Translated by Susan Reynolds Introduction by Susan Reynolds. Kytice was inspired by Erben’s love of Slavonic myth and the folklore surrounding such. – ČTENÁŘSKÝ DENÍK: Holoubek (Kytice) (2) (Karel Jaromír Erben) – Žena, která otrávila svého muže, se prochází po hřbitově, když vtom jede okolo pohledný mladík. Kytice (celá kniha / e-book). The Bouquet – Kytice – e-kniha proslul sbírkou Kytice z pověstí národních, vydanou poprvé roku a Je to jediná sbírka básní, kterou K. J. Erben vy- dal.
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Broadcast in English Broadcast Archive. Today we look at a Czech poet who is one of the icons of 19th century Czech literature, Karel Jaromir Erben. I’m going to be talking to someone who kygice a great deal about Erben, Susan Reynolds, who is curator of Czech and Slovak literature at the British Library in London. She has recently completed the first ever full English translation of Erben’s most famous work, “Kytice” or “The Bouquet”.
We’ll start with the opening few lines of “The Water-Goblin”. Just to put it into context, these are some of the most famous lines in Czech poetry. Every Czech school child at the age of about ten will learn these lines by heart:.
On a poplar by the pool The Goblin sat at twilight cool: For myself new boots I’m sewingOn dry land and water going: Glow, moon, glow, That my erbem may sew. Coat of green and boots of redFor tomorrow I’ll be wed: Those really are very famous lines.
Czechs of any age will probably be able to recite them from memory. Can you tell me what the poem is about? You can always tell a “vodnik”, a water-goblin, if you see him on dry land because he wears a green frock-coat and there’s always a kyice of water dripping from his left coat-tail. In some versions – in some folk-tales that Erben collected elsewhere – he’s quite a comical, genial figure, but this one is slightly more sinister.
He’s lonely and he wants a wife, as these interesting introductory lines say. The girl on whom he has set his sights is completely unsuspecting. She lives by the lake with her old mother, and suddenly she feels compelled to go down to the lake and wash her clothes. Her mother has had a bad dream in which she dresses the girl in white and gives her a string of pearls. And this she interprets as a presage of bad news.
But the girl will not listen to her mother’s warnings, and off she goes to the lake. Just as she’s dipping her first dress into the water, the bridge collapses and she falls in – into a whirlpool – and then we see the goblin under his tree, clapping his hands ktice delight.
Susan Reynolds “Then the scene shifts, and we find ourselves in the goblin’s underwater kingdom, and there, by the gates of the palace, he’s mending his fishing nets, while his wife sits at his side, rocking their baby in her arms. And the baby – to show that he’s a true little water-goblin – has green hair.
Susan Reynolds and the music of Karel Jaromír Erben’s poetry
The girl is homesick for her mother; her only light is her child. She sings sadly of how she wishes she was up on kbiha land in a grave rather than egben there. Finally she pleads and pleads with her husband to let her go just once more to visit her mother.
After a great deal of procrastination he finally says that she may for one day, but when the bells ring out for Vespers she must come straight home again. But once she’s back again, and has a joyful reunion with her mother, her mother won’t let her go. The water-goblin comes to claim his bride, the mother angrily refuses to let her daughter out.
He comes back repeatedly – three times – and finally, as a great storm roars over the waters, there’s a great thud on the doorstep.
The old mother opens the door and there lies a terrible sight: On the lake the storm is shrieking; In the storm the child screams shrill; Screams that pierce the soul with anguish, Then they suddenly fall still.
At those cries my blood will freeze— Mother mine, oh, dearest mother, Fear of him my heart does fill! Something fell—beneath the doorway Moisture trickles—tinged with red.
When the old one went to open, What she saw filled her with dread. In their blood, two objects lying Sent cold terror through her flying: Baby’s head—without a body; Tiny body—with no head. This is pretty melodramatic stuff. Can you explain what’s going on here, why Erben was writing this sort of thing at the time, exactly years ago? He had spent many years working as an archivist in the city of Prague exploring many ancient historical documents, which gave him a strong sense of Czech history, of the country’s past greatness and its future potential.
But it would be a mistake to see him only as a pedant. He was a deeply musical man. He had given music lessons in his youth and he went around very widely collecting all kinds of folk-songs and ballads, stories and local knihq. He firmly believed that music came first and the words to these ballads came later.
But among the ballads he found, there were some that seemed to him incomplete. Erbeb got him wondering how he could use them. Could he perhaps fit in the bits that seemed to be missing?
