Author: Jonathan Bolton
Harvard University
Translation from Czech by Mihaela Kuzmova
Published in Slavyanski dialozi, XVIII, 2021, 28, 38-58.

Abstract: This study examines three elegiac cycles from the period 1937–41: Jaroslav Seifertʼs Osm dni (Eight Days, 1937), Jiří Ortenʼs Elegie (published posthumously, 1946), and Ivan Blatný’s Melancholické procházky (Melancholic Walks, 1941). It argues that two basic oppositions are present in the Czech elegy of this period. First, there is a division between the poetʼs public and private roles, between conceptions of mourning as an act of civic or national importance and as a private act carried out in hiding. Second, the study borrows loosely from Freudʼs Mourning and Melancholia to argue that the elegistʼs lyrical narrator often engages in a kind of self-observation and self-reproach associated with melancholy, in which one not only mourns but also criticizes oneʼs own mourning as inappropriate or inadequate. These two oppositions – between “public” and “private” mourning and between the estranged selves of the melancholic identity – interact in the Czech elegy of this period.
In Seifert’s elegies to T. G. Masaryk, the poet alternately assumes the role of national bard, participating in funeral ceremonies meant to heal the nation after Masaryk’s death, and self-reproaching melancholic, sceptical about the meaning of his own elegies. Melancholy thus serves to remind us that not all mourning is public and healing, but that does not put that public mourning at risk or in doubt, and Seifert fully accepts the elegyʼs public function as a way of uniting the nation and popularizing consolatory notions of Masaryk’s heritage.
Key words: Seifert, Orten, Blatný, melancholy, mourning, self-reproach.