Seifert, Jaroslav (Contemporary Literary Criticism)
Jaroslav Seifert 1901–1986
Czech poet, memoirist, and essayist.
The following entry provides an overview of Seifert's career. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 34 and 44.
The winner of the 1984 Nobel Prize for Literature, Seifert is widely considered to be the national poet of Czechoslovakia as well as one of the foremost Czechoslovakian literary figures of the 20th century. Respected for his courage and integrity in the face of the political repressions of both the Nazi and the Communist eras, Seifert was a prolific author, publishing more than thirty volumes of poetry over a span of sixty years. His verse, thought to embody the spirit of the Czechoslovakian people, is infused with Czech history, literature, and culture, and frequently pays homage to Seifert's hometown, the capital city of Prague. Seifert is considered a major influence by many contemporary Czech literary figures and, during his lifetime, was revered throughout the country as a symbol of national identity.
Seifert was born to working-class parents in a suburb of Prague. During the 1920s he helped found the Devétsil Art Association and travelled to Russia and Paris, where he worked on translations of the works of French poet Guillaume Apollinaire. An early member of the newly-formed Czechoslovakian Communist Party, Seifert had already released several books of poetry when he was expelled from the Party in 1929 for protesting its policies and leaders. Joining the Social Democratic Party, he published frequently over the following decade and gained notoriety during World War II as an author of anti-Nazi resistance poetry. After the war, he served as editor of the Trade Union newspaper Práce and was sternly denounced by the Communist government for failing to write poetry espousing the doctrine of Soviet socialist realism; in 1956 his work was briefly banned from publication due to a speech he made in support of artistic freedom. During the 1960s Seifert published sporadically due to his continued support of political reform and because, as acting president of the Union of Czechoslovak Writers, he refused to issue a statement supporting the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, an operation that ended the period of liberalization known as the Prague Spring. Soon after, the Writer's Union was officially dissolved, and Seifert refrained from publishing for nearly a decade. He further antagonized the Communist government of Czechoslovakia by signing the Charter 77 manifesto, an intellectual treatise demanding expanded political freedom; consequently his work was officially banned once again. Illicit "padlock" editions of Seifert's poetry abounded, however, and he garnered national popularity and international attention as a leading Czech dissident. The government ban on Seifert's work was lifted in 1981, and in 1984 the poet was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Seifert, who was in poor health for much of his later life, was unable to attend the ceremony and despite this new-found recognition by the Czechoslovakian government, his son and secretary were "discouraged" from attending. Seifert died in a Prague hospital following a heart attack in 1986. In addition to the Nobel Prize, Seifert won the Czechoslovakian State Prize for several works, including Ruce Venušiny (1936) and Maminka (1954), and was awarded the title National Artist of Czechoslovakia in 1966.
The earliest collections of Seifert's poetry, Město v slzách (1920) and Samá láska (1923), were of the "proletarian" school of poetry and celebrated the common person and socialism. In the mid-1920s Seifert came under the influence of French Dadaism and practiced "poetism," an exuberant poetic style that emphasized wordplay, abandoned ideology, and extolled the joys of living. Na vlnách T.S.F. (1925) and Slavík zpívá špatně (1926) are representative collections of this period. Seifert rejected poetism in the 1930s, employing a voice that was unique in its lyrical, concise, conversational style. In such collections as Jablko z klína (1933), Ruce Venušiny, and Zhasněte světla (1938), he began to incorporate the conversational idiom now frequently found in modern Czech poetry. Seifert established himself as national poet with the volume Přilba hlíny (1945), in which he identified himself with the Czech people's grief and sense of betrayal over World War II. For example, some of the poems in the collection evoke four days in May 1945 when the people of Prague rose up against the remainder of the occupying Nazi army. In the post-war era, Seifert's poetry began to reflect the history and cultural heritage of Czechoslovakia, as in Píseň o Viktorce (1950), a ballad recalling the nineteenth-century Czech novelist Božena Němcová. Perhaps his best known work, Morový sloup (1977; The Plague Monument, also translated as The Plague Column), has as an overriding image a column erected to commemorate the Black Death—a symbol Seifert employs to express the survival of the Czech people in the face of political terror. Other works in English translation include Odlévání zvonů (1967; The Casting of Bells), Deštnik z Piccadilly (1978; An Umbrella from Piccadilly), and The Selected Poems of Jaroslav Seifert (1986), a volume containing a wide representation of Seifert's poetry as well as prose excerpts from his memoirs, Všecky krásy světa (1981).
