The Gaze of Death, Evening Prayer, Mood, Dead Youth, Regret

The Gaze of Death

Oftentimes, I know, at bedsides and in twilights of premonition,
before your triumphant gaze my gaze has been extinguished.

In mine weakness and longing, in yours the glistening laughter of steel,
and I glimpsed my own thought in its mirror.

She walked, pale and confused, into the distance of unknown Cities buried in snow,
into gloom and polar nights, along the mute weariness of roads.

The anguish of doubt had frozen in her face, and the cold of timeless space
Had bound her feeble, tortured limbs in metal raiment.

In the folds of vanishing forms, as from the flower of a mystical tree,
through the mists, from your eyes snow was shaken down in heaps,

and it thickened and darkened, absorbed radiance, whisked it up, and blew it about,
and, as though on pale crimson flames, melted on the wounds of my thought.

Oftentimes, I know, at bedsides and in twilights of premonition,
before your fixed gaze my gaze has been extinguished.

Pale, spellbound, mute, like a sleepwalker lured from his bed,
hypnotized by the Unknown, with my dream I tread,

and, lit by your eyes, the lights of funeral torches,
clutched in the feeble hands of my days, tremble faintly before me.


Evening Prayer

Pour your mysterious sap into my ardent blood,
O death of living bodies, by which night turns into day,
Bind me in my bed with your mortal languor,
Like maidens’ white arms, so soft is your embrace.
In your miraculous fragrance I scent another world,
Melt my earthly life, stir the heavenly into waves,
Placate in my soul my prayers’ fervor and blaze,
Which burn upon my lips and flame red upon my face!

Incline, O sainted one, the dark lantern in my eyes,
Pour new oil into it, give my perception light,
That I may see thousands of miles with the ray of my gaze
Into the gloom of the sea’s jungles and the glow of mountain heights;
How crystal presses to crystal in the cliffs’ deepest womb,
How the radiance of colors in a web of blossoms descends,
How life awakens from slumber in matter’s hidden depths,
In being’s infinite flowering and eddy and ferment.

And heighten my mortal hearing, grant it increased strength,
Into an instrument of resonance reshape it,
That, like mysterious music, I may hear the rumble of growth,
And overspilling juices’ undulation;
Let me hear the music of stellar paths and the plants’ obscure pulse,
The refraction of rays of light, and the beat and hum of air,
Butterflies’ silent flight, and in the depths of the soul,
The mysterious birth and struggle, whirl and dampening of thoughts.

Free my thought from earthly weight,
That at the speed of light in flight it may soar
Over the green sea and the realm of crystal and rock,
Into the pits of extinct volcanoes and the earth’s molten core;
Let me fly like lightning through the night’s eternal abyss,
Where seething streams gush from fiery springs
Into weeping caves, whose tears through the ages
Have petrified in sleep beneath their baldakins.

And into the poles’ long nights, where eternal ice and snow
In frigid brilliance scintillate on crystal cliffs,
To the bright land of the south, where the laughter of odalisques,
Like music in sultans’ gardens, flutters and billows and ripples,
Above the din of nations and deserts’ wordless sorrow,
Where, above black primeval forests and the sheen of alpine peaks,
The pulse and beat of life, in weakened rhythm, dies,
Above the pensive steppe and the prairies’ green.

Let me grasp everything, the aims of all paths and roads,
All that I see live and grow, blossom, mature and die,
The eternal cycle of living forces, which clothes the constellations
In its gossamer nets, and which governs all fall and flight,
Which suffers in our souls, and gives the lily scent,
And in a bluish flame above the marshland gleams.
I am thirsty; let me drain, and become inebriated with
The wine of mystery, on the shores of eternity.

Permeate my body, and from your mysterious springs
Diffuse nepenthe through every muscle and nerve,
In the unknown rapture of your delirious fire
Spurt out like lava, and flame and flow and burn,
Until desire’s incandescent breath, like a pitch torch, burns
Down to ashes in your mysterious blaze,
Then breathe onto my forehead and let me go to sleep,
An eternal, final sleep, from which I shall never awake.



Heavy, languid from the heat, on the trees a murmur falls
And hangs motionless, while in longing intervals
The oppressed forest breathes and a hot stream of sweat
And a coarse scent from fissured leaves mingles with its breath.
Beneath the rigid trees pale lethargy creeps,
Breathes foreboding in my face, settles next to me and speaks
With my melancholy soul in a language of dead words,
And within me the yearning for timeless mysteries stirs.
The sun’s overripe blossom withers in white gleams,
Quivers in sprays of twilight and sinks through the blue leaves
Into the mute exhaustion of apathetic hush, and quenched
In moss, in springs of mysterious breath,
It lulls me with lassitude, as beneath slow waves
Of blood, flowing over me from my freshly opened veins.


