The poets and the World War: "Gródek" by Georg Trakl

Georg Trakl
This post is supposed to be the first of a series dedicated to the Great War poets. There is no need to spend too many words on this topic, today we have plenty of dedicated websites, you can always take a look at the list of links beside that is constantly getting longer and where you can already find out something that is worth a look. If you are interested in the First World War, you surely know that it meant also a new season for the entire world poetry. We will propose every time a single poem in English and of course in the original text.
The first poet of the series is Georg Trakl (1887, Salzburg - 1914, Kraków), for sure one of the most important 20th century German writing poets. At the war's outbreak, Trakl was sent as a medical official in Galicia (he worked as a chemist apprentice at "Zum weißen Engel", a chemist in Salzburg). After the carnage of Gródek, Trakl had to guard a post where ninety heavily wounded soldiers were gathered. He could not count on medicines or on medical support. He could not stand this and tried to shoot himself, but was disarmed at once by his comrades. He died some days later of a cocaine dose, at the military hospital of Kraków.


Am Abend tönen die herbstlichen Wälder
Von tödlichen Waffen, die goldnen Ebenen
Und blauen Seen, darüber die Sonne
Düstrer hinrollt; umfängt die Nacht
Sterbende Krieger, die wilde Klage
Ihrer zerbrochenen Münder.
Doch stille sammelt im Weidengrund
Rotes Gewölk, darin ein zürnender Gott wohnt
Das vergossne Blut sich, mondne Kühle;
Alle Straßen münden in schwarze Verwesung.
Unter goldnem Gezweig der Nacht und Sternen
Es schwankt der Schwester Schatten durch den schweigenden Hain,
Zu grüßen die Geister der Helden, die blutenden Häupter;
Und leise tönen im Rohr die dunkeln Flöten des Herbstes.
O stolzere Trauer! ihr ehernen Altäre
Die heiße Flamme des Geistes nährt heute ein gewaltiger Schmerz,
Die ungebornen Enkel.


At nightfall the autumn woods cry out
With deadly weapons and the golden plains,
The deep blue lakes, above which more darkly
Rolls the sun; the night embraces
Dying warriors, the wild lament
Of their broken mouths.
But quietly there in the willow dell
Red clouds in which an angry god resides,
The shed blood gathers, lunar coolness.
All the roads lead to blackest carrion.
Under golden twigs of the night and stars
The sister’s shade now sways through the silent copse
To greet the ghosts of heroes, the bleeding heads;
And softly the dark flutes of autumn sound in the reeds.
O prouder grief! You brazen altars,
Today a great pain feeds the hot flame of the spirit,
The grandsons yet unborn.

(translation by Michael Hamburger)

Artist prints on the Italian front

Not only photos and postcards. The iconographic history of the Great War means also uncommon types of images, as we can learn in the recent book by the Italian publisher Cierre La grande guerra. Il fronte italiano nelle cartoline e nelle stampe degli artisti (The Great War. The Italian Front in the Postcards and Prints of the Artists) edited by Piero Ambrosini, Fabio Fogagnolo and Enrico Meliadò. More than a thousand images, the most belonging to the Austro-Hungarian army, that represents an interesting tool to compare the themes of propaganda that were common to all belligerent armies. So what's new in this 400 page illustrated book? First the fact that the images here available belong to artists, sometimes even to important and renowned painters, that were somehow mobilized in a kind of fundraising framework to help the casualties' families. Secondly, the fact that these images portray what photography could hardly shoot: the battles, the aviation operations and the most hectic moments of trench life, usually coming after months spent lying in an maddening and muddy provisional truce, when all soldiers shaked down to the distressing wait for the action.

A conference in Gorizia: the preservation of the Great War landscape

An exciting challenge for the whole memory the Great War, particularly meaningful for Italy, is what to do with fortifications and outdoor constructions that form a significant part of its heritage. The theme needs to be framed in its wider context, namely the 9th article of the Italian Constitution, the one related with the safeguard and preservation of the landscape as a strategic asset of the cultural heritage (one of the most inspiring, disputed and unluckily premonitory article of the Italian Constitution). A pioneer-conference on this topic took place in Gorizia last Friday, the 20th of April, and was organized by Istituto Italiano dei Castelli.

