The Talking Zone

Translated from Czech by Alex Zucker and Zuzana Říhová.

O empty sarcophagus of the European coast and ramparts!
The idea of your remains still lives on in young people.
They still say: my body, my soul.
One defending the senses, the other the concept, as in the medieval debates.
Both buffeted by an old vision of hell and heaven in which they don’t believe.
O empty sarcophagus of the European interior and coast!
Sink deep into the sediment of rivers and seas,
Sink into the rising tide of human generations!
O seas, O elements,
bring to the mainland shores new people,
new weapons, ornaments, customs, new faiths!

O youngsters, scorn us, the old!
Saying: they were foolish, unreasonable,
how could they have made such mistakes?
Look at our weakness, our folly!
How sweetly then will I warm myself in your sunshine, O eternal youth!
I will not be content until you properly mock my, as they say, hoary head.
Then I can smile contentedly into my beard.
The sharper and more merciless your mockery, the more content I will be.
I will recognize my own youth,
feel again my scorn for the past,
forget my indulgence for grown-up life.
Again I will grumble,
not even the bliss of love will reconcile me with the world!
Again I will hear my own words,
which all my life I have tried to adapt to adults.
Again I will think:
go rummage around in your old junk, it’s our turn now!
Give us freedom, freedom, freedom!
Never, O youngsters, look up to older people!
Have no fear, you alone are right!
Should you wish to escape from your elders’ supervision,
should you wish to do something they forbid,
have no fear!
One day you will wring your hands over your own foolish acts,
one day you will admit the old people were right,
but by then you will be old.
Should you lose your elders’ praise in the course of youthful adventure,
no need to blush!
Only youthful foolishness can make of you a hero.
We all have the need to be a hero once in life.
Should you not choose it as a profession, at least be one in your youth!
O young heroes,
I am warmed at the sight of your strapping bodies, your rebellious minds.
Your clumsiness promises much for the future.
Go ahead and be wild, courageous!
Leave it to the old brains to worry about the future!
Future? What future?
The future of your old age.
Don’t try to tell those children they will be old!
Run, swing, go wild!
Let the old folks say it is all silliness.
What are you to worship? The monuments of the past?
Over the past of stone columns, stone slabs,
Over the past of pestilential wounds and world wars,
Over the past soar the swings.
The shopkeepers call out to children, young men, young women.
To make money, you need youth.
The merry-go-round spins around, the swings soar over the past,
up, down, around.
Fly high above those stony threats,
up over the town square! higher than the linden tops!
Don’t listen to grown-ups’ warnings!
Don’t listen to the music from the doorway,
where they shout that you’ll turn to dust and ashes.
Listen to the shopkeeper’s song, the song of the swing:
I sing, and that’s enough.
High up in the air the distant cities speak.
High up in the air they speak a foreign language.
O learn to understand the language on the air!
Can you hear it? It’s swinging and laughing.
Learn it, young man, no girl will be able to resist you!
Another language sprays the air with live rounds,
learn to avoid it,
learn the language of the great philosophers and comedians!
Now some familiar words are on the air!
It isn’t our language and yet it’s related.
O learn to understand the air!
The mystery of the earth and sea is absorbed in its clouds.
The mystery of the universe streams through its space.
Throw away the old collections of minerals and eggs!
Aren’t you tired of those old shooting galleries?
Up above the city square!
I sing, and that’s enough!
Let the old men beg on the church steps,
Let the old men beg for the past,
Let the old men mourn at the old memorials,
Let the old men blather away in pubs,
Let the ill-tempered womenfolk scatter their worries around the square!
Steer a wide berth of me, and on to the swings!
The shopkeeper’s song!
For a second everyone’s breath catches and they would like to fly high too!
But then everything’s back to running its course:
here comes the retired gentleman,
here comes your textbooks’ author,
here comes the young poet.
Even the shopkeeper greets them with respect.
What kind of philistines are they?
I sing, and that’s enough!
On to the swings!
There distant cities shout and sing,
one imitating a clocktower, another announcing itself with a trill,
a third with a fluting voice, a fourth: chook, chook, rrrrrrr.
The flood rushes in, the lovely fruits ripen, they announce the match!
The match!
Are you not tempted to fling yourself into the match, to win with airborne weapons?
O young thoughts, strike the distant targets with your cutting edge!
High above the square where the old folks walk,
a new world hovers,
trembling at the touch of your body,
O bring down here its knowledge!
New ideas, new words, new deeds will grow from it!
How I rejoiced!
I wouldn’t be at all embarrassed to ride the swings with you!
But the shopkeeper would chase me away:
What does that old man want here?
My swings are for children, young people, soldiers!

The chiming of the political news wafts from the radio.
People bless themselves, bowing their heads as they listen to the angelic voice,
devoted to God’s will.
The bells of our country.
The chimes ring out in all the voices of Europe.
