The Petr Bezruč Memorial Opava

The Life and Works of Petr Bezruč

Petr Bezruč (1867–1958, real name Vladimír Vašek) is amongst the most significant representatives of Czech poetry from the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. He made his name with his only collection of poetry, the Silesian Songs. As with Bezruč’s celebrated creative method, there is nothing to compare these unique verses with anything in Czech literature. The author has been classified by literary historians amongst the generation of so-called ‘anarchist rebels’ and his works were influenced by symbolism and Czech Modernism.


A lot of attention has been, and continues to be, devoted by researchers to the origins of Bezruč’s only collection of poetry. There were several stages in the creative process that gave birth to the Silesian Songs. The origins can be dated to the beginning of the 1890s, before the critical autumn of 1898, when the poet fell ill with haeomptysis. It is likely that a substantial part of the collection (the core of the Silesian Songs) was created over a very short space of time in the opening months of 1899. Bezruč’s sudden creative tension was triggered by his serious lung and nerval disease, his personal experience of unfulfiled love and a feeling of obligation to speak out about the ethnic and social repression in his native region.          

During the years 1899 and 1900, Bezruč sent Jan Herben the majority of the poems that formed the basis of his life’s work. In 1903 the author gave his consent to the publication of a special edition of the Slezské číslo periodical (initially 22 poems, then 31 a year later). In 1909 the collection was expanded – to 54 poems – and published for the first time in book form under the name Silesian Songs.        

During his entire creative life, Bezruč published no other works than the Silesian Songs. However, he constantly worked on the collection, reworking the poems, altering them rythmically and adding new poems. Admittedly, these alterations weren’t always to the benefit of the poems. The alterations made by Bezruč in the course of the 1930s, in particular, were, from a quantitative and qualitative point of view, worse than those previous and were made for linguistic reasons and to mechanically reflect changes in the Czech language. Due to the large qualitative differences between the various editions, the definitive form of the Silesian Songs became the subject of dispute. A specialist conference on the textological problems of the Silesian Songs, held in Opava in 1963, decided that the canonical text would be based on the text of the 1928 edition.         

The poet’s self-stylisation as the bard of a dying people was intended as part of the myth of the resistance and revolt of the Silesian people. Not only does Bezruč express himself in allegorical terms, but the specific setting of almost every poem can also be determined. What makes Bezruč’s poems exceptional, aside from their documentary quality and regional testimony, are their symbolic visions, mythical references, balladic qualities and aggressiveness, the dramatic qualities of their dialogues and their local dialect colouring.

Article last updated: 30.07.2012

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