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This review is taken from PN Review 41, Volume 11 Number 3, January - February 1985.

THE HYACINTH FACE OF TWILIGHT Georg Trakl, A Profile, edited by F. Graziano (Carcanet) £6.95

Georg Trakl saw himself in the image of Kaspar Hauser and Dostoevsky's Prince Myshkin as one of 'the unborn'. In imitation of Rimbaud he periodically made plans to escape the corruption of Europe. At the age of twenty he coined the aphorism: 'Only to one who despises happiness comes enlightenment', and for most of his brief adult life he seems to have been desperately unhappy - addicted to narcotics, prone to obsessive fears and racked by a guilt which nothing could expiate. Near the end of his life he described poetry as 'incomplete atonement'. It is possible to overstress the 'demonic' and 'possessed' side of Trakl's nature however: a letter from a young orderly at the military hospital where Trakl killed himself in 1914 gives touching testimony of his unselfish concern for others. He was lucky to find understanding friends and patrons, but his deepest attachment was to his sister Margarete, or Grete, a gifted pianist and almost as strange a character as her brother. Whether or not the two ever committed incest is impossible to prove, but the figure of 'the sister' appears in various angelic, demonic and androgynous guises throughout his work, especially in the nightmarish prose poems. Given his nature and the circumstances of his life perhaps the most remarkable feature of his poetry is its strange calm and 'sober clearness'. Trakl may often have believed he was living in hell, and wrote accordingly, but he could also believe that 'All mankind is worthy of love' ...


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