by Jaroslav Seifert
Translated by Ewald Osers
when she would talk about herself
my mother would say:
My life was sad and quiet,
I always walked on tip-toe.
But if I got a little angry
and stamped my foot
the cups, which had been my mother's,
would tinkle on the dresser
and make me laugh.
At the moment of my birth, so I am told,
a butterfly flew in by the window
and settled on my mother's bed,
but that same moment a dog howled in the yard.
My mother thought
it a bad omen.
My life of course has not been quite
as peaceful as hers.
But even when I gaze upon our present days
as if at empty picture frames
and all I see is a dusty wall,
still it has been so beautiful.
There are many moments
I cannot forget,
moments like radiant flowers
in all possible colours and hues,
evenings filled with fragrance
like purple grapes
hidden in the leaves of darkness.
With passion I read poetry
and loved music
and blundered, ever surprised,
from beauty to beauty.
But when I first saw
the picture of a woman nude
I began to believe in miracles.
My life unrolled swiftly.
It was too short
for my vast longings,
which had no bounds.
Before I knew it
my life's end was drawing near.
Death soon will kick open my door
With startled terror I'll catch my breath
and forget to breathe again.
May I not be denied the time
once more to kiss the hands
of the one who patiently and in step with me
walked on and on and on
and who loved most of all.
Jaroslav Seifert was born on 23 September 1901 into a working-class family living in Zizkov, a suburb of Prague. He attended secondary school and soon began devoting himself to writing poetry and to journalism. He published his first collection of poems in 1921 and has authored more than twenty books of poetry . In 1969, he was elected chairman of the Czech writers union, even though his books had been suppressed as the results of his activities encouraging free speech during the ill-fated "Prague Spring" of 1968. Though he spoke out throughout his lifetime against the oppression of Nazi and later Soviet rule in Czechoslovakia, he was protected from retaliation in part by the people's well-deserved love for him.
The "conscience" of Czechoslovakia during the Communist regime, Jaroslav Seifert (1901-86) was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1984 "for his poetry which endowed with freshness, sensuality and rich inventiveness provides a liberating image of the indomitable spirit and versatility of man". For over 60 years, Seifert commemorated his native heritage and landscape. When he died in 1986 at the age of 85, he was as popular among the Czech people as movie stars are among Americans. He might be rightly called the "Grand Old Man " of modern Czech poetry.
Seifert is a straightforward, direct, accessible poet who speaks of common human concerns: aging, lust and longing, reminiscing, love for his homeland, grief for dead friends. "The Selected Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert " is a wonderful collection ably translated by Ewald Osers, who renders Seifert's easy, flowing style into seemingly effortless English while giving hints of the "inner rhythms".
The above poem radiates with warmth. The way he sums up his life with graceful acceptance of his destiny and without any shadow of malice shows his persona .
Ref: "The Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert".Translated from the Czech by Ewald Osers. Publisher- Coller Books , New York