Review by: James Cox, Midwest Book Review - December 6, 2016
Expertly edited by Milan Richter, "Milan Rufus: And That's the Truth" is the very first bilingual English/Slovak edition of Nobel literature prize candidate Milan Rufus' poetry. Stark black-and-white images by illustrator Koloman Sokol perfectly complement the brief, striking verses embodying the author's embrace of human values, Christian morality, and concept of homeland as a place where man's creativity can shine. Each short poem is presented in its original Slovak and in English translation, on facing pages. "Ordination for a Poet" (for Jozef Mihalkovic): Long ago / when sand still flowed, / God stopped the poet. / And to him said: // "Wherever you come from, / you are my child. / You will bring warmth to the world. // But for the words for each poem / you must enter the deep seams of home."
Review by: John Minahane, Slovak Literary Review - October 16, 2007
TO BEAR A BURDEN AND TO SING RECENZIA
Milan Rúfus, And That's the Truth, Bolchazy-Carducci, Wauconda, Illinois, USA, 2006
This is the first substantial English selection of the poetry of Milan Rúfus, Slovakia's outstanding living poet and in recent years a candidate for the Nobel Prize. 62 poems, taken from a range of published work spanning half a century, are given here in English translation with the Slovak originals facing. An introduction sets Rúfus's poetry in the context of Central European poetry generally, and a brief section on 'Life and Works' gives essential facts. This book breaks ground, and as such it is to be welcomed.
The choice was made by Milan Richter, who is publishing the complete works of Rúfus in 16 volumes, and his selection lets the poet's distinctive voice come through. The emphasis here is on Rúfus of the 'middle period', beginning with Bells (Zvony), published in 1968. No less than 17 poems are included from this collection, and in these mainly unrhymed poems, brief, urgent, concentrated thoughts on demanding themes, the translation is at its best. For example, why you cannot enter a childhood landscape:
It's as if you, a stowaway
tried to step out of your time
as though from a plane, straight onto a cloud.
Swearing that it will carry off
the heaviness that's you,
your winglessness forever.
Or looking at that landscape:
Through the small window, narrow as an obol
under a dead man's tongue, you saw
your childhood landscape. On dusty panes
as on a dog-skin parchment you read
your family tree.
Or a very modern thought, set in the Rúfus frame:
Oh, our answers
age more quickly than our questions.
And heavy, Lord, too heavy for us is
the parachute of sky in which You hang.
(A Wayside Crucifix)
Or the superb Michaelangelo:
To bear a burden and to sing.
who carries beauty to its baptism.
We don't any more.
And the poet,
a thrown rider, tries from the horseshoe's imprint
to create a horse.
Anguish and weariness...
Like babes in a wood, in much we've gone astray.
And beauty, once the intimate of God,
now relates to itself alone
confused and strange things.
Readers will surely appreciate these poems. But would they not appreciate them even better if they could see more of how Rúfus got there, if they could follow more of his poetic journey? I have in mind especially his first collection A? dozrieme (Till we ripen), published in 1956, which is a marvel. It is something like a geological event in Slovak culture, with a new mountain appearing out of the immense tensions of the earth. A young poet with a volcanic force of utterance, an unbearably intense need to speak, was confronted by nothing less than a revolution, which limited, questioned, challenged, for some years even silenced him.
In Till We Ripen the tensions are contained in highly-structured, fully-rhymed poems; two of them, Meeting on the Ringstrasse and Parting, are included in this book, and they stand out. The magnificent Parting (Rozlucenie) would stand out anywhere. While it can be read simply as a poem on the parting of lovers, the echoes of the second verse and the atmosphere of the whole poem tell us there is another parting also, one of wider scope and implications and even greater pain. There are other wonderful poems in that same collection, and I dare say some might argue that Rúfus's first collection is his best.
