Husinecká, from there go up Krásova street and the last building on the left is the Jaroslav Seifert School. On the corner is a memorial plaque.
But the porch is the embrace of the Virgin Mary,
those who from the battlefield of the day carry away their
will seat themselves on it nightly
and it will clasp them with bars like a woman with fingers
would embrace them lightly;
the sky is full of stars
and under the stars for all wounds, for all wounds there is a balm.
The poet and journalist, Jaroslav Seifert (1901-1986), was born at 104 Bořivojova street and between 1907 and 1912 attended the school which today bears his name. This future Nobel Prize laureate for literature was a poor working-class child from a typical Žižkov tenement. Seifert’s lyrics are traditional and experimental at the same time, and although sometimes sentimental and nostalgic, they arouse sympathy, empathy and a consciousness of human solidarity. Seifert, however, was not only a great poet but also brave, especially in relation to the ruling Communist ideology. After co-signing the “Manifesto of Seven” (Manifest Sedmi) against the new leadership of the Czech Communist Party, against Bolshevism and the subordination of the Party to the Comintern directives, he was expelled from the Party in 1929 and joined the social democrats, in whose daily, Narodní práce, he worked as a journalist during WWII. In the early 1950s he was again subjected to ideological pressure but was not incarcerated like many of his fellow poets. In 1956, at the Congress of the Union of Czechoslovak Writers, he defended imprisoned and silenced writers. The beginning of his discussion paper of April 27, 1956 is worth quoting:
It has been said that we finally needed to shape our cultural heritage. That we should return to the books of our dead poets, browse through them, and acknowledge their testimony. And here, hesitantly, I ask a question. Without going into metaphysics, I turn with some anxiety to the dead and ask them if they would also acknowledge us. ... I wish that at this moment writers really were the conscience of their nation. I wish we were the conscience of the people. For, believe me, I am afraid we have not been its conscience for many years now, that we have not been the conscience of the crowds, that we have not been the conscience of the millions, that we haven’t even been the conscience of ourselves.
Similarly, he sharply rejected the Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968. When Seifert, as the chairman of the Writers’ Union, refused to apologize, the Union was dispersed, and Seifert was not allowed to publish. A decade later, he signed Charter 77. He said about the Nobel prize that other poets of his generation deserved it more. But Seifert outlived them all. Since 1986, the prestigious Jaroslav Seifert Prize for literature has been awarded for outstanding works by Czech and Slovak writers.
My Gambier pipe entertains me greatly
The Emperor’s head is its funny bowl
Good day famous emperor!
Has the dream of ruling the world
At last evaporated from your head?
- Jaroslav Seifert: . Translated by Dana Loewy. Illinois, Northwestern University Press, 1997
From Jaroslav Seifert’s elementary school, it is about ten minutes to František Kriegel’s former residence. Vlkova Street leads slightly uphill. At the end of the street, turn left and head up the steep hill on U Rajské Zahrady. Enter Riegerovy Sady and – with the majestic panorama of Prague in front of you – head from the northeast corner to the far-right southwest corner of Riegerovy Sady to the functionalist house, renovated in 2015.