Vítězslav Nezval

Editor’s note: This poem is excerpted from Woman in the Plural (Twisted Spoon Press, 2021).


I greet your gliding flight O wings of death
But there are other signs too

I went walking with my girlfriend last night
In a marshy landscape
Which is what I call a few freshly plowed fields
Just outside the city
It was swampland once
The sky on certain days is also swamp
Autumn was on its way

We walked like that for an hour
And it was as beautiful as forgetting
The world and your own self
As beautiful as forgetting that you were alive
And I felt terrible like a drowned man being resuscitated
When my girlfriend spoke
I felt terrible like a drowned man who’d forgotten he had ever lived

Luckily her words were vague
She said
I feel sad
And then
How terrible the roads that end in fields
And also
I dread distant lights
Those uncertain and distant graveyard lights
And then
How sad it is to look into windows where people are eating dinner

I owed her a reply
Like a wet leaf owes a spark
Like a trumpet owes the evening
Like a cobwebbed mirror owes a candle
Like withering wax owes a ring
I owed her a reply and so we now walked in silence

Suddenly I felt
But just for a moment
That the earth had spun away from its orbit and was falling
I was falling along with the entire landscape
I was falling
Still walking on firm ground
I was falling feeling vertigo
That was not vertigo
I was falling like a tower that sees its birds take flight
I was falling like a man whose memory leaves him
I was falling with no pain
I was falling like the cindery fall of a glowing cigar
I was falling like a burning sheet of paper that consumes a poem
I was falling like a swingboat
I was falling like a drop into snow
Like a bell into a lake
Like a child into an eiderdown
Like a nut on a bolt
I was falling feeling no impact
I was falling with the entire landscape with its invisible swamp

I was falling but it was just a feeling of forgetting
Reality faded quietly dissipating
Like July on a rooster’s head
Like the resin of a dying star
Like a midnight fly
Like a telegram in a forest
Like a China of November snowdrifts
Like the smile of dew at noon
I was falling like Earth falls in its flight through space

I greet your gliding flight O wings of death
Those who resisted it
Have purple faces
Have bloodshot eyes like a withering grape leaf
Have terrible scars on their brow
Have fingernails digging into their palm lines
Have hair standing on end
Have a wooden tongue and petrified limbs
O let me put myself into her hands
Like the ailing to narcosis
Like the wounded to a surgeon’s scalpel
Like weary eyes to sleep
Like a woman’s womb to hot semen
Like my hands to my thoughts
Adrift like mutable clouds over the chaotic land

VÍTĚZSLAV NEZVAL (1900–58) was the leading Czech avant-garde writer of perhaps the entire 20th century. A founding member of both Devětsil in 1920 and the Surrealist Group in Czechoslovakia in 1934 (the first such group outside of France), Nezval’s oeuvre consists of numerous poetry collections, experimental plays and novels, memoirs, essays, and translations. In addition to The Absolute Gravedigger, his most important work includes Pantomime, Prague with Fingers of Rain, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, and A Prague Flâneur. Along with Karel Teige, Jindřich Štyrský, and Toyen, Nezval frequently visited Paris and forged ties with the French Surrealists. He served as editor of the Czech group’s journal Surrealismus.

About the Translators:

STEPHAN DELBOS is the Poet Laureate of Plymouth, Massachusetts. His poetry, essays and translations have been published internationally. His translations from Czech include The Absolute Gravedigger (2016) and Woman in the Plural (2021) by Vítězslav Nezval and Paris Notebook (2020) by Tereza Riedlbauchová. He is the author of the poetry collections Light Reading (2018) and Small Talk (2021).

TEREZA VEVERKA NOVICKÁ is a Czech California-born literary translator whose translations of Czech and Slovak poets into English, such as Ondřej Buddeus, Sylva Fischerová, Nóra Ružičková, Olga Pek, and Jan Škrob, have appeared in a number of periodicals. Her most recent translations include The Absolute Gravedigger (2016) by Vítězslav Nezval, translated with Stephan Delbos, Aviaries (2019) by Zuzana Brabcová, and the monograph Ludvík Šváb: Tidy Up After I Die (2019).