Dead Youth

On an old piano, in its sleeping metal strings,
As from quivering harps I heard a rhythm flow
That clung to the subtly vibrating wires
In a tearful dew of languorous, plaintive tones.

In my soul a thought arose like a heady scent,
And the song that in my youth I used to hear
Respired in my face and took me by the hand,
And led me through the silenced gardens of past years.

The heavens’ beauty shimmered in brilliant constellations,
Dripping the magic of stars into time’s silent streams,
Where in a glass coffin, like a sainted woman, dead,
My youth lay in a shroud of extinguished springs.

The bloom of rosy dreams blossomed in its cheeks,
And my tears’ hard gems in a luminous diadem gleamed,
Mingling with the radiance of its fresh, young limbs,
Embalmed with the fragrant treasure of my pure memories.

And the warmth of dead charms, which, fresh, beckoned me,
Beneath the rosy veil that my days’ dawn had woven,
The blaze of long looks that lie extinguished in my soul,
And dead kisses, whose fiery ardor left me cold;

The fire of embraces rendered cold by thought,
And the bitter blood of grapes, from which I sucked no bliss,
The rain of blossoms, wafted down, which once fell in my lap,
But died, at my hands’ touch withered,

Dewy rainbows’ languid flame, which bathed me not in cool,
The blaze of breaking dawns, which did not light up my face,
The faded light of white days, which turned my time into nights,
Like the luminous peace of night into turbid, graceless day,

All of this flared up in my soul, and in the music of dead hopes,
In echo trembled with anguished moaning, as I, in pensive mood,
Grieving, stood over the corpse of my own youth,
Like a lover over the dead girl he had seduced.



I bear within my soul the regret of one confined to bed,
when the triumphant ringing of bells ripples down from the highest tower
(he has built altars to the Lord’s Body with lilies
and let the sickly translucence of flames in silver candlesticks blossom in the fires of the sun),
when the steps of crowds are smothered in green carpets of flowers
and quake in broken rhythms from fragrant reeds with the warm exhalations of the waters,
when the greetings of gardens shine from the wreathes of maidens of honor,
and when thanks for life solemnly float with billowing sails over waves of smoke in a hymn to the Mystery of the Supreme Being.

I bear within my soul the regret of an impoverished ruler of boundless realms,
when, weary of life, he hears the corn splitting on the sloping edges of the cornfields:
clusters of silver needles scattered by the wind,
glistening swarms of bizarre insects settled on the sonorous stalks,
evenings fatigued by fragrances, reposing in the vineyards;
he hears his death knell in the ringing of scythes, his funeral song in cries of strength;
whose will be the crop of grain, where the rays of day have hardened into the shiny scales of serpents
and the blood of the earth into blackish grapes?

Who has breathed frost onto my windows and obscured the pure singing of colors?

In the white halls above my room evening chandeliers start to glitter,
with a smile mirrors return the cheerful blush to cheeks,
the cold glass starts to glow with the snow of perspiring breasts,
the air thickens with cries of laughter and fragrances.
The rhythmic beats of the dance!

I bear within my soul the regret of a prisoner on the day of May celebrations,
the regret of a lover at the door of the church on his wedding day,
the regret of one banished to the roar of artillery, who welcomes ships bearing flags of angry distant lands,
the regret of one exhausted from searching for dreams in the first blue light of dawn,
the regret of gazes worn out from vain waiting before departure,
the regret of fading faces that never blushed from kisses,
the regret of a foreigner touched by the naive embrace of a Christmas carol,
the regret of a musical instrument hung over the bed of a deceased maestro,
the regret of flowers that no one picked and no one sacrificed in vases on an altar,
the regret of light that burned out in a solitary lamp
and that no one put into the bedroom of lovers.

The hours of my past have left me, and I did not gather flowers for them,
the days came secretly, and I did not decorate them with roses,
and I did not harvest their ripening rays,
the time of twilight has come, the wind of the Unknown is rising in the lanes,
and not one joyous song reaches me from afar.


Poems translated by Kirsten Lodge, from her forthcoming anthology of Czech Decadent poetry, Solitude, Vanity, Night.