The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 2/Otokar Březina
The Meaning of the Struggle.
Otokar Březina. Translated by Jar. Císař.
Otokar Brezina, whose real name is Vaclav Jebavy, is the greatest living Czech poet. He was born in 1868, and since 1895, when his first poems were published, he has given to his countrymen a large number of books of a mystic and symbolic character. He is the poet of the elect souls. He is a deep student not of poetry only, but of philosophy fom Plato down to today. Modern French and English poetry has influenced him greatly, especially Shelly, Keats, Wordsworth, Whitman, Mallarme, Verlaine, Przybyszewski, Maeterlinck.
Brezina created the new Czech verse, free, rhythmic and wondrously musical. He is a mystic who wants to get at the substance of things. The relation of the eternal to the passing, of life beyond to this life, the mysteious maturing of the soul through pain for the great end to which it is destined, the deep mystery of death and what lies beyond it, such are some of the subjects of his poems.
We shall bring in our next issue an essay on Brezina fom the pen of his able translator, Mr. Jaroslav Císař, secretary to Professor Masaryk.
New conquerors, unknown to the masses but advancing in all parts of the world, came among nations, invisible and omnipresent. Their ships meet in all harbors and on all seas; like over the maps of battlefields their countenance bends over continents amidst the oceans. They estimate future harvest under the burning suns of all zones; they know the wealth of all coal-strata, iron-mountains, gold-bearing waers, deposits of copper and tin; into primeval forests and tropical deserts resounds the cannonade of the continual warfare in which like hunters they encircle their prey. Unaware of it, all nations are in their bondage; invisible, they sit in the councils of all princes; those vanquished by them die in hiding as if stricken by a mysterious disease which slowly consumes their life; but their subtlest victories are those in which invisible blows, coming from the luminous infinities of spirit and ideas, cover all horizons with dead. Each step of their way and their dreamings is myteriously followed by slaves on both hemispheres. Even creative spirits, inventors, conquerors of the elements, artists, are hired to work in their fields. Him who has conquered the Earth even the Sun seems to serve, like a jealous overseer of the work of the clouds and the winds.
But every force like a cry striking into the very depths of life is waking thousands of dormant forces. Against this power, on which the hands of the dead were working for ages, and whose only tragical beauty lies in the fact that thru it for the first time man embraced the whole earth by the burning net of his will, against this power there is rising just as mysterious, omnipresent an enemy. The masses, for thousands of years the humble bestowers of splendour and of bread, have moved. In the first shudders of horror that comes with every new truth we are beginning to realize that all our sorrows and joys are shared by beings whom we do not see all our life, and that we are being struck by blows without knowing the hand which is dealing them out. The mystery of unity is glowing from the depths of matter; distance ceases to exist; the sorrow through which we realize our omnipresence on the Earth is transformed into a natural force working on the transformation of all life. The spirit enslaved in the service of he conquerors is rising against them. In the most fiery focus of the economic and social struggle spiritual matters are decided, a new relation of the heart to millions of hearts, a new vision of joy and beauty. A new man is announced on the earth. The landlord looking over his fields sees before him all oceans and continents, with all the chains of mountains, treasures, brotherly nations and cities. In the depths of spirit there is already prepared for him his kingdom and a new order of things; and from the fact that the inner truth in the millions of human beings is different from the truth of visible reality, grief is born, and the disquieting beauty of the present. Man trembles before the horizons that open before him at every step of his hallucination; he is frightened by the majestic silence in which the cry of his astonishment is lost without answer; he trembles, unwonted, before the gales that bring to him the song of all seas, suddenly opened, the voice of all metropoles, harbors and workshops, as well as the scents that rise from the primeval forests and are drifting over the equatorial lakes. Like at a sudden ascent, his breath is stopped in the sweet wafting of ether that strikes his countenance from the motion of the earth. For ages brought up in distrust and struggle, he trembles before the unexpected contact of millions of spirits, whose burning presence he is beginning to feel even in the depths of his being, where his most secret thoughts expected to be alone. He is closing his eyes, but against his will the irritating light of the sun is penetrating thru his closed eyelids. Where his horizon was bordered by the mountains of his native land, he sees the sparkling mirrors of distant rivers and the continents behind the oceans. The whirl winds, circling around the Earth, carry the glowing sparks of burning distant cities on the roof of his house. The silence of jails and scaffolds penetrates the glowing interior of the Earth before reaching him. The clatter of falling beams of the collapsing scaffoldnig of the mysterious structure, and the blows of the axes gives him no sleep. The night has been changed into the confused cries of those who ask and of those who answer from an immense distance. But the passion for life was never so tragically powerful, nor has it ever seized the nations in waves so violent—never before has the illusion of life appeared more dazzling to the disinherited, the gift of breath and of passion more magnificent, the body richer and more wonderful, the grapes that ripen in the sun sweeter and more desirable. As if all the gleamings of the beyond had filled the world and now were sparkling from waters, from the trees and blossoms, from the clouds and from the eyes. But with the same force with which there is growing in nations the passion for the Earth, there grows the knowledge that without the co-operation of the millions, nobody will taste the fruits of her hidden orchards. The highest joy of the Earth, the intoxication of the victory of a brotherly power, the joy over the joy of brethren, remains unknown and inaccessible. The human body was moulded by the past; whole regions of his senses, turned into the night of the cosmos, were not yet reached by our light; the sensibility for the higher forms of love, which would become conscious of the joy of all as of its own, has remained undeveloped. Like before the denizens of another world, the multitudes withdraw in anguish before the sweet will of the saints, whose hearts like fruit on the sunny side of the orchard had ripened earlier than the hearts of the multitudes. To the child, to the woman and to the people is turned the hope of the race. It is necessary to enlarge the body in the region of the subconscious, to make it more spiritual, purer, more resonant and clairvoyant. With a painful instinct, which expresses the mysterious law of growth on the Earth, man is beginning to realize that everything which tends to change our management of material things, everything that tends to strength, purity, gentleness and the freedom of the senses is a spiritual effort, a struggle for beauty, the last struggle on the earth, pointing into an unbounded future.
