Ivan Blatný

Poet, son of the writer Lev Blatný (1894-1930). Born in Brno, he spent the first part of his life here – before escaping into exile in 1948. He lived in a house...

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František Halas

Poet, translator and publicist, Brno born, spent his childhood and youth here. He learned the bookseller’s trade from A. Píša and for a brief period (1919–1921)...

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Oldřich Mikulášek

Poet and publicist. Lived in Brno from 1937 until his death, latterly at Mášova street. He is linked to several cultural institutions (the Brno studios of Czechoslovak...

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Jaroslav Seifert

Poet, publicist, memoirist. The first – and so far the only Czech to receive the Nobel prize for Literature. In addition to the lasting popularity he won through...

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Jan Skácel

Poet, writer, editor and translator. Spent most of his life in Brno and is closely linked to a number of Brno cultural institutions (the magazine Host do domu...

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Vít Slíva

Poet and schoolteacher. His connection to Brno dates back to his university days. Apart from one interlude, he has been living to this day at Poděbradova street....

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Places (in alphabetical order)

R. Bojko

1877  –  1952

Real name Alois Horák, his pseudonym Bojko (vernacular for Fearful) was meant in the sense of cowering before the Almighty. A poet and writer, a lawyer by profession. Originally from the Kunštát area, attended the Czech Grammar School in Brno (1890-1898) and after completing his college studies in Prague spent two years here as a junior at the Territorial Court (1903-1905). Of his poetry, his first collection Modlitby víry a lásky (Prayers of Faith and Love, 1912) won him the greatest acclaim, favourably reviewed by the notable critic F. X. Šalda, among others. The poet, (like many other Czech patriotic intellectuals at the time), had a strong aversion to pre-war Brno: in his collection O Boha, život a můj lid  (On God, life and my countrymen, 1919) he saw it almost as emblematic of the ethnic and social oppression of Czechs in Moravia. Day-to-day Brno is also briefly touched on at the beginning of his lyric-epic poetic fable Zbytečný  (Futile, 1916-1917), which takes place in the courtroom at Cejl.

The author and the places of his/her poems


The poem and the place

To the City

There, o’er fickle Svratka, Svitava, sewer-flowing,
where in far off blue-haze wafts ever growing 
smoke, black and thick, stiflingly acrid blowing;
where the sun, bland and helpless, merely wanders,
choking and desperate, from its wounds bleeding, flounders,
there lies a modern city. Thundering factories roar
and malt-houses, and raging foundries, dour
black laundries, coke-ovens, gas-plants pour
from colonnades of blood-red chimney stacks,
their scorn and looking down upon my land, alack.

There, my own brethren, pale, thin labourers vie
year in year out, by their thousands, to die.
There, doubled-up, their heaving lungs out they spit
on muddy pavements, in the dust swirled up streets.

There, o’er false Svratka, Svitava sewer drains,
in midst of my sweet Moravian domains,
a vampire, ghoul, hundred-mawed dragon stains,
a murderous virago, thirsting for my blood, one
unchecked for centuries, in its walls ever free
to throttle, kill scores of my fellow men,
their blood to suck and thrive on, with wanton glee.

There, where the ostler tricked by his master dwells,
pub landlord, merchant, and the small trader sells 
out his tongue, like old garb – by daughter ditched.
There, councillors turn coats to get easy rich.
There die my wan-faced maids and servant girls
as on Svratka-stenched bridges do the mayfly swirls,
there merged into that city, as it seeps.

There, every fall, from the Town Hall’s black chill
a throng of stooges onto the street out-spill,
with golden bait my children in to reel.

There, every squalid integration skims
thousands from thousands off, at will, it seems.
There, artifice, sleight-of-hand, overnight,
makes us seem few, outnumbered lose our might.

There, forced back in our ranks like Spartans, then
at famed Thermopylae, bloodied and spear-pierced men,
we make our feeble, futile, desperate pleas
about each child of ours, every school class,
about our people, frightened, numbed at least. 

There in our homeland we are exiled, strange,
aliens, upstarts, ruffians deranged,
just slaves to wealthy masters, scum, for sure,
cattle, to house in sheds, who need no more. - -

There, beneath Špilberk, down a vale revealed,
back arched against the hills, feet in the fields,
that hydra my kin hunting, monster dread,
its fearful tentacles around them spread,
that city, large, with industry endowed
and festering, damned and cruel, all too proud.

Oh, city mine! How oft your wrath has drawn
from my pale lips a cry of awe, forlorn!
Oh, how oft hurt by your proud, harsh disdain,
was I down, helpless, self-esteem in vain,
how often have I groaned, wept, cried aloud,
broken by my despair, in death’s pale shroud!
Oh, how oft have I given up every hope,
and yet, buoyed up, once more by renewed hope
took up the latest fight, in strife to strain,
once more resolved to face it all again!

Oh city! To win, do you know you must
with ringing chains to your wheels shackle us,
kneel on our breast, and with your blood-tainted lance
into our crushed hearts’ cage slowly advance?

Oh, city! Listen how throughout the land
great restless waves are rising up, outspanned,
rearing and roaring wild, to take their stand...!

Oh city, brutal, wayward! The day draws near,
when from your hardened throat a groan we’ll hear,
your walls asunder break, to dust’s own flurry,
your lords after my blood, to crush, to bury
in your ruins forever! Oh city, the day draws near...!

                                           translated by Václav Pinkava

Bojko, R.: O Boha, život a můj lid (On God, life and my countrymen), Přerov: Obzor 1919, pp. 90-92.


Jiří Trávníček  -   travnicek@ucl.cas.cz
Michal Fránek  -   franek@ucl.cas.cz

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