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Disappearing Poets: Notes on Frantisek Gellner

Updated on April 27, 2019
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My name is Jamie Lee Hamann and I started sharing poetry articles back in 2013. Every year I share a poem a day in April.

Notes on Frantisek Gellner

Frantisek Gellner was born to a poor Jewish family in Bokslav Bohemia in the middle of the 19th Century and started his adult life into the 20th. His father was a socialist who sent his son to study at hometown schools for his primary and secondary education. While in school he shared his poems, translations, and attempts at journalism with his school journal. At fifteen years of age Frantisek submitted "Fifteen Bottles of Cognac" which brought a limited amount of fame to the teenager.

Frantisek attended the Polytechnic Institute in Vienna for the first two years of his higher education. His attentions began to move away from education towards a local anarchist movement and he was unable to pass his exam. The police began surveillance of Frantisek at this time as he wrote for an anarchist periodical titled "Novy Kult."

In 1901 Frantiseck attended the Mining Academy in Pribram but did not even finish a year until he moved deeper into Prague to join various Anarchist Parties. After three years of working for these parties he started his compulsory military service.

The military could not hold Frantisek as he left and moved to Munich to study painting. Shortly after he started painting his caricatures began to see light in Paris in three journals: Rire, Cri de Paris, and Le Temps Nouveau.

His father grew ill in 1908 and Frantisek moved back to Bohemia where he stayed for a few years until seen again in Paris working on his caricatures and journalism for the "Lidove Noviny."

World War One saw Frantisek recruited into the Austro-Hungarian Army. On Sept. 13th 1914 Frantisek Gellner was claimed missing in duty and never seen from again. Another lost casualty of war.

The Poetry of Frantisek Gellner

Frantesik always wrote poetry first. At fifteen he found a short lived fame with his poem "Fifteen Bottles of Cognac."

He wrote a few collections for example:

  • "After Us Let the Floods Come!" and
  • "Joys of Life."
  • His illustrations and caricatures are found in many fellow poets collections and novels of his time.

He mostly wrote Chansons. A Chanson is a lyric driven French song developed in the late 16th century.

Schubert inspired Chansons named "Salon Melodies" in the 18th century. "Chanson Realite" or "Realist Songs" were made popular by Edith Pilaf. The music of Debussy led to "Art Songs" of the 20th century.

There is no formality to Chansons except for a strong rhythm and rhyme. Each song is created with performance in mind.

"Night Came" by Frantisek Gellner

Night came. I couldn't sleep. A thing to fluster

a wiser man than me, unsettling stuff -

Pity that while still young I'd lose faith's lustre

and cannot swear an oath heartfelt enough!

The night was endless just like human folly

and just like life itself full of despair.

In silence deep can elegy dolefully

play out on heartstrings its embittered air.

I threw the blanket back, picked shirt and breeches

from off the floor and soon dressed, there I stood,.

Brief, fertile search of pockets for some matches.

A scrape of keys in the front door ensued.

Dutiful husbands with their wives slept soundly

while quiet hearts peace over them did waft.

In pubs the political theories rang roundly

held forth by the men of wide-spanned views, aloft.

I closed my eyes; in distant height discerning

wing beats of gruesome and infernal might

.From wise and well worn tracks uncoupled, learning

to see how petty it all was, how trite:

the struggle for one's life and happiness

and for the notion of the nations best.

A brave deed, dog-loyal to girlishness,

Syphillis, art and freedom-loving zest.

Out of the brothels came the women's chatter

bidding and tempting lusting males with glee.

Like flags of peace, from barrack-window scattered,

with standard issue smiles did flit and flee.

I left the town behind. The River trailing,

and willows reaching out, instilling fear,

calling to me, derisive shrieking, wailing:

friend, brother, come and hang yourself right here!

Conversation on "When Night Came"

One would be hard pressed to perform scansion or evaluate rhyme when Frantisek's poems are translated from Czech. A deeper study of the scansion could lead to a deeper understanding of the poem but with the risk of bias from the translator.

"When Night Came" is made up of rhyming couplets with around nine to eleven syllables each line and varied rhythm throughout. The poem easily fits within the definition of a Chason or "Realist Songs" made popular by Edith Pilaf.

Realism seems to permeate the poem. Frantisek creates scenes with drunks and prostitutes and other dirty secrets from most cities.

Knowing of Frantisek's lean towards Anarchy explains his cynical almost bitter tone. The two combined stanza's seem to be his chorus, or his chant, a nihilistic call to an end.

Though many of the rhymes in his poem may not have been what Frantisek had in mind in his native Czech. his word choice is purposeful and multi-layered.

For example the rhyming scheme in the beginning of the poem goes fluster-stuff-luster-enough. Where each rhyme could be combined to create its own meaning.

The action in the poem is written in a linear fashion. The narrator cannot sleep and is bound to ponder his life and find a solution to his sleeplessness.

"When Night Fell on the White House" by Jamie Lee Hamann, a poem in memory of Frantisek Gellner

When night fell upon the White House

our congress found time to sleep

while drunks cheered at the Alehouse

and citizens stayed awake to weep.

The addicts threw down their needles

after a momentary score

an escape from this cities evils

until overcome with cravings for more.

A chill kept homeless awake in tents

on mornings when they were to search for jobs

to move off the streets and pay their rents

a tomorrow that sleepless nights will rob.

I left this useless government behind

tired of this Nations never ending abuse

a search for greener pastures to find

before this sleeplessness finds me a noose.

In Conclusion

What would have happened if Frantisek Gellner had not drop out of school to become an Anarchist? Would he have still have studied painting in Munich after his small stint in the military? He still would have created countless caricature and a couple collections of poetry.

He would have still fought with the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War One and gone missing somewhere on the soil of Europe.

His songs would still be sung as Chasons in his native Czech. Cynical songs of despair and the loss of hope.

© 2019 Jamie Lee Hamann


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