We really hope to share with you in the near future updates and proceedings of such conferences. The preservation of the cultural heritage of the First World War is indeed one of the key aspect we all have to deal with. If the war on the plain left only a few marks, due to the immediate clearance that followed the armistice, the war on the mountains left a complex, heterogeneous and difficult to manage set of buildings, artefacts and trenches that now deeply shape our mindscape and the landscape of Veneto, Lombardy, Friuli-Venezia Giulia,Trentino-South Tyrol up to the boundary line with Slovenia.

Istituto italiano dei Castelli – Section of Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Phone: +39 340 7773927

Through Harvey's Eyes. Another Red Cross Volunteer Account

It is not out of the question that Italy might put up an embarassing show in the Great War Centenary timeframe (that's our fear, when we realize the poor coordination between the center and the local peripheral areas), nevertheless we keep on detecting positive signals coming from local contests, often managed on a voluntary basis and hardly ever coming out of big budgets: good exhibitions, nice ideas, interesting books, self-abnegation of enthusiasts and exciting projects about the Great War and the remembrance of casualties.

As for books, this time we wish to give evidence to the bilingual book (Italian and English) dedicated to the young Red Cross volunteer Harvey Williams. The link with the more famous "Hemingay affair" is immediate, also because of the places that shape the background of this book of memoirs and photos. The author was also a photographer, a good one, and we travel through his eyes the war locations of Casale sul Sile (behind the lines), Fossalta di Piave and Caposile. Harvey's ambulance moved in the area of Monastier, Meolo, Musile and Portegrandi (these places were mentioned many times in war bulletins). The result of Harvey's collateral work is a big amount of photos now available for researchers.

The book is also an interesting example of a collection first published on the web, eventually transformed into a traditional book. Harvey's nephew published the collection of pictures first on the web and only afterward a group of WWI Italian enthusiasts, maybe by serendipity and recognizing the places in the photographs, discovered the collection and proposed to Harvey's nephew to make a book out of it.

All the proceeds of the book are given to the Red Cross. Here the link to the publisher's site.

Peter Englund and the narration of the Great War in "The Beauty and the Sorrow"

The author is a Swedish historian, also permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy for the Nobel Prize for literature. His latest book is The Beauty and the Sorrow (Profile Books) and is about the First World War. The subtitle, An Intimate History of the First World War, lets you understand the aim of the author and his temptative to manage both with the universality of the war and with the particular cases of ordinary people. Like the twenty protagonists of the book, we are caught up by the outbreak of the war in 1914. Who are these people? The threads of their stories come from all the corners of the world and meet the war at a certain point: we are introduced to the English nurse operating in the Russian Army, to the ambulance driver from the United States, to a German child, to the American wife of an aristocrat living in Poland. The reader sits in front of several accounts of the war that stay magnificently together. The prose of Englund is like an accurate knitwear.

There is more than one reason to point out Peter Englund's book among the flood of titles on the Great War and in the avalanche of books and ebooks to come, since we're drawing near to 2014: 1. the ability of intertwining and mixing the genres, better to say the ability of staying away from the most common vices and limits of the genres (fiction, historical essay, pamphlet); 2. the pattern that goes from single cases to the universality of the war; 3. the fact that these are not stand-alone characters, each is able to give a poignant contribution to the narration; 4. the outstanding geography of war that pops up from the pages (from the Dardanelles to the Asiago Plateau, from Verdun to the Piave and Marne areas, Gallipoli and Ypres); 5. the slow and progressive oblivion of the human being that the World War One started to instil into human brains and actions (a territory we are still crossing?). By gathering these stories, Englund shows us a possible approach to First World War narration at present times. Traditional narration has an haggard face, historians probably run out of fuel and of new palimpsests; Englund puts in our hands a compelling book by smelling deeply those four years, without giving a backward glance to the sterile tank of stories of the Great War. That's what we need.

(The book is already translated and avalaible in Italy: La bellezza e l'orrore, Einaudi).

A Century in the Shadow of the First World War, an international centennial conference

WWI Bridges is happy to post the news coming from the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial, Kansas City, USA:


September 21-23, 2012
National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial
Kansas City, Mo., USA

As we approach the 100th anniversary of the First World War in 2014, the National World War I Museumis honored to host this conference, spotlighting remembrance of the 20th century’s first global war.

