IN 1996, Miroslav Holub gave a reading at the University of San Francisco.
He opened the reading with a joke. "I'm a poet-scientist," he declared.
"Do you know the difference between a poet and a poet-scientist?"
The crowd waited. "A poet is usually late; a poet-scientist always
arrives on time."1
Holub was born in 1923 in Pilsen (in what was then Czechoslovakia).
His father worked as a lawyer for the railways and his mother was
a language teacher.2
Holub lived through the Nazi occupation, the Communist period, and
the Velvet Revolution. During the Nazi occupation, all universities
were closed and Holub was conscripted to work at a railway station.3
Holub also suffered significant re-taliation for engaging in reformist
activities during Communist rule (as will be discussed below).
Besides a renowned career as a poet and literary essayist, Holub was
also a distinguished immunologist (M.D. and Ph.D.). He was an editor
of the scientific journal Vesmír ("The Universe") and worked for many
years at the Microbiological Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy
of Science. He published over a hundred and fifty scientific papers,
and he even developed a strain of hairless mice that were used to
study various diseases.4
Asking questions is a hallmark of science, and Holub's poems are stubbornly
inquiring. He asks questions about everything, from genes, to disease,
to fate. For Holub, asking a question is a first step: