Dreamverse – Jindřich Štyrský (tr. Jed Slast)


I’ve never really contemplated the thought that another’s dreams could pervade my own. Literature is overloaded with dream references, thinly veiled references to an unconscious mind, or a sub-plot or even prophecy. However, Jindřich Štyrský’s ‘Dreamverse’, a collection of poems, prose, sketches, collages and paintings does not use the “dream” as a literary device, it is the core subject matter.

The original ‘Dreams’, published posthumously in 1970, was a dream journal spanning the interwar period, and this new release from Twisted Spoon Press, includes Jindřich Štyrský’s 1940’s original layout of full colour and half tone images, and texts, and also includes his sole volume of published poetry and twenty-three essays, articles, speeches and manifestos. It is the dream journal and the poems that insert themselves into your own mind, only to come resurfacing as you attempt to sleep. The essays and articles giving further context to his practice and production and stirring a pot or two along the way.

As always with Twisted Spoon Press publications, this is a beautifully presented book, the images reproduced alongside the dream prose is more akin to an art book than a literary work.

The dreams so vividly recalled that they pervaded my own sleep, and I can assure you that these are not idyllic dreams of stunning landscapes or love, there are images of decapitations, deformities, haunted houses, tattooed infants, tiny hands;

Dream of the Deserted House
(SUMMER 1940)

I am standing in front of an old derelict house built of rough stone, unplastered.
The windows and door are boarded up. I walk around it to see if there might be a way in. When I’ve walked around three sides, I notice on the
eastern side, where the house abuts a garden, female legs protruding from the wall. As if a woman has been immured here. A stocking and a show cover one leg, and the other has been picked clean to the bone. I want to get into the house. Bears. I rip one of the boards from a window and break into the house. Then I barricade the window and am satisfied I’m safe. I lie down on a bed and sleep. – – A particular noise jolts me from the dream – – – maybe it was my regular breathing. Light enters the room, and in a corner above me, above the bed, are giant cobwebs, dense, as if hundreds of years old, but instead of spiders there are two copulating frogs – – –breathing deeply – –


The poems are complex, haunting and disturbing, reflecting the surrealist, cubist, and/or artificialist views of Jindřich Štyrský, the collection presenting twenty-four poems, again the paradoxes continue, maidens wearing coats made from their own skin, swine, elephants, tombs and cemeteries;

Only Harps Now Love Silence

A toad sleeping on a clock
A clock showing toad time

Everything happens under turbid water
Where maidens sit reading
Under green water
Coats of their own skin
Made whenever we wish

Expensive skin

But when the eye of God looks on us toads
I’ll take delight
In we toads clad in the fur of divine mice
Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven


The book is presented firstly with the Dreams prose, with artworks, followed by the poetry collection, and closes with Jindřich Štyrský’s other writings. And it is through this final section of the book that historical placement, explanations of his work and a deeper understanding of the earlier sections comes to the fore. Although some of the writings also leap into a surrealist world;

there is no reason to attach importance to anything in this text
it matters very little to us if you deteriorate by old age or paralysis others shall bring us joy

The reflections on poetry, poetics, fellow artists, art and form are very enlightening. Jindřich Štyrský’s artistic partner was Marie Čerinová (Toyen) and in the 1920’s they exhibited works in Paris and founded their own movement “Artificialism”. Founding, along with Toyen, Bohuslav Brouk, and Vitezslav Nezval, the Surrealist Group of Czechoslovakia and returned to Paris at the invitation of the Paris Surrealists. His writings used to comment freely, and at times controversially, on the movements at the time.

Poets, for the most part, are fools. They’re content with rubbing against maidens when they could be triumphing over singing cows. (p194-195)

No one is easier to get drunk than a poet, and the cheapest way is on violet perfume. Poetry will remain modern as long as it doesn’t pick a fight with the new worldview. (p195)

Yet the poet will experience success only when he quits shocking the public. (p195)

A few years ago, the French Journal L’Esprit nouveau ran a survey that asked if the Louvre should be burned down. The question incited the entire global milieu of cultural snobs, and many artists, philosophers, art dealers, and others responded for or against the idea. Those who were in favour of burning down the Louvre, and they were by and large the very top poets and artists from around the world, often found themselves in a rather unenviable position. In one well-known incident, Tristan Tzara, the founder of Dada and one of the greatest contemporary poets, was assaulted at Café de la Rotonde by students of the School of Fine Arts in Paris.
In my opinion, the existence of the Louvre today, with its celebrated Mona Lisa’s smile and ranks of mouldy canvases, restored a hundred times over, depicting outmoded Madonnas, pastoral idylls, and all that allurement bereft of historical context, means little. If the Louvre ceased to exist it would truly be a major loss since we would no longer be able to behold those lovely English ladies staring starry-eyed at the nudes of Giorgione and Titan, but it would hardly be an irreplaceable loss as we live our adventures in front of canvases much more fascinating, intoxicated by the gaze that has escaped the lidded eyes of sultry Greta Garbo and Brigitte Helm. The faces of worldly beauties and chaste Renaissance Madonnas are so vapid, expressionless, entirely devoid of passion, that to us they seen like decaying junk and a tedious bore. (p165)

Jindřich Štyrský’s ‘Dreamverse’ is part artwork, part diary, part poetic and part historical artefact, a work that pervades your own subconscious and plants seeds of nightmares, whilst also giving historical context to the art movements that Jindřich Štyrský was associated with, another fine addition to my collection of surrealist tinged works and yet again a fine example of the quality publications produced by Twisted Spoon Press in Prague.

Photos of some of the artworks are available on the publisher’s Facebook Page


4 thoughts on “Dreamverse – Jindřich Štyrský (tr. Jed Slast)

  1. A toad sleeping on a clock
    A clock showing toad time

    struck me as really sinister for some reason. This all looks pretty good. It always interests me to see artists declare an end to the old guard, etc. Did Štyrský live in Prague? I see he did, moving back and forth between Prague and Paris, surrounded by the enduring works of centuries of artists and artisans. There’ve been far more calls in Europe to burn down the great museums than here (I live in America), probably because America has no real sense of history, no feeling of connection with a past. Surrealism and dada could not have been invented here.

    I just looked at the Twisted Spoon Press website. Amazing stuff.


    • Thanks for dropping by – yes an artifact & a great read. I’ve many a Twisted Spoon book (they were the first to release Olga Tokarczuk into English, ‘Primeval & Other Times, worth seeking out).


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