A SCOTTISH POET IN PRAGUE

kafka_franz_obraz

Autumn In Prague, by Edwin Muir:

The ripe fruit rests here,

On the chill ground,

In the sterile air,

All meanings have fallen into your lap,

Uncomprehending earth.

The stubble shines in the dry field,

Gilded by the pale sun,

The trees, unburdened, with light limbs,

Shiver in the cold light.

In the meadow the goat-herd,

A young girl,

Sits with bent head,

Blind, covered head,

Bowed to the earth,

Like a tree

Dreaming a long-held dream.

The gossamers forge their cables

Between the grasses,

Secure,

So still the blue air hangs it`s sea,

That great sea, so still!

The earth like a god,

Far withdrawn,

Lies asleep.

What has Frank Kafka in common with the Orkney Islands, off the north coast of Scotland? Look no further than Edwin Muir, head honcho of the British Council in Prague, just after WW2. This was his day job; at other times he filled in his spare time as one of Scotland`s best known 20th century poets, who along with his wife Willa, also translated Franz Kafka into English, thus doing much to establish the Kafka brand throughout the English speaking world. Autumn in Prague, written in 1925, is one of two poems he wrote with a specific mention of Prague, although, due to Muir`s hangups over urban environments ( he came from the wilds of the Orkney Isles), it doesn`t really have any urban reference.

Still, it doesn`t really matter when he was such a talented wordsmith: his translations of Kafka came about mainly through his recognition in Kafka of a kindred spirit, who saw the irrationality of life in Prague and of urban environments in general. Muir had travelled far beyond Kafka`s physical horizons of Prague, but sensed that Kafka was an explorer and traveller of the mind, and thus in a way, a kindred spirit, who he felt needed to be wider read and appreciated.

Not long after the communist takeover in 1948, the British Council was forced to close down, and Edwin and Willa  Muir left for a short stay in Rome before returning home to Blighty. Prague remained in their hearts, shown by Muir`s second Prague poem, The Cloud, written a decade later. Edwin Muir died in England in 1959.

NPG x24466; Edwin Muir by Howard Coster

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