Miroslav Holub Holub, Miroslav - Essay

Holub, Miroslav

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Holub, Miroslav 1923–

Holub, a Czech, is a pathologist and a poet. His verse often employs scientific images. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-22.)

Miroslav Holub is a curious mixture, perhaps a unique one: he is one of Czechoslovakia's most prolific and original poets and also a distinguished scientist, a clinical pathologist who has travelled widely on both sides of the Iron Curtain, researching and attending scientific congresses. So far his publications include eight books of poetry, two travel books and twenty-five learned papers on pathology; he also edits a Czech popular science magazine….

All Holub's technique is concentrated on the exposure and analysis of reality. He speaks fluent English, reads widely in it and claims to have derived his free verse forms from William Carlos Williams. But the results are very different. Williams used his simple, stripped-down forms for two purposes: first, to achieve an American accent and rhythm, which had nothing to do with the traditional British iambic pentameter; second, in order to make the rather simple perceptions and objects of his poems come out clear and strong. Complexity was not his forte, and when he attempted it the result, as often as not, was muddle. Holub, in comparison, is intellectual, sophisticated….

[His] technique is that of the early abstract painters: he reduces the confused uneasy situation to its bare elements, and then reassembles it so that the complexity is somehow clarified, validated by an ironic compassion. He uses free forms so that they won't get in the way of what he has to say. They allow him complexity without padding. And this is as it should be for an intellectual who has no taste for abstractions. In his poetry, as presumably in his science, he continually insists on probing below the surface of received, everyday experience to reveal new levels of meaning, to lay bare new emotional facts. It is as though his poems and his researcher's microscope worked in the same way, and towards the same end….

The source of his strength is his subtle, critical acceptance of the realities as they are, his refusal either to shut things out or to praise them simply because, like Everest, they are there. His poetry is based finally on an unsentimental, probing, compassionate, witty sense of the modern world.

A. Alvarez, "Miroslav Holub" (originally published as the "Introduction" to Miroslav Holub: Selected Poems, translated by Ian Milner and George Theiner, Penguin, 1967), in his Beyond All This Fiddle: Essays 1955–1967 (copyright © 1968 by A. Alvarez; reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.), 1969, pp. 133-41.

The Czech poet and distinguished pathologist Miroslav Holub seems to have survived both freezes and thaws by quietly keeping his eye to his microscope. Like other doctor-poets—Gottfried Benn and William Carlos Williams, whom, suprisingly, he has read, come to mind—Holub writes a delicately tense, finely observed line. He required of every poem that it be acid and dry and as fine as watchworks. His comments are intelligent rather than wise or ironical; he speaks from the solicitude of a man who knows death too intimately not to value life as an absolute gift. He is like Klee in his imagery, marrying a clear seriousness with a stylized whimsy….

Guy Davenport, in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1968 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXI, No. 3, Autumn, 1968, p. 571.