Citing the small amount of Seifert's poetry and related criticism that has appeared in translation, many commentators have found it difficult to understand the implications of Seifert's work in its translated form. Critics note that what Seifert called his poems' "inner rhythms"—as well as the many ethnic nuances and allusions—have not been captured adequately by translators. Nevertheless, his poetry has been praised for its sensuality, its humor, and its accessible conversational style. Seifert's poetic representations of Prague and Czechoslovakia have been regarded as important celebrations of the nation's cultural heritage. Perhaps the highest praise accorded Seifert was found in his Nobel Prize citation, which honored him for work "which, endowed with freshness, sensuality, and rich inventiveness, provides a liberating image of the indomitable spirit and versatility of man."
Město v slzách (poetry) 1920
Samá láska (poetry) 1923
Na vlnách T.S.F. (poetry) 1925
Slavík zpívá špatně (poetry) 1926
Hvězdy nad rajskou zahradou (essays) 1929
Postovni holub: Básně, 1928–1929 (poetry) 1929
Jablko z klínà (poetry) 1933
Ruce Venušiny (poetry) 1936
Jaro sbohem (poetry) 1937
Osm dní [Eight Days: An Elegy for Thomas Masaryk] (poetry) 1937
Zhasněte světla (poetry) 1938
Světlem oděna (poetry) 1940
Kamenný most (poetry) 1944
Přilba hlíny (poetry) 1945
Ruka a plamen (poetry) 1948
Píseň o Viktorce (poetry) 1950
Maminka (poetry) 1954
Koncert na ostrově (poetry) 1965
Halleyova kometa (poetry) 1967
Odlévání zvonů [The Casting of Bells] (poetry) 1967
Morový sloup [The Plague Monument; also published as The Plague Column] (poetry) 1977
Deštnik z Piccadilly [An Umbrella from Piccadilly] (poetry) 1978
Všecky krásy světa (memoirs) 1981
Býti básníkem (poetry) 1983
The Selected Poems of Jaroslav Seifert (poetry) 1986
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SOURCE: An introduction to The Plague Column, Terra Nova Editions, 1979, pp. ix-xix.
[Parrott was an English diplomat and educator who specialized in Eastern European literature, music, and art. In the following essay, which he wrote on November 25, 1978 as the introduction to The Plague Column, he provides an overview of Seifert's career.]
A régime which attempts to silence its country's greatest living poet sins against high heaven. In Vienna they may have thrown Mozart into a pauper's common grave, but at least they did not stop him from publishing his music. In Prague, at the age of 77, Jaroslav Seifert, today and for the last twenty years, indisputedly the greatest Czech poet of his age, has had to resort to samizdat to get his latest collection of poems published.
The Plauge Column was first circulated in this form in Czechoslovakia a few years ago. In 1977 it was published abroad for the first time—in Germany and in the original Czech. Now, thanks to Mr. Osers' skill, patience and understanding, we can read it in a fine English translation.
The system of the "padlock" was frequently applied to writers in Russia in Tsarist times, as we can recall in the case of Pushkin, but it has become much more widely practised there under the Soviets. Indeed the treatment meted out to Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn, to mention only those who are best...
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SOURCE: An introduction to An Umbrella from Piccadilly, London Magazine Editions, 1983, pp. 1-5.
[In the following essay, Osers briefly summarizes Seifert's literary career and life.]
