STRUGGLE WITH THE ANGEL
God knows who first thought up
that gloomy image
and spoke of the dead
as living shades
straying about amongst us.
And yet those shades are really here --
you cant miss them.
Over the years Ive gathered around me
a numerous cluster.
But it is I amidst them all
who is straying.
and their muteness keeps time
with my muteness
when the evenings closing in
and Im alone.
Now and again they stay my writing hand
when Im not right,
and blow away an evil thought
Some of them are so dim
Im losing sight of them in the distance.
One of the shades, however, is rose-red
In every persons life
there comes a moment
when everything suddenly goes black before his eyes
and he longs passionately to take in his hands
a smiling head.
His heart wants to be tied
to another heart,
even by deep stitches,
while his lips desire nothing more
than to touch down on the spots where
the midnight raven settled on Pallas Athene
when uninvited it flew in to visit
a melancholy poet.
It is called love.
perhaps thats what it is!
But only rarely does it last for long,
let alone unto death
as in the case of swans.
Often loves succeed each other
like suits of cards in your hand.
Sometimes its just a tremor of delight,
more often long and bitter pain.
At other times all sighs and tears.
And sometimes even boredom.
Thats the saddest kind.
Some time in the past I saw a rose-red shade.
It stood by the entrance to a house
facing Pragues railway station,
eternally swathed in smoke.
We used to sit there by the window.
I held her delicate hands
and talked of love.
Im good at that!
Shes long been dead.
The red lights were winking
down by the track.
As soon as the wind sprang up a little
it blew away the grey veil
and the rails glistened
like the strings of some monstrous piano.
At times you could also hear the whistle of steam
and the puffing of engines
as they carried off peoples wretched longings
from the grimy platforms
to all possible destinations.
Sometimes they also carried away the dead
returning to their homes
and to their cemeteries.
Now I know why it hurts so
to tear hand from hand,
lips from lips,
when the stitches tear
and the guard slams shut
the last carriage door.
Loves an eternal struggle with the angel.
From dawn to night.
The opponent is often stronger.
But woe to him
who doesnt realize
that his angel has no wings
and will not bless.
tr. from the Czech by
Translation © 1998 Ewald Osers, Original © 1921-1983 Jaroslav Seifert.
Excerpted from THE POETRY OF JAROSLAV SIEFERT translated by Ewald Osers, edited by George
Gibian (Catbird Press, 1998) by permission of the publisher.