PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Mark FordLetters And So It Goes
Letters from Young Mr Grace
(aka John Ashbery)

(PN Review 239)
Henry Kingon Toby Martinez de las Rivas
(PN Review 244)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Colm Toibin on Thom Gunn's Letters Allice Hiller and Sasha Dugdale in conversation David Herman on the life of Edward W. Said Jena Schmitt on Hope Mirrlees Brian Morton: Now the Trees
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PNR 250 Poetry Archive Banner
PN Review New Issue

This review is taken from PN Review 253, Volume 46 Number 5, May - June 2020.

Cover of Surrender to Night: Collected Poems
Brian MortonIllicit Trakl
Georg Trakl, Surrender to Night: Collected Poems, selected and translated by Will Stone (Pushkin Press) £15

There is a minor slip in [translator] Will Stone’s introduction that delivers a happy coinage. He says quite rightly that Trakl’s poetry has been the object of unceasing debate for more than a century (there is a rival new translation abroad by James Reidel, from Seagull Books) but then adds that ‘the resulting presentations may illicit [sic] admiration, from the reader, but also frustration’. It is not immediately clear whether this frustration comes from the poems or the interminable debate, but no matter: ‘illicit admiration’ is exactly what Trakl invites, together with an emotion other than frustration. If there is a such a thing as a guilty pleasure, then devouring page after page of verse that plays on a narrowed bandwidth of themes – evening, silence, animals, colour, death – without understanding much of what is going on must count as one. Even Wittgenstein, who admired Trakl and sent money to keep him solvent, admitted he didn’t have a clue, and if for Wittgenstein, the limits of our words were the limits of our world, then Trakl inhabited a very small one at best. And yet we keep on reading him.

The effect, if we stick with guilty pleasures, is like eating a box of liqueur chocolates, one after the other. After a while, the flavours become undifferentiated and the intense sensation gives way to a queasy guilt. Trakl’s addictions were more severe. Working in pharmacy kept him close to the drugs he depended on. Circumstance and marriage kept him away from Grete, the gifted sister he doted on and ...

Searching, please wait... animated waiting image