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Three poems from the Czech by Jiří Orten

May 5, 2011

translated by Lyn Coffin

Goodbye Letter #6

Oh, pain will die, I swear, when I succeed
in making a Myshkin of these tears
to master agony, quietly, there
where I burn with beautiful helpless need,

where voices go mute, and feelings wake late,
before finally disbanding.
To smile (to reach understanding)
just as He said. And not to wait.

So far. At a higher elevation
than the rise and fall of simple speech.
Who can’t write his way to conciliation
lived for the coffin. He should be betrayed.

And that’s me, woman, that’s me,
fullness rotting and being dispersed
and all that was suffered for will go
there where you wounded me the worst

where the air is fragrant with kisses
and fate forces those who’ve been tried
to love what so terribly isn’t,
about which I endlessly know.

Translated with Leda Pugh


This is a Glorious Tale

With a pocket knife
the world has been cut.
And much blood has been shed. Poems
and nights. The wind played along, but
didn’t finish— For women,
it was a matter of life,
but for us a matter of death, not only
our lips thirsted after
the spring. Even our voice!
Voice, dried out and blood-stained,
go to the home
which cliffs and greenery
perceive as lost— if it’s found for them, what
a time that will be!
it will push through with its prow
everything rotting in us now—

Translated with Zdenka Brodska


Trees of the Years

What’s it like to grow, trees of the years?
From start to finish, I understood
you can only be watered by tears,
and are made of wood
so flame burns you with ease,
so even a half-blind eye sees
you are burning, trees,
trees of many years.

In you, the beasts could hide,
in you was the happiness denied
to me by the merciless lion tamer. In you
went everything I had. From you
comes spring water, from you
comes morning which dawns, in you
the sun goes down to dust
trees, years, full of rust!

If I could look a little longer at least,
could look straight up at the heavens and stare,
watching the clouds as they turn red.
Let a feast begin, and at that feast
let my liberty hand me wine.
Don’t let that thing tear apart my bed,
that thing I wanted so to repair
with these twenty-two years of mine!

Translated with Leda Pugh

*This is likely to have been the last poem Orten wrote

Jiří Orten (1919-1941) was one of the key Czech poets of the 20th century. See Poets.org for more.

Lyn Coffin is a widely published poet, fiction writer, and playwright. Eight of her books have been published, three of her own work, five of translation. A ninth book, translations from the Czech of Jiri Orten, is forthcoming from Gazoobitales Press, under the able stewardship of Thomas Hubbard. Lyn is teaching at Ilia University in Tbilisi this spring, lecturing on English and American Literature while translating modern Georgian poets with her esteemed email friend and colleague, Professor Gia Jokhadze.

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  1. May 9, 2011 at 3:33 pm
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