A New Translation of Nezval's poems: The Absolute Gravedigger

A New Translation of Nezval’s poems: The Absolute Gravedigger

We are delighted to share a new translation of one of the most interesting Czech surrealist authors, Vítězslav Nezval.

To quote Stephan Delbos & Tereza Novická, authors of a new translation of The Absolute Gravedigger, “[This collection]  is dazzling. Nezval’s musicality and imagery evince the restrainedly wild combination of absolute freedom and formal perfection. His syntax is taut; the line breaks, especially in the shorter lyric poems, slice the language into fragments that float in the mind with open-ended meaning and the multiplicity of readings Nezval allows to develop. The content of the poems goes in directions that are at first unimaginable but continue to evolve unexpectedly until they resolve or dissolve. Like electron clouds, these poems have a form within which seemingly chaotic energy reigns. The chaos is only an illusion, however; Nezval’s language is under absolute control, allowing him to reach into the colorful clouds of surrealist uncertainty and form shapes we recognize, though never expected to see.”

from Bizarre Town


Under the slender Gothic arch
Of a water tower
A beardless young man
Lamp in hand
In his vaulted chest
A bell
When he coughs
The bell rings
And in the town
In one fell swoop
All the windows


From dormer windows
Tilted upward
Toward the west
Long and beautiful hands
In white gloves
Bedecked with
Diamond jewels
Rained on


In the fountain
Amid the square
A diver
For yesterday’s sunset


A knight
In asbestos armor
Over a short oak log
Splits the wood
And throws it
Into a well
From which rises
Bluish smoke

Stephan Delbos & Tereza Novická are the recipients of a 2015 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant for their translation of The Absolute Gravedigger, a collection of poems by Vítězslav Nezval.