In the Czech Republic May 1st is a national holiday known as Labour day (Czech: Svátek práce). However, most Czechs regard the 1st of May as “love day”.
On the 1st of May many couples in Prague gather at the statue of the Czech romantic poet Karel Hynek Mácha located in Petřín Park. They often go there to lay flowers at the foot of the sculpture.
Mácha is known for his epic lyrical poem entitled Máj (English: May) which has become one of the most prominent works of Czech literature. In the Czech Republic the poem is continuously in print and often memorized and recited by children at school.
The poem is a homage to the beauty of spring and tells the tragic love story of Vilém, a bandit, and Jarmila, the girl he loves.
Here you can read the first lines of the beautiful poem in English:
Late evening, on the first of May—
The twilit May—the time of love.
Meltingly called the turtle-dove,
Where rich and sweet pinewoods lay.
Whispered of love the mosses frail,
The flowering tree as sweetly lied,
The rose’s fragrant sigh replied
To love-songs of the nightingale.
In shadowy woods the burnished lake
Darkly complained a secret pain,
By circling shores embraced again;
And heaven’s clear sun leaned down to take
A road astray in azure deeps,
Like burning tears the lover weeps.
Here are the first lines of the poem in the original Czech:
Byl pozdní večer – první máj –
večerní máj – byl lásky čas.
Hrdliččin zval ku lásce hlas,
kde borový zaváněl háj.
O lásce šeptal tichý mech;
květoucí strom lhal lásky žel,
svou lásku slavík růži pěl,
růžinu jevil vonný vzdech.
Jezero hladké v křovích stinných
zvučelo temně tajný bol,
břeh je objímal kol a kol;
a slunce jasná světů jiných
bloudila blankytnými pásky,
planoucí tam co slzy lásky.
A popular custom practiced on May 1st in the Czech Republic is to kiss your loved one beneath a blossoming cherry tree. Tradition says that a girl who is kissed under a blossoming cherry tree will stay beautiful all year round. However, if a cherry blossom cannot be found, couples often kiss beneath any other kind of blooming tree available.
Petřín Park, home to the magnificent statue of Karel Hynek Mácha, is a popular spot for couples on May 1st not only because of the famous sculpture of the romantic poet, but also because it has so many blossoming fruit trees. Strolling through the romantic flower filled park on the 1st of May is an old tradition practiced by couples to this day.
Poem translated by Edith Pargeter
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