Les cloches de notre pays.
Which parishes, villages, towns?
The chiming rings from there.
Les cloches de notre pays.
You are hearing the bells of Langnau.
You are hearing the bells of a bell tower built in the year 1613.
Les cloches de notre pays.
Why should I be ashamed to be moved by the bells of our country?
It is my birthplace after all,
Langnau, that place I do not know.
The bells of my native land!
My native land is Switzerland.
My native land is a canton of Europe.
I am returning to my native land.
Chocolat suisse, Gala Peter, Suchard!
I see cows, bells,
les cloches de notre pays,
I see a road, fences, gentians,
the embankments of Luzern, alleys of trees,
a Swiss courtyard, a guitarist, a Russian aristocrat,
a lady in broderie Anglaise and a man of the revolution.
Les cloches de notre pays.
I am still a child and don’t understand it all.
I see a crumpled napkin, a glass of wine, the trimmed beard of Count Tolstoy.
A guitarist plays, collecting donations from the patrons.
The Russian count stands from the table.
With what is he displeased?
The food, the guitarist, a thought in his mind?
The lady in broderie Anglaise smiles happily.
A carriage is awaiting her.
Come morning, not a trace of them will remain.
A letter for the count is in the message box for room 36.
There are broderies Anglaises on display in a shop on the embankment.
A shot rang out in front of the hotel.
The revolutionary?
Les cloches de notre pays.
A cog railway runs up to the Virgin.
I am still a child and don’t understand it all.
Herds of Galapeter graze in the meadows.
I search for edelweisses (in vain), gentians, Alpine roses.
Les cloches de notre pays.
The bells of the living Galapeter toll,
the mist out of the valley amasses,
the bells’ tolling ever more hushed.
Les cloches de notre pays.
I learned your language, the bells of the cantons.
I attended your schools.
My classmates spoke the dialect of the bells with two grains over the u.
I wandered through the birthplace of Rousseau.
I didn’t understand his thoughts.
I would stand on the bridge, above the turbine, near the Île Rousseau.
I would go to the vegetarian kitchen, to the students’ residence hall,
I would go to the shop with the postage stamps,
to concerts conducted by Ansermet,
to dance performances by Sacharov and Clotilde Von Derp,
to Lenormand’s Les Ratés, starring Pitoëff,
to the coal store for wood discs,
to lectures by Duhamel.
Surely I saw you somewhere, O revolutionary!
Assuming you or I had money, in the Old India restaurant, or the Parc des Eaux-Vives?
Do you remember the old gentleman?
They brought him a bottle of wine in a wicker basket.
The old lover in the Dutch boardinghouse?
Les cloches de notre pays.
A bise whipped over the lake, the stones, the embankment.
Madame de Warens!
Les cloches de notre pays!
Accept my confession, my declaration!
People will sneer at my love for you,
its eccentricity and our disparity in age,
its tenderness, sensuality, chimeras,
its recklessness and good nature.
Blame me for my trespasses, committed out of youthful exuberance,
“Le bonheur pur et plein” were my years spent with you.
Long walks, reading poems, l’Encyclopédie!
Les cloches de notre pays!
Can nature do evil?
Charm of nature and youth,
you grasp nothing that is not natural happiness.
Isle of bliss!
You have just heard the bells of our country.
Au quatrième top,
il sera exactement dix–neuf heures trente minutes.
The recollection lasted but a fraction of a minute.
Set your clocks correctly!
The transatlantic flying boats
Caribou and American Clipper
met over the Atlantic Ocean,
16 kilometers apart,
and exchanged radio greetings.
Hear the bells of our country!
The Japanese raised Russian workers’ wages by 15%.
Do you hear the bells of our country?
Yesterday in Madrid 8 people were executed,
including one woman,
in connection with the murder of Major Gabaldon.
Do you hear the bells of our country?
Fifteen minutes ago Great Britain initiated air maneuvers,
involving 1,300 aircraft and 300,000 men and women.
Do you hear the bells of our country?
Sheffield, Droitwich, Evesham, Salisbury, Southampton,
Britton, Dover, Margate, Norwich, London, Birmingham, Nottingham.
Do you hear the bells of the Kremlin?
The guitarist in front of the hotel in Luzern?
Les cloches do notre pays!
You have just heard the bells of our country.
The anniversary of the world war!
Some of you were too young at the time
to remember the misery and destitution.
Who remembers August 1914?
The confusion around the tables in the Swiss hotel?
Your children are strangers to lines outside of grocery stores,
shortages of coal,
streets full of empty shops,
streets full of parades,
soldiers on leave,
field post letters,
news from the front,
The bells of our country.
Les cloches de notre pays.
Peace! A new European order.
Les cloches de notre pays!

Underground trains, railroads, buses, steamboats transport
160,000 visitors per hour
to the 1939 WORLD’S FAIR.
