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 Riegrov Street in the colorful, working-class, partly Jewish ika 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 Pia and F. X. alda, the novelists Jaroslav Haek and Vladislav Vanura, the multitalented artist and poet Karel Teige, the avant-garde poets Josef Hora, Frantiek Halas, and Vítzslav Nezval, and the Communist poets Stanislav Kostka Neumann and Jií Wolker. Many of them come to life in Seifert’s memoir, Vecky krásy svta. 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 Devtsil (Nine-Powers). They dubbed their eclectic principles Poetismus. As youth and the modish influences of Futurism, Surrealism, and Dadaism waned, however, Devtsil 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...
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