Six Poems by Ondrej Hanus

translated by Justin Quinn



Fig. 1



whose blood gushed out in gouts across the wall

whose blood in bowls was splashed across the floor

the heart like good wine ruined by frosty hoar

and then a death, rust-red, last breath, the gall


and all that pus, God, so much everywhere,

the tissues part and bones come from this slime – 

in moments like this coyness were a crime

(the brain looks like a penis, though I stare)


and that’s when I began to sing out loud,

off key, but loud, in fact more of a shout,

and for conducting I’d part of a hip


and from the innards I spelled out Vivat!

and took the skull intact and smashed it flat,

O fray for us, and hear us give you lip



Fig. 2

(dug up)


The parent material swears off skeletons

as you by day dig up through skulls and shins

and by night sink a paternoster down

just where a cypress tree must have long grown


in the bloody field dug up with no quarter

(all weeds) with your tall toll, your very own,

the clays of ground-down icons stick like mortar

to heels of fruit that rise – inside no-one






Fig. 4



he willed his way in here, a will like walls,

sharply, and like all variables has worn

down to the bone of dark the way one falls

asleep – knocked back the blood of his high born


walked up through flesh to moments’ marrow – rims

of nails and steps of sinew – the form evoked

the face of sin, denial in the limbs

and right here like all variables he croaked



Fig. 5



and death is folded yet inside its kernel

broadcast on pollen like the light eternal


at the speed of sound it moves unsilently

and like bad rhymes here comes the earliest bee



Fig. 6



here life ends, between a pear-tree

and 3 a.m., the dead will go

to dry the dew, and memory

is hallowed for the dirge – in tow


to a copper snake slide meaning’s roots

across the ground, and its leaves dry

in urns where fiends and devils lie

clear in our goal, we take wrong routes


we march forth in time, but go backwards

I’ve no idea now… we seem to lack words

time transfigures space’s features


and beg salvation from the creatures

whose choirs shriek ruthlessly in turns

all hail, you contents of these urns



Translator’s note: Ondrej Hanus (b. 1987) is a Czech poet, translator and critic. He has published two collections, Stínohrad (Shadowfort, 2008) and Výjevy (A Book of Figures, 2013), for which he received the Jirí Orten Prize, and from which the poems here are taken. His work is unusual for its formal inventiveness, which draws on the example not only of Czech poets like J. H. Krchovský and Jan Zábrana , but also on poets such as Donne and Herbert (Hanus studied English translation at the Charles University), as well as German Expressionism. Yet the divisions between formal and experimental work that are so widespread in the US and UK seem not to apply: Hanus is the editor of the magazine Psí víno, the platform for the most innovative and experimental poetry in the Czech scene; also, Hanus’s recent poetry is formally disjunctive. The poems here from A Book of Figures are the first pages of the book, and are rich with puns, inventive rhymes, an unusual orthographic pattern and one acrostic; they grimly, yet playfully, renew the Metaphysical tradition for the twenty-first century.


Justin Quinn’s translations of the Czech poet Bohuslav Reynek will be published by the Charles University Press in Spring 2017. 



Image credit: Orin Zebest

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