Karel Hlaváček: Translated by Václav Z. J. Pinkava


Karel Hlaváček (1874 – 1898) was a Czech Symbolist and Decadent poet and artist.  He published his poetic works and art criticisms in the journal Moderní revue (Modern review). He was also active as an artist, creating works that suggest his anxieties about sex, such as Exile. He was the founding member and the first president of the nationalist and athletic Sokol group in the Prague suburb of Libeň. He died of tuberculosis aged 23.







Václav Z. J. Pinkava was born in 1958 in Prague (Czechoslovakia, as it was then). He emigrated in 1969 to Britain, growing up there and completing his education at Oxford. He followed this with a career in IT management, latterly as a professional translator, having moved back to the Czech Republic in 1992 with his wife and four children.
Fluent in both English and Czech, he writes poetry in either language whenever moved to do so, but loves translating the poetic works of others; nearly 500 English poems to date.
He has published the first ever Czech rendition of Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark” as well as (yet another) complete set of Shakespeare’s sonnets.



(All poems written in the original Czech by Karel Hlaváček and translated into English by Václav Z. J. Pinkava)


Hrál kdosi na hoboj

Hrál kdosi na hoboj, a hrál již kolik dní,
hrál vždycky navečer touž píseň mollovou
a ani nerozžal si oheň pobřežní,
neb všecky ohně prý tu zhasnou, uplovou.

Hrál dlouze na hoboj, v tmách na pobřeží, v tmách,
na plochém pobřeží, kde nikdo nepřistál:
Hrál pro svou Lhostejnost, či hrál spíš pro svůj Strach?
Byl tichý Pastevec, či vyděděný Král?

Hrál smutně na hoboj. Vzduch zhluboka se chvěl
pod písní váhavou a jemnou, mollovou…
A od vod teskně zpět mu na hoboj vlhkem zněl:
Jsou ohně marny, jsou, vždy zhasnou, uplovou.


An oboe someone played

An oboe someone played, and had been playing for days,
each evening played, self-same, intoned in minor key,
nor ever deigned to light his fire by the sea,
for they say fires die, go out, and wash away.

An oboe long he played, on the dark shoreline, dark,
on the flat shoreline strand, where no one did alight:
Played to his Disregard, or his Foreboding stark?
A quiet Shepherd, he, or King disowned of right?

An oboe sadly played. The air shook, trembling deep
under that song’s demurring, mild-toned minor sway…
And from the waters damp his oboe back did seep:
Fires are all in vain, they go out, wash away.




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