In the Czech imagination, the poetic impulse is strongly tinged with gloom and morbidity. This tendency is offset when, as typically happens, morbidity is delivered with an ironic smile by your Czech poet, be he (rarely she) a writer, rocker, or politician.
The short version: Eat, drink, make love, and be merry, poetically. Add to this a fierce individualism and you begin to understand this recollection of Ivan Martin Jirous:
One of the greatest Czech poets has died, a man who was very elegant in his soul though he may have appeared rough on the surface and maybe even a little unkind, if we take all his excesses into account. But as a poet he was truly gentle”
– music critic Vojtěch Lindaur.
Jirous died in Prague on the night of 9-10 November, aged 67. His memorial service took place yesterday on the symbol-heavy date of 17 November. The last rites for a man known to all as Magor (“Loony”), never photographed without a mug of beer in hand (he was also a great lover of the hard stuff), a bohemian in every way, were held in Prague’s Jesuit church with the bishop of Prague officiating.
Jirous’ potted biography (Plastic People manager, jailed dissident, multiple award-winning poet) can be found easily online, so I won’t reprise it here. Václav Havel’s office released a statement saying in part,
He was my good friend for many years. He influenced social change in our country in important ways, and I am glad that Magor lived to see better times.”
The service for Jirous took place 174 years to the day after the same ceremony was held in the same church for the pre-eminent Czech romantic poet, Karel Hynek Mácha, and 22 years on from the day the Velvet Revolution began in Prague when a procession of students to Mácha’s grave became an impromptu protest march against the regime.
Jirous was, maybe, a neo-romantic in that he sought release through excess at a time when excess was punishable as “hooliganism.” Did he outlive his time? I hope Havel is right, and that people like him still have something to say even in these times when excess has become ordinary.