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This review is taken from PN Review 54, Volume 13 Number 4, March - April 1987.

BETWEEN NIGHTINGALE AND LARK Jaroslav Seifert, Selected Poetry, translated by Ewald Osers, edited and with additional translations by George Gibian (André Deutsch) £9.95

Seifert's Nobel Prize of 1984 set the seal of international acclaim on a career already legendary in his native Prague. The affection he inspired in Czech hearts left him effectively without peer in his unofficial role of 'national' poet, in spite of his own readiness to yield pride of place to Josef Hora, František Halas and Vladimir Holan, all of whom he knew well. Having first won fame for his treatment of 'proletarian' realities - he had been born in 1901 in a poor suburb - Seifert soon fell foul of Socialist Realist ideologues and was expelled from the Communist Party in 1929, never to rejoin. At no time thereafter was he safe from public attack and personal harrassment. But neither official disapproval nor prolonged illness weakened Seifert's commitment to what he had absorbed from his origins; indeed, in old age he made no secret of his support for the 'Prague Spring' and Charter 77. Long before his death in January 1986 Seifert had become a symbolic figure, in Milan Kundera's memorable phrase 'the sole glory of the powerless'.

Seifert's career resembles, in many ways, the more familiar case of Anna Akhmatova. As one time of trial succeeded another, Akhmatova was 'with her people'; Seifert, as he claimed in a poem from The Casting of the Bells (1967), was also 'one of them'. They were each rewarded, to the distress of party hacks, with a reciprocal warmth that would not consent to be dispersed. Seifert - notably ...


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