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: Poetry Today: Prague as a Poem: Vítezslav Nezval and Emil Hakl :

an excerpt by John Taylor


Two lines by Vítezslav Nezval (1900-1958) that I read long ago have never slipped from memory. I think of them whenever I am in a certain mood; the lines sum up that mood. The poem is "Night of Acacias" and the distich, in Ewald Osers's English version, reads: "O night of acacias do not pass before I have crossed all the bridges of Prague / In my search for no one not a friend not a woman not even myself."

I came across the poetry of Nezval (1900-1958) while I was visiting "hundred-spired Prague" (as the Czech poet puts it) twice in 1975-1976, followed by a third time in 1991. Reading poetry that is intimately associated with a given place is sometimes enhanced by acquiring an in situ knowledge of the place. Because you too have gazed over Prague from the Petrín Lookout Tower, you more precisely comprehend "the cut-off fingers of rain and the Tyn Church on the glove of nightfall." Yet now that I am rereading Nezval and trying to remember the streets, squares, spires, bridges, and "smell of the tramcars while the bells of St Loretto ring out," the opposite has happened. I struggle with myself to read his verse objectively. Like him, I am convinced that Prague is "as miraculous as a fountain playing over a cemetery," but I am already elsewhere in my remembering: well beyond or, rather, too deeply within the city. Prague surrounds me once again, thanks to Nezval, but I am not really looking at it most of the time.



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