Jaroslav Seifert

A Chaplet of Sage

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for Frantisek Hrubøn

Noon was approaching and the quiet
was cut by the buzzing of flies
as though with a diamond.
We were lying in the grass by the Sßzava,
drinking Chablis
chilled in a forest spring.

Once at Konopiste Castle
I was allowed to view
an ancient dagger on display.
Only in the wound did a secret sprig
release a triple blade.
Poems are sometimes like that.
Not many of them perhaps
but it is difficult to extract them from the wound.

A poet often is like a lover.
He easily forgets
his one-time whispered promise of gentleness
and the most fragile gracefulness
he treats with brutal gesture.

He has the right to rape.
Under the banner of beauty
or that of terror.
Or under the banner of both.
Indeed it is his mission.

Events themselves hand him
a ready pen
that with its tip he may indelibly tattoo
his message.
Not on the skin of the breast
but straight into the muscle
which throbs with blood.
But rose and heart are not just love,
nor a ship a voyage or adventure,
nor a knife murder,
nor an anchor fidelity unto death.

These foolish symbols lie.
Life has long outgrown them.
Reality is totally different
and a lot worse still.

And so the poet drunk with life
should spew out all bitterness,
anger and despair
rather than let his song become a tinkling bell
on a sheep’s neck.

When we had drunk our fill
and rose from the flattened grass,
a bunch of naked children on the bank
hopped into the river below us.
And one of the young girls,
the one who on her straw-blonde hair
wore a chaplet of wet sage,
climbed up on a large rock
to stretch out on its sun-warmed surface.

I was taken aback:
Good Lord,
she’s no longer a child!

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Jaroslav Seifert