However, I wasn’t transported there by train, boat, or motor car,
I’m riding with the party of Parmenides, Greek by birth, from the southern Italian city of Elea.
He has been traveling now since the sixth century before Christ,
I joined up with him only this year, in the summer of 1939.
At the world’s fair we see a sphere sixty meters tall,
Sphairos, representing: being, truth, thought (Parmenides asserts).
The Pythagoreans (from his entourage) are interested in the number 0.
Using even, odd, square, right-angled, cubic, and pyramidal numbers
they envision the shapes of the 1939 World’s Fair:
A three-sided pyramid 210 meters tall.
A pylon with an antenna, loudspeakers, spotlights.
Inside the sphere is the city of tomorrow, a polis for a quarter million people.
The spectators, of which the sphere can hold 600 at a time,
look down on it, as if from an airplane, from a height of 3,000 meters.
Daedalus’s dreams have come true.
If you like, guests from Greece, we can fly!
We can fly over New York, above Manhattan!
The ocean is down below us, if we squint,
below are the Greek islands, the Dodecanese, Asia Minor!
The City of Tomorrow, the Polis of the Future!
What kind of government administers this city, what is its religion?
How am I to answer Parmenides?
In order to shed my awkward embarrassment, I point out:
the Court of Peace, the Lagoon of Nations.
Now take us to the administrators of all these affairs (Parmenides requests),
the lawmakers,
the politicians,
the teachers of the people,
the philosophers.
Take us to the Loudspeakers, speaking from the clouds.
Take us to the builders of Peace.
Take us to those who gave the people new cities,
new wings, new ships, new eyes, new ears, new ideas.
Take us to those who gave the people new gods.
O the shame of humiliation!
Let us hope they aren’t selling Greek newspapers here.
Let us hope Parmenides doesn’t read of surplus production,
of unemployment.
Let us hope he doesn’t read of the consequences of bad management.
Let us hope he doesn’t read of war.
Be brave! Words can get us out of trouble.
Come quick, my words!
O words, you have created this world!
In the beginning was the Word.
Before the biblical word there was the Logos,
the logos of Thales, Parmenides, Pythagoras, Heraclitus.
How do I tell them that Logos appears as a villain in an opera!
Quick, words creating this world! Get us out of trouble!
In the name of the august men with whom I stroll the 1939 World’s Fair.
Were these august men not human beings too?
Am I not engaging their minds with suitable flattery?
Behold, Thales, Parmenides, Pythagoras, Heraclitus!
Behold the world risen from your words!
What says the voice from the clouds?
Use air mail!
To send greetings from the 1939 World’s Fair.
Our relatives are coming, we have to go to the fair with them, it can’t be helped.
Use air mail!
Delivers millions of letters daily:
I cannot wait for the moment –
Use air mail!
Rapid transport is a requirement for modern commerce.
Air mail gets your message there on time.
Don’t delay your thoughts!
Use air mail!
It’s a boy!
Do you hear, Parmenides?
Your sphere contains both an infinite and finite number of words.
You say the World’s Fair seems poor?
You compare it to a fish market on the Italian coast?
Have you any thoughts more inspired than a market on the American coast?
You can come with us, but we can’t go home with you,
the movement of your sphere is one-way.
O words creating the world of our sphere, come to me!
Create a new faith, new symbols, o words, create a new world!
o word, create new laws,
o word, create new philosophers,
o word, create new cities,
o word, create a new truth,
o word, create new people!
Send your letters air mail!
It’s a boy.
It’s a girl.
We deliver millions of letters daily.
Glamour Glows, Beauty Beams for the Girl who travels with Woodbury Creams.
My lover,
mother of the child born in 1940.
Glamour Glows, Beauty Beams for the Girl who travels with Woodbury Creams.
Looks like a nymph, does she have a nice voice?
Have you tried a Lucky lately?
Parmenides doesn’t smoke, hands in his pockets,
he rocks at the knees, sizing me up contemptuously:
You filthy word faker, you little runt,
what are you trying to pull on us?
Mangling one language after another, barbarian!
Is that how you reward me, Parmenides, for my love?
I wanted to hide from you that I come from a barbaric country,
I wanted to hide from you the poverty in which millions of people live,
I wanted to hide from you that there is still slavery in the world,
I wanted to hide from you that this world has frauds and wars,
I wanted to hide from you the lie covered up by the 1939 World’s Fair.
Use the airways!
I swear, on my aerial path over the Aegean Sea,
over the island of Crete, over Miletus, Ephesus,
that the words Peace and Nations aren’t just stands at the 1939 World’s Fair.
They are words in which we trust.
You know that in the beginning was the word,
from which were born matter, forms, nature,
and only then laws, the structure of states and the world.
We are only at the beginning.
If you aren’t satisfied with me, find another guide!
I’m going to sit down for a while, Parmenides.
The P.A. system announces they’re looking for a little boy.
