Josef Kainar

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Josef Kainar (June 29, 1917 in Přerov, Austria-Hungary – November 16, 1971 in Dobříš, Czechoslovakia) was a Czech poet, lyrics writer, drama author and translator, but also musician, illustrator, artist and journalist. He was a member of artistic group Skupina 42 and literary group Ohnice.


Josef studied Czech and French languages at the Charles University in Prague between 1938 and 1939. After the closure of colleges he exchanged a couple of employments. The theater scene was close to him – he worked as a script editor in Divadlo satiry. He also worked as a journalist; his jokes, images and poetry were published in the newspaper Rovnost. After the World War II he also cooperated with the radio, movie makers and theater. For example he was creating so called ″rozhlásky″ for the Czechoslovak Radio, which were news for younger listeners in an accessible form. After 1947 he devoted himself fully to literature.

He was also musically talented; he played concerts on piano, guitar and violin. His style was based above all in jazz, he even mentions it in his poems.

He rests on Vyšehrad cemetery.

In 2007 a high school was named in his memory in town Hlučín, where he studied, too.


In the beginning his work was influenced mainly by existentialism. Irony, even bordering on mockery, is typical to his work. His work being highly lyrical was able to connect with music; it was colloquial, sometimes even vulgar, was opposing conservatism. He was trying to keep his verse truthful, to depict the harshness of the world, he went even for scepticism. His poems contain little stories, which impel the reader to reflection.

Beside his literary work he wrote movie scenarios and photographed.


  • Příběhy a menší básně (1940) – His first work, typical little stories; reflection of war and epoch
  • Osudy
  • Nové mýty (1946) – This collection is strongly based on program of the artistic group Skupina 42. It contains, among others, also his most famous poem Stříhali dohola malého chlapečka, which was set to music by Vladimír Mišík. He calls into question the myth of rightful new world, being fully ironic and sarcastic; contains existencialism, absurdity and estrangement.
  • Veliká láska (1950) – inspired by Vladimir Mayakovsky
  • Český sen (1953) – moves from being committed; writing about history – when the Czechs had to fight for the future
  • Člověka hořce mám rád (1959) – after desillusion of communism, returns to other topics; invincible love, even though man errs and sins
  • Lazar a píseň (1960) – relaxation of the regime of the time makes the language also loose
  • Moje blues (1966) – isolation of a human, scepticism, near Nové mýty; tragicomic, burning irony

Poetry for kids[edit]

  • Říkadla (1948)
  • Nevídáno neslýcháno (1964)
  • Zlatovláska – Kainar transformed the classical fairy tale from collection of Karel Jaromír Erben into versified drama (1952/1953). He returned then once more to Zlatovláska to re-versify it, this time publishing it in print (1958).


In the early 40's he wrote lyrics mainly to American swing classics (George Gershwin, R. Rodgers, D. Ellington, H. Carmichael et alii). During the occupation the nazis condemned it as "Jewish-Bolshevik filth", which was played among the youth anyway, a lot on the tramping meetings. Kainar made some of his texts to music on his own – and very well. E.g. the songs Černá kára, Starý mrtvý vrabec, Blues železničního mostu etc.

He translated above all French and German poetry.