Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Power of a Poem 10

Miroslav Holub, whose name always caught my ear because it was so exotic, has long been a favourite poet of mine. He was not only a poet and a writer but also a practising scientist in the field of immunology. Consequently, his poetry tends to be intellectual, hard-hitting and precise. M.H. was born in Plzen, in Western Bohemia(later called Czechoslovakia).

His dates are 1923 - 1998, so he lived a moderately long life. An aspect of literature that has always captivated me is the war-time experiences of the authors and how those experiences have shaped the works that they have written. So, having completed his secondary school studies, Miroslav Holub could not go on to university study (during the Nazi occupation, the Germans closed down Czech universities) and he worked as a labourer at a warehouse and at a railway station.

After the Second World War, Holub studied at Charles University in Prague, first at the Faculty of Natural Sciences, then from 1946 at the Faculty of Medicine. After this he became a notable immunologist and an international poet. In the Irish language revival we had a return to "caint na ndaoine"("the talk of the people")with the likes of An tAthair Peadar Ó Laoghaire, Pádraig Mac Piarais and Pádraig Ó Conaire.  Wordsworth sought to do the same with the language of English poetry - using the language of ordinary people. Together with S.T. Coleridge he wrote Lyrical Ballads (1798), in which they sought to use the language of ordinary people in poetry. 

Likewise Holub maintained that "only by capturing life around us we may be able to express its dynamicism, the immense developments, rolling on around us and within us."  This also meant that it was necessary to give up regular, rhymed and melodious poetry and to adopt irregular and free verse. This was the poetics of Holub's first collections, especially Denní sluzba (Day duty, 1958) and Achilees a zelva (Achilles and the tortoise, 1960), His later collections developed it further. The poem I would like to share with my readers is called The Door.  My father used always quote the old saying, "God never closes one door unless he opens another."  Opening a door is a very positive image or metaphor, letting the air of liberty and imagination in.

The Door

Go and open the door.
Maybe outside there's
a tree, or a wood,
a garden, or a magic city.

Go and open the door.
Maybe a dog's rummaging.
Maybe you'll see a face,
or an eye
or the picture
of a picture.

Go and open the door.
If there's fog
it will clear.

Go and open the door.
Even if there's only
the darkness singing,
even if there's only
the hollow wind,
even if nothing is there,
go and open the door.

At least
there'll be
a draught.

(translated by Ian Millner)

Above MH in a late photograph.

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