Vitezslav Nezval



(an excerpt)


Under the moulding
Of the rectory
In silver tinfoil
Long strings
To the tips of pillows
That swaddle
Twelve small children
As they swing
Above twelve wooden cups
Twelve ostrich eggs
Sit in
Twelve huge roosters
Their beaks
Into those enamel shells
Which emit
Like a carillon
The short tones
Of a diatonic scale
Very quickly
Bottom to top
Top to bottom
And then
At random
A lullaby


On the beds
Of a lantern-lit hospital
A doctor
Playing the flute
Dead tubercular women
With rosy cheeks
In the light
Of an artificial moon
That shines
Into the blue eyes
Of the dead tubercular women
For so long
It hypnotizes them
They sit up
Hands outstretched
To the miraculous doctor
Plays the flute
And dances
On tiptoe
As if


On a trapeze
Between two trees
Swarming with bees
A naked woman
Tied at the ankles
While a drummer
And kisses
Her lips
Playing a drum
That sends off
These golden
Sparkling bees
Whose queen
Is the evening star
In the towering
Purple sky
Editor’s note: These poems are from Nezval’s collection The Absolute Gravedigger (1937), forthcoming from Twisted Spoon Press.

VÍTĚZSLAV NEZVAL (1900-1958) was perhaps the most prolific writer in Prague during the 1920s and ’30s. An original member of the avant-garde group of artists Devetsil (Nine Forces), he was a founding figure of the Poetist movement. His output consists of a number of poetry collections, experimental plays and novels, memoirs, essays, and translations. Nezval frequently traveled to Paris, engaging with the French surrealists. Forging a friendship with André Breton and Paul Eluard, he was instrumental in founding The Surrealist Group of Czechoslovakia in 1934.

About the Translators:

STEPHAN DELBOS is a New England-born writer living in Prague, where he teaches at Charles University and Anglo-American University. His poetry, essays, and translations have been published internationally. He is the editor of From a Terrace in Prague: A Prague Poetry Anthology (Litteraria Pragensia, 2011). His collection of visual poems, “Bagatelles for Typewriter,” was exhibited at Prague’s ArtSpace Gallery in 2012. His play, Chetty’s Lullaby, about jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, was produced in San Francisco. He is a founding editor of B O D Y.

TEREZA NOVICKÁ, a native of San Francisco, moved to the Czech Republic in 2000. Currently a student in the American Literature graduate program at Charles University in Prague, her projects include translating Czech films as well as poetry. She has translated a number of Czech and Slovak poets into English, including Ondřej Buddeus, Jan Těsnohlídek, Sylva Fischerová, Lenka Daňhelová, Martin Skýpala, Vlado Šimek, and Pavel Novotný.