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The National Memorial in Prague

by James Graham 

Posted: 18 August 2010
Word Count: 183


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The National Memorial in Prague

They have a worker with a hod
of bricks erected here instead of God.

He seems resolved to be
a worker or be damned.

With visionary gaze like Paul
on the Damascus road, he contemplates

a tenth-floor wall where he will lay his bricks
and consecrate another workerís flat.

It is a humanist cathedral.
Stained glass commemorates

large peasant women; assorted
Party men in bronze complete

a kind of trinity. The eye is drawn
to the mausoleums of the saints:

the heroes of the anti-fascist war,
the great black tomb of Klement Gottwald,

inscribed in gold. This high conceit,
this godless Vatican, this hymn

to Lenin with its red flags flaming
on the marble stair, presumes to deal

with death as Christians do, whose real
concern and province it has always been.

For since the Nazarene
negated death, they have enshrined

it sacredly, refined their special
forms of homage, and become

the best authorities. They do not state
in stone its plain finality.

These builders, as if not quite sure,
still made a kind of church.

Prague 1964








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Comments by other Members



James Graham at 21:30 on 18 August 2010  Report this post
As it says at the foot of the poem, I wrote this in 1964! My wife and I, adventurous at that time to the point of recklessness, decided to go on holiday behind the Iron Curtain. We made friends with the Czech tour guide, returned the following year to stay a month with her in Prague, and are still in touch with her to this day.

Obviously as visitors we didnít see the down side of life in a Communist country, but the places we visited seemed prosperous enough, and the Czech people we met seemed quite positive about their society and active in the community. But Czechoslovakia was never anything like, say, Ceausescuís Romania, or North Korea today. And I suppose the new order was at least preferable to the years of Nazi occupation.

I hope this poem wonít seem too remote in time and place - a museum piece. Iíve been rummaging in my personal archive and coming across this I thought it might still be presentable.

Klement Gottwald was the first Communist President (from 1948 until his death, from syphilis and alcoholism, in 1953).

James.

woodsville at 19:32 on 19 August 2010  Report this post
Hi James

I've read this through a few times and feel it is about a clash of ideologies and if that's so why the need for description.

I feel that you make it too easy - I understand that it is a point your trying to get across that reason/rituals alienates us from emotion in the end whether it be christian or aethist.

I have a problem with stanza 2 and the last stanza - either he has been sucked in by the ideology or he remains beyond its grasp.

Patrick

James Graham at 20:08 on 20 August 2010  Report this post
Patrick, thanks for your comment. Why the description? When I look again I realise that much of the description isn't relevant to the subject of death and memorials, which doesn't get going until after the poem's half-way mark. I suppose at the time - though not caught up in either Communist or Christian ideology/ belief - I couldn't help being impressed by the memorial. But it was curious how very like a church it seemed, and that's more or less what the poem is saying. I wasn't aware of trying to make a point about reason/ ritual and emotion.

When you post a poem you begin to re-assess it in a way you wouldn't if it was just lying around. I'm fairly sure that this is a museum piece at best. Unless someone else thinks different?

James.

joanie at 19:02 on 25 August 2010  Report this post
Hello James. I'm slowly getting back into the swing of things! I really did enjoy reading this and my first thoughts are that I would like to see the memorial. My neighbour is Czech; in fact, he is in Prague at the moment, visiting his mother.

I totally understood the opening lines; I loved the Communist/God comparison, which led me on to want more.
It is a humanist cathedral.
Stained glass commemorates

large peasant women; assorted
Party men in bronze complete

a kind of trinity.
Wonderful! I find it fascinating.
this godless Vatican, this hymn

to Lenin


Oh, sorry..... I shall be quoting every bit of it! I find your links excellent.

a museum piece?
Not at all!

I love it.

joanie



V`yonne at 20:56 on 25 August 2010  Report this post
James, wonderful! I didn't find a thing I didn't like or understand and this
This high conceit,
this godless Vatican, this hymn

to Lenin with its red flags flaming
on the marble stair, presumes to deal

with death as Christians do,

is brilliant. Well I think so...

clyroroberts at 20:53 on 26 August 2010  Report this post
I like it. I don't think it reads like a museum piece at all.

Maybe its worth developing the idols idea into modern neo-liberal capitalism and the shrines to money that have been created on a much bigger and more extravagant scale since the velvet revolution. Our monuments seem even more cold and lifeless than the communists'.


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