The essay examines the leitmotif-technique in the lyric poetry of the expressionist Austrian poet Georg Trakl (1887-1914). This term, which is common in musicology (for example to describe Wagner’s usual technique) and in literary studies (to delineate both narrative techniques and techniques of psychological characterisation, such as in Tolstoj’s and Thomas Mann’s texts), is here applied to Trakl’s poetry to describe images which feature recursivity, strongly connotative meaning and semantic open-endedness.
In his poetry the leitmotif-technique appears to contribute to the formation of a private language, the opacity of which descends not so much from a programmatic intransitivity of the poetical language (as typified by Mallarmé), but rather from the need for a broken, dismembered, non-transparent communication. This linguistic obscurity develops as an existential feature before turning into aesthetic intention and poetic program. Such construction of intratextual, ‘private’ semantic networks through leitmotifs is part of a progressive reduction of the semantic range and increasing ambiguity of the syntactic links, especially in Trakl’s late poetry.