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Trakl, Georg

Category: Poet

Georg Trakl (1887 – 1914) was a poet, who was born and lived the first 21 years of his life in Salzburg, Austria. His father was Austrian, his mother was of Czech descent with strong interests in art and music. Trakl studied Latin, Greek, and mathematics at school, but at age 13, he began to write poetry.

Whilst still at school, he began visiting brothels, “where he enjoyed giving rambling monologues to the aging prostitutes” [sic]. At age 15, he began drinking alcohol, and using opium, chloroform, and other drugs. By the time he was forced to leave school in 1905, he was a drug addict.

After leaving high school, Trakl worked for a pharmacist for three years and decided to adopt pharmacy as a career. I think the connection is clear here. In 1908, Trakl moved to Vienna to study pharmacy. He also served as a pharmacist at a hospital in Innsbruck. So he had a ready source of supplies.

As his poetry became more widely known, Ludwig von Ficker, the editor of the journal Der Brenner became his patron. He regularly printed Trakl's work and endeavored to find him a publisher. The result of these efforts was Gedichte (Poems), published during the summer of 1913. Ficker also brought Trakl to the attention of Ludwig Wittgenstein, who anonymously provided him with a sizable stipend so that he could concentrate on his writing.

But over time, the drugs had an effect on him mentally and appear to have caused brain damage. “Many critics think that Trakl suffered from undiagnosed schizophrenia”. I don't, I think his brain was damaged and progressively became more so as time went on.

At the beginning of World War I, Trakl was sent as a medical official to attend soldiers in Galicia (comprising portions of modern-day Ukraine and Poland). By this time Trakl was suffering frequent bouts of depression. As part of his duties, Trakl had to steward the recovery of some ninety soldiers wounded in the fierce campaign against the Russians. So traumatised was he by the war and duties such as this that he tried to shoot himself, but his comrades prevented him. Hospitalized at a military hospital in Krakow and observed closely, Trakl lapsed into worse depression and wrote to Ficker for advice. Ficker convinced him to communicate with Wittgenstein. Upon receiving Trakl's note, Wittgenstein went to the hospital, but found that Trakl had died of a cocaine overdose. He was 27 years old.

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