The introduction is fluently written and puts Rúfus comfortably among the best Central European poets of the late twentieth century. The authors rightly stress his 'immensely individual and original voice', but here and there one may question whether their guidance helps this voice to be heard. "Rúfus struggles with the near impossibility of conveying a sense of faith that does not allow a private experience into the public domain. It is a faith beset by philosophical absurdity where faith becomes an individual's cross." I cannot see what this has to do with Michaelangelo, or Thanksgiving for the Harvest, or the dozens of poems in this selection that would testify equally. On the contrary, Rúfus is a prophet: his faith is always and invariably in the public domain, at least potentially. To read him is not just to eavesdrop upon a soul. But the prophet has, so to speak, been driven into the mountains. Those poems in Bells especially, and all his later poems, have a mountain air.
These criticisms aside, this collection will give readers a sense of an outstandingly gifted poet and his fate 'to bear a burden and to sing'.
Review by: DUPLICATE, Delete -- this is a duplicate - May 9, 2007
Milan Rúfus. And That's the Truth/A to je pravda. Milan Richter and David L. Cooper, ed. Ewald Osers, Viera and James Sutherland-Smith, tr. Koloman Sokol, illus. Wauchonda, Illinois. Bolchazy-Carducci. 2006. 146 pages. $25.00 ISBN 978-0-86516-509-0.
The translators' preface notes recurring images of bread and water, with sacramental overtones, in Rúfus's poetry, but perhaps more striking, in part because of Koloman Sokol's drawings of sculptors and their work, is the emphasis on stone. In "Rodin's Lovers," love is the chisel, and in "What is a poem" the answer is that "the poem is greater than the word" because it is "Not a stone. A statue. Lot's wife. / that's a poem." In "Carpenters," the task is "to hack through into beauty."
Throughout the collection, selected from twenty volumes of the oeuvre, Rúfus emphasizes the struggle not only with artistic creation but with destiny. Like some English modernists, he feels that, in literature as in life, "all roads lead to silence." A path that once seemed to lead to God now "leads to the unknown."
Suffering, as inexplicable as that in the poetry of Thomas Hardy (whose short lines and simple language offer some basis of comparison for the Anglophone reader), is somehow, unlike Hardy's, redemptive. In "Lines," where the extended figure is employed most successfully, markings on the face become grooves in a record for the wearer to "listen to / his master's voice...." "Thus" echoes Gerard Manley Hopkins' "generations have trod / have trod / have trod," and although Rúfus cannot praise the glory of God, he concludes that hunger, neither too great nor too little, offers a space in which humanity can eat and love. Less effective is "Visitors," in which hunger, death, poverty, and worry find consolation in the fact that "The earth came to us and brought flowers."
The next line, "And that's the truth," serves better as title to this volume than as conclusion to the poem. Perhaps too much aware of his position as "a kind of national conscience for Slovakia and its people"-Milan Richter's words--Rúfus too often flattens his endings with didactic generalizations.
English-speaking readers may be missing something in translation, for many of the poems seem not to generate effective internal rhythms. Perhaps his poems in English are best read singly, as meditations rather than lyrics. Seen this way, they bring a valuable new note into poetry in English.
Robert Murray Davis
University of Oklahoma
Review by: Robert Murray Davis, World Literature Review - March 1, 2007
Milan Rufus. And That's the Truth / A to je pravda . Milan Richter & David
L. Cooper, eds. Ewald Osers and Viera & James Sutherland-Smith, trs. Koloman Sokol, ill. Wauchonda, Illinois. Bolchazy-Carducci. 2006. 146 pages. $25. ISBN 0-86516-509-2
THE TRANSLATORS' preface to And That's the Truth notes recurring images of bread and water, with sacramental overtones, in Milan Rufus's poetry, but perhaps more striking-in part because of Koloman Sokol's drawings of sculptors and their work-is the emphasis on stone. In "Rodin's Lovers," love is the chisel, and in "What Is A poem?" the answer is that "the poem is greater than the word" because it is "Not a stone. A statue. Lot's wife. / that's a poem." In "Carpenters," the task is "to hack through into beauty."
