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The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2010

18-and-under, commended

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Claire Ewbank

by Georg Trakl

At evening the autumn woods resound with the sound
Of deadly weapons, over the golden plains
And blue lakes, the more sombre sun
Rolls downwards; the night draws
The dying warriors together, the wild laments
Of their smashed mouths.
And yet silently on willow ground
In the coolness of the moon, red cloud
Gathers, inhabited by a furious God
The shed blood itself;
All streets lead to black decay.
Under gold branches of the night and stars
The sister’s shadow wavers across the speechless path,
To salute the spirits of the heroes, the bloody heads;
And quietly from the reeds the dark flutes of autumn ring.
O prouder grief! You bronze altars
Today the spirit’s hot flame feeds on a monstrous pain,
The unborn grandchildren.

Translated from the German by Claire Ewbank


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 dunklen Flöten des Herbstes.
O stolzere Trauer! ihr ehernen Altäre
Die heiße Flamme des Geistes nährt heute ein gewaltiger Schmerz,
Die ungebornen Enkel.

Georg Traklm

Translation commentary

I chose to translate this poem after having discovered some of Trakl’s poems last year. The beauty in the sounds of the words he writes, let alone the meanings they also carry, capture me each time I read them. It is the kind of poetry I would like to be able to write myself and so in translating I like to feel I am one step forward! This particular poem expresses Trakl’s sentiments towards war and the immense sorrow he carries in acknowledging the consequences of death. Over the past year, as a result of my various studies, I have become more interested in the concept of war and what it does to humanity.

In translating this poem I found that I had to refer to a number of different translations in order to find the meaning of a few words that I expect are old German as I could not find them in any dictionary. This was an added challenge to a task that was already reasonably complex, as I found translation from German to English requires a subtle manipulation of word order and line structures. Poetry such as this provides a constant demand for the use of a thesaurus, and it is a joy to be able to choose from the wonderfully wide number of synonyms within the English language. Whilst doing this, I set myself the challenge of conveying the powerful, silent aspect of nature that Trakl so well depicts, through the sounds of the syllables and words that I used. Hence the repeated assonance and sibilance, which allows the sorrow of mourning for a future that will not pass, to echo through the lines.

Claire Ewbank