Jiří Orten (born "Jiří Ohrenstein" in Kutná Hora on August 30, 1919; died September 1, 1941) was a Czech poet. His work was influenced by surrealism and folklore. His first book of poems, Čítanka jaro (Reader of Spring), came out in 1939. He spent time in Paris, but ultimately returned to Prague. As a Jew his life under Nazi rule was extremely restricted, but for a time he continued to write under pseudonyms.
At some point in 1940 his situation worsened and he was no longer able to write under pseudonyms. This situation forced him to take odd jobs and a romantic relationship failed around this time. Although he had shown interest in communism in youth religious themes concerning the Book of Job and God became more evident in his writing. On August 30, 1941 he was hit by an ambulance. He was taken to the General Infirmary, which refused him treatment because he was Jewish, so he was moved to another hospital. He died two days later. Although he gained a cult following for a few years after his death, the Communists later rejected him as "degenerative muck." His work gained renewed interest during the Prague Spring, and ultimately opinion of him rebounded. This re-appraisal led Czechoslovakia to create a literary prize named for him in 1987.
In 2011, White Picture, a collection of Orten's poetry in an English translation by the American poet Lyn Coffin, was published. (Night Publishing) Lyn's translations of Orten were described by Orten's brother, Ota Ornest, as "the poems Jiří would have written if he'd written in English." The book features an introduction by Ed Hirsch.
- Works by Jiří Orten as e-books available for free download from the catalogue of the Municipal Library in Prague (in Czech)
Jiří Orten, Elegie, Vyšehrad, Praha 2013.
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