Throughout the collection, selected from twenty volumes of his oeuvre, Rufus emphasizes the struggle not only with artistic creation but with destiny. Like some English modernists, he feels that, in literature as in life, "all roads lead to silence." A path that once seemed to lead to God now "leads to the unknown."
Suffering, as inexplicable as that in the poetry of Thomas Hardy (whose short lines and simple language offer some basis of comparison for the anglophone reader), is somehow, unlike Hardy's, redemptive. In "Lines," where the extended figure is employed most successfully, markings on the face become grooves in a record for the wearer to "listen to / his master's voice." "Thus" echoes Gerard Manley Hopkins's "generations have trod / have trod / have trod," and although Rufus cannot praise the glory of God, he concludes that hunger, neither too great nor too little, offers a space in which humanity can eat and love. Less effective is "Visitors," in which hunger, death, poverty, and worry find consolation in the fact that "The earth came to us and brought flowers."
The next line, "And that's the truth," serves better as title to this volume than as conclusion to the poem. Perhaps too much aware of his position as "a kind of national conscience for Slovakia and its people"-Milan Richter's words Rufus too often flattens his endings with didactic generalizations.
English-speaking readers may be missing something in translation, for many of the poems do not seem to generate effective internal rhythms. Perhaps Milan Rufus's poems in English are best read singly, as meditations rather than lyrics. Seen this way, they bring a valuable new note into poetry in English.
-Robert Murray Davis University of Cklahoma
Review by: Stefan Hogan, The Slovak Spectator - February 26, 2007
New book introduces Slovak national bard to the
By Stefan M Hogan
Milan Rúfus:And That's the Truth
Translated by:Ewald Osers, Viera and James Sutherland-Smith
Illustrations by:Koloman Sokol
Published by:Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc.
NOT MANY foreigners outside of academic circles have heard of Milan Rúfus,
Slovakia's national bard, whose unshakeable faith helped keep the national
spirit afloat during the dark decades of communism.
In fact, if asked to name a Slovak writer, most people would probably come up
with Milan Kundera or Václav Havel, who are both Czech.
"In spite of its richness and long history, Slovak literature is one of the
least-known Slavic literatures in the English-speaking world," Dr. Peter Petro,
a Slovak who teaches at the University of British Columbia, writes in his book,
A History of Slovak Literature. "Slovak literature itself can be compared to
Cinderella: the beauty, ability and potential for fame are there, yet it remains
unknown. Few translations exist to remedy this."
Milan Rúfus: And That's the Truth, the newest publication about Slovakia from
the Bolchazy-Carducci publishing house is part of the effort to change that.
The book is the first Slovak-English edition of Rúfus's poetry. At 145 pages, it's
just long enough to contain 64 poems from his 14 major volumes, as well as an insightful translator's
preface and biography of Rúfus and his work.
The selected poems give the reader an excellent overview of Rúfus's different styles, and the vital role
he has played in Slovak literature, society and history.
For example, âo je báseÀ (What is poetry), in which Rúfus pleas with poets to favor tangible imagery
over the abstract and to construct their verse with deliberate craftsmanship:
To place it on the table just like bread
or water. Or
between two fingers salt. That's a poem.
And at the same time not to walk flat-footed.
Even less so on tiptoes. To have time. From the depths to draw up a bucket and not to build a shop on
a fresh spring, or even a shrine.
Until trout head up the river Jordan,
not to buy a rod and to know that a river does not contain just fish.
That there is more to it than that,
just as a poem is greater than the word.
Not a stone.
A statue. Lot's wifethat's
Other significant poems in the edition include, among others, Po v‰etkom (After Everything), an
example of the dark imagery and religious sentiment that solidified Rúfus's position as the country's
"national conscience" during communism, and Básnik sa modlí za deti (A Poet Prays for Children).
