Jaroslav Seifert: A Romantic Poet with a Revolutionary Spirit

Jaroslav Seifert

Jaroslav Seifert, a Czech writer, poet, and journalist, is an embodiment of the romantic spirit infused with a revolutionary fervor. Born on this day September 23, 1901, Seifert’s work spanned much of the 20th century, encompassing a range of literary genres and styles. However, it was his poetry that gained him the most recognition, culminating in his receipt of the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature in 1984. Seifert’s poetry is characterized by its profound romanticism, often manifesting in evocative descriptions of the natural world and rich explorations of human emotion.

Despite his romantic predisposition, Jaroslav Seifert was no stranger to the political tumult of his time. As a journalist and member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, Seifert used his powerful prose to critique the social and political injustices he observed. However, his revolutionary spirit was not confined to the realm of politics. Through his poetry, Seifert challenged conventional norms and dared to explore themes considered taboo at the time. His commitment to truth, freedom, and justice resonates through his body of work, making him a revolutionary figure not only in his native Czechoslovakia but also in the broader literary world.

Jaroslav Seifert stands as a testament to the power of literature as a tool for social change. His romantic poetry, steeped in beauty and emotion, serves as an enduring reminder of our shared human experience. At the same time, his revolutionary spirit underscores the role of the artist as a catalyst for societal transformation.

Lost Paradise

The Old Jewish Cemetery
is one great bouquet of grey stone
on which time has trodden.
I was drifting among the graves,
thinking of my mother.
She used to read the Bible.

The letters in two columns
welled up before her eyes
like blood from a wound.
The lamp guttered and smoked
and Mother put on her glasses.
At times she had to blow it out
and with her hairpin straighten
the glowing wick.

But when she closed her tired eyes
she dreamed of Paradise
before God had garrisoned it
with armed cherubim.
Often she fell asleep and the Book
slipped from her lap.

I was still young
when I discovered in the Old Testament
those fascinating verses about love
and eagerly searched for
the passages on incest.
Then I did not yet suspect
how much tenderness is hidden in the names
of Old Testament women.

Adah is Ornament and Orpah
is a Hind,
Naamah is the Sweetness
and Nikol is the Little Brook.

Abigail is the Fount of Delight.
But if I recall how helplessly I watched
as they dragged off the Jews,
even the crying children,
I still shudder with horror
and a chill runs down my spine.

Jemima is the Dove and Tamar
the Palm Tree.
Tirzah is Grace
and Zilpah a Dewdrop.
My God, how beautiful this is.

We were living in hell
yet no one dared to strike a weapon
from the murderers’ hands.
As if within our hearts we did not have
a spark of humanity!

The name Jecholiah means
The Lord is Mighty.
And yet their frowning God
gazed over the barbed wire
and did not move a finger —

Delilah is the Delicate, Rachel
the Ewe Lamb,
Deborah the Bee
and Esther the Bright Star.

I’d just returned from the cemetery
when the June evening, with its scents,
rested on the windows.
But from the silent distance now and then
came thunder of a future war.
There is no time without murder.

I almost forgot:
Rhoda is the Rose.
And this flower perhaps is the only thing
that’s left us on earth
from the Paradise that was.

-Jaroslav Seifert

Curated by Jennifer

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