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Jaroslav Seifert’s Politics of the Pen
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Jaroslav Seifert’s Politics of the Pen

Picture of Lindsay Parnell
Updated: 25 January 2016
Just two years shy of his death, Jaroslav Seifert was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in recognition of his poetic contribution to modern literature. With a career extending over half of a century and boasting a resume of nearly 30 celebrated volumes of poetry, Lindsay Parnell argues that Seifert’s body of work is an inspiring philosophical and enlightening collection of verse.

Born and raised in Žižkov, a village on the outskirts of Prague, Seifert was aware from a young age of the ever-present economic and financial struggles of his family – circumstances that would significantly affect his writings and political affiliations throughout his life. As a young man, Seifert took an enthusiastic interest in the country’s political revolution, which resulted in his active involvement in Czechoslovakia’s Communist Party. Seifert served as both editor and contributor to various Communist funded publications. A dedicated journalist, Seifert’s poetry – fuelled by fervent political ideas – found its greatest inspiration in the revolution. Seifert’s early works are largely defined by the stirring revolutionary call to action, arousing creativity, innovation and enlightenment in his fellow countrymen. His publishing break came in 1921 with the release of his first full-length poetry collection, Město v slzách (City of Tears).

 

Whilst his work is largely praised for its political content, his technique as a poet is crisp and concise. Seifert’s style is marked by syntactic simplicity and utter clarity of diction. The author incorporates casual speech patterns with a poetic description of the everyday existence of humans. This fusion results in a language of warmness and fluidity—all of which brilliantly articulates Siefert’s personal convictions of the political and the philosophical.

 

From his early beginnings to his later works, Siefert’s poetry featured insightful reflections on a number of historical events in Czechoslovakian culture and history, including 1945’s uprising in Prague and Czechoslovakia’s oppression during the Munich Agreement. The political atmosphere in which Siefert was immersed significantly influenced his work. But much like his political ideas, his poetry experienced a similar departure of sorts in 1929: the year he abandoned the Communist Party. Seifert’s political exodus manifested itself in his poetry, specifically through the theme of individuality. The poet explored this notion through an examination of reigning tyrannical government. Within this political structure, Siefert explored the boundaries of human impulse and existence—how and why humans create, desire, communicate and grieve. Defining the human experience within the often oppressive realm of the political, Siefert’s impassioned later poems explicitly suggested it is the state that should serve its people, not vice versa. Seifert’s poetic efforts produced around that time are very much marked by a rejection of war and domineering regimes. Leaving the Communist party also marked Seifert’s desertion of the bold brashness and supposed brilliance of youth explored in his early poems. His maturity as a writer was brought about by the economic and political instability in Czechoslovakia. Instead of rousing calls to action, his verse consisted of a sensually crafted retrospective of Czechoslovakia’s history, culture and people. He also paid a special tribute to renowned Czechoslovakian authors and artists – people who greatly inspired his work.

 

Following a life of active political involvement and poetry, Seifert spent time serving as the Czechoslovakia Writer’s Union’s official chairman from 1968 to 1970. His body of work not only epitomizes a multidisciplinary approach to literature, but also literature as the voice of revolution.

 

By Lindsay Parnell