Marta Kubišová: Lampa (Supraphon, 1968)

2 May

A kind of pastiche Brechtian cabaret performance, Lampa may have been an atypical presence in Kubišová’s catalogue, but it was also among her best known songs, and as such furnished the title for a 1990 compilation of her 1960s singles that appeared on the Czech market after the ban on her releases was finally ended with the Velvet Revolution. The song itself is a straightforward narrative in which the usual trajectory of a good woman falling into vice owing to lost love is neatly inverted: in Lampa, the woman is undone only when love intrudes on her days but instantly departs, taking her youth and the symbolic warmth of her protective lamp away with it. The song can be heard here, and the Czech lyric is available to read here.

Lampa (The Lamp)

(Bohuslav Ondracek/Pavel Vrba, 1968)

I burned a lamp filled with kerosene
against the evening cold,
a lamp lit by the men
I brought one by one to my room.
That lamp had never seen love before.

In the espresso bar’s flattering light
I’d burn like a candle,
unravel my youth.
I drank gin that burned
like a crystal flame on my tongue.

I tasted the forest and wood-sap
in every sip, heard axes
striking in the knocks
at my door. The lamplight flickers
for someone’s want of a girl…

But then it happened, at last,
when my hundredth man undressed
that my kerosene lamp
blinked hard, went out.
That last man felt heat instead of ice.

And when I said goodbye to him
I stared deep into the void
of a cocktail glass.
I would go again to the espresso bar
but no longer have a lamp to burn.

There is only the light of gin at dawn,
an ache in my head,
the soot of a dying flame
on the wall.
That lamp had never seen love before.

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