Your dress soughs softly
On the spiral stairs

Four poems by Georg Trakl translated by Jay Hopler.

Im Herbst

by Georg Trakl

Die Sonnenblumen leuchten am Zaun,

Still sitzen Kranke im Sonnenschein.

Im Acker mühn sich singend die Frau’n,

Die Klosterglocken läuten darein.


Die Vögel sagen dir ferne Mär’,

Die Klosterglocken läuten darein.

Vom Hof tönt sanft die Geige her.

Heut keltern sie den braunen Wein.


Da zeigt der Mensch sich froh und lind.

Heut keltern sie den braunen Wein.

Weit offen die Totenkammern sind

Und schön bemalt vom Sonnenschein.


In the Autumn

by Georg Trakl

The sunflowers shine by the fence.

The invalids sit quietly in the sunshine.

The singing women work in a field,

Into which are chiming cloister bells.


The birds tell you tales of far-off places

Into which are chiming cloister bells.

From the courtyard, a violin is heard.

Today, they press the brown wine.


In autumn, man is blithe and balmy.

Today they press the brown wine.

Wide open are the chambers of the dead

And full of the most beautiful sunshine.

translated from German by Jay Hopler


by Georg Trakl

Am Abend schweigt die Klage

Des Kuckucks im Wald.

Tiefer neigt sich das Korn,

Der rote Mohn.


Schwarzes Gewitter droht

Über dem Hügel.

Das alte Lied der Grille

Erstirbt im Feld.


Nimmer regt sich das Laub

Der Kastanie.

Auf der Wendeltreppe

Rauscht dein Kleid.


Stille leuchtet die Kerze

Im dunklen Zimmer;

Eine silberne Hand

Löschte sie aus;


Windstille, sternlose Nacht.




by Georg Trakl

In the evening, in the forest,

The cuckoo’s complaint grows quiet. 

The wheat leans more deeply,

The red poppy. 


Thunderheads threaten

Over the hill. 

The old song of the cricket

Dies in the field. 


Ever still, the leaves

Of the chestnut tree. 

Your dress soughs softly

On the spiral stairs. 


Silently, the candle

In the dark room shines;

A silver hand

Snuffs it out. 


Windless, starless night.

translated from German by Jay Hopler


by Georg Trakl

Der schwarze Schnee, der von den Dächern rinnt;

Ein roter Finger taucht in deine Stirne

Ins kahle Zimmer sinken blaue Firne,

Die Liebender erstorbene Spiegel sind.

In schwere Stücke bricht das Haupt und sinnt

Den Schatten nach im Spiegel blauer Firne,

Dem kalten Lächeln einer toten Dirne.

In Nelkendüften weint der Abendwind. 



by Georg Trakl

Black snow spills from the rooftops. 

A red finger pokes into your skull. 

Blue glacial ice melts into an empty room,

The lover’s dead mirror. 

Or is it, the dead lovers’ mirror? 

The brain breaks into heavy pieces

Just thinking about it.  The reflection

Of that blue ice in the mirror

Is like the cold smile of a dead tramp. 

The evening wind wails,

Reeking of carnations.

translated from German by Jay Hopler


by Georg Trakl

Mönchin!  schließ mich in dein Dunkel,

Ihr Gebirge kühl und blau!

Niederblutet dunkler Tau;

Kreuz ragt steil im Sterngefunkel.


Purpurn brachen Mund und Lüge

In verfallner Kammer kühl;

Scheint noch Lachen, golden Spiel,

Einer Glocke letzte Züge.


Mondeswolke!  Schwärzlich fallen

Wilde Früchte nachts vom Baum

Und zum Grabe wird der Raum

Und zum Traum dies Erdenwallen. 



by Georg Trakl

Mother Superior, lock me up in darkness,

Yours!  Your mountains so cool.  So blue—.  

The gloom-dimmed dew blooms down into the earth. 

A cross rockets Heavenward.  Star-spark and star-shine. 


In a shabby backroom, a liar takes one

In the kisser and his split lips swell. 

I hear laughter growing fainter,

Shining like a dying bell. 


Mooncloud!  At night, when the ripe fruit falls

From the trees so bitterly,

Our every room a tomb becomes. 

What a waste the world is.

translated from German by Jay Hopler

our one small lamp struggles against the wind

Ten late poems of Du Fu translated by George Life.

These quatrains are part of a projected two-volume translation of the late poems of Du Fu. The first volume, from which this selection is drawn, covers the last period of his life (769-770) when he was traveling on the Xiang River in present-day Hunan province; the second covers a period just before this (766-768) when he was living in and around the city of Kuizhou on the banks of the Yangzi River at the mouth of the Three Gorges.

The project emphasizes aspects of Du Fu’s late poems often commented upon by scholars but rarely carried across by translators. These include structural features such as sequentiality, segmentivity, fragmentation and disjunction that convey below the level of content the deep volatility and uncertainty that mark the poems. It is as though in these poems Du Fu splits the root of the Chinese language, opening the way for the radical experiments in form and tone that would follow in the Mid and Late Tang. 

What Du Fu reveals in his language I hope to reveal in his poetry by taking the couplet rather than the poem as the primary unit of translation. These quatrains, in other words, are formed by the juxtaposition of two independently selected and translated couplets. My preoccupation with Du Fu’s late work—what drew me to it, and what I aim at in translating it—is not a matter of completeness, either at the level of the poem or in terms of his entire oeuvre, but resonance. I hope by this approach, combining the processes of selection, juxtaposition, and constellation, to arrive closer to that split root.

—George Life


by Du Fu








[everyone I meet is struck by how I've aged]

by Du Fu

everyone I meet     is struck by how I’ve aged

and everywhere I go     I’m offered cups of wine



I’ve eaten little     no more than a bird would


approached favor     as wisely as Yang Zhen

translated from Chinese by George Life


by Du Fu







[relief spreads through the humid lowlands]

by Du Fu


relief spreads     through the humid lowlands

after the wind rushes      over Dongting Lake  



please pay a visit     to Wei Tiao of Shaozhou

just yesterday     he sent me these new poems

translated from Chinese by George Life


by Du Fu







[for ten long summers I wore the cloth of Shu]

by Du Fu


for ten long summers     I wore the cloth of Shu

three winters     heard washing blocks of Chu



once an advisor     honored in the governor’s tent

now only a wanderer     unable to return home

translated from Chinese by George Life

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