Monday, November 13, 2006

Georg Trakl: Dream and Derangement, and Synthasis

My friend and co-translator, Werner Schmitt, has pointed out an interesting site related to Georg Trakl on the internet-- the Synthasis project, which is mainly dedicated to producing musical versions of Trakl’s texts using electronic instruments. Samples music is provided on the site inspired by the Trakl poems Toward Evening My Heart (Zu Abend mein Herz) and Dream and Derangement (Traum und Umnachtung). Dream and Derangement in particular features an inspired readings of the Trakl prose poems in German set to music. Personally, I would describe this synthesis of word and music as “eerily haunting and beautiful,” like the poem itself.

On the web site the Synthasis Project is described as follows:

From September 2005 until April 2006 these three musicians worked on musical versions of the texts and poems of the Austrian poet George Trakl (1887-1914), see also Werschs Trakl-site, which contains the complete works, biographic and scientific material affectionately presented in both the original German and English. Trakl's extremely image-rich and contrasting language makes a large range of musical expression possible. A CD, with among other things the musical version of "Dream and Derangement," appeared under the title "First Meetings" (SYN003) with SYNTHASIS, further musical versions are planned.

For those who want to follow along in English, here is a translation of the visionary Trakl prose poem Dream and Derangement, which shows Trakl’s mental anguish as well as his central obsession with the image of the sister and the degeneration of the family.

Dream and Derangement

In the evening, the father became an old man; in dark rooms the mother's face petrified, and the curse of the degenerated race weighed on the boy. Sometimes he remembered his childhood filled with sickness, terror and eclipse, secret games in the garden of stars, or feeding the rats in the dusking courtyard. From the blue mirror the narrow figure of the sister stepped and he fell as if dead into darkness. At night his mouth burst open like a red fruit and stars gleamed over his speechless grief. His dreams filled the ancient house of the fathers. In the evening he liked to walk over the ruined cemetery or watch the corpses in the dusking crypts, with green stains of rot on their beautiful hands. At the monastery gate he asked for a piece of bread; the shadow of a black horse jumped out of darkness and frightened him. When he lay in his cool bed, unspeakable tears overcame him. But there was no one who might have a hand on his forehead. When autumn came he walked clairvoyant in a brown floodplain. O, the hours of wild ecstasy, the evenings by the green river, the hunting. O, the soul which sang quietly the song of the yellowed reed; fiery piety. Silently and long he looked into the starry eyes of the toad, felt with trembling hands the coolness of the old stone and consulted with the revered legend of the blue spring. O, the silver fish and fruits which fell from crippled trees. The chords of his steps filled him with pride and contempt of men. On the way home, he met an uninhabited castle. Decayed gods stood in the garden, mourning in the evening. But to him it seemed: here I lived forgotten years. An organ choral filled him with the God's awe. But in a dark cave he spent his days, lied and stole and hid, a flaming wolf before the mother's white countenance. O, the hour when with a stony mouth he sank down in the star garden, the shadow of the murderer came over him. With a purple forehead he walked into the moor and God's wrath castigated his metal shoulders; o, the birches in the storm; the dark animals which avoided his deranged paths. Hate burned his heart, lust, when in the green summer garden he violated the silent child and recognized in the child's radiance his own deranged countenance. Woe, in the evening at the window, when out of purple flowers a grayish skeleton, death stepped out. O, you towers and bells; and the shadows of night fell stony on him.

No one loved him. His head burned lies and lechery in dusking rooms. The blue rustle of a woman's dress made him stiffen into a column and the nocturnal shape of his mother stood in the doorway. Above his head the shadow of evil rose up. O, you nights and stars. In the evening he walked past the mountain with the cripple; the rosy splendor of the sunset rested on the icy peak and his heart quietly rang in the twilight. The stormy firs sank heavily upon them and the red hunter stepped out of the forest. When night came his heart broke crystal-like and darkness beat his forehead. Under bleak oak trees he strangled a wild cat with icy hands. Lamenting to his right, the white figure of an angel appeared, and in the darkness the shadow of the cripple grew. But he lifted a rock and threw it at the other so that he fled howling and in the shadow of the tree the gentle countenance of the angel faded away sighing. For a long time he lay on a rock field and gazed with astonishment at the golden tent of the stars. Chased by bats he fell away into the darkness. Breathless, he entered the decayed house. In the courtyard he, a wild animal, drank the well's blue water until he became cold. Feverish, he sat upon the icy stairs, raging against God that he might die. O, the grey countenance of terror when he raised the round eyes over a dove's slit throat. Shooing over strange stairs, he met a Jewish girl and he grabbed at her black hair and he seized her mouth. Hostile beings followed him through dark streets and an iron clinking tore his ear. Along autumn walls he, an acolyte, silently followed the muted priest; he drunkenly breathed in the scarlet of his reverend vestment under withered trees. O, the decayed disk of the sun. Sweet torments consumed his flesh. In a deserted passageway his own bloody figure covered with refuge appeared to him. He loved the noble works of stone more deeply; the tower that nightly storms the blue sky of stars with hellish grimaces; the cool grave in which man's fiery heart is preserved. Woe to the unspeakable guilt signified by it. But when pondering something blazing he walked along the autumn river under bleak trees, a flaming daemon appeared to him in hairy coat, the sister. Awaking the stars expired above her head.

