Finding His True Voice: Trakl’s “Psalm”

The moment when a poet finds his or her true voice is incredibly exciting.  “Psalm” by Georg Trakl, written in 1912, is such a moment.  It is an unrhymed poem—not new for the poet, but this is his first successful usage—and longer than any of his earlier poems, with a new tone and new ambition.  It is visionary and inclusive, an opening of the field, to borrow a phrase from Robert Duncan. From here on his work becomes ever more visionary and other-directed, both more comprehensive and more mysterious.  It becomes recognizably the mature poetry of this extraordinary poet.  Here is my translation of the poem:

Psalm (2nd Version)

There is a light the wind blows out, There is a tavern the village drunkard leaves in the afternoon, There are holes filled with spiders in the black scorched vineyard, There is a room they have whitewashed with milk. One day the Mad One died.  There is an island in the South Seas That will receive the Sun-God.  When the drums sound, The men begin their war-dances. The women shake their hips covered in vines & poppies When the ocean sings.  O lost paradise!

The nymphs leave their forests of gold. They bury the Stranger.  A glistening rain begins. The son of Pan appears as a common laborer Who sleeps through noon on the burning asphalt. There are young girls in the courtyard in dresses of heart-rending poverty! There are rooms filled with chords & sonatas. There are shadows that embrace in front of a blind mirror. The sick warm themselves at the hospital windows. A white steamer carries the bloody pestilence up the canal.

The strange sister appears again in someone’s evil dream.