Up late with Jaroslav Seifert

I owe the mad rush of energy working its way out of my fingertips to the drummer from the Over the Rhine concert tonight. He had me tapping my palm, my thigh, knee and just when I thought I couldn’t get more amped up, they ended with some lovely ballads. So it was a good evening to have a nightcap with Jaroslav Seifert, Czech poet extraordinaire. Enjoy.

To Be a Poet
by Jaroslav Seifert, tr. George Gibian

Life taught me long ago
that music and poetry
are the most beautiful things on earth
that life can give us.
Except for love, of course.

In an old textbook,
published by the Imperial Printing House
in the year of Vrchlicky’s death,
I looked up the section on poetics
and poetic ornament.

Then I placed a rose in a tumbler,
lit a candle
and started to write my first verses.

Flare up, then, flame of words,
and soar,
even if my fingers get burned!

A startling metaphor is worth more
than a ring on one’s finger.
But not even Puchmajer’s Rhyming Dictionary
was any use to me.

In vain I snatched for ideas
and frantically closed my eyes
in order to hear that first magic line…


  1. “Earthen gravitas” is a nice image. But perhaps sneakily redundant? Or, oxymoronic, if you take a step back, and twist the phrase around. No matter, the turn of phrase caught my eye and I’ve been thinking about how to visualize it for a while.

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