Outbreak of the war
End of the war

‘ … with deadly weapons, the golden plains’: Grodek as the legacy of the poet Georg Trakl

In the evening the autumnal woods resound
With deadly weapons, the golden plains
And blue lakes, over them the sun
Rolls grimly away; the night envelops
Dying warriors, the savage lament
Of their smashed mouths.
But silently on the pastures
Red clouds gather, therein lives a raging god,
The spilled blood, the moonly cool;
All roads lead to black decay.
Under the golden branches of the night and stars
The shadow of the nurse sways through the silent grove,
To greet the spirits of the heroes, the bleeding heads;
And softly in the reeds sound the dark flutes of autumn.
O prouder grief! You iron altars,
Today the hot flame of the spirit is fed by an immense pain,
The unborn grandchildren.

Grodek refers to the name of a place, today in Ukraine, where a battle with Russian troops ended in a devastating defeat for the Austro-Hungarian army. Because of his pharmaceutical knowledge – he had completed a three-year period of practical training at a dispensing chemist’s in Salzburg, Trakl volunteered to serve as a lieutenant in the medical corps. After the defeat at Grodek he had to take care of some ninety critically wounded men in a barn – without any medicines and anaesthetics. This task led to a complete mental breakdown and after attempting suicide he was admitted to a psychiatric clinic. During his stay there he wrote several poems, including Grodek. A few days later, in November 1914, he died of an overdose of cocaine.  

Grodek is a typical example of Trakl’s poetry; in it motifs like those of night, autumn and death constantly recur. Trakl uses contrasts of sound and colour to show the opposition between unspoiled nature and the destruction caused by the war; this results in a state of hopelessness. There are countless interpretations of this poem, but in the end it is up to the individual reader to reflect critically on these images of nature and war and to derive from them the senselessness of the mass deaths on the fronts of the First World War.

The works of other Expressionists also put into words the apocalyptic feeling of the times. One of these was August Stramm; in his poem Sturmangriff (Assault) (1914) he describes the brutality of the war in highly artificial language by mutilating and deforming words.

While Georg Heym had already anticipated the horror in a visionary way in Der Krieg (The War) in 1911, many Expressionists went enthusiastically to war and celebrated it in their poetry, as Ernst Stadler did in his poem Der Aufbruch (The Departure) (1914). Irrespective of whether it is enthusiasm or shock that is expressed in their texts, many authors soon met with the same fate: in the first months of the war Stadler, Stramm and Trakl all paid for their euphoria with their lives.

Translation: Leigh Bailey


Interpretation Grodek. Unter:,textbearbeitung,71.html (19.06.2014)

Interpretation Sturmangriff. Unter:,textbearbeitu... (19.06.2014)

Interpretation Der Aufbruch. Unter:,textbearbeitu... (19.06.2014)

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    Violence in war

    Violence was a universal social phenomenon during the First World War. Soldiers, civilians, men, women, children and old persons were all confronted by it in one form or another. The way it was experienced differed. It was practised and suffered, it had mental and physical manifestations, it took place at a structural and an individual level, and it was felt directly and indirectly.

  • Aspect

    War and art

    Many artists, intellectuals and writers welcomed the outbreak of the First World War. They saw it not as an apocalypse but as the opportunity for a change for the better. As such they joined in the patriotic fervour of the first weeks and months of the war. What motivated them not only to devote their artistic energies to the fatherland but also to take an active part in the fighting? How were anti-war sentiments articulated by artists? What other forms of relationship were there between art and warfare during and after the First World War?

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object

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    The year 1914 brought about an incisive change in their private and professional lives of many intellectuals. Formerly international intellectual and artist circles collapsed, many intellectuals entered the war, voluntarily or not, and many of them failed to return.

  • Object

    Experiences of violence

    While some of the front soldiers experienced the “storm of steel” as the apotheosis of their own masculinity, most soldiers suffered on account of their physical and/or mental injuries. The destructiveness of modern mechanical warfare and the mental strain caused by the days and weeks in the trenches, the constant noise of the artillery and the sight of seriously wounded and mutilated comrades produced not only an army of war wounded but also masses of soldiers suffering from war neurosis.


  • Development

    Daily life on the (home) front

    How was daily life at home and on the front between 1914 and 1918? Was the life of a middle-class woman similar to that of a worker? Did officers experience warfare in the same way as other ranks? Or were the experiences of the population at home and the soldiers at the front too individual and diverse for generalisations?