What do you think?
Do all little children get bored at exhibitions
the way that I used to?
Even when they get an ice cream and monogrammed pencils?
O melancholy of the human heart, are you here too?
Have you tried a Lucky lately?
Bad luck, I’m having bad luck, it can only get better!
I want the whole world to be Greece,
so even barbarians will come to know the Logos.
We had good schools, Parmenides.
Have you tried a Lucky lately?
We will build even better ones, where even a shepherd will learn to know the word.
Glamour Glows . . . Beauty Beams for the Girl who travels with Woodbury Creams.
Now I want to have fun, leave me here, Parmenides,
I hear new words,
still unclear,
smiling at me,
Glamour Glows . . . Beauty Beams for the Girl who travels with Woodbury Creams,
pushing their way into my melancholy recollections,
my father and mother took me to the 1908 exhibition.
Have you tried a Lucky lately?
New words are coming, they stick in my throat, they are there, they are,
Buy a ticket, win a car!
Buy a ticket, win an appliance for your young household!
Buy a ticket!
I will!
I want to tremble with hope that a secret number will come up, a new Logos.
O Parmenides, I don’t want to explain a thing, I want to call, to shout:
Hi there, hello, hello!

Haven’t we had enough operas with smugglers? with amorous duets?
We’ve had more than enough of them.
And we’ll continue to have them, provided God grants us health,
provided radio follows the example of theater.
Last night was a storm, a giant storm.
The thunder was unrelenting, just like in the theater,
the dark rumble of trembling metal.
An atmosphere of tension thundered from deep in the orchestra,
thousand-volt spotlights casting natural light into the dark.
I am singing about a storm.
Because yesterday in the café I heard young men disparaging nature.
They said: Let’s stay in the city!
We want city nature, city theaters, city culture, city art.
That’s why I rush to invoke nature, that’s why I step onto the rostrum.
It felt as if Thalia herself, lately guest-appearing in the movie house,
had taken the stage tonight.
It really is different than film,
she sighed delightfully:
How did you like that chorus of young men from the city?
Where is that young pup, French by birth?
He asserted that civilization stripped peaches of their scent, and goaded his peers:
Better a life without virtue than no life at all!
Pomona, come here, my modest beauty!
Show these ignoramuses the truth!
Don’t hide your beauteous breasts in your cloak!
Tell the scoundrels:
it’s no wonder peaches are losing their scent in this virtueless world,
where they’ve turned the hero’s words upside down, saying:
better a shepherd on earth than a king in the underworld.
O Pomona, take the taste of fruit away from those accursed fools!
I also read, my dear, at the bookseller’s the other day:
L’Europe peut chanceler, il restera toujours la jeunesse et l’Amour.
I am fond of that dialect, developed from our divine tongue,
but where would such talk lead us?
You say nothing, Pomona, when I speak of Europe,
your mind is on your fields and gardens.
Take up your weapons, O thunder god!
O storm of Europa’s lover!
The earth trembles, hailstones break the blades of grain, trees topple, young and old.
Verses are burned by the thousands.
Radio waves and television signals are interrupted.
Songs and scenes crackle like shots on a firing range.
After the Thunderer hit his mark, Anaximenes the philosopher spoke,
and his speech was especially pleasing to the heavyset Thalia.
He spoke of the power of elements, of the unified structure of the world,
composed of the tiniest matter-forming particles.
Then he too gave praise to the virtues of the human spirit,
without which truth cannot be attained.
And that was how the play ended.
Birdsong heralded the coming of Aurora.
Pomona, throwing a scarf over her head, hurried out to the fields
(it’s harvest time).
A deux ex machina descended in the form of electrical discharges, exploding over the radio:
The young men at the café table nod in agreement:
Europe will not fight!
The columnist writes an article titled:
Europe will not fight!
O lightning god, break this lie, break this false propaganda!
Europe will fight for the scent of its peaches!
O do you see Pomona’s smile?
Europe will fight for its heroes!
The unknown soldier’s name is Achilles.
Europe will fight for its philosophers!
Your smile, Anaximenes, is so satisfied it shines right through your whiskers.
The headline sounds like the title of an adventure book for boys,
like the name of a brand for the masses.
And that’s how it should be, why not?
Why wouldn’t the world of the year 2000 be for the hundreds of thousands, the millions, the billions?
See you later, year 2000!
Where and how will we meet?
I’ll be holding this poem in my hand.
Perhaps I’ll be standing in vain on the corner,
like those young ladies and women looking for love in the classifieds.
I’m not ashamed of it.
If everyone were to conform rigidly to what is or isn’t done,
where would we be?
Me and those yearning young ladies and women.
Now that word has been mentioned: yearning!
Yes, I am yearning, like those young ladies and women for love,
for the world of the year 2000.
There will be no better summer than the one of 1939!
