* Jaroslav Seifert & the friday influence

A startling metaphor is worth more
than a ring on one’s finger…

…In vain I snatched for ideas
and fiercely closed my eyes
in order to hear that first magic line.
But in the dark, instead of words,
I saw a woman’s smile and
wind-blown hair…

(from To be a Poet – Jaroslav Seifert)


This week on the Influence, Czech poet: Jaroslav Seifert.

Sometimes I do research for these blog posts, needling around the internet trying to find the birth dates of poets.  And sometimes I am surprised.

Such is my experience with Seifert – an almost shame of not having known about him, but an honor to know of his work now.

I believe that a poet’s journey is to always be writing closer and closer to themselves.  The hardest thing for a poet is to just write it down, not the idea of a poem but the poem itself.

Charles Bukowski pointed out once that he marveled at the way people will pour their hearts out writing long, intimate, fiery letters – then turn around to write a poem and feel the need to sound poetic.

This isn’t a rant – if anything, it is a self-indictment.  I know I only come close to what I’m talking about once a year, if I’m lucky.  Yet it is what one strives for page after page, word after word.

And I believe Seifert had something all his own going.

Check out the poem (after the significant image below), give it consideration.  More than anything, I hope you come across some joy in it as I did.

brooch-worthy, no?

An Umbrella from Piccadilly – Jaroslav Seifert *

If you’re at your wits’ end concerning love
try falling in love again —
say, with the Queen of England.
Why not!
Her features are on every postage stamp
of that ancient kingdom.
But if you were to ask her
for a date in Hyde Park
you can bet that
you’d wait in vain.

If you’ve any sense at all
you’ll wisely tell yourself:
Why of course, I know:
it’s raining in Hyde Park today.

When he was in England
my son bought me in London’s Piccadilly
an elegant umbrella.
Whenever necessary
I now have above my head
my own small sky
which may be black
but in its tensioned wire spokes
God’s mercy may be flowing like
an electric current.

I open my umbrella even when it’s not raining,
as a canopy
over the volume of Shakespeare’s sonnets
I carry with me in my pocket.

But there are moments when I am frightened
even by the sparkling bouquet of the universe.
Outstripping its beauty
it threatens us with its infinity
and that is all too similar
to the sleep of death.
It also threatens us with the void and frostiness
of its thousands of stars
which at night delude us
with their gleam.

The one we have named Venus
is downright terrifying.
Its rocks are still on the boil
and like gigantic waves
mountains are rising up
and burning sulphur falls.

We always ask where hell is.
It is there!

But what use is a fragile umbrella
against the universe?
Besides, I don’t even carry it.
I have enough of a job
to walk along
clinging close to the ground
as a nocturnal moth in daytime
to the coarse bark of a tree.

All my life I have sought the paradise
that used to be here,
whose traces I have found
only on women’s lips
and in the curves of their skin
when it is warm with love.

All my life I have longed
for freedom.
At last I’ve discovered the door
that leads to it.
It is death.

Now that I’m old
some charming woman’s face
will sometimes waft between my lashes
and her smile will stir my blood.

Shyly I turn my head
and remember the Queen of England,
whose features are on every postage stamp
of that ancient kingdom.
God save the Queen!

Oh yes, I know quite well: 
it’s raining in Hyde Park today.


Happy saving!


* translation by Eswald Osers


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