Authors: Jaroslav Seifert

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Czech poet

Author Works

Poetry:

Město v slzách, 1921

Samá láska, 1923

Svatební cesta, 1925

Na vlnách TSF, 1925

Slavík zpívá špatně, 1926

Poštovní holub, 1929

Jablko z klína, 1933

Ruce Venušiny, 1936

Zpíváno do rotačky, 1936

Osm dní, 1937

Jaro sbohem, 1937, 1942

Zhasněte světla, 1938

Světlem oděná, 1940

Kamenný most, 1944

Přilba hlíny, 1945

Chlapec a hvezdy: Verse k obrazum a obrázkum Josefa Lady, 1956

Verse o Praze, 1962

Koncert na ostrově, 1965

Halleyova kometa, 1967

Odlévání zvonů, 1967 (The Casting of Bells, 1983)

Zpevy o Praze, 1968

Morový sloup, 1977 (The Plague Column, 1979; also knownas The Plague Monument, 1980)

Deštník z Piccadilly, 1979 (An Umbrella from Piccadilly, 1983)

Zápas s andelem, 1981

Býti Básníkem, 1983

The Selected Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert, 1986

The Early Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert, 1997

A sbohem, 1999

Treba vám nesu ruze, 1999

Nonfiction:

Hvězdy nad rajskou zahradou, 1929

Všecky krásy světa, 1981 (autobiography)

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Maminka: Yybor básni, 1954

Miscellaneous:

Dílo, 1953-1970 (collected works)

Biography

Jaroslav Seifert (SI-furt), 1984 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and the only Czech Nobel laureate in the twentieth century, slowly grew into the standard-bearer of Czech culture during his lifetime. Born on Riegrově Street in the colorful, working-class, partly Jewish žižka suburb of Prague to a radical Socialist father and conservative Catholic mother, Seifert embraced life in an eager and open way. Indeed, he was so open to the color and excitement of his neighborhood and of greater Prague that he often played hooky from school, and he failed to enter Charles University, which most of his peers attended. Nonetheless, from the age of nineteen, the well-read young man who wished for no other profession than poetry was part of a stellar generation of Czech writers who began their careers in the first third of the twentieth century. His friends included the critics Antonín Piša and F. X. Šalda, the novelists Jaroslav Hašek and Vladislav Vančura, the multitalented artist and poet Karel Teige, the avant-garde poets Josef Hora, František Halas, and Vítězslav Nezval, and the Communist poets Stanislav Kostka Neumann and Jiří Wolker. Many of them come to life in Seifert’s memoir, Všecky krásy světa. Seifert and Teige, serious students of both the Western and the Soviet avant-garde, traveled to Paris and Moscow in the 1920’s. Seifert married in 1928; he and Marie Seifert had one daughter, Jana.{$I[A]Seifert, Jaroslav}{$I[geo]CZECH REPUBLIC;Seifert, Jaroslav}{$I[tim]1901;Seifert, Jaroslav}

The exuberant creativity of the young Czech artists and poets led by Seifert and Teige flourished under the banner Devětsil (Nine-Powers). They dubbed their eclectic principles Poetismus. As youth and the modish influences of Futurism, Surrealism, and Dadaism waned, however, Devětsil disbanded in 1929.

From the beginning, Seifert had reached for a popular audience. With his liberation from youthful “isms,” he developed his witty, yet accessible, and very direct style. He was aided by a poetry-loving public and a long-standing Czech tradition of discarding all pretense. As he remarked in his memoir, the poet should not turn away from his readers, because his work lives only through them: “There is no point to writing with black ink on black paper for the fleeting clouds.”

Seifert’s first book of poetry was Město v slzách (city in tears), followed by Samá láska (only love). While his stylistic mastery developed and dazzled in such collections as Jablko z klína (an apple from the lap) and Ruce Venušiny (the hands of Venus), he remained true to basic humanistic themes, balanced with a hedonistic delight in love as the greatest beauty in life. The titles, as well as the content, of his works reflect his shift from the playful, gentle, and hedonistic to a firm and steadying stance that made his works loved by his fellow Czechs during the dark days of World War II: Zhasněte světla (douse the lights), Světlem oděná (robed in light), Kamenný most (stone bridge), Přilba hlíny (a helmetful of clay). His devotion to his country’s traditions and to the cultural resonance of Prague saturated his work and, in his last three decades, this took another form: the heroic public behavior of a man who protested that he was completely lacking in heroism.