In Czechoslovakia, as in most of Eastern Europe, the writer—and, more particularly, the poet—is a public figure. People seem to care about their poets' views and ideas; they want to know where their poets stand on the great issues of the day. Even people who do not normally read poetry will be familiar with the major names. Whenever a new volume of poetry is published—and news about publication and distribution dates invariably seems to leak out—queues will form outside bookshops even before their doors open, and a couple of days later the new volume will have virtually disappeared from the shelves.
This position of the writer—not just in public esteem but in the hearts of the people—has its roots in the last century, when, throughout Central and Eastern Europe, the writers and intellectuals were in the forefront of national liberation struggles against autocratic, and usually foreign, rule and when, in many cases, they created or shaped the modern literary languages of that region.
Thus for nearly a century and a half the Czech writers, and especially the poets, have been 'the conscience of the nation'. During the tense days of 1938 the loudspeakers installed in the streets...
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SOURCE: "Prague through Parisian Eyes," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4221, February 24, 1984, p. 195.
[Scruton is an English philosopher, educator, and critic. In the following review of An Umbrella from Piccadilly and The Casting of Bells, he argues that Seifert's writings are representative of Czech literature, but notes that many of the subtleties and nuances of his work get lost in English translation.]
During the first republic, the Czech poet Jaroslav Seifert was editor of various Communist Party publications, but left the Party in 1919, on perceiving the true character of [Party leader Clement] Gottwald. When the communists seized power in 1948, they lost little time in stamping out surrealism—a movement with which Seifert's work is clearly associated, and which was automatically suspect, on account both of its Western orientation, and of its love of recondite symbols, behind which unwelcome meanings might be concealed. Seifert continued to publish in the official press, since he was popular and had influential connections. It was not until 1950, with the publication of Piseň o Viktorce (The Song of Viktorka), that he fell properly out of favour. He still managed to publish officially, owing to the enterprise of a brave publisher, who issued his books with pre-communist date stamps. And in 1956, after the death of Stalin, he was reprieved, and even given an...
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SOURCE: "On the Pathetic and Lyrical State of Mind," in Les Prix Nobel, Nobel Prize Foundation, 1985, pp. 228-37.
[Below is Seifert's Nobel lecture, which he intended to deliver at the Nobel Prize awards ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden, in December 1984. Seifert was unable to attend the ceremony due to a chronic heart ailment. In his lecture he discusses the role of poetry and pathos in Czech society and in the world in general.]
I am often asked, particularly by foreigners, how one can explain the great love of poetry in my country: why there exists among us not only an interest in poems but even a need for poetry. Perhaps that means my countrymen also possess a greater ability to understand poetry than any other people.
To my way of thinking, this is a result of the history of the Czech people over the past 400 years—and particularly of our national rebirth in the early 19th century. The loss of our political independence during The Thirty Years' War deprived us of our spiritual and political elite. Its members—those who were not executed—were silenced or forced to leave the country. That resulted not only in an interruption of our cultural development, but also in a deterioration of our language. Not only was Catholicism re-instituted by force, but Germanization was imposed by force as well.
By the early 19th century, however, the French Revolution and the...
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SOURCE: A review of Ruce Venušiny, in World Literature Today, Vol. 59, No. 1, Winter, 1985, p. 125.
[Below, Lee offers a highly favorable assessment of Ruce Venušiny (Hands of Venus).]
Until last October's Nobel Prize announcement, Jaroslav Seifert (b. 1901), one of the best Czech poets of this century, had not had the recognition he deserves due to the official censure he has faced in his country and the paucity of translations abroad. His career spans more than sixty years of sustained creativity, beginning with the avant-garde period of poetism and surrealism and continuing through the present day. The best of Seifert's poetry is represented in this volume, Ruce Venušiny (Hands of Venus), compiled and published by Sixty-Eight Publishers, who are hereby bringing out and preserving another important Czech writer.
Seifert's early poetry displays an appealing lyricism and a recognizably masculine grace. He is a young man in love, full of hope and energy, fascinated by the sensual possibilities of language. To his credit, he never loses his ludic charm, which is born of idealism and an instinctive faith in the best qualities of man—above all, his capacity to love. Even after witnessing the most deplorable human tragedies of this century, Seifert finds it possible to praise the human spirit. His attitude becomes graver and more pained, but he refrains from expressions of...
