In the spring of 1914 Wittgenstein gave a third of the annual income from his inheritance - 100,000 Austrian crowns - to Ludwig von Ficker, the editor of the journal Der Brenner, to be shared out between worthy poets. When Ficker chose Georg Trakl as one beneficiary, Wittgenstein said that he didn't understand Trakl's poems, but felt they bore the stamp of 'genius'. In the autumn Wittgenstein was serving on the Eastern Front and tried to meet his protégé, but reached the hospital in Cracow where Trakl was under psychiatric observation just too late. Trakl had died at the age of 27 of a cocaine overdose, a response to the Battle of Grodek. He left behind a poem that expresses the suffering he had witnessed:
At evening the autumn woods resound
With deadly weapons, the golden plains
And blue lakes, the sun overhead
Rolls more darkly on; night embraces
Dying warriors, the wild lament
Of their broken mouths.
Yet silently red clouds, in which a wrathful god lives,
Gather on willow-ground
The blood that was shed, moon-coolness;
All roads flow into black decay.
Under the golden boughs of the night and stars
Sister's shadow sways through the silent grove,
To greet the spirits of the heroes, the bleeding heads;
And softly the dark pipes of autumn sound in the reeds.
O prouder sorrow! You brazen altars,
The spirit's ardent flame today is fed by mighty grief,
The unborn generations.
LRB 17 April 2003 | PDF Download