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Czech Republic: Poet's Career Spans Empires And Languages

Prague, 25 June 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Ewald Osers was born in Prague a few months before Russia's Bolshevik Revolution, a subject of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. The monarchy is long gone, communism collapsed in Europe but Osers -- translator, poet, analyst and wartime collaborator of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill -- is still going strong at age 80.

Osers, whose mother tongue is German, wrote his first poems when he was a teenager. During the next seven decades, he kept on writing and translating poetry and prose from German and Czech into English. To date, Osers has translated 120 books and published two small volumes of his own poetry.

Osers was beginning to gain recognition in Czechoslovakia during the 1930s as a young poet writing in German. But with the threat of Nazism, war and the looming horror of the Holocaust, Osers, who is Jewish, left his native country for England. He escaped just in time -- two months before the pact of Munich forced Czechoslovakia to surrender a large chunk of its territory to Germany.

Osers joined the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) at the outbreak of World War II and has been living in England ever since.

In an interview earlier this week with RFE/RL during a brief trip to Prague, Osers recalled that his first job at the BBC was to monitor news out of Berlin and to translate it.

"We covered every speech by Hitler," Osers said. "I worked for Churchill. He got Hitler's speeches in English 10 or 15 minutes after they were delivered."

After the defeat of Nazi Germany and with the advent of the Cold War, Osers continued his work at the BBC, eventually becoming chief editor of the radio's Eastern European monitoring division. He retired from the radio in 1977.

But poetry gave Osers the most satisfaction. "I have always been in love with poetry and translating poetry," he says.

Osers says he believes in writing a tight poem, 14 lines or less, which he considers the ideal length for him. He particularly admires the works of Dylan Thomas and T.S. Eliot.

In a poem written in English, Osers observes:

"I probe closer to the bone -
trapped by a conventional metaphor
into supposing that there,
deep down
is my real self.
But is it true
that what I am
and what I do,
the pain I give to those I love
the smiles I lavish on strangers,
can it be true that these
are predetermined by some alchemy of genes,
are not the result of thought and dream and conscious will?"

In another one, Osers writes:

"I'm, just a boy who takes his clock apart,
mainspring and balance-wheel, levers and pivots,
and now,
between unsuspecting thumb and forefinger,
the pin of the time bomb."

Osers says he is happy to have lived long enough to see his native country free again after decades of occupation, first by the Germans and then by the Soviets.

"My home is England now but I hope to make more frequent and longer visits to Prague," he says.