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Stille in nächtigem Zimmer.
Silbern flackert der Leuchter
Vor dem singenden Odem
Verdunkelt den steinernen Raum
Und es starrt von der Qual
Des goldenen Tags das Haupt
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):
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
Estimated cost of the environmental damage caused each year by the world’s 3,000 largest companies:
Two thirds of U.S. teenagers experience uncontrollable rage.
Beekeepers began extracting 1 million honeybees living beneath the siding of a house in New York State.
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“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.”