The gathering will provide a unique opportunity for our international audience to share and formulate commemorative plans, and to develop collaborative initiatives.  Guests will include ambassadors, representatives of consular offices, scholars, museum professionals, film producers and heritage specialists from around the world.

Our distinguished keynote speaker, Hew Strachan, Chichele Professor of the History of War at the University of Oxford, will be joined by an array of noted historians including Professors Jay Winter, Annette Becker, Michael Neiberg and many additional thought-provoking guests.
More information and registration details will be posted on when available.

E-mail if you are interested in attending this important event. Space is limited.

Made possible with funding support from Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P.


Good luck to National World War I Museum! When we look at Italy in the WWI centenary scenario, we really believe that we should take inspiration from such meetings. It is not too early, all the more if we think that the USA entered World War I in 1917...

"The Great War in Italy. Representation and Interpretation." Conference at University of Oxford

Carlo Emilio Gadda

We would like to give evidence to the upcoming international conference held at University of Oxford and organized by SIS, the Society for Italian Studies. The interesting panel and the remarkable contents seem to us a really good mix. We really hope to give to you an update about conference proceedings, in the next months.


The Great War in Italy.
Representation and Interpretation.
Taylorian Institution – University of Oxford
20th and 21st April 2012


Friday 20th

9.00 – 9.20 Registration
9.20 – 9.30 Welcome
9.30 – 10.30 Keynote Speech
Dr Stellardi: Esiti letterari della Grande Guerra: Ungaretti e Gadda
10.30 – 10.45 Coffee break
10.45 – 12.00 Session 1: Prospettive storico-culturali sulla Grande Guerra Chair Mr Thompson
Dr Isabelle Payet: La fratellanza alla prova della guerra e della scrittura, da Gadda a Stuparich
Prof John Foot: Divided Memories. Italy and the First World War
Dr Federico Trocini: «Italiano per elezione?» L’irredentismo democratico di Robert Michels
12.00 – 13.15 Session 2: Tra le carte di Gadda Chair Dr Stellardi
Ms Alessia Vezzoni: «Mia Carissima Mamma…» Affioramenti dal carteggio inedito GaddaAdele Lehr dell’Archivio Liberati
Ms Giulia Fanfani: Sulla lingua di guerra e di prigionia di Carlo Emilio Gadda
Mr Mathijs Duyck: Veni, vidi, narrui. Esperienza, trascrizione e narrazione della Grande Guerra di Carlo Emilio Gadda
13.15 – 14.00 Lunch
14.15 – 16.00 Session 3: La narrazione dell’esperienza bellica in letteratura Chair Dr Tandello
Prof Mara Santi: L’individuo e la folla nel d’Annunzio notturno: il narratore-oratore di Guerra
come interprete del passaggio culturale, politico e ideologico tra XIX e XX secolo
Dr Alessio Giannanti : Paura, fame, freddo: lo stile “disertore” nelle novella di Guerra di Federico De Roberto (appunti su stile e ideologia bellica)
Ms Gloria Maria Ghioni: «Non c’era che la guerra»: L’esperienza bellica nella scrittura di
Corrado Alvaro
Dr Giovanni De Leva: Ufficiali narratori e soldati personaggi. Per una lettura della narrativa
italiana della Grande Guerra
16.00 – 16.15 Coffee break
16.15 – 18.00 Session 4: Memorie e testimonianze dal basso Chair Dr Tobia
Dr Fabio Caffarena: Armati di carta e penna. Soldati e scrittura tra racconto, memoria e storia della Grande Guerra
Ms Marie-Noëlle Snider-Giovannone: Soldati trentini e friulani irredenti?
Mr Alessandro Gualtieri: Eye-witness reports from the Italian Front manslaughter
Ms Erica Grossi: The Memory of the Great War in the Pictures from the Italian trenches.
Perceptive handicap as testimony
18.00– 19.00 Round Table: Riflessioni etiche sulla guerra attraverso interpretazione della
storia e della letteratura, con Dr G. Stellardi, Prof. J. Farrell, Mr Mark Thompson. Chair Dr
Patrizia Piredda

