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
Hvězdy nad rajskou zahradou, 1929
Všecky krásy světa, 1981 (autobiography)
Children’s/Young Adult Literature:
Maminka: Yybor básni, 1954
Dílo, 1953-1970 (collected works)
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.
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.