To the Boy Elis

Elis, when the blackbird calls in darkest wood,
This is your destruction.
Your lips drink the cool of the blue rock-spring.

When your brow softly bleeds, forsake
Ancient legends
And dark readings of the flight of birds.

But you walk with soft steps into the night
Where purple grapes hang thickly
And you move your arms more gracefully in the blue.

A thorn-bush sounds
Where your moonlike eyes are.
O how long, Elis, have you been deceased.

Your body is a hyacinth
Into which a monk dips his waxen fingers.
Our silence is a black cave

From which at times a gentle beast emerges
And slowly lowers heavy eyelids.
Black dew drips onto your forehead,

The last gold of decayed stars.

by Georg Trakl, translated by Margitt Lehbert

from The Poems of Georg Trakl
Anvil, 2007
Translation copyright © Margitt Lehbert 2007

Margitt Lehbert’s deft and attentive translations of Trakl’s poems and her introduction to The Poems of Georg Trakl are a fine guide to a poet now regarded as among the most original of the twentieth century. Surreal, expressionist and starkly beautiful, his poems responded to his own pain and to the traumas of the First World War with work of unique depth and power. Although he is a complex and difficult poet in many respects, he translates well into a complex and difficult English.

Born in Salzburg, Austria, he lived from 1887 to 1914, mainly in Vienna. He died after a drug overdose in a military hospital in Krakow, Poland. Margitt Lehbert has translated Elizabeth Bishop, Carol Ann Duffy and Les Murray for German publishers, and Sarah Kirsch into English for Anvil. She lives in southern Sweden where she runs a small press, Edition Rugerup.

Anvil Press Poetry was founded in 1968 and publishes English-language poetry and poetry in translation, both classic and modern.