Television will be more advanced, that much I admit,
but the sky will be no better mirrored in the Lužnice river,
rippling against the sides of boats
of fourteen-year-old boy scouts.
Today’s sixteen-year-old girls by then will be old ladies,
nothing will change, after all I can see that all sixteen-year-olds are the same.
By the year 2000 the northern states will grow by 3.2%,
the British Isles by 8.8%,
the Germans by 17.8%,
the Slavs of central and eastern Europe and the Romanians by 44%,
Southwest Europe by 25.8%,
Soviet Russia from today’s 112.2 million to 252.
The center of the European race will shift from the northwest to the southeast.
Heart of Europe! Daughter of Sláva!
Now do you see why I rhapsodize about the year two thousand?
The half billion of Asia will grow to a billion.
North America will increase from 141 million to 316.
O Europa, does a new abduction await you?
May my country be the abductor’s bride!
May its edifices be buried under the silt of new life!
I would be happy for it to be even briefly the heiress of Europe,
for it to assume the august insignia of power held in the hands of:
Socrates, Plato, Kant, Einstein, de Broglie.
O year two thousand!
If the figures prophesied are fulfilled, then I can hope.
O citizens of the year 2000, inhabitants of our lands!
O school textbooks, handbooks, being used this year!
May I hope I will have the honor
of being included in the handbook of literature for this poem?
I will gladly suffer the youngsters’ scorn,
let them dog-ear this page with distaste!
I do not dare to prophesy which of them will be a lawmaker,
a thinker, a sculptor, a builder, a poet, an inventor, a statesman.
I’ll let it be a surprise.
Let us insist only on the 44% in the prediction!
Marvel at the lifestyle of your predecessors, O 44% increase,
marvel, if you will, at the hardships of our life!
You are not only more populous and stronger, O nation, in the year 2000,
but you are distinguished for your wisdom and just laws.
You are Europe’s heir!
O multiply your great heritage,
multiply it so that one day, in accordance with the world order, it will pass into the hands of other nations.
I love the fourteen-year-old Socrates
and boys and girls who will be fourteen in the year 2000.
Perhaps they will say (assuming my contemporaries don’t):
Does that person mean to dupe us?
Laugh at me!
I can see the year 2000 in the gait of today’s sixteen-year-old girls,
I see it in the movements of fourteen-year-old boys (pulling their boat ashore).
I sense it in the torrent of words I can’t pronounce.
The poetry of the future falls into the riverbed of my consciousness,
in a stream that will be stopped by a dam in the year 2000.

The seismographic institute is registering large tremors.
The newspapers ran a story about it on page two,
on the front page cried the words: IN THE NEXT WAR
European civilization will lie in ashes.
The official from the oceanographic institute escaped unharmed.
You, however, primeval forest of cellulose,
lie in ashes!
Burn along with your screeching monkeys,
Burn along with your snakes,
Burn along with the mystery of your temples,
Burn along with the customs of your ancient tribes,
Burn, O vaunted beauty of nature and buildings!
First and foremost let the fire burn:
laws governing tribes in the wild;
appeals driving them from ignorance into intoxication,
from comfort into bloodshed.
Let the fire burn the fraud of competition,
making money off of defenseless people.
Let the fire burn the Sunday story
about the young girl whose property gushed oil.
Suddenly she became a wealthy heiress,
Suddenly businessmen began selling
all men and women
that intoxicating source gushing from the earth,
Suddenly girls’ hearts began to pound to the rhythm
of the films produced year after year,
Suddenly tears gushed from their eyes,
Suddenly their hair curled,
Suddenly their groom bought himself new clothes,
a new automobile,
into whose tank fuel flowed nonstop.
A girl stood lost in thought at the fence of a hastily hammered-together house,
in a hastily constructed town,
the kind that spring up near oilfields.
In a palace,
built from the millions flowing through the pipelines,
the girl’s tears gushed,
at the memory of her own innocence.
Burn in the fire of the primeval forest of cellulose,
O Sunday story,
Burn in the fire of prehistoric trees
that they call art reserves!
Carbonize, petrify, liquefy!
beneath the layers of time,
imprint your patterns on minerals,
contemporary fashion, contemporary civilization, contemporary art!
The ash can of the European furnace
in the first centuries after Christ
is what your hat looks like to me,
madame Parisienne!
O page buried forever in slate!
O thousand-year heath,
which entered the realm of kitsch only in the nineteenth century!
An artificial product is coming into being,
the coal steam and dust cannot escape,
shaped by greasy lava,
under a pressure and heat
no less than at the earth’s core.
Burn, dry woods of cellulose!
Burn, oil gushed on the property of the innocent girl!
A new age is dawning on Earth!
A new swarm of hymenopterans has risen into the air.
A new swarm of ferrumopterans is rising into the air.
In their ears and eyes are devices
that can see and hear long-distance.