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SOURCE: "Jaroslav Seifert, Nobel Prize-Winner for Literature, 1984," in Quadrant, Vol. XXIX, Nos. 1-2, January-February, 1985, pp. 42-3.
[In the essay below, Lewis provides a brief overview of Seifert's life and career, noting that the poet "has refused to allow his artistic integrity to by compromised" by Czechoslovakian censorship.]
Few People will have heard the name of Czech poet Jaroslav Seifert before he won this year's Nobel Prize for Literature. His work is little known beyond the confines of his native Czechoslovakia and the few scattered Czech émigré communities in Western Europe, Canada, USA and Australia. Moreover, Seifert's output consists almost entirely of lyric poetry—a genre of limited appeal in any language and one notoriously difficult to translate into a foreign tongue. The award will perhaps even come as a surprise to lovers of Czech poetry, as they could point to a number of poets of equal merit which this century has produced.
Seifert's advantage, however, has been to have outlasted all possible contenders to the title of greatest living Czech poet. In one of his most recent and important collections of verse The Plague Column he recalls how he recited his poetry at the gravesides of illustrious fellow poets Wolker, Halas and Hora and how he was destined to outlive them all:
In the Julian Fields
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SOURCE: "The Czech Nobel Laureate Jaroslav Seifert," in World Literature Today, Vol. 59, No. 2, Spring, 1985, pp. 173-75.
[Harkins is an American educator and critic who specializes in Slavic Studies. In the essay below, he provides a brief overview of Seifert's career.]
The award of the 1984 Nobel Prize in Literature to the aging Czech poet Jaroslav Seifert naturally raised many questions—hardly new ones. The Nobel Committee of the Swedish Academy has demonstrated a striking preference for lyric poetry in recent years, a preference that the reading public scarcely shares. At least five prizewinners from the past eighteen years have been poets, not counting Seifert himself. The award to Pablo Neruda in 1971 reminds us parenthetically that this Chilean poet had taken his unusual (but somehow Spanish-sounding) pen name from Seifert's great countryman, Jan Neruda (1834–91), who, unfortunately, did not himself live quite long enough to qualify for the prize.
As a writer, Seifert has the distinction of having survived the great period of Czech interwar literature (he began to publish in 1920) and having continued to be productive in recent decades, even under communism (though for a time he could not publish). Thus he unites in his person the two great eras of Czech literature in our century: the interwar period of the twenties and thirties, and the "thaw" period of the sixties. No other...
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SOURCE: "Poets and Power: Jaroslav Seifert," in Index on Censorship, Vol. 14, No. 2, April, 1985, pp. 8-12.
[In the excerpt below, Vladislav relates the problems of censorship faced by Seifert while living and publishing in Communist Czechoslovakia.]
[The Swedish Academy's decision in 1984] to give the Nobel Prize to an 'unknown' Czech poet puzzled many people, and the Czechoslovak authorities had not the slightest interest in trying to remedy the situation. On the contrary, despite their statements claiming that the recipient of the prize, poet Jaroslav Seifert, was greatly and universally respected, his works published in large quantities, Czechoslovakia's official representatives in fact shared the view of those foreign journalists who chose the most simplistic and banal explanation: that, once again, this was a politically motivated award and that the Swedish Academy was honouring Jaroslav Seifert the dissident rather than the poet. 'In their eyes,' was the verdict of the Paris L'Express of 19-25 October, 'the most important text to carry the name of Jaroslav Seifert was obviously Charter 77.'
The doubts and in some cases indignation expressed by some of these 'expert' commentators was partly an admission of their own ignorance. 'That someone has not been translated into English or French,' wrote Nicole Zand aptly in Le Monde of 14-15 October, 'does not necessarily...
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SOURCE: "The Word Hangs Back," in The New York Times Book Review, June 30, 1985, p. 33.
