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‘How far away love is’: 3 poems from one family of Czech poets

‘How far away love is’: 3 poems from one family of Czech poets
Image: Noel Broda via Unsplash

11 December 2020

The Fischerová family boasts three poets in three different generations: the half-sisters Viola and Sylva, and Sylva’s daughter, Ester. The Calvert Journal asked them what it means to share the same blood and personal life with two other poets.

Viola left the Czech Republic for Switzerland in 1968 for political reasons, so Sylva, who was 28 years younger, only knew her half sister thanks to her lines, “To start living on your own takes more than being born”, used as a motto by the legendary Czech author Bohumil Hrabal in his book An Advertisement for the House I Don’t Want to Live in Anymore. After Viola’s exile, the two sisters met for the first time in 26 years in 1994. Despite writing poetry since the 1950s, Viola only got her first book, A Requiem for Pavel Buksa, dedicated to her husband who had committed suicide in Basel in 1984, published in 1993. Meanwhile, Sylva had managed to publish three collections of poetry. Viola told Sylva: “I had to write that book – I had to learn what it was all about when it ended as it ended.” Since then and until Viola’s death in 2010, the two sisters reconnected and bounced off each other’s ideas, writing, and love for life.

The 90s brought another poet into their family: like her mother, Ester started writing poems as a child and had her debut in her early 20s. The 28-year-old says her mother’s first collection of poems was, alongside Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, her “go-to book of poems during puberty”. “As I was growing up, my taste in my mother’s books also changed,” she added. Now, the mother and daughter exchange thoughts on particular lines and poetic images. Although they often disagree, they consider each other’s insight “tremendously valuable”.

x x x

Written by Viola Fischerová and translated by James Naughton


the property of a second

what is and is not

up to its end within reach


white with blackness

bitch with the sign of cancer

raving with delight in the snow


the long-ago future pathway

sparkling in snowdrift

No oncoming

Viola Fischerová was born in 1935 in Brno and died in 2010 in Prague. She studied Slavic cultures in Brno and Prague. In the 1960s, she worked as the literary editor of the Czechoslovak Radio. Being part of Václav Havel’s circle, in 1968, she went into exile with her future husband Karel Michal to Switzerland, where she studied German and history at the University of Basel. Censored in 1957, she published her first collection of poetry, A Requiem for Pavel Buksa, in 1993. The next year, she returned to live in Prague. She has published 10 collections of poetry, several books for children, and translations from Polish and German.

The Newcomer’s Prague

Written by Sylva Fischerová and translated by Matthew Sweney

Nobody told me how to live and when


to drink hemlock

and from whose hand and to what saint

Nobody told me how to walk through the night town

so as not to hear the crying

that constant crying of the lamps and the tram doors

running through the crevices between people

like the high string of a violin

taut between the two ends of infinity

Prague is a great cold block when night falls

and that night is beneath the block

I walk along its edge and up and down

people talk, so sure of themselves

like the swans on the Vltava

of their morning breakfast

but nobody told me how to walk

along the edge of the block

on which corner to fall

on which corner to catch hollow bird bones

From the hollow bones we made

pan pipes

and we play on the bank

even if nobody told us

that pan pipes are and we are and to get it all together is


that Prague is a giant barrel of rotgut diluted by the Vltava

that roils like the presidential flag furling over

the Castle

and like the flag even Prague will someday disappear

and the time will finally come to find out who we are

and how far away love is.

Sylva Fischerová was born in Prague in 1963. She is the author of 11 volumes of poetry in Czech. Her poetry has been translated into numerous languages, including four collections in English (UK: The Tremor of Racehorses, 1990; The Swing in the Middle of Chaos, 2010; USA: Stomach of the Soul, 2014; Prague: A Church for Smorkers. Prague Poems/ Kostel pro kuřáky. Pražské básně, 2019). Fischerová is a notable scholar and author whose works also include stories and novels, essays, and children’s literature. She teaches ancient Greek literature, religion, and philosophy at the Department of Greek and Latin Studies at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University in Prague. In November 2018, she was named the first City Poet of Prague.

August 2010

Written by Ester Fischerová and translated by Matthew Sweney

Relational and relationship problems

of all people with the world and each other

why can’t you walk more slowly, for nobody’s

killing you

Girls walk in groups

along the Prague streets and cry.

The lonely laugh, for

they understand that tears cause

holiday floods.

So come, come now, let’s sit

on a half-drowned bench by the riverside,

we’ll laugh at the artificial swans

and try not to think about anything,

not over the crying of those young girls and the rising waters,

not over the pulsing absurdity which is slicing

reality onto the warped metal sheets

and all of us

(except the girls, water, and swans)

going deaf from it.

Ester Fischerová was born in 1992 in Prague. She received a Bachelors’ degree in philosophy and religious studies from Charles University, and where she is currently doing a Masters’ program in philosophy and Jewish studies. She has also studied screenwriting at Film and TV School of AMU. Fischerová is currently working in social services as an assistant for autistic people. She has published two collections of poems: Ale co kdyby (But What If; 2014) and Duše je ryba (The Soul Is a Fish; 2019).

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