Burn, ancient primeval forest of cellulose,
Burn along with your customs and ceremonies,
Burn along with your Sunday story
about the innocent girl with a gusher on her property.
Burn and rest in the earth,
Beneath a cross in a country graveyard,
In a stone Crusader’s grave,
In a Slavonic burial mound,
In a Greek burial amphora,
In the Neanderthal muck,
Turn back into matter,
serving future generations,
Turn into new swarms of stars,
Turn into new fixed stars,
Plunge into atomic decay!
The age of ferrumopterans is dawning,
new states will come into being, new laws, new towns and cities, new art.
Burn, forests of cellulose firms!
I hear the crackle of the fire, I smell the smoke!
The smoke smells of the wood that was used to build the veranda
where the innocent girl with the oil gusher on her property reclines.
The smoke smells of the scent of the heath,
over which the sun set for centuries,
until it was painted by a nineteenth-century purveyor of kitsch.
O elements of the universe, incalculably heavier than ours?
O solar systems in unknown space!
O fixed stars of known elements!
O planets of unknown vegetation!
O Chronos, our only ruler!
On earth, born of matter, plants, animals, humans,
there is a new generation emerging
of ferrumopterans,
which will compete with the speeds of light!
Open to them the gates of the universe!

Let’s put on a real cheesy song!
It doesn’t matter how stupid, as long as it’s in tune.
What do you want from us, soulful sir?
Whoever doesn’t like it
(yet you seem to know the words?)
can find Beethoven instead.
Cortot is playing him, on Paris P.T.T.
We’ll put on a cheesy song,
it’s called “Down at the Mill.”
They’re playing the procession of the pilgrims from Lohengrin,
the penitents on their way to Rome.
Reflect on their effort, sufferings, fatigue, hunger and miserable feet!
What will set them free?
Finally they find relief, those poor pilgrims from Wagner.
We are tormented just like them,
we need some cheering up.
That beautiful voice band is an advertisement for Saltrates Rodell,
should it not be august enough for you,
O soulful lady and gentleman,
you will hear:
the procession by the maestro Wagner,
the procession from Lohengrin,
the procession of the pilgrims,
the procession of the penitents.
O soul, are you sated?
Free the people, o miraculous foot bath, from soulfulness!
If they have mental problems,
we recommend they use our remedy.
Quel plaisir et quelle joie
d’avoir un bon estomac
What a pleasure, what glee
to have a stomach at ease.
What a kind young lady, what a kind gentleman!
You say it’s an advertisement, sir?
You find it stupid? Why?
I’m having more fun than at the theater.
Aren’t you bored of listening to that same old trash?
The tinkling of postal bells, the honk of an automobile?
A male vocalist, trained in classical head voice?
The sobbing of an invisible beauty?
The quaky voice of grandpa and grandma?
Shakespeare surely would write Ariel a new song for the radio.
Quelle plaisir et quelle joie
The girl’s running her mouth, the girl’s running her mouth,
what a joy, what a joy,
now that’s speed, now that’s wit,
that’s music to my ears.
Point at me like I’m an idiot,
quel plaisir et quelle joie.
That’s my transmitter’s theme song.
I broadcast words and images, in the Czech language.
O immerse yourself in the air waves,
wander through space, O words,
carry, o waves of the universe, my broadcast.
You carry music, a virtuoso’s touch,
beautiful voices, statesmen’s speeches.
You also carry lies, filth and rubbish.
My transmitter broadcasts images
that can be registered several centuries from now.
I’m using it to test out the new potential of broadcasting.
I’ll talk about prices, the weather, philosophy.
The poets will share a few words.
I myself don’t know what their poems will look like.
Just no ancient comedy!
Surely you don’t intend to broadcast scenes on TV:
Stage left: “Dear Edith!”
That was the sort of crap that opened the film:
to the mountaintops!
A bottle with a glass on a lectern and boredom in the audience.
I can’t rule out that that glass might play an important role.
The mass of water, separated from the glass, might decompose the image.
Sporting news:
The anniversary of Blériot’s flight across the English Channel.
The route completed in 60 minutes in July 1909
was covered in seven minutes in July 1939.
I want to be the friend of Blériot’s
who ran across English soil, waving the tricolor
to signal his friend where to land.
Today I run with the tricolor, the flag of human society,
tiny, ridiculous, I run across the land, waving the signal
to all my friends attempting something never done before.
I wave to you, philosophers (assuming you are courageous),
I wave to you, men of science (assuming you are courageous),
I wave to you, builders (assuming you are courageous),
I wave to you, artists (assuming you are courageous),
I wave to you, statesmen (assuming you are courageous),
I wave to you, lawmakers (assuming you are courageous),
I wave to you, inventors (assuming you are courageous),
assuming of course that you respect human truth and honor,
I wave to you all without exception,
I run jubilated and infuriated,
I wave into the air and I’m happy,
I believe we will succeed!
