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Translations of the Week – Jan Skacel: Wine Taken at its Word

Moravian writer and poet Jan Skácel was born in 1922 in Vnorovy, Czechoslovakia. He studied philosophy at Masaryk University. In 1948 he was the Cultural Editor for the daily Rovnost (Equality) and in 1954 he started work for the literary division of Radio Brno. In 1963 he became the Editor in Chief for the cultural journal Host do domu (Guest in the House) and he remained there until 1969 when the journal was banned during the period of “Normalizaton”.  After his dismissal, his poems could appear only in samizdat or in exile literature. He died in on November 7, 1989 just ten days shy of the Velvet Revolution .


for Oldřich Mikulášek

We drank but at the same time we knew
that it is different to get drunk fast
than to listen to wine,
wine taken at its word.
Yes, my ear next to the tasting glass
I heard my own heart counting the hoops
in the chestnut cask.
And the old ones counted the years over wine.
Inside them they were nicely rounded
those barefooted years,
and those in the thicket,
in the fields that love flattened out terribly,
then the years in the military service
and the years in jail.
We drank and had words with wine
wine taken at its word.From above we slowly poured fire.
The red hearts in the chestnut casks
smoldered with green sulfur.
We wanted to wash ourselves.
We wanted to have the world round, clean,
covered with water like a pebble.
We drank and like firm circles in the stumps
the years, the rounded years, lay in us,
the golden fern blossomed at midnight,
and a falcon flew.
We sang,
Vyletěl sokol nad oblaky,
vynášel se nade všecky vtáky,
aj, nade všecko stvoření*

* A Moravian folk song frequently sung in wine cellars.
In an English translation:
A falcon flew above the clouds, 
it flew above all  birds,
It even flew above all creation.


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