MILAN RÚFUS (born in 1928), poet, essayist, author of children's books, translator.
The work of Milan Rúfus is one of the most expressive poetic phenomena in Slovak literature.
It has achieved a unique unity of life and poetry. Rúfus tries to change the indifferent world to
a world of humanity. He is a poet of unusual strenght who never accepted the regime of the
communist totality. In his poetry and essays, he has reflected first of all the moral crisis of today's
man against the background of the crisis in today's civilization.
DANA PODRACKÁ: Your collection of poems Fidelity (Vernosť)
came out last year. You have my respect. "One who is unfaithful
in small matters, will also be unfaithful in the great ones". / Lk
16,10 / We encounter infidelity in great matters quite often; in
politics and in relationships. Infidelity in small matters, however,
is not so important to us. What are the smallest kinds of infidelity
that actually count?
MILAN RÚFUS: I think it will be best if we start with - coming
back; to the quote from Vladimir Holan - the quote which served
as a base in my understanding of fidelity.
"And even though at times I had visions without revelations, I was
so faithful that I became a witness."
Holan defines poem as a kind of revelation in this passage. I can
only attest to that. He comes to know art through intuition.
A poem made solely from words reminds me of Potiphar's Wife
who was left only with Joseph's cape - Joseph himself, escaped
her. Holan admits that he, too, sometimes created poetry only as
an act of will. But he was so faithful to his desire for the secret
that in the end he, at least, became its witness. And this is also
a way to write a good poem.
This Holan-esque passage surprised me in a strange way. As if the
cause and consequence is the language of God's righteousness,
DANA PODRACKÁ: Let's go back to Fidelity (Vernosť). Three
times Holan and the Bible once - as a motto. Do you have your
own dark nights with Holan as he had with Hamlet?
MILAN RÚFUS: How did I come into contact with Holan and
Czech poetry altogether? Sometimes even the ugliest hen lays
a beautiful egg.
I finished my studies at the Department of the Slovak language in
1952. Those were the peaking years of Stalinism. I was offered an
assistants position in this department and I accepted it. However
they made me secretary of the department. It was as it had been
in guilds, when the youngest apprentice had to help the master's
wife wash diapers. Bureaucracy was the master at that time.
Memo after memo. Plans were being set for the semester, for the
year, for five years, even ten. I was desperate. Then I was saved by
an offer of a two-year research stay for the study of Czech
literature from the Ministry of Education. I took it immediately.
I concentrated on Czech poetry which has always been better
than their prose. That was it. And since I was born in the
community of Lutherans in Northern Slovakia in times when they
used the Bible of Kralice at mass, I was quite familiar with the
language. Twice a year I was entitled to a study stay in Prague. If
Hemingway had called his stays in Paris a moveable feast then
Prague was such a feast for me. Failing to notice Holan was like
failing to notice Mt. Gerlach in the High Tatras. But I never had
the courage to stop by Kampa and ring his doorbell. I have never
seen him in person but I can still sense him.
There is also something else that links our lives. I have my
Zuzanka and he had his Kateiina - a daughter with Down's
Syndrome. She lived for twenty-four years.
This, too, is a part of my Holan-esque Fidelity.
DANA PODRACKÁ: I love this part from Holan: "I lived for man
and his drama. There where a dual being is waiting and alone. " In
post-modernism, the opinion that a poet is a multiple personality,
started to appear. Is it so?
MILAN RÚFUS: A poet encompasses all human beings. Good and
bad. Sometimes they bring him joy, sometimes sorrow, love or
hatred. And within himself the poet has to pay for this hatred.
DANA PODRACKÁ: Does not the fact that NietZsche's prophecy:
God is dead, is starting to ful?ll, sadden you?
MILAN RÚFUS: I have always thought Nietzsche to be a bit harsh
and it seems as if he took pleasure in this harshness. History was
my minor in college. I was intrigued by the characteristics of
poet had said it for and to me. I accepted the principle of fidelity
not only in connection with poetry but also in life. It has one ?aw,
though: fidelity to mistakes and the consequent fanaticism.
DANA PODRACKÁ: I consider you to be a mystic. What about
you? Do you feel you the mystic inside you?
MILAN RÚFUS: I am a human being. In a very interesting book
Denatured Animals, the French writer Vercors regards man's need
for myth to be the essential characteristic that separates humans
from animals. And, again, I am a human being.
DANA PODRACKÁ: I read St. John of the Cross again, not so long
ago. When reading certain parts I thought of you. I thought of your
spiritual song, your climb on Mt. Carmel, your dark night, and
your live fire of love. Saints resemble each other in their union with
God. Is poem a sign of this union?
MILAN RÚFUS: Poem is a unification of man with the Secret and
it calls this Secret different names. One of them is God.
DANA PODRACKÁ: You say: to be simple. Does not God, himself,
use the words of simplicity and place them into a soul pure enough
to accept them?
MILAN RÚFUS: God's words are simple and effective. It is
a language without words. The inviolability of the link between
societies in times when history decided to send them to the
junkyard. The loss of myth was the first syndrome of their
upcoming departure. And then there was the related hypertrophy
DANA PODRACKÁ: It is said that God loved the Jews the most
because, out of all the nations, they felt His presence the most. It is
an attribute of a mystic experience. Do you feel God's presence
sometimes? Like Pascal in his Night of Fire.
MILAN RÚFUS: I talk to Him as if He was my neighbor, Not just
thank you and be praised. God is not conceited, wallowing in
pleasure when praised. There are so many controversial things on
Earth that it seems that they are its essence. And so I say to Him:
"Did it have to be? Couldn't it be any other way, Lord?"
DANA PODRACKÁ: What is your view on the new role of woman
in the society?
MILAN RÚFUS: The patulent tree of Christianity planted into the
Judaic base has its roots in the soil of the Near East and it has
accepted its traditions in this matter. -Taceat mulier in ecclesia.
Let the woman be quiet in an assembly.- I saw this in the Italian
countryside near Naples. A man and a woman went to work in the
field. He was walking first with a cigarette in his mouth, holding
a stick. She went behind him hunched under the heavy sack of
tools and food. My Italian colleague explained it this way: Here in
the south a man can be idle all day long but he cannot loaf around
at night." What to do with this...? We have to forget it and move
closer to humanity.
DANA PODRACKÁ: Could we say that your relationship to
Zuzanka is Love, which hurts in order to bring love back?
MILAN RÚFUS: It could be described by these words. I will
answer with a poem.
And Zuzanka, again
And again, it is here.
It is here again and anew.
Tell me, little girl,
are there words still,
which I have not said?
Are there such words of love,
withheld by your and my
There are no more such words,|
and will not be.
Because only love
can rebel against destiny.
With just its touch,
the bull inside softens.
And unpretty things
Will become pretty.