Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Karel Hynek Mácha 1810-1836

Yesterday was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karel Hynek Mácha, the Czech poet whose Gothic fantasy 'Máj' perfectly captured the idea of doomed youth so favoured by the Romantics. The narrative of Mácha's poem takes place on the first of May, and each year on that day his memorial on Petřin Hill becomes a place of devotion for lovers old and young.

Last night saw a pilgrimage of a different sort, a candlelit event organized by the energetic Bernie Higgins as part of the highly successful Poetry Day festival (which actually runs for two weeks each November). At the foot of the statue, a number of poets from Prague, Brno and further afield read their work or recited from 'Máj'. Please feel free to read the sonnet I wrote for the occasion on my poetry blog.

The statue, sculpted in 1912 by Josef Myslbek (who was also responsible for the fine equestrian bronze of St Wenceslas below the National Museum), stands on the other side of the Vltava, within view of Prague Castle. The no 22 from Vršovice gives easy access to the hill from the tram-stop at Újezd.

In the fashion of the true romantic poet, Mácha died young, the result of a fever contracted while helping to put out a barn fire during a visit to Litoměřice the day before his wedding in 1836. His remains were finally interred in Vyšehrad cemetery, the resting place of those artists, writers and musicians whose work has contributed to the revival and survival of the Czech national spirit. Click on the smaller picture to see a picture of Mácha's grave.


Karin said...

Just read your 'Pool Leaves' - very nice! You will lie next to Macha some day! That is not meant to be morbid, but a compliment!! I tried to read his poem 'May' ....but found it to be very long and tedious. I couldn't finish it. Radio Prague on 14 November had a nice article about Macha as well. So sad that he died so young and in such a tragic way. Good blog!

Alex Went said...

Hi Karin, and thanks for your kind words. I'm sorry 'Maj' did not appeal. It's an acquired taste, I think, like Keats's 'Lamia' or 'The Eve of St Agnes'. Did you read it in the translation by Edith Pargeter (of Brother Cadfael fame)? It's quite a good one, I think, though the web version has many misprints.

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