The poets and the world war: "On the Eastern Front" by Georg Trakl

On the 3rd of November 1914 Georg Trakl died in the hospital of Kraków. He was 27. The last three months of his life overlap with his experience of the First World War. This starts at the end of August 1914 with a long train journey from his hometown, Innsbruck, to Galicia, the far eastern boundary of the Empire. In this area of the front he took his place as pharmacist. The baptism of fire was short yet extremely cruel and ferocious: the Battle of Grodek, one of the stages of the Battle of Galicia. After that he was assigned to assist ninety wounded and almost hopeless soldiers in a barn. It is the beginning of the end: these were probably the moments when he started thinking about suicide. He tried to kill himself during the retreat, but was disarmed. As the Kraków's medical file states, what was not possible during the retreat was possible with cocaine intoxication.

It's the second time we host one of the poems he wrote during his short war time. After "Grodek", the poem that inaugurated this section of World War I Bridges, we would like to host today Im Osten.


The winter storm's mad organ playing
is like the Volk's dark fury,
the black-red tidal wave of onslaught,
defoliated stars.

Her features smashed, her arms silver,
night calls to the dying men,
beneath shadows of November's ash,
ghost casualties heave.

A spiky no-man's-land encloses the town.
The moon hunts petrified women
from their blood-spattered doorsteps.
Grey wolves have forced the gates.

(Translation by John Greening)


Den wilden Orgeln des Wintersturms
Gleicht des Volkes finstrer Zorn,
Die purpurne Woge der Schlacht,
Entlaubter Sterne.

Mit zerbochnen Brauen, silbernen Armen
Winkt sterbenden Soldaten die Nacht.
Im Schatten der herbstlichen Esche
Seufzen die Geister der Erschlagenen.

Dornige Wildnis umgürtet die Stadt.
Von blutenden Stufen jagt der Mond
Die erschrockenen Frauen.
Wilde Wölfe brachen durchs Tor.