Friday, August 2, 2013

I Wish I'd Written This

The Soul
By Miroslav Holub (1923-1998)

In Queen Street
on Friday night
— lights blooming but
already pomegranate-heavy
with Adult Entertainment —
a yellow balloon
was hopping around
among herds of cars,
holding its helium soul together,
two lives left,
to the music of singing ironclads,
hopping, filled with its yellow
before wheels
and behind wheels,
incapable of salvation
incapable of destruction,
one life left,
half a life left,
with a molecular trace of helium,

using its last resources,
its string searching
for some child's hands
Sunday morning.

(From Interferon, or On Theatre, trans. by Danan Habova and David Young.)

Czech poet Miroslv Holub was also a scientist, specifically an immunologist, who liked to use scientific metaphors in his poetry. Wikipedia tells us that his work, being unrhymed, lends itself to translation, has been translated into over 30 languages, and is particularly popular in the English-speaking world.

The Poetry Foundation credits him with holding science as his vocation and poetry as his pastime. He himself saw no conflict between science and poetry, but recognised that many of his scientific and his literary friends regarded each other with suspicion.

Much of his poetry could be taken politically, as I'm sure it was meant to be. I find it quite dark, though alleviated by sardonic humour. I like this one that I've chosen here for its lighter mood. The image of the bobbing balloon is so strong that I long for the happy ending in which the string finds the child's hands.

I also love the fact that the poem is one sentence.

A number of Holub's books are listed on Amazon. There seem to be not many of his poems online, but those few worth reading: The DoorCreative Writing (with audio), The Heart.

(Don't confuse him with the actor or singer of the same name.)

Poems and photos used in ‘I Wish I’d Written This’ remain the property of the copyright holders (usually their authors).


  1. Thank you so much, Rosemary! Absolutely love this poet! Will be reading more of his poetry...

  2. Interesting poet and poem, Rosemary. Fascinating that he is both a scientist AND a poet and is well known for both. Must be equally right-brained and left - brained. HA. I like his writing style and that he wrote this poem as one sentence. I often write one sentence poems too.

    1. Yes, Mary, I have noticed yours with appreciation! :)

  3. he wrote one of his last poems on my beaten up typewriter.

    He was an incredibly interesting, humorous, slightly prickly, but deeply "human" individual, who made a deep impression on everyone he met. I will always be glad I met him - and can still hear the metal keys tapping on that paper.

    Thank you for posting, and I would heartily recommend everyone read his work.

    1. Thank you for sharing your knowledge of him. I can well imagine that your meeting enriched your life.

  4. I had to go back and read it again when I read your comment about it being all one sentence. How cool. Great pick, Rosemary, as always. Thank you.

  5. Oh wow, this is truly awesome. I had to read it twice just to begin to take it in. Love the style and flow.

  6. As always, delighted to have given you all enjoyment by sharing this poet's work.


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