Seifert was considered too subversive to be published at home during most of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia and again during the initial Communist years, when he survived financially by writing books of children’s poetry; Maminka (mother) has become a classic. In 1956 he spoke out passionately on behalf of imprisoned and harassed colleagues at the Second Congress of Czechoslovak Writers, a public act almost unheard of during the reign of totalitarian repression. The desire of Czech intellectuals to reassert themselves, under the guise of “Socialism with a human face,” culminated in the rebellious Prague Spring of 1968. In the midst of the crackdown that followed, Seifert became president of the Union of Czechoslovak Writers (UCW) and remained a rock of protection for writers’ liberties for almost two years. His role ended only when the UCW was disbanded late in 1969. For the decade that followed, publication of Seifert’s work and mention of his name in the press was banned in his native country.

The year 1977 saw the appearance of Charter 77, a defiant petition for freedom, signed by seven hundred members of the Czech intelligentsia, with Seifert among those leading the way. In the same year, he broke another taboo by publishing a major new work abroad, The Plague Monument. This was his first book to be translated into English, thereby bringing him to international attention. What the world saw was the complexity of life expressed by a Czech master in simple, ironic, accessible terms. The Baroque “plague column” (which stood in Prague from 1648 until 1918, a symbol of deliverance from war and plague) is both a universal symbol and a special, oblique symbol of Czech renewal after plagues that included disastrous political and moral situations. The poet, even in old age and haunted by the death of millions, renews himself and his reader by evoking both death and life through naked feelings and exquisite imagery.

BibliographyFrench, Alfred. The Poets of Prague: Czech Poetry Between the Wars. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969. Provides the larger context for Seifert’s work in its formative phase, including poems by all the major poets of his generation in translation and the original Czech for comparison.Gibian, George. Introduction to The Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert. North Haven, Conn.: Catbird Press, 1998. A brief biography that focuses primarily on Seifert’s literary activities and explores his literary ancestry and evolution as a poet. In a country in which poetry is highly regarded, Seifert achieved the status of a national poet who was widely respected and loved.Gibian, George. “The Lyrical Voice of Czechoslovakia.” In The Selected Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert. New York: Macmillan, 1986. Concise, insightful essay on Seifert’s life and work by the dedicated editor who created one of the best anthologies of Seifert in English. Includes vivid description of Gibian’s face-to-face meetings with Seifert in Prague. Seifert’s poetry translated by Ewald Osers, prose by Gibian.Iggers, Wilma A. “The World of Jaroslav Seifert.” World Literature Today 60 (Spring, 1985): 8-12. Scholarly interpretation of Seifert’s career, filling in some of Seifert’s lesser-known literary associations.Loewy, Dana. Introduction to The Early Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert. Translated by Dana Loewy. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1997. Despite winning the Nobel Prize, Seifert remains relatively unknown in the English-speaking world and no extensive body of scholarly work exists in English. The lack of good translations dampened enthusiasm for his work outside his native country, but Loewy disavows claims by Seifert critics that his early work is untranslatable. Although some aspects of his poetry will be lost, his “musicality, playfulness, and lyricism can be imitated in English with the help of internal rhymes, half-rhymes, and assonance.” Important influences on Seifert’s early work included French poetry; movements in fine art such cubism, Futurism, and Dada; and the “poetism” movement in Czechoslovakia. By the end of the 1920’s Seifert had become disillusioned with politics and turned inward with his poetry, but he consistently spoke out against political oppression.Parrott, Sir Cecil. Introduction to The Plague Column, by Jaroslav Seifert. Translated by Ewald Osers. London: Terra Nova Editions, 1979. Appreciative essay on Seifert’s career, by a journalist who was an eyewitness to much of it, with particular awareness of the political subtleties.Škvorecký, Josef. “Czech Mate: Meet Jaroslav Seifert, Nobel Laureate.” The New Republic 192 (February 18, 1985): 27-31. Insightful comments by a peer of Seifert, a major Czech novelist. Skvorecky explains why Seifert is popular among a broad Czech readership and why important aspects of his work are untranslatable.
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