Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Celan, Trakl, Bly

It is obvious that Paul Celan was influenced by surrealism but it is also equally clear that he was interested in and felt an attraction to German Expressionist literature. We know that he read Kafka and felt an affinity to him and that he also felt close to the German writer Georg Trakl.

John Felstiner quotes from a letter that Celan wrote to his friend, Sperber: “I’m much less attracted to Else Lasker-Schüler’s poems than to Trakl and Éluard, and also because I didn’t know what Ludwig von Ficker thought of her poems. But then Ludwig von Ficker took from his desk Lasker-Schüler’s latest volume, The Blue Clavier, it was a copy of the book published in Jerusalem, and began speaking of this poet in such a way that I saw she meant every bit as much to him as Trakl. He also thought Trakl himself was often very indebted to her. And he talked to me as if even I were one of them. What especially delighted me was that he really entered into the Jewishness of my poems-as you well know, that counts a great deal to me.”(Felstiner, 55)

Georg Trakl was an Austrian expressionist. He knew Kokoschka and was subsidized secretly by Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Robert Bly and James Wright have translated some of Trakl’s poetry beautifully into English. Bly writes in his introduction: “In a good poem made by Georg Trakl images follow one another in a way that is somehow stately. The images have a mysterious connection with each other. The rhythm is slow and heavy, like the mood of someone in a dream.”

Here is the first stanza of a poem entitled “Summer” translated by Bly and Wright:

At evening the complaint of the cuckoo
Grows still in the wood.
The grain bends its head deeper,
The red poppy.

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