was born in Prague at Újezd, his father was a barley dealer. As a student, Mácha took part in amateur theatricals in the Kajetánské Theatre where he met Josef Kajetán Tyl (author of dramas "to educate the Czech nation to national awareness") and his girlfriend Lori Šomková. At the beginning of the 1830s, Mácha helped Polish refugees who after the defeat of the Polish uprising were trying to escape through Bohemia to the West. In April 1836, at the age of 26, he published his most important work, the reflexive poem Máj (May) at his own expense. In the same year, he completed his law studies and became a legal clerk in the northern town of Litoměřice (Leitmeritz in German). This is where he died suddenly on 6th November 1836, probably as one of the last victims of cholera on the territory of Bohemia.
Mácha started writing in German; his poems entitled Versuche des Ignaz Mácha (Attempts by Ignaz Macha) were published in 1956. He continued writing in German even after going over to Czech; his private papers were also often written in German.
In order to be able to use even his most intimate experiences and thoughts in his creative writing, he included in his diaries, apart from notes from his reading and from records of his extensive travels in Bohemia and abroad (he twice visited Italy on foot), records of dreams and of his sexual encounters with Lori. These diaries are partially encrypted, they were first deciphered in 1886 by Jakub Arbes who did not publish them.
These diaries, especially because of their sexual content, are sometimes overvalued. Mácha´s personal letters show him in a different light - as a sober observer and commentator of what was going on around him.
Mácha´s brother Michal Mácha and his friend Karel Sabina managed his literary papers and tried to publish his work, unpublished during his lifetime. Mácha´s authorship of some prose works (Cikáni, The Gypsies, Návrat, The Return) is sometimes disputed.
Mácha´s position in Czech literature also seemed controversial: it was as if his work had absolutely nothing in common with the tradition of 19th century Czech poetry. But scholars have been able to prove over time that Mácha´s exceptionality was the result of the capability of his genius to absorb polemically inspiration from everything around him. Mácha was strongly influenced by the Baroque culture (which the supporters of the Enlightenment rejected, but which was still alive in Mácha´s time) and he reacted actively to developments in European literature (which he read partially in the original, partially in German translation).
Mácha felt strongly the position of Bohemia which was a subjugated part of the Austrian Empire, without its own representation. This enhanced his frustration and his scepticism . Mácha was convinced about the power of the poetic imagination to encourage the human spirit, to give courage to outsiders, to "hangmen", "prisoners", "gypsies" and "irrelevant" towns like Prague.
Most expressions and literary methods which Mácha used already existed in Czech literature at his time. Mácha regrouped them creatively and gave Máj exceptional musicality
George Gordon Byron created the genre of a lyrical-epical poem in European literature (Lara, The Prisoner of Chillon), hence the name "a Byronic tale". Polish and Russian Romanticists used this form frequently (Adam Mickiewicz, Konrad Wallenrod, Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin, The Gypsies, Mikhail Yuryevich Lermonton, The Demon). In comparison to these works and to other similar works, Mácha´s May is more subtle and more lyrical. Mácha´s "exceptional hero" is incapable of changing his predicament, but he comments on it with a courageous mind and exceptional imagination.
The narrative parts of May are a polemical development of the entertainment stories of robbers. We only meet Vilém, the feared leader of robbers, as a prisoner who has been sentenced for the murder of his father. During the night before his execution he thinks about his situation, in the morning he is taken out and executed. In his prison soliloquies, Vilém rejects the guilt which is being ascribed to him (he murdered his rival in love without knowing that this was his father - his father had thrown him out of house and home when Vilém was a child). Vilém is horrified by the impending death which he sees as a definitive end of life: his feeling of helplessness is also deepened by the passing time. Before his execution Vilém also thinks of his girlfriend Jarmila and is not sure whether she remained faithful to him. He says good bye to the earth which he sees as Man´s cradle and his grave.
This fragmentary story of the prisoner (in the second and the third canto of May) is preceded in the first canto by an episode in which the unhappy Jarmila learns about Vilém´s fate. In the last canto of the poem, Vilém´s predicament is assessed by the narrator, having visited the place of his execution several years later, first in winter, then in spring again. This narrator, Hynek, is close to the author of the poem and identifies himself through his feelings with Vilém.
There are descriptions of places in the countryside (the lake, the place of execution) and of the prison cell at various parts of the day or night. In the individual cantos, the natural world lives in its own way, ignoring the problems of human beings, in the two intermezzos, on the other hand, the natural world shows compassion to the plight of the human beings.
Only the secular authorities condemn Vilém in Máj. Elsewhere, the hapless prisoner is given compassion. Vilém sees himself as a victim of the selfish father and demands justice for himself. Various other people also feel compassionate towards the prisoner: the gaoler, and the crowd at the place of execution which prays for him. In the last canto, the narrator of the poem fully identifies himself with Vilém. The whole musical composition of the poem speaks in favour of the prisoner (the musicality is based on repetition of sounds, words, parts of sentences and whole verses). The exceptional musicality of the Czech original of Máj captures the reader before he is capable of understanding the work.
In Máj, Mácha spoke for Czech-speaking outsiders, for people without support of the family, the community and God, for hapless individuals who have been deprived of the freedom to act, for Man who is under pressure of his mortality. Máj displays early existentialist features: Man, only when under pressure facing death will fully realise the beauty of life and his existence.
When Máj was published in 1836, all this was rejected by several critics (Tyl, Chmelenský, Tomíček) as un-Czech and as blasphemous. Mácha´s Máj was not fully accepted until 1858 when a generation of writers around Neruda first hailed this poem as a work of genius.