Nová Říše 20 Dec. 1894
Art is a cult to me; what a pleasure to sing one’s soul during the feast of the Unknown! Art is not a toy for the children’s hands of a crowd. I despise a banal song, I cry out along with Carducci: I want a high, aristocratic art for the chosen ones. Let others tend to the crowd and its entertainment. I’m fine with that. I’m never insulted to hear “Your poems are hard to understand. What did you mean by that? Your art isn’t useful. It doesn’t encourage, it doesn’t lead to action. It’s useless, it’s curious, it does not appeal to the masses. The artist has a different task.” And all such comments that rain down on me from all the newspapers when I publish my work. It doesn’t offend me, it doesn’t concern me; I write for my brethren, for those who feel and think like me, the unknown and rare readers who sit pensively over my book with a longing to forget. And it is to them that I provide a dose of pleasure that I have received, a moment of sweetness that arises when souls escape the shackles, free, breathing in all the rays that it radiates, all the scents, colours, tones, desires and pains. For in art, even pain, captured devoutly and fervently, is sweet.
I would write this as a preface to my work if my artistic pride did not see in it an excuse from fear of harsh judgment.
Otokar Březina: “Correspondence I”, Brno, Host 2004, pp. 294–295.
O mournful graveyard where slumber the souls of the Mighty,
Where gleaming shadows, in a throng, wander age upon age to their tombs,
The glow of mystical fires, like a polar radiance
Flings its reflection to thy portals!
Like a sleep-walker I approach the garden of thy splendours,
Whither night, like a gulf of black oceans is shed
Upon a field of perished blossoms, that, clad in bluish lustre
Burns like livid phosphorus.
Time has stretched as a drab woof upon the sorrow of the silence,
The quivering of mute words, the vapour of quenched passions;
The sighing of a dead multitude rise oppressive from thy soil
And fill thine atmosphere with decay.
O Eternal, speak, durst I, unclean with the longing of my blood,
Declaim to thee my quiet mass, where thy metal shrine is upraised
Above a marble city, before a small altar,
Under some vault aloof?
And drench in the wine of ecstasy the bread of life
Upon the table of sacrifice, where, beneath the roses of my dreams,
And beneath the glitter of missals, are hidden
The hallowed reliquies of thy dead?
Or, by the pressure of my weak hands,
Shall thy body, a grape-cluster, yield its miraculous blood to a golden chalice,
And with the lustre of angels wilt though kindle my gaze,
Whose birth-place is in the dusk?
And in the penthouse of griefs whiten my countenance to snow-whiteness:
I will burn my sorrow till it become a fragrant and grateful incense
At a fire of rhythm in song to thee!
In white blossoms I will strew the foam of bliss, that love in its ferment flings,
Upon the purple of carpets to thee,
And the bliss of maidenly bodies, where fragrance slumbers,
Moulded bosom-shaped in alabaster,
I will thrust forth my soul in a glowing pillar to heaven,
I will sink to rest in the coffin of my power, as in a metal sheath;
Till, clutched by the Mystery, like a smitten priest,
I will kneel down before thy altars.
Otokar Březina: Básnické spisy [Poetic Writings], Prague: Československý spisovatel, 1975, “Tajemné dálky” (The Mystic Distances), pp. 49–50.
Hidden springs were playing music and my day its song thereto was chanting,
On the melancholy shores.
The grief of bygone life, from whence I came was wafted to me from the fragrance,
And from the converse of the trees and from the heavy drone of insects o’er the waters,
And there lay whole centuries, betwixt my hands, that blossoms plucked, and them
Betwixt my countenance and a mystic world.
That in a thousand questioning glances in my spirit mutely gazed.
The clouds grew dim as sank the sun, and of the winds my spirit asked,
Are the clouds approaching hither, or are they departing hence?
The winds were mute, in a submissive mirror on themselves the waters looked,
And the stars, like waning fires in frigid waves of gleaming oceans,
Seethed and murmured over me, invisible:
The light is dying only at the advent of a light still greater,
Of a light still greater, greater.
Otokar Březina: Básnické spisy (Poetic Writings), Prague: Československý spisovatel, 1975, Větry od pólů (The Winds from the Poles), p. 114.
Night softly sang, murmur of early grass and springtide rains
Mingled its music with melancholy of her strains;
On high the stars, radiant calyces unbounded.
Breathed heavy scent of herbage unknown to earthly soil,
And my brethren’s hands, crossed as in death upon their breast,
Lay in stillness and delusion like unto a stone oppressed,
Smitten with toil.
But their spirit-hands to reach unto the starts were braced,
Myriad souls upon the earth and in all worlds they enlaced
And a long sigh of joyous awakenings,
A deathless town’s solemn throes,
Rustling of spirit-wings, winds at play in mystical seeding-ground,
Unseen orchestras’ intoning sound,
Moving in tune with their secret gesture arose.
(English translations from Selver, Paul. An Anthology of Modern Bohemian Poetry. London: Henry J. Drane, 1912)
Otokar Březina: Básnické spisy (Poetic Writings, Prague: Československý spisovatel, 1975. Ruce (Hands), p. 197.