In this work for the new man art has for ages been engaged; sweetly and submissively as the sun, or passion and death. Thtat which is visible to the creative spirit, is visible only in the light which is emanating from the higher life of the cosmos. In the fairy tales of the days gone by, in the myths, in the secret science a well as in the dreams which are so subtle and unbelievable that it was necessary to create a new language of symbols, music and forms, to enable us merely to indicate them, art has for centuries kept alive the hope of the conquest of the elements by the kindly power of the spirit. Omnipresent in its deep longing for splendor, like a gardener under all suns it has planted new gardens for the lovers, and on the same looms it wove women’s garments and garbs of divine worship. It has not stopped even before death, and from the lips compressed in her silence it longed to guess the answer. It was the omnipresent author of festivals, the architect of the illusion of life, the master of silence, into which can be heard the rustle of stars; it was the creator of sorrows, and a bitter critic of the Earth.
But the creation of beauty is not confined to the works preserved in books, pictures, sculptures and edifices. It lies in the whole plan of life; it is an omnipresent sensitiveness to the magnetic poles of the spiritual earth, and the creation of a language is equally a work of art as is the creation of a kingdom. In every man there is constantly active a hidden artist; in the sparkling of the moments like under the lightnings of a creative chisel he works on the unity of personality. The life of the hero, and the saint, like every work of art, grows out of inspiration, which means a decision in the higher sphere of life, where death is not counted upon, and out of the hard way of the will, hypnotized by the radiance of the aim. The dream of the lover, prisoner, sailor, or the northener and the believer is a poem, and not less so that it was sung in silence. The unceasing soring tide of love is changing into music the movements of the bodies of maidens, and the counties, nameless actors and creators of new gestures are discovering, with out knowing it, new plastic symbols for the cosmic language of the will. Unknown musicians are transforming the language, and women, bent over the cradle of children, are seeking always more perfect kisses in the creative discontent of their love.
Nothing, however, is subordinate for the creative spirit; things and beings penetrate by their invisible radiations into the hidden places where our work is being born. Our thoughts are colored by the softness of white clouds, by all the flowers of the meadows, by the blood of the roses, and like the grain they are sifted on the glowing sieves of the rays of the sun. The sweet violence of springtides, the touching purity of azures, the secret language of colors, the glory of the waters, mountains, infinities, are constantly at work in our subconsciousness, and nourish in us superhuman longings. The rarest ethereal component, of our every inhalation refreshens the roots of our heart, wearied by the heavy sap of the Earth. Every word which has fallen in to the depths of our soul (and the fall takes years sometimes) inevitably, by a law as old as the beginning of the worlds, is struggling to become flesh. But the road from a new dream to its metamorphosis into a gesture and into the sacrifice of life is difficult and painful, as it is necessary to tract it far from the roads of ages and in the bread we eat there slumbers the sun of the year that passed. But even the trembling, weak and uncertain dream becomes as violent as a cyclone, if flashed at the same time in millions of hearts. The multitudes have moments when it seems that they precipitately fall thousands of years backwards, but they also have gleamings of anxiety, and a warning instinct of danger which lays hidden behind the horizon, when they become more clairvoyant than the seers, and when they are able to decide for justice as terrible and incomprehensible as nature.
