Zbynek Hejda is among the selected Czech authors and poets who were banned from publishing in their homeland during the Communist era. As one commentator has said, "his poems have little hope in them and display no socialist optimism". If there is hope in his work there is yet much humour and tenderness. Dreams, erotica, the pain of aging and nostalgia for the dead are frequent subject matter in his poems

Zbynek Hejda was born in Hradee Kralove in 1930, His first volume of poetry was published in Prague in 1963. When he joined Charter 77, he was dismissed from his job in a publishing house and became a janitor. From 1987 he was co director of the Samizdat publication Central Europe. After 1990 he taught Medical ethics at Charles University. He was a poet, essayist and a translator (mainly from English - Emily Dickinson; and German - Georg Trakl, Gottfried Benn), generally recognized as one of the most important Czech writers after the Second World War. He studied philosophy and history at the Charles University.In 1996 he received, together with the poet Jirina Haukova, the prestigious Jaroslav Seifert Award for the outstanding lifetime contribution to the Czech literature. Zbynek Hejda lives in Prague

Translation of these poems have been done by Bernard O' Donoghue, born in North Cork in 1945.

I was Walking

I was walking
By the abattoir.
At that time
it was only there
the small gate opened.
Through a dormer window you could see
a rope hanging
at all times
As far as the eye could see,
a tree nowhere around
was alive
Far away
a train was whistling.
the gate's masonry the stone
overgrown by sour moss.
An old woman in the yard, on her knees,
a bird's throat was dying.


When it is Raining

When it is raining,
the pond as if just convalescing
from smallpox.
Below under the dam
the chub are gorging on the rain.
the moon reveals itself to girls,
pressing its attentions on
the chaste straw
And in the little knuckles
how tenderly the straw crackles!
But beneath the dam
the white bodies
of drowned women.



Animals shrunk to the bone,
small mouths torn by thorn-to a white time,
as if angels
(once maybe a flame?)
have burnt to ashes.

All colour burned from the landscape.
Tears quenched in eyes of ice.
Ailing small bodies of children,
shroudlets of white mist.


Little Deaths

Little deaths
dwell in bird's light corpses.
With the echo of their wings
they beat against our cheeks.
In the end green water
rains down on all.
A dog quietly slinks
in by the door...


Along the Paths

Along the beast-trodden paths
from grass a bog builds up.
'small birds' feathers in the shrubs
drooping: Rain, rain, rain.

It froze at night. So in the morning
the flash of fens will shine.
Silence! From the village a bell toll
and a wail.


On a Path Dark and Narrow

On a path dark and narrow...
While to the South the sun is sinking,
the early evening lights up briefly
a sliver of landscape shadowed by clouds.

Then a hand will touch me,
sleep's plaster cracking,
a hand so light and smooth in its weaving.
It is morning. The birds are singing.


Sunsets So Mild

Sunsets so mild.
A grim night is fast approaching.
Screeching of terrified birds.

My dear, my darling, your
hot lips, your lap.

But your face too is already waning.
And what will remain?
Still heartache,
and then?
Love is dying. With a wing
death first brushes,
blazing images are quenched.
They still visit
with light, with scent
on occasion.
But the days are commoner
when the emptiness behind you brightens.

Roads appear again,
gentle inclines, the horizon pure again.
Audible too will be
the moan of hot desire.

Confused from such long suffering,
relieved I tell everyone I meet
that I'm doing fine.

My dear, my darling,
how far from here the sea!

Variations on Macha II

It is so long ago.
It is at the end of the journey.

A long futile wandering,
at the end of which is water.

Thirst, that persevering thirst,
the image of far-away towns,

white, lime-burned.
Sea is mare, it is vanishing

from the horizon like
Saint Patrick's ship.

(Macha was the most famous Czech romantic poet who died young. He traveled to Rome on foot, and composed a erotic diary. S.D.)


A Shadow is Cast

A shadow is cast.
A whore, still lovely,
is quietly spinning an imperfect garment
with her long fingers.
They made friends roughly.
o love, my love.
Eyes fading, running,
full of flies.
A dead man over a pit.
Music falls from above.
A bride with mint between her thighs
for healing.
In the trees
a leaf 'will not move.
Those gleams!
And in the pubs life awakens.


The Spring Will be Over

The spring will be over.
Also nights when you can t breathe.
As if piled on to a cart
we are lurching towards love-making.

I am full of cheerfulness;
I find everything absurd.
I am full of cheerfulness,
kneeling by a lovely womb.

And it is opening like a flower.
I am sinking into the bowels.
That old joke, that old joke:
it's a grave.


Where on earth

Where on earth
have I wandered into
as if into some
joyful painting?
Frightened, I've at once
turned back.


My Voice | Poetry In Our Time | In The Name Of Poetry | Editor's Choice | Our Masters
Who We Are | Back Issues | Submission | Contact Us | Home