30-09-2001

By Alena Skodova

Bedrich Smetana's cycle of symphonic poems - My Country - is one of the most famous pieces of Czech music. It is familiar in the Czech Republic and around the world. One of the most outstanding recordings of My Country is played by the Prague Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Italian conductor Gaetano Delogu. A few days ago Mr. Delogu was in Prague to receive a Golden Disc award in appreciation for the 10,000 copies of My Country sold in the Czech Republic over the last 12 months. I spoke with him after the ceremony and asked him first how he felt about winning the award?

 

Poet Jaroslav Seifert is the only Czech in history to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, receiving the award in 1984. But there were no celebrations in Czechoslovakia when he received the award: Jaroslav Seifert had fallen from grace with the Communist authorities due to his outspoken criticism of the regime.

On September 23rd, Jaroslav Seifert would have had been 100 years old. He was born in Zizkov, now in the Prague 3 district, and on Sunday there was a small celebration outside the house where he was born. A bronze plaque of Seifert was unveiled in the presence of local mayor Milan Cesky, whose district contributed to the plaque with a substantial gift.

We're just paying back a big debt, Mr. Cesky said, because I think the only Czech Nobel Prize winner for literature deserves to be commemorated in his birthplace, even if it's such a small-scale celebration like this one.

Literature historian Jiri Brabec says that his native Zizkov played a pivotal role in the great poet's work:

"Zizkov placed in Seifert's cradle - and Seifert was very well aware of it - something which is not so typical of modern Czech poetry - and that's humour. Seifert never took himself too seriously, and he could never climb up to the top of a pedestal because Zizkov would simply not have allowed him to do so."

Zizkov used to be inhabited mostly by poor people, such as factory workers, maids. Jaroslav Seifert came from a working class family and Dr. Brabec says that Seifert's life was full of ordeals. Some of his colleagues reproached him for being rather soft-hearted. But he was soft-hearted only in matters that he did not consider important. Once he had made a decision, he always was very decisive and firm. Proof of this is the fact that in 1921 he became one of the co-founders of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. But after several years he became disillusioned, and cancelled his membership in 1929. Seifert became a strong opponent and fierce critic of the party.

His "proletarian poetry" was gradually replaced by lyrical poems and he turned his attention to his childhood and early memories:

"First and foremost he wrote about his native town, which he loved immensely, and about his experiences as a city boy. But he was also a child of nature - he remembered for long his holiday trips to the countryside to see his grandparents," said his daughter Jana Seifertova

In the late 1970s, Seifert joined the signatories of Charter 77, an anti-Communist pamphlet signed by hundreds of Czech and Slovak intellectuals and his poems were quickly withdrawn from the bookstores.

Jaroslav Seifert was ill and too old to travel to Stockholm in 1984 to receive the Noble Prize for literature, and his daughter Jana went to receive the award on his behalf. Expressing his feelings as a fresh Nobel Prize winner Jaroslav Seifert said people needed poetry more that they were willing to admit and that lyricism would always be a feature of people's daily lives. He died two years later, in 1986.

30-09-2001