Where the life of the people ceases to be creative in the sphere of the beautiful, it is a sign that the people are suffering be yond their strength. The slavery which deprives work of its joy and leaves its captives return into their lairs exhausted, with eyes that have lost their lustre, which lays waste the beauty of women, makes mother hood a thing to be feared, and which transforms the red of the morning into incendiary, works toward the destruction of the species. For beauty in all sphere is born from kisses and the wealth of a free embrace; the slave, who has lost all faith in his liberation has no more strength to see or create beauty. Beauty is a blossom from the surplus of ascending life, a denial of death; it is the road to the mysterious South of the Sun, always aglow, more passionate generations, more spiritual azure, deeper nights, more brilliant stars, of lighter gait, hardly touching the Earth but governing all her laws, the greatest amount of energy with the smallest loss; it is the silent unbelievable certainty, the only certainty to be found on this earth, atremble by all suns, an endless smile which, seen form the Earth, has in its sweet radiance always a certain melancholy, but even then makes us feel the enormous silence of some inexpressible splendor.
WHERE HAVE I HEARD?
Otokar Březina. Translated by Jar. Císař.
The windows of night hast thou opened, O Opener! A mysterious draught has thence blown,
And the wings of my strongest thought it carried from the reach of my sight.
In a vertigo, as if the centuries of whirl of the Earth in the twilight of worlds
Had awakened in my soul, the presence of another life I felt.
From Earth to Earth and from Sun to Sun the silence was falling in ponderous blows,
And in its echo a new silence arose from my depths, a silence different from the silence of Earth:
By the breathing of thousands it seethed, by centuries of kisses, by the overpowering silence of hearts that ceased to throb,
By the flight of all dead and all future wings, by the eternal symphonies of rays of light,
By the melancholy ringing of rains, which, fertile, are falling into the centuries of harvests.
The outcries of dreamings, that are afraid of the morning, and by the mystical converse of fragrances.
Like the storms of the seas that have been, it trembled in the orchestra of lightnings to come,
The last cadences of songs that have died it linked with the beginning of songs still resounding.
The mute questions of lips that have ceased asking!
The gaze of the eyes in the ecstasise of death fixed in the distance, athirst!
The opressive silences of the mysterious suggestions of passion, that in pain are ripening for future blossomings,
And leading nations thru the midnight of ages, in the bloody reflexes of northern lights;
The words composed of the vibrations of livid lights, in earthly thoughts that are dying,
And inner voices that in the depths of the spirit, inaudible, are answering
The joy of the souls of all worlds and the smiles of the new May!
The intoxication of all future dreams, that will bloom in the fiery rainbows In the new Suns on the clouds of thy immortal breath!
Eternal whirl of silent lightnings, transmitting the commands of thy holy will
From the mystery of the world hidden to eyes, into the world of the colors that die!
O Eternal! In that moment, when my hands helplessly sank, feeble with love,
My own life I saw, changed by an unknown light;
Pale twinkling of colors, springing from the icy flowers of my windows,
Had melted under thy fiery breath, and in the splendor of thy gardens my gaze went afrenzy.
And still, O my Father! where have I heard the voice of thy silence, that it’s so well known to me?
Where have I seen the beauty of thy gardens, that I recognize the taste of their fragrance?
And the glow of thy gaze, that lulled my soul to this sleep, to wake her into this dreaming?
On my lips there is still burning the sweetness of thy grapes and the kisses of thy brotherly souls.
The festival of thy chimes is falling into my dreams and makes me dream of music,
While the morning sign of thy messenger is reflected into my dreaming as a premonition of death.
Thy sweet remembrance remained in my soul, like the fragrant darkness after a quenched light,
And its warmth is passing thru my blood, as though a hand beloved was holding my hand at night when I slumber,
And by the ardor of a long pressure made me dream of love.
The midnight of thy mystical moon is luring my song, in dreamings to wander in dangers,
And like the stones that are glowig at night, thru the mystery of thy daily lights beauty is breathing to me;
And my soul, speechless with love, is talking its language of old.
The night fell asleep in the ripening fields. Confidingly from on high the stars were shining.
Of dawn the fragrances whispered, its familiar voice assumed the silence,
Of the Sun the apple trees dreamt, of the pure meeting of souls were dreaming the rose-buds,
And my soul, languished and happy, of Home.
Otokar Březina. Translated by Jar. Císař.
Hidden springs were playing music and my day its song thereto was chanting
On the melancholy shores.
The woe of life gone by, whence I had come, was wafted to me from the fragrances,
And from the converse of the trees and from the heavy ringing of insects over the waters;
And whole centuries there lay between my hand, that blossoms plucked, and then,
etween my countenance and the mystical world
That in thousands of questioning glances into my soul so silently gazed.
The clouds have dimmed the setting sun. And of the winds my soul inquired:
Are those approaching or receding clouds?
The winds were hushed, smooth like submissive mirrors the waters became?,
And the stars, like waning fires in the cold waves of gleaming oceans,
Seethed and whispered over me, invisible:
Light dies only at the advent of greater light,
Of a greater, greater light.
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This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1929, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 93 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.