Czech underground legend Ivan Martin Jirous dies aged 67

Ivan Martin Jirous, photo: CTK

One of the legends of the Czech underground, poet Ivan Martin Jirous, died in Prague on Thursday at the age of 67. Ivan Jirous, or Magor – literally “the crazy one” as he was affectionately called by his friends – was perhaps best-known as the artistic manager and spiritual leader of the underground band The Plastic People of the Universe, but this eternal rebel was also a sensitive, contemplative poet and master of the Czech language.

Ivan Martin Jirous,  photo: CTK
In his numerous poetry collections (the first published illegally in the 1970s and 1980s), Jirous addressed basic human values, the human condition, the paradox of existence, longing for transcendence and salvation. Literary critic Josef Chuchma:

“In his poetry Jirous occupies himself with the soul, with the question whether to sell your soul or not. In a unique way his poetry mixes spontaneity, worldliness and earthiness with the most supreme issues of faith, eternity and God.”

For his lifelong literary work Ivan Martin Jirous was awarded the Jaroslav Seifert Prize in Prague in 2006. But official artistic recognition came only late in his life. Jirous did not choose an easy path to tread. Always going against the grain of the authorities, his rebellious nature earned him five prison sentences under communism, including that for his involvement with the band the Plastic People of the Universe. Although educated in art history at Charles University Jirous was only allowed to work as a manual labourer between his jail sentences. A man of strong principles he always maintained he did all on his own behalf.

Ivan Martin Jirous,  photo: CTK
“I never fought for our Czech-Moravian nation. I always fought on my own behalf. I served 8.5 years in prison for that but that’s the price you pay for pride. And I am perfectly willing to serve another 8.5 years and I absolutely don’t care what kind of regime is in power. Sincerely, I fought for myself and the fact that it had an impact on my friends and people around, who may have made some decisions under my influence, is of secondary importance.”

A hot-headed rebel, Ivan Martin Jirous never minced his words and often liked to pick a fight in pubs, but literary critics agree his poetry expressed extraordinary tenderness.