The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Fly” is a short poem in free verse, in thirty-three lines, divided into eight stanzas. The title reflects Miroslav Holub’s practice, as a distinguished scientist, of frequently drawing on biology, with its life-forms and life processes, for his imagery. The fly serves as an observer of the Battle of Crécy, the fly’s demeanor and behavior being apposed to the human drama being enacted on the battlefield. Behind the fly is a second observer, the poet. The poem is a meditation on a historic event. The poem is also divided into what Holub calls units of attention, some of them long to achieve effects of suspense, others short for emphases, often one-word or one-image lines.

In the first line, the fly sits at a distance on the trunk of a willow tree. Then Holub uses one of his one-word lines, the word “watching,” to focus on the demeanor of the fly. It is watching the historic Battle of Crécy. Then, with four one-image lines, Holub quickly develops the drama on the battlefield: the battle cries, the surprise, the moans of the wounded, and, finally, the panic as the soldiers fall over each other in their frantic flight.

Holub now skips to the last of the fourteen futile charges by the French cavalry, concentrating the tragedy in two powerful images: a disemboweled horse and the blue tongue of a duke. He interpolates an image of the fly mating with a brown-eyed male fly from the neighboring village of Vadincourt (Wadicourt) during...

(The entire section is 470 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poetic technique of Holub has had two major influences: his involvement with the Kvten movement, the generation of young poets that emerged in Czechoslovakia after the death of Joseph Stalin, and his profession as a scientist.

The Kvten advocated a return to reality, even to the dark side of situations. The poet, Holub said, should turn to “facts” and should use words at the level of the common man. For this reason, Holub’s poems are relatively easy to translate. Holub’s interest in facts frequently led him to probe the meanings in historical events, as in “Fall of Troy,” “Discobolus,” “Achilles and the Tortoise,” and “The Fly.”

As a research scientist, he carried over into his poetry what A. Alvarez described in his introduction to Selected Poems (1967) as a “probing below the surface of received, everyday experience to reveal new meaningas though his poems and his researcher’s microscope worked in the same way,” isolating details for analysis and reflection. This technique is similar to that of the abstract painter when he reduces a situation to its bare elements, or like that of Holub’s one-time collaborator and photographer, Jan Paík, who specialized in subjects found in hospital wards, except that Holub proceeds behind the scenes to meditate on their meanings.

In “The Fly,” Holub probes beneath the surface of facts about the Battle of Crécy: the rout of the...

(The entire section is 486 words.)