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57: JAROSLAV SEIFERT

#57: JAROSLAV SEIFERT. It has been instructive to be rereading concurrently the essays of Orwell and the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Jaroslav Seifert. Orwell was one of the great warning voices against totalitarianism, but he was also a mordant and amused critic of the political attempts, from left and right, to evaluate and direct the efforts of artists, writers in particular. The politicians were wrong, always, without exception, and the lives of both Faiz and Seifert were demonstrations of the life of the artist in the twentieth century. Closely contemporary, geographically distant (Seifert was Czech), emotionally not so far apart, both were disowned and maltreated by the regimes they lived under, their poetry dismissed for just the qualities we prize in them: the intense lyricism of Faiz, the affection and wry humor of Seifert. (Seifert got off lighter than some: he was scorned and banned, his work circulated only in samizdat copies. Ivan Blatny, in contrast, was banned, fled for his life, was pronounced dead on the radio, went mad and lived for decades, John Clare-like, in an asylum in the English countryside.) Seifert remained a committed but also irreverent, accessible and charming poet: there is an almost dizzied lyric quality, a humaneness and a delight in life, that kept his work moving, attractive and joyful. But there are also times, as when Cherubino comes to Seifert in a dream and describes Prague laying at the feet of Mozart’s unknown grave, when he can move you to tears. The Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert (Catbird Press, 1998) is an expanded version of an earlier selection from Andre Deutsch; the translations by Ewald Overs are very good. For Ivan Blatny, see The Drug of Art (Zephyr Press, 2006), a terrific book with selections ranging from Blatny’s early, Apollinaire-like poems to the late, unique, multilingual experimental work.

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