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This Is a Glorious Tale

by Jirí Orten
Translated from Czech by
Lyn Coffin & Zdenka Brodska

With a pocket knife

the world had been cut.
And much blood has been shed. Poems
and nights. The wind played along, but
didn’t finish—For women,
it was a matter of life,
but for us a matter of death, not only
our lips thirsted after
the spring. Even our voice!
Voice, dried out and blood-stained,
go to the home
which cliffs and greenery
perceive as lost—if it’s found for them, what
a time that will be!
it will push through with its prow
everything rotting in us now—

Born in Central Bohemia in 1919, Jirí Orten is considered one of the finest writers of Czechoslovakia’s so-called War Generation. His first book of poems, Cítanka jaor (Reader of Spring) was published in 1939. For fear of denunciation from anti-Semitic newspapers, he published his poems under pseudonyms. Orten’s poems show a strong influence of both Czech folklore and surrealism.
Lyn Coffin is an American poet and translator, currently lecturing at Ilia University in Tbilisi, Georgia. Her eighth book, White Picture, translations from the Czech (with native collaborators) of Jiri Orten, a Czech poet killed in the holocaust at the age of twenty-two, is forthcoming from Night Publishing (UK).
Zdenka Brodska’s criticism has been published in venues including The New York Review of Books and she has translated widely from Czech.