Much of Czech literature stems from the intersection of poetry and philosophy, and all of it is a catalog of longing. Photographs of the Charles Bridge are so diffuse, it’s hard to get a clear look at them. This poem by Jaroslav Seifert is a more effective snapshot of moody, dreamy Prague:
Fragment of a Letter
All night rain lashed the windows.
I couldn't go to sleep.
So I switched on the light
and wrote a letter.
If love could fly,
as of course it can't,
and didn't so often stay close to the ground,
it would be delightful to be enveloped
in its breeze.
But like infuriated bees
jealous kisses swarm down upon
the sweetness of the female body
and an impatient hand grasps
whatever it can reach,
and desire does not flag.
Even death might be without terror
at the moment of exultation.
But who has ever calculated
how much love goes
into one pair of open arms!
Letters to women
I always sent by pigeon post.
My conscience is clear.
I never entrusted them to sparrowhawks
Under my pen the verses dance no longer
and like a tear in the corner of an eye
the word hangs back.
And all my life, at its end,
is now only a fast journey on a train:
I'm standing by the window of the carriage
and day after day
speeds back into yesterday
to join the black mists of sorrow.
At times I helplessly catch hold
of the emergency brake.
Perhaps I shall once more catch sight
of a woman's smile,
trapped like a torn-off flower
on the lashes of her eyes.
Perhaps I may still be allowed
to send those eyes at least one kiss
before they're lost to me in the dark.
Perhaps once more I shall even see
a slender ankle
chiselled like a gem
out of warm tenderness,
so that I might once more
half choke with longing.
How much is there that man must leave behind
as the train inexorably approaches
with its plantations of shimmering asphodels
amidst whose perfume everything is forgotten.
Including human love.
That is the final stop:
the train goes no further.
"Fragment of a Letter" from The Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert
Translated from the Czech by Ewald Osers
Passed along to me by Margaret Hartigan