Oh, the cursed race. When in maculate rooms every destiny has been fulfilled, death enters the house in moldering steps. O, that it were spring outdoors and a lovely bird was singing in the blossoming tree. But grayish the scanty green withers around the windows of the nocturnal ones and bleeding hearts still ponder evil. O, the dusking spring paths of the contemplative. More righteously he rejoices in the blossoming hedge, the country man's young seed, and the singing bird, God's gentle creature; the evening bell and the beautiful community of men. He might forget his fate and the thorny sting. Freely, the brook grows green where silverly his foot wanders, and a telling tree sighs above his deranged head. Therefore he lifts the snake with slender hand and in fiery tears his heart melted away. The silence of the forest is sublime, darkness grown green, and the mossy animals fluttering upward when night comes. O, the terror when every being knows its guilt and walks thorny paths. Therefore he found the white figure of the child in the thorny bush bleeding for the coat of the bridegroom. Yet he stood before her mute and suffering, buried in his steely hair. O the radiant angels, whom the purple night wind dispersed. All night he dwelled in a crystalline cave and leprosy grew silverly on his forehead. A shadow, he walked down the mule track under autumn stars. Snow fell, and blue sinisterness filled the house. The harsh voice of the father called out like a blind man and evoked dread. Woe to the bowed appearance of women. Under stiffed hands the terrified family's progeny and utensils crumbled away. A wolf tore the firstborn and the sisters fled into dark gardens to bony old men. A deranged seer, he sang along the decayed walls and God's wind engulfed his voice. O, the voluptuousness of death. O, you children of a dark race. The evil flowers of the blood glimmer silverly on his temples, the cold moon in his broken eyes. O, those of the night; o, the damned.

Deep is the slumber in dark poisons, filled with stars and the mother's white countenance, the stony one. Death is bitter, the fare of the guilt-laden; in the family tree's brown branches earthen faces disintegrated grinning. But quietly the other one sang in the green shadow of the elderberry as he woke from evil dreams; like a sweet playmate, a rosy angel approached him, so that he, a gentle deer, slumbered into the night; and he saw the star-filled countenance of purity. The sunflowers sank golden over the garden fence when the summer came. O, the diligence of bees and the green leaves of the walnut tree; the thunderstorms passing by. The poppy also bloomed silverly, bore our nocturnal starry dreams in a green bud. O, how silent the house was when the father passed away into darkness. The fruit ripened purple on the tree and the gardener moved his hard hands; o, the hairy signs in the radiant sun. But silently in the evening the shadow of the dead man entered the grieving family circle and his step sounded crystal-like over the green meadow before the forest. Muted ones gathered together around the table; dying ones, with waxen hands they broke the bread that bleeds. Woe to the sister's stony eyes when at the meal her insanity touched the brother's forehead, when under the mother's suffering hands the bread turned to stone. O, those who have putrefied, when with silver tongues they silenced hell. Therefore the lamps in the cool room died out and the suffering beings looked at each other silently through purple masks. All night rain poured down, and recreated the land. In a thorny wilderness, the dark one followed the yellowed paths in the corn, the song of the lark and the gentle stillness of green branches so he might find peace. O, you villages and mossy steps, glowing sight. But bonily the steps stagger over sleeping snakes at the forest edge and the ear keeps following the raving scream of the vulture. In the evening he found a stony solitude, a dead man escort into the dark house of the father. A purple cloud covered his head so that he silently attacked his own blood and effigy, a moonlike face; stony he sank away into emptiness when in a broken mirror a dying youth appeared, the sister; the night engulfed the cursed race.

© 2006 Jim Doss and Werner Schmitt


S. Thomas Summers said...

Interesting stuff.

Hope all is well.


Jim Doss said...


This is one of Trakl's darkest, yet most transparent poems.

Just out of curiosity, did you listen to the music or just read the poem.