when she would talk about herself
my mother would say:
My life was sad and quiet,
I always walked on tip-toe.
But if I got a little angry
and stamped my foot
the cups, which had been my mother’s,
would tinkle on the dresser
and make me laugh.
At the moment of my birth, so I am told,
a butterfly flew in by the window
and settled on my mother’s bed,
but that same moment a dog howled in the yard.
My mother thought
it a bad omen.
My life of course has not been quite
as peaceful as hers.
But even when I gaze upon our present days
as if at empty picture frames
and all I see is a dusty wall,
still it has been so beautiful.
There are many moments
I cannot forget,
moments like radiant flowers
in all possible colours and hues,
evenings filled with fragrance
like purple grapes
hidden in the leaves of darkness.
With passion I read poetry
and loved music
and blundered, ever surprised,
from beauty to beauty.
But when I first saw
the picture of a woman nude
I began to believe in miracles.
My life unrolled swiftly.
It was too short
for my vast longings,
which had no bounds.
Before I knew it
my life’s end was drawing near.
Death soon will kick open my door
With startled terror I’ll catch my breath
and forget to breathe again.
May I not be denied the time
once more to kiss the hands
of the one who patiently and in step with me
walked on and on and on
and who loved most of all.
“Autobiography” 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
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