[In the following review, Heim offers a mixed assessment of An Umbrella from Piccadilly.]
The Nobel Prize for Literature comes in several varieties. There is the prize that confirms universal recognition, the prize that plays politics, the prize that celebrates the visionary orientation Alfred Nobel originally meant to promote. And from time to time the Swedish Academy awards a prize that seems calculated to redress an oversight; it virtually introduces an author to the world.
Several years ago the judges awarded such a Nobel Prize to the Polish poet and essayist Czeslaw Milosz. The choice proved highly effective: Mr. Milosz's work and thought have been appreciated by many who would otherwise never have heard his name. Mr. Milosz, who now lives in California, has traveled widely in the intervening years; he has given readings and lectures, and confronted his new audience in person.
It appears that last year's choice, Jaroslav Seifert, will not have an opportunity to do the same. Like Mr. Milosz, Mr. Seifert is a poet from Central Europe, but Mr. Seifert still lives there. Moreover, his health is extremely frail; he received news of the award in a hospital bed in his native Prague. Now 83, he is ailing and virtually immobile. If we are to know him, therefore, he must come to us...
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SOURCE: "Jaroslav Seifert—The Good Old Drinking Poet," in Cross Currents: A Yearbook of Central European Culture, Vol. 4, 1985, pp. 283-98.
[A Czechoslovakian-born Canadian novelist, short story writer, essayist, and critic, Škvorecky has resided in Canada since fleeing his homeland after the 1968 Soviet invasion. In the essay below, he discusses Seifert's poetry in relation to the social climate in Czechoslovakia, noting the Czech government's official views on Seifert throughout his career. Škvorecký notes in particular the impact in Czechoslovakia of the Swedish Academy's decision to award him the 1984 Nobel Prize in Literature.]
"Yet another obscure East European"—so went the word around the cocktail circuit, and a letter to The Times [October 20, 1984] condemned the Swedish Academy's award to Jaroslav Seifert as further proof that the Nobel prize "is becoming more and more a reward for pussy-footing mediocrity." The new Nobel laureate, readers were told, writes "verse of mawkish self-pity" and is a master of the "sentimental drivel expected of poets incapable of devoting themselves to female tractor-drivers." Yet, Jaroslav Seifert, even in his self-pitying old age, is perfectly capable of devoting himself to female tractorists, particularly the pretty ones. Proof of that ability was recently provided by a reporter working for the Svenska Dagbladet who took pictures of the poet...
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SOURCE: A review of The Casting of Bells, in Slavic Review, Vol. 45, No. 1, Spring, 1986, pp. 171-72.
[A Czechoslovakian-born American educator and critic, Salzmann specialized in Slavic Studies and anthropology. In the review below, she offers praise for Seifert, but laments the degree to which his translators distorted his verse in the English-language version of Odlévání zvonů (The Casting of Bells).]
Publication of an English translation of a work by a poet who subsequently is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature is a significant event, and it was particularly so in the case of Jaroslav Seifert, the 1984 Nobel laureate, whose extensive poetic work is virtually unknown to the English-speaking public. Of his many hundred poems, gathered over the past sixty years into some thirty-odd volumes, only a score of individual pieces and one other collection, Morový sloup have thus far been rendered in English. An attempt to enlarge the meager selection of Seifert's works available in English was long overdue and has resulted in this translation of Odlévání zvonů (1967) [entitled The Casting of Bells].
While many of Seifert's earlier poems are rhymed, all of the thirty-three poems in Odlévání zvonů are written in free verse without rhymes. The absence of overt formal constraints should enable a translator to concentrate on the subtleties of the...
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SOURCE: "Unpolitical but Not Innocuous," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4361, October 31, 1986, p. 1222.
[Enright is an English poet, novelist, essayist, and editor. In the review of Selected Poetry below, he discusses political aspects of Seifert's poetry, briefly comparing his verse to that of Czeslaw Milosz.]
