The Nobel Prize in Literature 1984
Life taught me long ago
that music and poetry
are the most beautiful things on earth
that life can give us.
Except for love, of course.
In an old textbook
published by the Imperial Printing House
in the year of Vrchlický's death
I looked up the section on poetics
and poetic ornament.
Then I placed a rose in a tumbler,
lit a candle
and started to write my first verses.
Flare up, flame of words,
even if my fingers get burned!
A startling metaphor is worth more
than a ring on one's finger.
But not even Puchmajer's Rhyming Dictionary
was any use to me.
In vain I snatched for ideas
and fiercely closed my eyes
in order to hear that first magic line.
But in the dark, instead of words,
I saw a woman's smile and
That has been my destiny.
And I've been staggering towards it breathlessly
all my life.
"To Be a Poet" from The Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert
Translated from the Czech by Ewald Osers
Edited by George Gibian
Copyright © 1998 by Ewald Osers and George Gibian
Used by permission of Catbird Press
All rights reserved
Poem selected by Carola Hermelin, assistant head
Nobel Library of the Swedish Academy.