Issue 7: Justin Quinn, from Bohuslav Reynek

Translations from Bohuslav Reynek (b. 1892, d. 1971)


Through the land November strays,

a sorrel horse with a white blaze.

He stretches past the wooded hills,

a mane of rushes rustles still.

He rears up high above the trees,

his blaze of snow on all he sees.

He stalks the region, starved, at home,

a home where no-one seems to know him.

He looks in through the gates and doors

and hears the griefs that have their source

in sleepers’ gasps through clenched teeth,

though that might be just how they breathe

till the moon’s gone (the day now brighter),

who was the sorrel’s radiant rider.

A memory

Snow fell, to calm the meek

and bring the great down hard.

Sparrows came in streaks

to root-trash in the yard,

and where they lit, a crowd

of tiny prints were bossed,

much like a hopeful cloud

of drawbacks on new frost.

So many stars in the snow

and just one human track.

The bird paths left a glow,

the village fallen back.

Just one track, a child’s,

like a branch of withered haw

pressed on the white a while,

then vanished in the thaw.

Advent in Stará Říše

In the first snows

you see the print

of the last geese.

Down to the floes

the branches bent

from the last of trees.

The sun descends,

too shy by half,

in fearful reds.

The Angel of Advent

in dusk sweeps off

clusters of woods.

A dead cat

By misery deformed

and washed up here,

a small cat lies.

When quick and spry,

she shared her warmth.

She’s waiting still

for a drop of milk

from the snow and moon.

Saturday folds.

Sunday commenced.

The cat against

the moonlight, cold.

Whose guilt is cleansed?

But still the levins

To leave at dusk for distant lands.

Return? A promise keeps

how long? But still the levins cross

in blood and forests deep.

To go dark when the autumn’s near,

the last flames in the west.

To kiss with tenderness and fear

the winter’s timid breast.

Wet snow


Whether it’s heavy snow

or rain, you do not know.

Behold the house of the dead.

Behold each drenchèd bed.

Like a face approaching death,

the windows filmed with sweat.

The white veil suffocates

and obstinately waits.

Pools of dark hounds—their prey

a kind of white or gray.

Waters, snow drifts, wind

at chase, they twist and sprint.

Snow hunts shades in mid-air

as the hound the hare.

The tracks and the footprints

erased with each new rinse,

relieved at last to drown,

their durances trampled down.

A track in mud, a hangman’s

knot. Whose legs will dance?

Snow. Thaw. The water warmed

for Pilate’s hands.

Quince on the table

A single wand

of rusted quince,

furred red-blonde,

wonder of scents.

Forehead fragrant.

A cordial kiss.

Perfume flagrant,

the heart feels this.

Warmth of a palm

beyond all scents,

a downy haulm

the sun extends.

The bees and wax

gave us this fruit.

Our lips though cracked

it won’t bedew.

Hard fruit to bite.

A foodless feast.

A bitter spite

slowly released.

A magic stone

among the thorns.

Wise virgins’ own

pale green lanterns.

A hand pours

oil to the lees.

A nape flares,

as do knees.

The oil now cool.

The fire burns white.

Kindly and tall

they go with lights.

Bohuslav Reynek was born in 1892 and was a poet, translator and artist. Among others he translated the poetry of Georg Trakl and Paul Valéry into Czech. During the 1920s and ’30s he spent much time in France, where he met his wife the French poet Suzanne Renaud. In 1949, the Communists confisicated his farmstead and he could no longer publish his work officially. However towards the end of his life his underground reputation grew, and many Czech literati made the pilgrimage to his home in Petrkov. Most of the upheavals of twentieth-century Czech history go unremarked in his poetry, as he concentrates on farm-work, animals and the seasons, as limned by his Catholic belief. Other work in translation appeared recently in the New Yorker.

Justin Quinn’s latest collection of poems is Close Quarters (Gallery, 2011). He has lived in Prague since 1994.