To end with, we will play a march by our brass band.
It will stir you mind and body, there is none to equal it.
Before you stands a pupil, wearing shorts, collar clean.
The language gateway opens:
Vzdech, Seufzer, Soupir, Sigh.
O Dutch neutrality of the seventeenth century!
O Dutch neutrality of 1939!
Vzdech, Seufzer, Soupir, Sigh!
Vzdech: the word of a man expelled, who isn’t allowed to say in his own country: vzdech.
Notice, pupil, the hiss of the wind, leaning into the sails: Seufzer, Soupir, Sigh.
Read the inscriptions on the warships’ bows: Seufzer, Soupir,
on the bow of the planes’ mothership: Sigh!
Look at the etching:
each word is accompanied in nature, in the human brain, by an image.
Observe the word vzdech!
It is close to the word dech (breath), close to the lips, the tongue, the roof of the mouth,
close to the air in the lungs, close to the body, which it serves as a sail,
close to the ship’s captain, to reason, steering the ship,
close to the word duch (spirit).
The doctor, the medicus, says: exhale!
I gather my breath deep down and exhale,
the doctor lays an ear to my chest: you are conscripted!
Voják, soldat, Soldat, soldier.
The sigh born on our lips rises into the celestial sphere.
Look at the image of the starry sky!
Coelum, Himmel, Heaven, Ciel.
Slunce, sol, sun, soleil, Sonne.
Stellae scintillant, les étoiles scintillent,
Stálice (fixed star) from the word státi (to stand still), oběžnice (planet) from the word běh (run).
We name the movements of the stars with human words.
Celestial bodies do not stand still, do not run,
only you, pupil, stand before me, you run, if you have permission to play.
Celestial bodies do not stand still and do not run.
Their movement is a diagram of space and time,
which deciphered is also an answer to the question:
what is human standing still? what is human running?
Sigh and look up at the starry sky!
The September sky glows amid the blackout of central Europe.
Evropa, Europa, l’Europe, Europe.
Northwest and central Europe are blacked out,
expecting aerial attacks.
Warships are sailing out to sea and into the starry sky.
Vzdech, Seufzer, Soupir, Sigh!
I am the sort of poet you mock,
ridiculous necktie, ridiculous-looking coat, long hair.
I sit in the sort of heather you paint.
In the purple bells of heather I can see the bees.
Just like in your poems, where it would say:
In the purple bells of heather, bees buzz (sway?) about.
There is a sweeping view from the moorland:
they are gathering grain from the fields:
an example of a didactic and descriptive poem.
O obvious parable, o human honeybees!
Beehives, anthills, perfect states!
The beekeeper and philosophical theoretician meditates
on the hive in his garden and in his mind.
On the one hand an idyll, on the other statistics.
For fertility statistics, a woman’s womb is but the breeder of new generations.
For efficiency statistics, a man’s labor is but the honey of metal currency.
Ergo the failed calculations!
Failed legal codes and failed states!
We are choking on the wisdom of statistics, draped in gooey poetic phrases.
You, honeybee, have not imitated humans,
building a honeybee state,
o honeybee!
crawling here into this heather blossom!
humans, hopeless creatures that we are, imitate you!
Are we not able to create a state in our own image?
you ask, o honeybee,
pushing into a heather goblet.
Either we are or we aren’t,
I reply:
only a messed-up person gives up on the effort to freely create a state for humankind.
A state where their legs wouldn’t be stunted,
A state where their rear ends wouldn’t be stunted,
A state where their brains wouldn’t be stunted,
A state where their emotions and ideas wouldn’t be stunted,
A state where their human dignity wouldn’t be stunted.
O woe is the state where men grow pincers,
where women become workers,
where gender belongs to the state!
O woe!
To me, men, to me, assembly!
I am standing under an oak, on the heath,
have no fear of romanticism!
Nailed to the tree is a notice
that an assembly gathered here once before.
To me, men with sabers,
to me with cockades,
to me with your falchions of old,
let us not be ashamed of these romantic weapons,
let us not be ashamed of these old words,
let us not be ashamed of these old dreams,
let us not be ashamed of this old love!
On with the unworn tailcoats,
let them burst on living muscles,
on with the old drum,
up with the old flag!

12 September 1939.
Twenty-five years!
The August and September zodiac signs return.
I used to hear, in the street, on stages,
all throughout those twenty-five years,
from the apartment where they played the radio, from the melody of a sound film:
Elisabeth, I loved you.
Your cheesy song rang out through all the big cities,
from basement apartment radios, from luxury orchestras:
Elisabeth, I loved you.
For twenty-five years sonnets with your name lay in rest under the stone of an unknown grave.
For twenty-five years prime ministers and heads of state came to visit it.
Under the fading acacias I recall your stride, and the unknown sonnets,
as the dry leaves, from the wreaths in the lines of war crosses, crackle amid the parched grass.
