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Georg Trakl

Georg Trakl (February 3, 1887 - 1914) was an Austrian poet, whose deeply disturbing work assaults the emotions with its powerful metaphors of destruction and death. Trakl's mother suffered from mental illness, which she apparently passed on to her children. Georg was a teenage rebel, who drank heavily, smoked opium, frequented prostitutes, and may even have had an incestuous affair with his sister Grete. Having dropped out of high school, he worked for a pharmacist and even entertained the idea of pursuing pharmacy as a career, though many people have speculated that his interest in the field was an attempt to get drugs. It was at this time that he also began experimenting with writing, but his poems were bland and two short plays he wrote failed miserably on stage.

Having moved to Vienna to study pharmacy, he fell in with a group of local artists and bohemians, who helped him to publish some of his poems. When his father died shortly before he finished his degree, Trakl enlisted in the army. His return to civilian life was a disaster, and he reenlisted, serving in a hospital in Innsbruck. There he also met the local artistic community, which recognized his budding talent. Ludwig von Ficker, the editor of an art journal, became his patron, regularly publishing Trakl's work in his magazine and finding him a publisher to produce a collection of his poems. Ficker also brought Trakl to the attention of Ludwig Wittgenstein, who provided him with a sizable stipend so that he could concentrate on his writing.

Soon after, Trakl was drafted because of World War I, but this time his military career was short lived. His moodiness gave way to a severe bout of depression, exacerbated by the horror of caring for wounded soldiers. Hospitalized for depression, Ficker convinced him to contact Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein responded by heading directly for the hospital. It was too late. Three days before he arrived, Trakl had died from an overdose of cocaine.

His poetry is rich with biblical symbolism and images of night and death. It often reads like a nightmare, and has been compared to the work of Comte de Lautreamont.



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