Foreword by Ivan Klima
Czech writer Vitezslav Nezval (1900-58) was one of the leading Surrealist poets of the 20th century. Prague with Fingers of Rain is his classic 1936 collection in which Prague’s many-sided life – its glamorous history, various weathers, different kinds of people – becomes symbolic of what is contradictory and paradoxical in life itself. Mixing real and surreal, Nezval evokes life’s contradictoriness in a series of psalm-like poems of puzzled love and generous humanity.
Nezval was perhaps the most prolific writer in Prague during the 1920s and 30s. An original member of the avant-garde group of artists Devetsil (Butterbur, literally: Nine Forces), he was a founding figure of the Poetist movement. His numerous books included poetry collections, experimental plays and novels, memoirs, essays and translations. His best work is from the interwar period. Along with Karel Teige, Jindrich Štyrský, and Toyen, Nezval frequently travelled to Paris, engaging with the French surrealists. Forging a friendship with André Breton and Paul Éluard, he was instrumental in founding The Surrealist Group of Czechoslovakia in 1934 (the first such group outside of France), serving as editor of the group’s journal Surrealismus.
His mastery of language and prosody was unparalleled – contemporaries referred to it as wizardry. Alongside with surrealist poetry he wrote poems that sounded like genuine folksongs and for some time he teased the Czech literary public by the anonymous publication of three books attributed to a fictitious Robert David – one of 52 Villonesque ballades, another of 100 sonnets, all in strict classical form. His identity was guessed by the critics only because ‘no one else would be able to do that’.