If houses here are green, I’ll step inside a house.
If bridges here are sound, I’ll walk on solid ground.
If love’s labour’s lost in every age, I’ll gladly lose it here.
If it’s not me, it’s one who is as good as me.
If a word here borders on me, I’ll let it border.
If Bohemia still lies by the sea, I’ll believe in the sea again.
And believing in the sea, thus I can hope for land.
If it’s me, then it’s anyone, for he’s as worthy as me.
I want nothing more for myself. I want to go under.
Under – that means the sea, there I’ll find Bohemia again.
From my grave, I wake in peace.
From deep down I know now, and I’m not lost.
Come here, all you Bohemians, seafarers, dock whores, and ships
unanchored. Don’t you want to be Bohemians, all you Illyrians,
Veronese and Venetians. Play the comedies that make us laugh
until we cry. And err a hundred times,
as I erred and never withstood the trials,
though I did withstand them time after time.
As Bohemia withstood them and one fine day
was released to the sea and now lies by water.
I still border on a word and on another land,
I border, like little else, on everything more and more,
a Bohemian, a wandering minstrel, who has nothing, who
is held by nothing, gifted only at seeing, by a doubtful sea,
the land of my choice.
About this poem
Introduced by a variety of writers, artists and other guests, the Scottish Poetry Library’s classic poem selections are a reminder of wonderful poems to rediscover.
Julia Boll on 'Bohemia Lies by the Sea':
I come from a country by the sea. Docks, ships, seafarers' tales and songs have shaped my imagination.
But it was when I moved to another coastal nation that this poem suddenly hit home. There is a gut-wrenching melancholy to it, to the search for a lost kingdom, a fairy-tale land, the country of a winter's tale. The impossible Bohemian seacoast has become a symbol for the European search for meaning and identity, the wandering minstrel floating in the wind over imaginary dominions, over the dreamed-up utopia that is Europe. We are hoping for the mercy of finally being granted the impossible, because we have been stubbornly dreaming: please, please, let us be the kingdom by the sea, let us be lost in order to be found, let us be unanchored and not restricted by any alliances, dependencies, borders, trials and commitments, let us find the stages again where our histories will be played out and our visions will be sung. Please let us embrace the paradox and thus make it true.
Julia Boll is one of the three editors of the poetry and prose magazine newleaf, which is published in Bremen, Germany. She also works for the Edinburgh Review. Currently, she is writing her PhD thesis at the University of Edinburgh – on war and conflict on the contemporary stage. She hopes to turn newleaf into a literary anchorage for international voices and spends a lot of her time in Edinburgh hunting for new authors.