Adding to the effect are illustrations by famed Slovak artist Koloman Sokol that bring the poetry's folk
and religious themes to life. The stark black-and-white sketch depicting Slovak folk hero Juraj Jano‰ík
around the time of the Slovak National Uprising in 1944 is particularly expressive.
The translations are a pleasure. Ewald Osers, who gained fame as the translator of Nobel Prize-winning
Czech poet Jaroslav Seifert, and the husband-wife team of James and Viera Sutherland-Smith kept true
to Rúfus's precision and rural simplicity, making this edition enjoyable and deeply rewarding.
Review by: Stefan Hogan, The Slovak Spectator - February 26, 2007
Translating Rúfus, the "grand old man" of Slovak poetry
By Stefan M Hogan
WHEN THE BOLCHAZY-CARDUCCI publishing house in Wauconda,
Illinois, USA needed expert translations for Milan Rúfus: And That's
the Truth, the first bilingual edition of the great Slovak poet's work,
it's no surprise it turned to James Sutherland-Smith and his wife,
Mr. Sutherland-Smith is an English poet and translator who has
been teaching English around the world for over thirty years. In
1989, he found his way to Slovakia just six weeks before the Velvet
Revolution, and took up a position at the British Council in Pre‰ov,
where he met his wife.
The couple has been translating Slovak poetry into English since
1993, including selected works by Ivan Lauãík, Mila Haugová and
Jozef Urban. In 2003, he was awarded the P.O. Hviezdoslav Award for Translation.
The Slovak Spectator recently spoke with Mr. Sutherland-Smith about translating Milan Rúfus: And
That's the Truth.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): How did you get involved?
James Sutherland-Smith (JSS): I was contacted by Dr. Milan Richter [formerly of the Centre for
Slovak Literature], who I've worked with many times. He told me [famed Czech translator] Ewald Osers
had some unpublished translations of Rúfus's poetry, and asked if we would be interested in doing some
others to be put together into this collection.
TSS: What was your process for translating it?
JSS: Our usual method is for my wife to do a word-for-word translation, because she's familiar with the
idiom and regional references, and then, as a poet myself, I shape the translation into natural English
that communicates to native speakers.
TSS: Did you have any previous knowledge about Rúfus and his work?
JSS: A little. I knew him as the grand old man of Slovak poetry; that he emerged in the 1960s, and
couldn't publish his first collection of poetry in the 1950s because of the political climate; and that his
poetry contains a lot of religious symbolism.
TSS: What's your impression of his poetry?
JSS: To me, he's a master of the short, lyrical poem. He's not an epic poet. Stylistically, his use of
The Slovak Spectator - Slovakia's English Language Newspaper
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symbolism follows in the tradition of [early twentieth century Slovak poets] Ivan Krasko and Vladimír
Roy. And his personal conviction and spiritual strength are reminiscent of the [mid-twentieth century]
Slovak priest-poet Janko Silan.
It has also occurred to me that the small area in the western part of the High Tatras that Rúfus hails
from is the same in which Silan had his parish, in which Lauãík lived and worked and in which one of
Slovakia's best poets, Anna Ondrejková, lives now. It's a tiny area for so many good poets.
TSS: What were some of the challenges you faced?
JSS: Well, outside of being given Rúfus's religious poems to translate when I'm not particularly
religious, I'd say the simplicity of his style. Some of it's so simple, it gets lost in translation. It's just so
difficult to translate its sensibility into an English-speaking climate.
Review by: Stefan Hogan, The Slovak Spectator - February 26, 2007
A profile of Rúfus, the poet and the man
THROUGHOUT decades of stifling communism, one poet's clarion voice became
the "national conscience", reminding Slovaks of their homegrown values -
God, Christian morality and attachment to their homeland.
That poet was Milan Rúfus, the son of a builder and native of the Liptov
region, who has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature every year
Rúfus was born on December 10, 1928 in ZávaÏná Poruba, an area struck by
famine in the 1930s, the Second World War in the 1940s and the Communist
Revolution soon after. From 1948 to 1952, he studied Slovak and history at
Comenius University in Bratislava, and remained there to lecture on Czech
literature until his retirement in 1990.
