(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Jaroslav Seifert’s life and poetry are closely interwoven, and it is a mistake to separate them. He took part in all the major poetic movements of his long life. During some of these phases, it is possible to say that he was surpassed by a friend and colleague. Perhaps Stanislav Neumann wrote superior poems of political commitment during the 1920’s, and in the 1930’s perhaps Josef Hora expressed the sense of attachment to the native land better than anyone else in his monumental poem “Zpěv rodné zemi” (“Song of the Native Land”). Indignation at the violent excesses of Communism was the most powerfully rendered in František Halas’s superb “Potopa” (“The Deluge”). Vladimír Holan’s output of meditative lyrics, published during the decade after World War II, was especially impressive. Yet it is futile to contrast Seifert to these poets as if they were competitors: They were often remarkably close and engaged in similar endeavors, and Seifert wrote poems addressed to most of these poets. Seifert’s own poems are consistently interesting, remarkably high quality, and unique.

Seifert’s main themes were the love of woman and the celebration of what is most positive in life. His finest collections were probably written after World War II, when these themes were increasingly associated with his defense of the individual conscience. Before the war, in the words of Arne Novák, Seifert was “a poet readily inspired by contemporary events and an unusually fluent improviser; he was a master of intimate, emotional, and highly musical verse.” It should be added that he was able to express the feelings and aspirations of a remarkably broad audience. After the war, unable to publish regularly, he was to increase the depth and resonance of his poems until the end of his life.