Born in 1901, Jaroslav Seifert became something that, as [the editor and co-translator of Selected Poetry] George Gibian notes, we don't seem to have in the West: a national poet. But the price to pay for a national poet is high, calling for the kind of shared feeling born out of decades of war, invasion, occupation and suffering. In such countries political poetry is bound to figure prominently, through reflecting national experiences, aspirations and distresses. But so, also, is non-political or supra-political poetry—through mitigating party polarizations, reinforcing the sense that life is more abiding, larger and richer than the most decent of ideologies can allow, and reminding us that politics is not an end but, at best, a means. This latter poetry risks condemnation as the opium of the people, albeit politics could more justly be termed their firewater. It can be left to prose writers like the author of Mein Kampf to administer the crude alcohol, to whip up nationalism in its maleficent forms. A national poet needs to praise, in his perhaps ambiguous way, to...
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SOURCE: "Public and Private Poetry," in The Hudson Review, Vol. XL, No. 1, Spring, 1987, pp. 149-55.
[Cotter is an American educator and critic. In the excerpt below, he offers a mixed assessment of The Selected Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert.]
National poets are just about extinct as a species. Some literary conservationists may regret their passing; most readers will hardly notice. Their existence made the task of the selection committees for the Nobel Prize for Literature easier: find a country, then pick a poet. One of the last of their kind, Jaroslav Seifert of Czechoslovakia, received the award in 1984 in recognition of his contribution to Czech poetry. From his first book of proletarian verse, [Město v slzách (Town in Tears)], published in 1921, to his retrospective [Býti Básuíkem (To Be a Poet)] in 1983, Seifert gave voice to the popular notion of the private poet as a public figure. He handled the role well, and wrote honestly about being such a poet. Judged by [The Selected Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert], the selection from eighteen books of poetry translated by Ewald Osers and edited (with additional translations) by George Gibian, Seifert deserves the recognition the Nobel Prize brought him the year before his death. Like his role of poet, he took the award in stride, in full knowledge that he and his poems represented the past and were not to be repeated. He could still...
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SOURCE: "A Song under All Circumstances," in Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Vol. 14, No. 1, 1987, pp. 209-27.
[Holub is a Czechoslovakian scientist who writes poetry and prose. In the essay below, he praises Seifert's poetry and describes him as "a poet who gave others strength."]
"I believe, or, to be perfectly frank, I just assume that what is normally called poetry is one great mystery of which the poet, and indeed every single poet, unveils a greater or a lesser part. Then he puts down his pen or covers his typewriter, turns pensive and towards nightfall he dies. As for instance [Vitězslav] Nezval."
As for instance [Jaroslav] Seifert.
He'd written this sentence in his memoirs, and then he kept his word, in that night from January 9-10, 1986: it is said that he left a half-written poem on his beside table.
If it were possible to classify poetry, as certain other forms of human behavior, into obligatory and optional, then Seifert would be a clear example of the first kind: the poem to him was the most natural form of expression. As is evident from the paragraph quoted above, even his prose was composed of half-written potential poems, of poetic sweeps tending toward a metaphorical anchoring before the flow of narration is embarked upon. "I'm not a good storyteller," he himself said. "When I tell a story I'm in too much of a hurry … I simply haven't...
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SOURCE: "Between Dream and Reality: The Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert," in Scando-Slavica, Vol. 33, 1987, pp. 63-79.
[In the following essay, Możejko examines the different stages of Seifert's career.]
Jaroslav Seifert made his literary debut in 1921, barely four years after the first publication of T. S. Eliot's The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock, and one year prior to the appearance of The Waste Land. Franz Kafka was still alive and living in Prague. In the same year, another Czech writer and Seifert's contemporary, Karel Čapek, wrote his play, R.U.R., which gave the world a then strange, but now familiar, term: "robot".
The new generation of writers included such poets as Vitězslav Nezval, Konstantin Biebl, František Halas, Josef Hora, Vladimír Holan, Jiří Wolker, Stanislav Kostka Neumann and others. As noted by one critic [Květoslav Chvatík], no other generation has ever had a greater impact on the evolution of Czech literature than the one which appeared shortly after the first World War.
