Ivan Blatný

Poet, son of the writer Lev Blatný (1894-1930). Born in Brno, he spent the first part of his life here – before escaping into exile in 1948. He lived in a house...

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František Halas

Poet, translator and publicist, Brno born, spent his childhood and youth here. He learned the bookseller’s trade from A. Píša and for a brief period (1919–1921)...

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Oldřich Mikulášek

Poet and publicist. Lived in Brno from 1937 until his death, latterly at Mášova street. He is linked to several cultural institutions (the Brno studios of Czechoslovak...

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Jaroslav Seifert

Poet, publicist, memoirist. The first – and so far the only Czech to receive the Nobel prize for Literature. In addition to the lasting popularity he won through...

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Jan Skácel

Poet, writer, editor and translator. Spent most of his life in Brno and is closely linked to a number of Brno cultural institutions (the magazine Host do domu...

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Vít Slíva

Poet and schoolteacher. His connection to Brno dates back to his university days. Apart from one interlude, he has been living to this day at Poděbradova street....

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Places (in alphabetical order)

Jiří Mahen

1882  –  1938

Real name Antonín Vančura. A playwright, poet, novelist, publicist, librarian and organizer of Brno cultural life. He was born in Čáslav, and after his studies at the Prague Philosophical Faculty and several teaching posts, settled in Brno, where he was active from 1910 until his self-devised death, as the editor of the Lidové noviny and Svoboda newspapers, as a director and dramatists of the Czech theatre and a co-founder of the City Library that nowadays bears his name, as well as the former German theatre Na hradbách (On the battlements). The collective name given to six film librettos Husa na provázku (The Goose on a String) inspired the eponymous and renowned Brno experimental theatre in 1967. His extensive and diverse works, ahead of, as well as inspired by the avant garde, portray life in Brno e.g. by the novel Nejlepší dobrodružství (Best adventure,1929), and he also dedicated one entire poem to Brno (1935).

The author and the places of his/her poems


The poem and the place

To New Brno

I saw you back then, your ascension surging,
as if by angels’ arms being borne aloft …
Just as the world was mired, in mists submerging,
from which the sun-blushed bud emerges soft.
You were the perfect shape and form, all braving,
above you flags by fresh joy fanned were waving,
you like a clean white surface brightly shone …
Of you, and thus, my soul dreamed then, and on.

We watched you though, lifted quite slowly, chary,
from murky streets, the dust of everyday,
by feeble force … Your face a grey mask, wary,
bore fear, which our spirit can’t wash away,
tortured by swarms of midge-like myriad dangers.
How long ago, my city? We were strangers,
from ages past, some wellspring was upwelling
soul-ward – but oft too weak and uncompelling.

Oh city mine – your fate’s fruit night-filled, waited,
and yet our searching fingers missed and doubted!
You did not grow – we in you, isolated,
without God’s grace, we just lived on without it.
Life in a monster’s maw, all round us, scary,
we, happy, not until the cemetery,
where at least all was level, uncompromising
and up from crosses yet, the morning rising.

When in that sphere did we suspect, hope, tell,
who can say? To your Calvary you climbed,
albeit the shroud they’d tailored for us fell.
Your factory smoke swelled Sombre tuned, slow timed …
Must our goal lie beyond the wilderness?
dread are the moles that blindly onward press,
and titan interests that shake the ground so deep –
did we reach over mankind’s chasms steep?

Well, goodbye dreams, in which but beauty’s living!
Bring people wise, awake, and even-handed!
Only from deeds does strength come, ever giving,
that the deceased pass to the living, splendid!
You, our old nest of casemates, heads rolled, reckoned,
lough aloud now, by far horizon beckoned
what kind – what kind! All of it, yours for taking!
Never more to go begging, humbly quaking!

There are towns gnawed at slow by doom unplanned,
unstoppable by any golden temple,
there are towns where compatriots lend a hand,
rich in their opportunities still ample –
like Brno! To live for it, once we chose,
our world must be where toil’s horizon glows
with all resolve! Stand tall o’er fate we must,
that in our city we’ll vest our faith and trust.

                                               (28 September 1935)

                                                     translated by Václav Pinkava

Mahen, Jiří: Brno, moje krásné Brno… Výběr poezie a prózy o Brně (Brno my beautiful Brno … a selection of poetry and prose about Brno), ed. Jiří Hek, Brno: Univerzitní knihovna 1960, pp. 22-23.


Jiří Trávníček  -   travnicek@ucl.cas.cz
Michal Fránek  -   franek@ucl.cas.cz

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