Egon Bondy, Czech underground poet & philosopher, dies at 77

Egon Bondy, photo: CTK

One of the most famous figures of the former Czech underground scene, Egon Bondy, died on April 9th at the age of 77. During his lifetime he published dozens of volumes of poetry and prose. But he was perhaps most well known in the Czech Republic for lyrics he wrote for the seminal Czech underground band The Plastic People of the Universe.

Egon Bondy,  photo: CTK
Egon Bondy - born Zbynek Fiser in Prague in 1930 - was arguably one of the most revered and at the same time complex figures of the former Czech underground scene. In the late 1950s he studied both psychology and philosophy at Charles University and throughout his life wrote more than fifty volumes of poetry and prose, the latter often concerned with the individual in conflict with society. Bondy's work itself appeared only illegally in communist Czechoslovakia, secretly published and disseminated only as Samizdat literature. For many he is best known for texts borrowed by Czechoslovakia's seminal underground band The Plastic People of the Universe, writing the lyrics for the band's unofficial anthem Mochomurky Bile (White Mushrooms) as well as the words for most of the Plastics' 1974/1975 release known as Egon Bondy's Happy Hearts Club Banned, including the song Dvacet (Twenty).

Egon Bondy's editor Martin Machovec spoke to Radio Prague in the past about the writer's development from surrealist poetry in the 50s to later prose and his eventual meeting the Plastic People of the Universe:

"He was a philosopher but also a poet. He started writing his poetry in the early 50s, and with a couple of his friends, including Bohumil Hrabal, at that time he established one of the first samizdat editions called 'Pulnoc', which means 'Midnight'. Then in the early 70s he was discovered by those young rock underground musicians, which were quite well-known, thanks to the best-known underground rock group, The Plastic People of the Universe. So the musicians started putting his lyrics to music."

Bondy was a prominent member of the anti-establishment scene, and his works were an inspiration for many within or on the edge of the underground movement, but also for students at the time lucky enough to get their hands on clandestine copies of his work. Literature professor, singer, and Radio Prague contributor Pavla Jonssonova indicated in 2003 that Bondy had a huge impact on her generation.

"In spite of all the very oppressive circumstances in the late '70s young people were so excited about sharing documents documents of Charter 77 and distributing various forms of the samizdat writers, be it Havel, Vaculik or Grusa, but especially we loved Egon Bondy... for us the most exciting figure because as a revolutionary philosopher and poet he combined everything that we expected of a hero and a literary hero at that."

After the fall of communism, Egon Bondy's role was somewhat diminished on the Czech literary scene, compounded by his decision to move to Bratislava in 1993 in protest of the Czech Republic and Slovakia split. Still, he continued to publish both artistic and philosophical work in the mid-1990s, teaching on Marxism (to which he inclined) and Buddhism at university in Bratislava.