No Comment, Quotation — November 7, 2010, 6:56 am

Trakl – In Venice


Stille in nächtigem Zimmer.
Silbern flackert der Leuchter
Vor dem singenden Odem
Des Einsamen;
Zaubrisches Rosengewölk.

Schwärzlicher Fliegenschwarm
Verdunkelt den steinernen Raum
Und es starrt von der Qual
Des goldenen Tags das Haupt
Des Heimatlosen.

Reglos nachtet das Meer.
Stern und schwärzliche Fahrt
Entschwand am Kanal.
Kind, dein kränkliches Lächeln
Folgte mir leise im Schlaf.

Silent in the nocturnal room
The candlestick flickers silver
Before the singing breath
Of the loner;
Magical cloud of roses.

A swarm of black flies
Darkens the stony space,
The head of a homeless person
Stares from the torment of
The golden day.

The sea slumbers motionless.
A star and a dark trip
Vanish on the canal.
Child, your sickly smile
Follows me quietly in sleep.

Georg Trakl, In Venedig (1913) first published in Sebastian im Traum (1915) in Georg Trakl Dichtungen und Briefe: historisch-kritische Ausgabe, vol. 1, p. 131 (S.H. transl.)

Venice is the subject of a great deal of poetry, much of it celebrating the joy of the city’s famous carnival, its love of music, architecture and art, its triumph over the sea. But in the world of German letters in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Venice is associated with a sense of beauty out of decline–a perspective that probably found its most famous expression in Thomas Mann’s Der Tod in Venedig. Georg Trakl’s beautiful little poem In Venedig captures a good deal of this, and it also challenges us with the idea of death. Typically Trakl approaches his poem the way a painter might approach a canvas–with his brushes primed–silver and gold, rose hints, a dark sky, and a matrix of all embracing black. This is not Canaletto’s Venice; it a city beset by decay, decline and approaching nightfall.

Listen to the aria “Poles, I should think” from Benjamin Britten’s opera Death in Venice (1973):

Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada



December 2015

Power in Paris

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Bed-Rest Hoax

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Blast from the Past

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Counterparty

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Free but not Redeemed

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content


Hour of the Horse·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“After World War II, urbanization and mechanization further diminished the horses’ place in Japanese life. Today, all but one of the eight breeds—the Hokkaido horse, also known as Dosanko—are critically endangered”
Photograph by Charlotte Dumas
Getting to the End·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“That casino resorts offer a kind of virtual travel is an obvious facet of this theory, but all the glitzy bullshit — the gross architectural citation of other, actual places — is really just a lure for the virtual narrative of the gambling experience.”
Photograph by Robert Gumpert
Slender Mercies·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“A weight-loss show about abuse and incest and a young football coach who once attempted to hang himself? If this combination strikes you as surprising, you haven’t been watching Extreme Weight Loss.”
Illustration by Barry Falls
The Counterparty·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The Dayton Accords stopped the Bosnian War, but because the deal was hammered out before there was a clear military victor, it relied on a complicated patchwork of ethnically organized governments that satisfied everyone and no one.”
Photograph © Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos
The Bed-Rest Hoax·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Within five days of immobilization, the arteries narrow and stiffen, and the interior lining of the blood vessels becomes less able to flex and tighten.”
Painting by Evan Wilson.

Estimated number of calories a person consumes during Thanksgiving dinner:


The earth had become twice as dusty during the past century.

A man sued Pennsylvania state police who detained him for 29 days when they mistook his homemade soap for cocaine.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!


Subways Are for Sleeping


“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today