Jaroslav Seifert was part of this generation. Born on September 23, 1901, to a poor worker's family in Žižkov, a suburb of Prague, he began his professional career as a journalist, and appeared on the literary scene as a proletarian poet. Proletarian art, which manifested itself most distinctly through poetry, played an important role in the Czech...
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SOURCE: A review of The Selected Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert, in The Southern Humanities Review, Vol. 22, No. 1, Winter, 1988, pp. 90-3.
[In the following review, Werner offers a mixed assessment of The Selected Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert, questioning whether his work is worthy of the Nobel Prize in Literature.]
[The Selected Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert] tries to answer two questions: who was Jaroslav Seifert and did he deserve the Noble Prize in Literature? When he won the award in 1984, Seifert was largely unknown outside of Czechoslovakia, but within his native country his poetry was immensely popular (if not always officially sanctioned) and he was considered (in [his editor and translator] George Gibian's words) the country's unofficial national poet. This volume goes far toward answering these two questions.
Jaroslav Seifert (1901–1986) was born into a working class background and wrote first a book of proletarian poetry. Soon, though, Seifert joined the avant-garde poetism movement, roughly the Czech equivalent of Western European modernism but with a larger streak of surrealism, dada, and futurism than mainstream modernism. Seifert matured artistically in the early thirties, developing a lyric style that was euphonic, dense, and song-like; while the diction was simplified, the verse turned technically complex and intricate. His themes were the beauty of the...
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SOURCE: A review of A Wreath of Sonnets, in World Literature Today, Vol. 62, No. 3, Summer, 1988, pp. 476-77.
[In the following review of A Wreath of Sonnets and a French-language anthology of Seifert's verse, Banerjee offers praise for the poet's oeuvre.]
Outside Czechoslovakia, the award of the 1984 Nobel Prize in Literature to Jaroslav Seifert (1901–86) was greeted with a yawn of indifference and a few winks hinting at the political inspiration behind the honor. Seifert was, after all, a lifelong Social Democrat from a victimized country, and he had gained world attention as the head of the Czech Union of Writers in the defiant months that followed the Russian invasion of 1968. However, to his people he was the much-loved, still-vibrant survivor of a magnificent generation of poets with roots in the 1920s. In this country journalists searching for a firmer footing for their comments soon found that apart from The Plague Column (1979), very little was available in English translation. The two books under review [A Wreath of Sonnets and Les danseuses passaient près d'ici: Choix de poèmes, 1921–1983] are a welcome attempt to fill the void.
[Translated by J. K. Klement and Eva Stucke, A Wreath of Sonnets] is a bilingual, Czech/English presentation of a linked cycle of fifteen sonnets about Prague, written in 1956. They represent a...
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Bradbrook, B. R. Review of The Selected Poems of Jaroslav Seifert, by Jaroslav Seifert. World Literature Today 61, No. 1 (Winter 1987): 126-27.
Praises the volume as a new source of information on Seifert's life and work. Bradbrook extols the editor and translator of the volume for their inclusion criteria, particularly their focus on Seifert's memoir.
Brunet, Elena. Review of The Selected Poems of Jaroslav Seifert, by Jaroslav Seifert. Los Angeles Times Book Review (17 January 1988): 14.
Brief review that characterizes the essential themes of Seifert's verse to be "the beauty of women, love both romantic and sensual, the city of Prague, [and] his native country."
Davis, Dick. "Nobel Translation." The Listener 112, No. 2887 (6 December 1984): 33-4.
Favorable assessment of Ewald Oser's English language-version of The Selected Poems of Jaroslav Seifert. Davis also reviews works by such writers as Salvatore Quasimoto and Charles Tomlinson.
Graham, Desmond. Review of The Plague Column, by Jaroslav Seifert. Stand 22, Vol. 1 (1980): 78-9.
Comparative review in which The Plague Column is favorably discussed....
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