Georg Trakl: Dream of Sebastian

At the centre of this selection of poems by Georg Trakl stands 'Dream of Sebastian'. The collection includes most of the poems of Trakl’s maturity; it also counts as one of his most extensive – and final – expressions of artistic intent, over which, as we now know, the poet continued to take the greatest pains until shortly before his death. ‘Dream of Sebastian’ in particular could be said to offer a key to all that is of special significance in the work of this enigmatic poet.

[Hans Szklenar writing in Georg Trakl: Gedichte, Fischer Bücherei, Frankfurt, 1965, trans. Stephen Johnson]

Dream of Sebastian

(For Adolf Loos)

Mother bore the babe in the silver month,
In the shade of the walnut-tree, the ancient elders,
Drunk with the poppy’s juice, and the thrush’s lament;
And silently
Bent over them in pity a bearded face

Softly in the dark of the window; and the father’s household gods
Lay in disrepair;
Loving, autumnal daydream.

Dark was the year’s daybreak, sorrowful childhood,
When the boy climbed softly down to the cool waters, to the silver fish,
Calm the face;
When in demented rage he hurled himself on the ground,
In the dreary night his star watched over him;

Or when, in the evening, grasping his mother’s cold hand,
He passed through St Peter’s autumnal churchyard,
A delicate corpse lay silently in the darkened vault
And raised its cold eyelids towards him.

He was a tiny bird in bare branches,
Long the chimes in the November evening,
The father silent, when in sleep he descended the twilit spiral stairs.

The soul at peace. Solitary winter evening,
The shepherds’ dark shapes by the old pool,
Babe in the hut of straw; O how quietly
The face sinks in dark delirium.
Holy Night.

Or when his father’s hard hand led him
Silently onward to sombre Calvary
And in the rock’s twilit folds
The liquid shadow of a man traced the course of his legend,
From the wound beneath the heart the blood ran purple.
O how softly the Cross arose in the dark soul.

Love; the snow melted in the black crannies,
An azure breeze merrily stirred in the ancient elders,
In the shadowy vault of the walnut-tree;
And quietly before the boy appeared a rose-cheeked angel.

Joy; in cool chambers an evening sonata sounded,
In the brown wood beams
A blue moth crept from its silver chrysalis.

O the nearness of death. Within a stony wall
Bowed a yellowed head, silent the child,
When in that March the moon passed away.

Rose-pink daffodils in the grave-vault of the night
And the stars’ silver voices,
So the dark delusion sank in showers from the sleeper’s brow.

O how silently, forgetfully, descended the blue stream,
When in the green boughs
The thrush sounded an alien note through the decline.

Or when, at sunset, holding the old man’s bony hand,
He passed by the city’s fallen walls
And a black-caped figure carried a rose-cheeked babe,
In the walnut-tree’s shadow the Spirit of Evil appeared.

Feeling its way along Summer’s green stairway. O how softly
The garden decays in the russet hush of Autumn,
Scent and sadness of the ancient elders,
When in Sebastian’s shadow the angels’ silver voices died away.