Stay in a Sanitorium

A Stay in a Sanatorium
Southword Editions, 2005.
Poems by Zbyněk Hejda. Translated from the Czech by Bernard O'Donoghue.

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Zbyněk Hejda is among the select Czech authors and poets who were banned from publishing in their homeland during the Communist era. As one commentator has said, "his poems have little hope in them and display no socialist optimism". If there is little hope in his work, there is yet much humour and tenderness. Dreams, erotica, the pain of aging and nostalgia for the dead are frequent subject matter in this selection of translations, rendered into affecting English by the award-winning Irish poet Bernard O'Donoghue.

What the critics have said:

"O'Donoghue has rendered Zbyněk Hejda's A Stay in a Sanatorium with particular grace." -The Irish Book Review

"As Tomas Mik wrote 12 years ago, Hejda is `one of the most important Czech poets'. It's a great pleasure to see him brought, at least in part, to the English-speaking world." -The Guardian

"Zbyněk Hejda, translated by Bernard O'Donoghue, is indeed a voice out of the grand tradition of central European poetics. Hejda is playful and profound, narrative yet focused, and his evocative 'slant' diction is nevertheless plainly truth-telling. Poetry with this kind of courage is real poetry with structure and range, and O'Donoghue renders it with a clear, untroubled surface through which that range makes itself apparent." -The Irish Times


Selected Poems from A Stay in a Sanitorium



In the Summer, Now it’s Evening


In the summer, now it’s evening,

take refuge in the graveyard.

Overhead the birds settling;

below them lines and shadows

where white walls hold the sunlight.

In the paths between the headstones

women with water-jars

from wellside to graveside, back and forth.

Church-door wide open.

Shafts of mote-dust

in the silent space.


But there’s one woman praying

in a bench that dwarfs her.

From the chapel garden comes

the sound of laughing: of girls surely.

One hangs out clothes, off-white

from long years of washing.


On tombs along the church wall

inscriptions worn off

by time’s working and the weather.


The lime tree’s balm falls

on the statue of St John

bent double by its years,

and blackened by the ages.


From the pub across the road

a man reels out. Behind him also

working-girls’ voices. You smell burning

from their hard waist-embraces.


The sun goes down

slowly. The shadows grow still longer.




The Evening’s Breeze is Mild
Evening breeze is mild.
Late light on the whitewashed wall.
Olive-groves give shading to the twilight, 
colours soften to brown or dark gold-green.
The master is here already, with his followers
in the garden’s shade. Night comes.
Birds fall silent. The lights go out.
Night-sky deepens; sleep comes
at the end of this long day.
The wind gives a sudden shake
to the leaf-cover on the trees.
The sky plunges downwards.
Trees loom from the darkness.
The thorn hardens in the next wound.
Loneliness drops from the air.
Silence as punishment.
It’s no good darkness shrouding the voice.
Everything is asleep.
The bell twists the heart’s pain.
Nowhere, no-one, dear God.



In Grandfather’s farmyard


In grandfather’s farmyard. Music perches on the branches of the majestic

chestnut tree. Musicians too have their instruments at the ready, about to start a

song, but it's not yet quite time; the music still perches in the trees. The musicians,

one after another, climb to the treetop to reach the music. In the process one of

them damages his huge Saxhorn. It turns out that part of the instrument is

missing; strangely, I am holding the missing part in my hands. I throw it up to him in

the branches but it falls back down; it is battered by the branches and lands on the

ground, dented. But it is made of soft, pliable metal, so I repair it easily and throw it

back up into the branches. The musician catches it and fits it back between

the other two parts of the instrument. But the music still doesn't start. We are

waiting for something. This makes me anxious, and so does something else

everything is a bit different here. In reality the majestic chestnut tree stands more in

the background, as far back as the shed, and there is no chestnut tree at that spot

any more. The stump of another chestnut (or of the same one?) is now in the place

where really the little wooden summerhouse should be, and so on. Then I get the

idea; I am afraid that we are waiting for the start of a funeral…but, to set against

those fears, there is that ease and relaxation in the attitudes of the musicians….

Copyright ©2005 Zbyněk Hejda

English translation Copyright ©2005 Bernard O'Donoghue




Zbynek Hejda


Zbyněk Hejda was born in Hradec Králové in 1930. His first volume of poetry was published in Prague in 1963. When he joined Charter 77 he was dismissed from his job in a publishing house and became a janitor. During the 1980’s all of his publications were with Samizdat presses. From 1987 he was co-director of the Samizdat publication Central Europe. After 1990 he taught medical ethics at Charles University. He won the Jaroslav Seifert prize in 1996. He has translated the work of Emily Dickenson, Georg Trakl and Gottfried Benn. He divides his time between Prague and the village of Horní Ves.



Bernard O'Donoghue


Bernard O’Donoghue was born in Cullen in North Cork in 1945. He teaches medieval English at Wadham College, Oxford.  His Selected Poems was published by Faber in 2008. The Whitbread prize for poetry is among the awards he has received. He has translated medieval love poetry, as well as poems from Irish and Italian.






















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