In the Microscope

    Here too are the dreaming landscapes,
    lunar, derelict.
    Here too are the masses,
    tillers of the soil.
    And cells, fighters
    who lay down their lives for a song.

    Here too are cemeteries,
    fame and snow.
    And I hear the murmuring,
    the revolt of immense estates.

    Miroslav Holub (1923-1998)

Miroslav Holub was a legitimate case of a scientific poet; drawing on the perceptions he came across in his laboratory work to note down unfussy but deeply philosophical verse. The landscape for this poem is the microscope, but no one else has expressed it so fittingly. This particular translation into English from Czech is by Ian Milner, from Miroslav Holub, Poems before & After (1990).

The entire cosmos can be found in a smudge of something-or-other on a microscope slide and for anyone who has ever gazed down an ocular lens of a microscope can readily picture what the poet’s eye sees. The Czech author was an immunologist by profession and a poet by calling. In the Microscope portrays life among the cells, a universe of dreams and suffering, of courage and death. By the final stanza science, politics and poetics have cluttered the smear becoming both an object of beauty along with terror.

One of the finest Czechoslovakian poets of the 20th century Miroslav Holub was also a practicing scientist and clinical pathologist. His poems are usually spartan and freeform. An admittedly major influence on his work was William Carlos Williams and although Williams made every effort toward frankness and candor, Holub often investigated several layers of implication. For example in line five the Czech word translated as "cells" also has a political meaning in English. Reminiscent of Williams, Holub's poems repeatedly deal with the grimly gritty realities of life and are composed with scientific precision.

Born in Pilzen Holub studied science and medicine at Charles University in Prague and worked in the department of philosophy and the history of science. In 1954 he joined the immunological Institute of the Czech Academy of Science. Even though he was later given civil liberties to travel-- by the seventies he had become a "non-person" during the Stalinist regime in his home country. He was a prolific writer who published sixteen books of poetry and several collections of essays, as well as, over 140 scientific papers.


Holub, Miroslav: In the Microscope: webdocs/webdescrips/holub203-des-.html

minstrels In the Microscope -- Miroslav Holub

Radio National Poetica Home Page:

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