"Do Frogs Exist there Too ?"


A light-hearted poem written in 1878 by the Czech poet Jan Neruda.

It is poem #22 in his collection of "Cosmic Songs" (Písně kosmické):

    Frogs sat around a puddle
    And gazed at heavens high
    Frog teacher pounding into skulls
    The science of the sky.

    He spoke about the heavens
    Bright dots we see there burning
    And men watch them, "astronomers"
    Like moles they dig for learning.

    When these moles start to map the stars
    The large becomes quite small
    What's twenty million miles to us
    They call one foot, that's all.

    So, as those moles did figure out
    (If you believe their plan)
    Neptune is thirty feet away
    Venus, less than one.

    If we chopped up the Sun, he said
    (Awed frogs could only stare)
    We'd get three hundred thousand Earth's
    With still a few to spare

    The Sun helps us make use of time,
    It rolls round heaven's sphere
    And cuts a workday into shifts
    "Forever" to a year

    What comets are is hard to say
    A strange manifestation
    Though this is not a reason for
    Some idle speculation

    They are no evil sign, we hope
    No reason for great fright
    As in a story we got from
    Lubyenyetsky, great knight

    A comet there appeared, and when
    It rays were seen by all
    The cobblers in a tavern
    Began a shameful brawl

    He told them how the stars we see
    So many, overhead
    Are actually only suns
    Some green, some blue, some red

    And if we use the spectroscope
    Their light tells, in addition
    Those distant stars and our Earth
    Have the same composition

    He stopped. The frogs were overwhelmed.
    Their froggy eyeballs rolled.
    "What more about this universe
    Would you like to be told?"

    "Just one more thing, please tell us sir"
    A frog asked, "Is it true?
    Do creatures live there just like us
    Do frogs exist there too?"





Seděly žáby v kaluži,
hleděly vzhůru k nebi,
starý jim žabák učený
odvíral tvrdé lebi.

Vysvětloval jim oblohu,
líűil ty světlé drtky,
mluvil o pánech hvězdářích
zove je "Světa krtky".

Pravil, že jejich hvězdný zkum
zvláštní je mírou veden,
dvacet že milionů mil
teprv jim loket jeden.

Tedy že, řekněm pro příklad
- věříme-li v ty krtky -,
k Neptunu třicet loket je,
k Venuši jen tři čtvrtky.

Rozmluvil se pak o Slunci
- žáby jsou divem němy -,
ze Slunce ž e by nastrouhal
na tři sta tisíc Zemí.

Slunce že velmi slouží nám,
paprskovými klíny
štípajíc věčnost na rok a
směnkové na termíny.

O kometách že těžkářeč,
rozhodnout že to nechce,
míní však, že by nemělo
soudit se příliš lehce.

Nejsou snad všecky nešťastny,
nejsou snad zhoubny všecky,
o jedné ale vypráví
sám rytíř Luběněcki:

sotva se její paprsky
odněkud k nám sem vdraly,
vskutku se v glinské hospodě
hanebně ševci sprali.

O hvězdách potom podotknul,
po nebi co jich všude,
skoro že samáslunce jsou,
zelené, modré, rudé.

Vezmem-li pak pod spektroskop
paprslek jejich světla,
že v něm naleznem kovy tyž,
z nichžse i Země spletla.

Umlknul. Kolem horlivě
šuškají posluchači.
Žabák se ptá, zdaž o světech
ještě cos zvědít ráči.

"Jen bychom rády věděly,"
vrch hlavy poulí zraky,
"jsou-li tam tvoři jako my,
jsou-li tam žáby taky!"


Translated by D.P. Stern



Note: The entire collection of Neruda's "Cosmic Songs" can be found, in Czech, at
http://citanka.cz/neruda/pk1-1.html .

    "Neptune is thirty feet away..." Neruda obviously refers to astronomical units (AU), the mean Sun-Earth distance (see here). The AU is often used by astronomers to express distances in the solar system, especially in 1878, when the exact value of the AU was less certain. His "mile" is clearly several times larger than ours. "Foot" as used here, in Czech "loket," actually means "cubit," the distance from elbow to stretched fingertips, about a foot and a half.

    The "knight Lubyenyetsky" probably refers to writings of a Polish astronomer and historian by that name (1623-75), whose "Theatrum cometicum" listed 400 comets

Return to listing of Poems


Author and Curator:   Dr. David P. Stern
     Mail to Dr.Stern:   david("at" symbol)phy6.org .

Last updated March 2004