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This review is taken from PN Review 15, Volume 7 Number 1, September - October 1980.

I HAVE MY OWN SONG Jaroslav Seifert, The Plague Column, translated by Ewald Osers with an introduction by Sir Cecil Parrott, (Terra Nova Editions) £5.95 (£4.50 paper)
James Wright, To a blossoming pear tree (Faber and Faber) £4.50
César Vallejo, Spain, let this cup pass from me (The Red Hill Press) £1.50

Herbert, Holan, Holub, Joszef, Milosz, Popa, Rozewicz, Radnoti, Stanescu-the very richness of modern poetry in MittelEuropa makes it difficult for a new voice to gain the hearing it deserves. But Seifert's is only a new voice to the English reader; in his native Prague he is sufficiently notorious to have been hounded into samizdat publication at a time when his lyric gift has taken him further from politics than he has ever been and when, in the shrewd assessment of Cecil Parrott, his poems 'only become political by the fact of their suppression'. Like the Yeats of Last Poems, Seifert finds it difficult, 'that girl standing there' (whether in fact or in imagination), to fix his attention on the political realities that have made his life, and the life of his countrymen, so painful for so long. But unlike Yeats at the same age, Seifert does not take refuge in aggression, or dogma, or breast-beating. His voice is simpler and quieter, terse but not tense:


Poetry is with us from the start
Like loving,
like hunger, like the plague like war.
At times my verses were embarrassingly
foolish.
But I make no excuse.
I believe that seeking beautiful words
is better
than killing or murdering.


'Not till old age', Seifert writes, 'did I learn/To love silence./ Sometimes it is more exciting than music'. And yet the silence of his old age is punctuated ...


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