Poet Lore/Volume 24/Number 5/Jaroslav Vrchlicky

Poet Lore, vol. 24, no. 5  (1913) 
Jaroslav Vrchlicky by Charles Recht

JAROSLAV VRCHLICKY

By Charles Recht

EMIL FRIDA (Jaroslav Vrchlicky) was born on the seventeenth day of February, 1853, in the township of Louny, in Bohemia. His father, Emil Jacob Frida, was a country storekeeper. At the age of ten Emil was sent to the Gymnasium of the Piarists, a secular Gymnasium in Prague, and later to the Gymnasium in Klatov. In 1873, at the age of nineteen, he graduated and entered a theological seminary. Seminary life evidently did not agree with him, for he remained there but a few months and registered in the University of Prague in the Faculty of Filisofy, selecting as his major subjects literature, filology and history. During his university years he formed a friendship with Ernest Denise, the Frenchman, who had come to Prague to study the Bohemians. The two men exchanged lessons, and Denise assisted Vrchlicky in his studies of Hugo and Musset, while the Bohemian helped his friend in the preparation of his historical works, ‘John Hus’ and ‘Le fin de l’Independence de la Boheme’. In 1875 he was licensed as a tutor and appointed the instructor of the two sons of Count Montecuccoli-Laderchi. He went to Italy with his pupils and spent a year near the river Livornia, in Marana, near Modena.

When he returned in 1876 he was already recognized as a great poet. He received many honors at home and abroad. In 1879 he married Ludmila Podlipska, a daughter of Zofie Podlipska, the novelist. Three children were born of this union, Milada, Eva and Jaroslav, all of whom are active in literary circles of Bohemia. In 1901 he and Anton Dvorak received from the Emperor an appointment to the Imperial Council, and were granted an order.

Although he wrote about all parts and literatures of the world, his travels were short lived and not extensive. He died in Domazlice on the ninth day of September, 1912, at the age of fifty-nine.

A law of the Austrian Minesterium of Education prohibits students in the secondary schools from appearing in public life. When young Frida began to publish his poetry he was obliged to use a nom de plume. He chose the name of Vrchlicky, after a rivulet near Kutna Hora. If his name, Jaroslav Vrchlicky, were translated into English it would mean Spring’s Glorifier of the Hills. The pseudonym soon became world-famous, and today he is known only by that name.

No other Bohemian writer received such recognition as Vrchlicky. Clubs were formed with his name; foreign critics as, for instance, Alfred Jensen, the Swede, came to Bohemia to write his biography; his works were translated into German, Polish, Russian, Servian, French and Hungarian, in short, like Ibsen, he lived to see his fame.

His value to Czechs and Czech literature is greater because of his cosmopolitanism; his ability to transfuse the spirit and the essence of foreign lore into his native tongue, than because of his inherent genius as a national poet. His themes are mostly foreign, his works a motley wreath of miscellanies. Hellenic, Hebraic, Hindoo, Slavic, English, German and French songs and ballads follow each other, a kaleidoscope of poetical gems. His works total sixty-six volumes. He wrote forty-twohundred poems, three of which, ‘Bar Kochba,’ ‘Hilarion,’ and ‘Twardowski’, have over ten thousand printed pages, and ran through one hundred and thirty editions. Says Alfred Jensen: ‘This unheard of activity in literature, the like of which can only be found in old Spanish school of poetry, shows first of all an undying and inexhaustible desire to work and to create. Vrchlicky could say of himself what he said of Michaelangelo: ‘The more I join and lose myself in life’s flood and tide, the greater my fervor: to love and to labor.’

Urging his muse, Vrchlicky says:

‘No, you shan’t grow silent, my rising song of storm

· · · · · · · ·

Does the lark ask the purpose of its thrill?
Does the gem forlorn have less beautiful a form?
The rose unseen breathe fragrance with less will?’

It is not in drama or in prose that the charm of Vrchlicky can be found. He is distinctly a poet. His favorite creations are traveling comedians, circus-riders, gypsies. A man of the world, a thorough cosmopolite, he, nevertheless, was a pagan at heart; a man who for the poetry of an overturned idol, forgotten urn would sell all the material progress of the scientific world. His poem, ‘Down with Wings,’ predicts a deluge of apathy and spiritual death, when all have discarded wings, when art, like Ararat, can be reached only by those, who, in the past, in spite of steam, electricity and accomplishments could chase after rhymes and look for images in the stars, clouds and sunsets.

To judge Vrchlicky’s work by the selection of his one-act drama, ‘At the Chasm,’ would be unfair.

The customary introduction of a translator is an apology for his existence; but were he to excuse himself for selecting a minor work of a great author he could justly be accused of literary impertinence.

Nevertheless, the writer by reason of this selection finds himself very much in such position. In 1904, while studying Beowulf and ‘the well of English undefiled,’ it occurred to him for the first time to translate from his mother tongue into English. He then selected this one-act drama, because of its brevity. And while the merits recommend it highly for publication, the writer felt some hesitancy in introducing Bohemia’s grand old man through one of his minor efforts.

Vrchlicky’s prosody is not extensive, but it differs from his poetry. He himself intended it to differ.

‘In my lyrical works I meant to express myself, my own soul, in my prose I speak as “The man of Nineteenth Century” observing the evolution of the people and trying to interpret its efforts. And so it is that my prose and my poetry are so different, my filisofy is “dualistic”; through my entire activity—for my own self I am a pessimist, for humanity an optimist.’

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926.


The author died in 1965, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 50 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.