Trakl: the Elis Poems

Trakl’s brilliant Elis poems, “To The Boy Elis” and “Elis,” were written between spring, 1913, and early 1914, part of the late flowering that began with the masterpieces “Helian” and “Psalm.”  The Elis figure is literary, from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale, “The Mines at Falun.”  In that story Elis Frobom is a 17th century Swedish miner who dies in the mines on his wedding day.  His body is recovered fifty years later, still youthful, perfectly preserved.  Seeing the corpse, his now-aged wife embraces him, and his body crumbles to dust.  The story, like the poems, sets up a series of oppositions about youth and age, the passing of time, innocence and experience (see my note below).  Here is the first Elis poem:

To The Boy Elis

When the blackbird calls in the black wood, Elis, this is your descent. You drink the coolness of the blue rock-spring.

When your forehead gently bleeds Give up the ancient legends & the dark interpretations of the bird’s flight.

But you walk softly into the night, Where the grapes hang full & purple, & you move your arms more beautifully in the blue.

The thorn-bush sounds Where your moonlike eyes are. How long, Elis, you have been dead.

Your body is a hyacinth, The monk dips his waxen fingers into it. Our silence is a black cave,