Susan Reynolds and the music of Karel Jaromír Erben’s poetry | Radio Prague
The full title of “Kytice” reveals that it’s a collection of motifs ‘from Czech ballads and songs’. In this case it’s a bridegroom who comes back from beyond the grave to claim his girl, and she follows him to the grave and beyond it. Here’s a short extract from the end the poem.
This is where the girl has been carried away by her bridegroom, who, because she has prayed to the Virgin Mary to return him at any price, has come from beyond the grave. They travel together over hill, over dale and through the marshes until they come to his palace, which to her horror is a church surrounded by a graveyard full of crosses.
Here she takes to her heels and hides in the mortuary chapel, which is already occupied by a corpse. As the bridegroom calls this dead man to rise and let the girl out, she prays fervently. Three times this happens. And now we’ve reached the climax:. Give me that living girl, I say! Oh, poor, poor girl! For at those words He rises one more time—the third; His great dim eyes roll in his head, Upon the girl, with fright half-dead. I prayed a prayer that was not fitting: Forgive the sin I was committing!
Oh, free me, Mary, Mother of grace From the evil forces in this place. And close by, in the hamlet, hear— A cock begins to crow, quite near, And from the village all around Whole companies of cocks resound. The corpse, as he had risen before, Suddenly sprawled upon the floor, And all was quiet outside the room— The crowd had fled—and her evil groom.
As folk are going to early mass, They stand astonished as they pass: Up there, one grave is gaping wide, and in the dead-house stands a bride, and, upon every burial mound, shreds of new shirts are scattered round.
Maiden, you showed good sense indeed, To think on God in time of need, And from your evil groom were freed! If you’d tried any other means, Terrible would your end have been: Your graceful body, white and pure, Would have been like those shirts, for sure!
Kniha: Kytice – Karel Jaromír Erben
This must have been very difficult to translate, because you’ve got the metre, you’ve got the rhyme, you’ve got kyitce idiom which is very much of its time – of the 19th century. How did you manage to get all this into English? Well, I think if I’d been more expert when I started with the first of the poems, “The Golden Spinning Wheel”which is over lines long, I would probably never have dared to start. But I’d never had an experience like this, when I had been translating before.
It was a kind of organic process, knniha having finished the first I could go on and do the others, but every single one is in a different metre, a different rhyme-scheme, which I did my very best to preserve, because Erben was an extremely musical man and I felt it was important to preserve the music of the words.
It’s almost impossible in English to preserve the stresses precisely, because Czech stresses the first syllable of the word. This we can’t do in English, where many lines of poetry begin with a weak up-beat rather than a strong down-beat.
But I did what Kytixe could with this. Again, the Czech vowel sounds are much more open than English and the music of the words cannot always be rendered precisely, so I had to find the nearest equivalent, or at least something which I think Erben would have recognized as something musical in a different language, but still keeping the rhyme-schemes, keeping the metres, keeping the essential music of his poetry.
The rhythmical process helped quite a lot. Often I’d find I’d get stuck and getting up and walking around actually helped it! I have a kytide here from another well-known 19th century Czech writer, Jan Neruda, who wrote of Erbben – and I’ll paraphrase what he wrote here:. He is a poet of antique calm. He is a lyrical poet, who is neither ergen nor reflexive, but is an objective creator And Neruda continues in the same egben.
This is probably a slight exaggeration, isn’t it?
Erben was right up there with many modern authors, but also some of his contemporaries and people like Homer at the knlha level.
The reason why he’s not better known in the outside world, of course, is the notorious difficulty of translating poetry, and I’m hoping that when – as we hope next year – these poems are going to be published in translation, this will do something to make him wider known in the rest of the world, as he deserves to be.
We’ll end with another of the poems from “Kytice” – “The Bouquet”. This is called “The Wild Dove”. Another suitor comes along and they get married, but gradually it is revealed that her first husband’s death was not accidental.
In fact she poisoned him. Time is flying, flying, Nothing’s as before; What was not, is coming, What was, is no more.
Time is flying, flying; Hours, years, have their term; One thing never changes: Guilt alone stands firm. Three years he’s been lyingThe dead man, in his grave; On the mound that marks it Fresh green grasses wave. On the mound, grasses; At his head, a young oak grows; On that young oak-tree sits A small dove, white as snow.
There it sits, there it sits With its plaintive coo; Everyone who hears it feels His heart kjiha break in two.