As well as his poetry, he is known for his several major essays and noted
translations of Pushkin, Lermontov and Ibsen. In the 1970s, he began writing
poetry that accompanied works of art, such as paintings by ªudovít Fulla and
photographs by fellow Liptov native Martin Martinãek.
Rúfus wrote his first real volume of poetry, Chlapec maºuje dúhu (A Boy Paints a Rainbow), in the
1950s, but couldn't release it for political reasons until the mid-1970s. Therefore, the Slovak public's
first view of his work came in 1956 with AÏ dozrieme (When We Have Matured), a precocious collection
in which Rúfus first invoked the imagery that has since defined his style: bread, wells, springs, crafted
wood, bells, children, nature and God.
"Rúfus's poetry exudes a religious sensibility that, at the same time, is modern and not dogmatic,"
David L. Cooper, a professor of Slavic Languages & Literature at the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign and editor of Milan Rúfus: And That's the Truth, told The Slovak Spectator. "It's a
faith that's questioning, doubting and face-to-face with the difficulties of being a believer. And it's done
with a very light touch that's not proselytizing.
"Some of his poems were controversial because there wasn't supposed to be darkness or fear during
communism. If you couldn't say something good, you were supposed to focus on the brighter future.
Others are so dense and the imagery so opaque, it's not clear, even upon multiple readings, what
imagery he's using."
Through the late 1970s and into the mid-1990s, much of Rúfus's work turned to children, childhood and
fairy tales. His well-known works on the subject include Kniha rozprávok (A Book of Fairy Tales),
Studniãka (A Little Well) and Modlitby za dieÈa (Prayers for a Child) from the collection Pamätníãek (An
Album). Since then, he has continued to write essays and poetry to great acclaim.
Including early last year, when he received the Slovak Writer Award for his most recent collection of
poems, BáseÀ a ãas (Poetry and Time).
By now, Rúfus's poetry has been translated into more than 30 languages. And beginning in 2002, his
complete works were compiled into 16 volumes, six of which should be available soon.
By Stefan M Hogan
Review: Kanadsky Slovak - January 27, 2007
Slovak's Poet Laureate
And That's the Truth, by Milan Rufus, poet laureate of Slovakia, has been translated into English and published by BolchazyCarducci Publ., Inc. just in time for the March 14th holiday. It would be a wonderful way to share your pride for your Slovak heritage with family and friends, and to taste some eternal truths in poetic language.
Milan Rufus is the most translated Slovak poet into foreign languages: German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Bulgarian, Czech, Georgian, Hungarian, Macedonian, Polish, Ukrainian, and Baltic Languages. Now he's available for the first time to the English-speaking world. The book contains 64 of Rufus's poems in Slovak and English.
Rufus has been the recipient of many awards, including being a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature every year since 1993. He was forced to go underground during the communist regime because of his writing " such dangerous" thoughts.
Rufus became a kind of national conscience for Slovakia whose aim is humanistic values and poetic purity. Foreign translators and literary critics extol not only his heroic courage to put his faith in the resiliency of man under oppression and deprivation of human rights, but also his original ability to synthesize universal humanitarian values with the values of his distinctive Slavic ethnicity.
And That's the Truth contains 10 paintings by Koloman Sokol, a leading personality of twentieth century art. Sokol is one of those few artists born in Slovakia whose art has reached beyond his country's borders. Sokol's wide-ranging artistic agenda originated in his unceasing powerful inner energy devoted to the oppressed and the humiliated. Having lived most of his adult life in the United States, Sokol died in 2003 at the age of 100.
144 pp. (2006) Hardbound, ISBN 978-0-86516-509-0, $28..00 + $7.00 p/h first copy and $1.00 each additional copy Enrich America with the treasures of Slovak art and literature SAICF Slovak-American International Cultural Foundation, Inc.