Saturday 21st

9.00 – 10.00 Keynote Speech
Professor Joseph Farrell: The Poets’ War: Experiences of English and Italian Poets
10.00 – 11.15 Session 5: La guerra attraverso l’obiettivo Chair Prof Bonsaver
Prof Giorgio Melloni: The Great War between Pedagogy and Allegory: Lussu's Model in
Monicelli and Rosi
Dr Alessandro Faccioli: Gianikian, Ricci Lucchi e l'autopsia dell'Archivio
Dr Giacomo Boitani: «(Ri)fare gli italiani»: Post-war Italian national identity, Gramsci, commedia all’italiana and Mario Monicelli’s La Grande Guerra (1959)
11.15 – 11.30 Coffee break
11.30 – 13.15 Session 6: Le voci della propaganda Chair Dr Piredda
Prof Koenraad Du Pont: The «autenticy effect», a propaganda tool in trench newpapers
Dr Jessica D’Eath: Imparare ad amare la guerra. Interventionist ideologies in Italian children’s fiction, 1915-1938
Dr Antonio Petrossi: Una lingua per il consenso: studio sul linguaggio della propaganda interna
Dr Pericle Camuffo: «La guerra la fanno i fessi»: Giuseppe Prezzolini e il popolo italiano al fronte
13.15 -14.30 lunch
14.30 – 17.45 Session 7: La guerra dei poeti Chair Prof Farrell
Prof Matteo Vercesi: La Grande Guerra in milanese. Caporetto 1917 di Delio Tessa
Prof Edda Serra: La prima guerra mondiale negli scritti di un irredento: Biagio Marino
Dr Alessandro Viti: Guerra e ripresa di fiducia nella parola poetica
Dr Selena Daly: Marinetti in the First World War: writer, soldier and officer
17.45 – 16.00 Closing remarks

During the conference the Taylorian Institution will also host the exhibition “The War at Oxford”
With original materials from Somerville College and the Taylorian Library, organised by Teresa Franco

Voltaire Room, Taylorian Institution.


"L'archivio della memoria sulla Grande guerra." A new Italian digital project

Venice. The biggest Great War Italian online archive was launched at the beginning of week. The project, that comes under the supervision of the Centre for Great War Military Studies "Piero Pieri", based in Vittorio Veneto, is presented today during the press conference at the seat of the Council of Regione del Veneto by the Director of the Centre "Piero Piero", Colonel Lorenzo Cadeddu.

Basically we are in front of a crowd-sourced project made possible only thanks to the close cooperation between researchers and families. The cooperation with families in sharing photos, memorabilia and other uncommon documents was essential for the success of this "grassroot" initiative, that now aims to become also the starting point for a new reliable digital archive of the casualties of the Great War. Of course the future developments of this archive will need a growing cooperation, in order to release a complete archive at the end of the centenary timeframe, in 2018. The Great War in Italy was concentrated in North-East part of the country, namely in the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia-Giulia and Veneto. The three municipalities of Vittorio Veneto, Nervesa della Battaglia and San Donà di Piave gave a precious contribution in the start-up stage of this initiative; hopefully the scientific commiteee and the staff working on it will obtain new support from other municipalities of the Venice area.

The come up of the First World War centenary represents at the same time the goal and the challenge of this new digital initiative in the long term. The purpose and ambition are of course to release, by the end of 2018, a supervised crowd-sourced archive, to be considered as a precious memory by the future generations, not only in Italy. Here and beside, permanently in the "Pontoon Bridges" section, the link to the website.

Art masterpieces during the Great War: the restoration of Antonio Canova's "Dancer with cymbals"

We all tend to give prominence to the Second World War when we think about the destruction of art masterpieces or about the art plundering (especially the one committed by Nazis, a frequent movie motif). But we may discover again an important chapter that deals with the art masterpieces' destiny during the First World War.

Take as example Antonio Canova, probably the greatest sculptor of all times along with Fidia, and the "Dancer with Cymbals", patrimony of the Berlin Bode Museum. The marble statue was extensively damaged during the Great War by the Austro-Hungarian shellfires coming from the really close war front. The arms and the cymbals were destroyed. Thanks to a procedure called "reverse engineering" and thanks to the combination of this procedure with the Possagno "gesso" (the model mould needed for the final artwork), a full restoration was eventually possible.

You can admire the statue (and maybe start your journey through the effects of all wars on art masterpieces) in the museum dedicated to Antonio Canova in Possagno, his home town in Italy.

"Danzatrice con i Cembali"
From March 3 - September 30, 2012
Museo Canova, Possagno, Italy
Opening time: from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9:30 to 6:00 pm (closed on Monday)
Info: +39 0423 544323