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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
From the June 2014 issue
Acres of hemp grown by “patriotic‚” U.S. farmers in 1942 at the behest of the U.S. government:
A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.
Greenpeace apologized after activists accidentally defaced the site of Peru’s 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines when they unfurled cloth letters reading “time for change” near the ancient sand drawings. “We fully understand,” the group wrote in a statement, “that this looks bad.”
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“I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”