Vladimír Holan’s První testament

The Czech poet Vladimír Holan wrote his long narrative poem První testament in the summer of 1940, the first of a series of fourteen narrative poems written between 1940–1955. The poem consists of eighty-one stanzas, all in iambic tetrameter and all with a regular rhyme scheme. (The model for the stanza and certain structural elements of the poem appears to have been Puškin’s Evgenij Onegin). This paper will begin with a discussion of how Holan came to write this major work and of the importance of První testament in Czech poetry of the period and more generally. The poem will be set against the background of historical and political events as well as within its literary-historical context. This discussion will be followed by an analysis of the poem which will attempt to show ways in which Holan’s dense and difficult poetry can be approached, deciphered and in some sense “understood.” The analysis will focus on two specific aspects of the poem: the apparent influence of Russian literature, and Holan’s use of the theme of “The Fall”, a theme of central importance to his poetry.