From the radio stations of Europe, I hear your anniversary is drawing near again:
A party in the Elysian fields!
All twenty-five sonnets resound.
Your sonnets ring out again from the parliamentary grandstand.
The radio fills the time between news with music on tape: a bit of a Chopin étude.
Elisabeth! Twenty-five years ago!
I recollect the first verses: I hear their innocence, passion, desperation,
the vows evoked by your smile and promise,
to the sounds of a Chopin étude.
The radio announces: First hours of world war! ELISABETH’S ANNIVERSARY!

O printer, how could I not sing the praises of your trade!
I would love to bring you this page right now and wait while you typeset it.

What do I love more than your letters?
Though I’m ashamed when I look at my manuscript,
imagining you will say: is this even worth printing?
I know how hard it is to find words beautiful enough to be worth it.
Yet how far would you get, printer,
if you were to print only what had worth!
The apprentice is looking after the printshop by himself.
The owner has gone off to the orchard, to tend to the fruit tree seedlings,
to tend to the grafts, so as to avoid a run of: dry, dry, dry,
so as not to form the words: caterpillar, crop failure.
So as to produce the words: stem, flower, leaf, branch, fruit, harvest.
O what beautiful words they are!
The typesetter sits on a bench looking at his orchard.
He sits here whenever he can get away from his dead letters,
which, ah well, are so rarely used to typeset something pleasing and good.
O in vain they await the plates on which to compose the new, just laws.
O in vain, at least for today.
I peer into the printshop.
Today again the lawmaker failed to bring the printer the manuscript:
the legal code of the new world,
in which all people will be happy.
The apprentice would have run at once to fetch the typesetter.
After all, we all feel the need for a new legal code.
I can feel it, I wish to express it through this manuscript.
Even the letters can feel it,
even the metal from which they will be cast.
We can all feel it:
every scraped patch on the table,
every letter, worn down by a thousand words,
by announcements of weddings, deaths, magazines, books.
The thousand-times worn words are rebelling,
I can feel the revolt within me, in the metal, the letters, the words.
The printer has gone off to his orchard,
seeking solace from words, cast in a stone block.
No more customers will come today.
Is it too late for the lawmaker too?
Does he too follow regulations?
Does he know one doesn’t go to the printer’s after six p.m.?
We wait: me, the metal, the machine, the letters.
Maybe he’ll come after six!
Order all the old sorts redistributed.
Print all night and all day, nonstop,
in every printshop everywhere.
The aroma of printer’s ink rising from proclamations.
Loud bustling print shops,
loud bustling letters, loud bustling sentences!
I want to be mixed up in it, in the midst of the commotion,
in the midst of the parade, the shouts, the letters and sentences!
O time!
man created you in his likeness,
from mayfly-embroidered monuments,
from diluvial recollections,
from a squirrel’s leap,
from a water strider’s trail,
from uranium months and years,
from a future of α-rays.
O time!
That’s what I think as you point to the pressure of the centuries, with which you crushed
the urn,
its side (less fired), with which you fed the strawberries and the pines.
That’s what I think as you point to an amphora on the island of Rhodes.
I hear the measured time of seafarers, oar strokes, the rhythm of the bow, the sides,
I hear the measured time of Sappho’s lyric poems,
I hear the measured time of Greek tragedy, of Christian prayer,
I hear decadent poetry, sentences of novels –
Such short forms!
Compared to a row of amphoras the size of a man, the size of a beautiful woman’s hips!
A concrete bridge arches over a river between two pagan ramparts.
if you are without a beginning and without an end,
if you have neither existence, nor a direction,
you are a mere tool and god of measured time.

No one now knows what my name is,
in my blind pupils lives a dead world.
Over a shatter-columned balcony rises the Evening Star,
in a gathered gown,
across from me, in the hall of relics
excavated from Rieger Square in 1939,
tomorrow morning, she will shine again through the Market Gate of Miletus,
my eternally open pupils await her,
as I wait for her touch on my basalt chest,
holding in her hand a museum catalog,
I hear her descend, high heels clacking down the stairs.
Jews argue at the Gate of Miletus,
their words reach my ears:
Imperator, Führer, Legions,
they shout, they rail, they fight!
I can hear her coming now!
Will she stop at the Imperator’s grave, at the frieze of the Victorious Legion?
A servant, a war invalid, passes through the hall,
outside in the park they water the lawns and flowerbeds;
a young man sits on a velvet sofa,
is he dreaming of cutting the red cord that divides him from Venus?
I see him with my blind pupil and smile,

Subject: A Woman in the Pantheon, Highlights, Guide for children
Author: Součková, Milada
Title: The Talking Zone
Date: 1939
Place of publication: Prague
Publisher: soukromý tisk
Technique: illustration by Zdeněk Rykr
Origin: knihovna Pavla Eisnera
Licence: Free license
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