Page:A Book of Czech Verse.pdf/16

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Introduction

Slovak Kollár to the exquisite lyrics of the dying Wolker one may see again and again the themes which recall the ordeals through which the nation had passed: the protective love of a people for its land and customs, the escape into the remembered innocence of childish romance, and the call to the barricades, summoning men to tear down the symbols of foreign oppression and social injustice.

Thus, the folk tale, the lyric of personal emotion, and the poetry of escape, all to some extent characteristic of an age of repression, are familiar motives in Czech literature; and, in consequence, some of its sweetness may be thought to be offset by a lack of contact with reality, while a further influence working away from the portrayal of the problems of contemporary life was the conscious imitation of foreign writers. Yet, in the first quarter of this century, when full freedom at last returned to the Czech people, their poetry can be said, in one sense, to have reached a climax of fulfilment in the work of Wolker. If the poetry of Neruda and Čelakovský has the remoteness of a lovely dream, that of Wolker has the jagged impact of frightening reality: in his writings bitterness, humanism, and startling beauty are combined; and his early death robbed Czech literature of a poet of world stature.

In this little selection of poems, circumscribed as it is by the conditions of today, there is no claim that a representative picture of Czech poetry can be given, nor that the English versions do anything like justice to the Czech originals. It will be enough if it serves to indicate the presence of a rich and diverse literary tradition, too often

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