during the Battle of Gródek (fought in autumn 1914 at Gródek, then in the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria), Trakl had to steward the recovery of some ninety soldiers wounded in the fierce campaign against the Russians. He tried to shoot himself from the strain, but his comrades prevented him. Hospitalized at a military hospital in Kraków and observed closely, Trakl lapsed into worse depression and wrote to Ficker for advice. Ficker convinced him to communicate with Wittgenstein. Upon receiving Trakl's note, Wittgenstein travelled to the hospital, but found that Trakl had died of a cocaine overdose. Trakl was buried at Kraków's Rakowicki Cemetery on 6 November 1914, but on 7 October 1925, as a result of the efforts by Ficker, his remains were transferred to the municipal cemetery of Innsbruck-Mühlau (where they now repose next to Ficker's).

Themes and motifs

While Trakl's very earliest poems are more philosophical and do not deal as much with the real world, most of his poems are either set in the evening or have evening as a motif. Silence is also a frequent motif in Trakl's poetry, and his later poems often feature the silent dead, who are unable to express themselves.


Selected titles

  • Gedichte (Poems), 1913
  • Sebastian im Traum (Sebastian in the Dream), 1915
  • Der Herbst des Einsamen (The Autumn of The Lonely), 1920
  • Gesang des Abgeschiedenen (Song of the Departed), 1933

Literary works in English

  • Decline: 12 Poems, trans. Michael Hamburger, Guido Morris / Latin Press, 1952
  • Twenty Poems of George Trakl, trans. James Wright & Robert Bly, The Sixties Press, 1961
  • Selected Poems, ed. Christopher Middleton, trans. Robert Grenier et al., Jonathan Cape, 1968
  • Georg Trakl: Poems, trans. Lucia Getsi, Mundus Artium Press, 1973
  • Georg Trakl: A Profile, ed. Frank Graziano, Logbridge-Rhodes, 1983
  • Song of the West: Selected Poems, trans. Robert Firmage, North Point Press, 1988
  • The Golden Goblet: Selected Poems of Georg Trakl, 1887–1914, trans. Jamshid Shirani & A. Maziar, Ibex Publishers, 1994
  • Autumn Sonata: Selected Poems of Georg Trakl, trans. Daniel Simko, Asphodel Press, 1998
  • Poems and Prose, Bilingual edition, trans. Alexander Stillmark, Libris, 2001

    • Re-edition: Poems and Prose. A Bilingual Edition, Northwestern University Press, 2005
  • To the Silenced: Selected Poems, trans. Will Stone, Arc Publications, 2006
  • In an Abandoned Room: Selected Poems by Georg Trakl, trans. Daniele Pantano, Erbacce Press, 2008
  • The Last Gold of Expired Stars: Complete Poems 1908 - 1914, trans. Jim Doss & Werner Schmitt, Loch Raven Press, 2011
  • Song of the Departed: Selected Poems of George Trakl, trans. Robert Firmage, Copper Canyon Press, 2012
  • "Uncommon Poems and Versions by Georg Trakl", trans. James Reidel, Mudlark No. 53, 2014
  • Poems, trans. James Reidel, Seagull Books, 2015
  • Sebastian Dreaming, trans. James Reidel, Seagull Books, 2016
  • A Skeleton Plays Violin, trans. James Reidel, Seagull Books, 2017
  • Autumnal Elegies: Complete Poetry, trans. Michael Jarvie, 2019

Critical studies

  • Richard Millington, Snow from Broken Eyes: Cocaine in the Lives and Works of Three Expressionist Poets, Peter Lang AG, 2012

Poetry of Trakl in music

  • Paul Hindemith: Die Junge Magd - Sechs Gedichte von Georg Trakl für eine Altstimme mit Flöte, Klarinette und Streichquartett, opus 23 Nr.2
  • 6 Lieder nach Gedichten von Georg Trakl, Op. 14 by Anton Webern.
  • Peter Maxwell Davies: Revelation and Fall, Monodrama for soprano and instrumental ensemble, 1966.
  • Wilhelm Killmayer set several of his poems in two song cycles, Trakl-Lieder in 1993 and Schweigen und Kindheit in 1996.
  • Sebastian im Traum, 2004 orchestral composition by Hans Werner Henze based on Trakl's work.
  • Russian composer David Tukhmanov wrote a triptych for mezzo-soprano and piano titled Dream of Sebastian, or Saint Night, which is based on the poems of Trakl. The first performance took place in 2007.
  • Kristalliner Schrei, a 2014 setting of three poems from Gedichte for mezzo-soprano and string quartet, by Henry Breneman Stewart
  • Trakl Gedichte by Philippe Manoury published by Éditions Durand

Poetry of Trakl in dance

  • "Silence Spoken: ...quiet answers to dark questions", an intersemiotic translation of five poems by Trakl into dance, choreographed by Angela Kaiser, 2015.

Movies related to Georg Trakl

  • Tabu - Es ist die Seele ein Fremdes auf Erden (May 31, 2012)

Write your comment about Georg Trakl

Poem of the day

William Blake Poem
The Human Abstract
 by William Blake

Pity would be no more,
If we did not make somebody Poor;
And Mercy no more could be.
If all were as happy as we;

And mutual fear brings peace;
Till the selfish loves increase.
Then Cruelty knits a snare,

Read complete poem

Popular Poets