John Lennon Wall – Prague; A Poem

“All you need is love.” – John Lennon

We left our hotel with only a map and began walking. Past the Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square that dates back to 1410, across The Charles Bridge constructed in 1357, and up the hill to the Castle where walls surround Saint Vitus Cathedral founded in the 10th Century. Later in the day I looked at the map as we descended back down the hill and spotted the John Lennon Wall, circa 1980. How could that be, I thought, in this magical medieval city?IMG_0956

Mala Strana, or Lesser Town on the west side of river Vltave below the imposing Castle, is a labyrinth of small cobblestone streets. When we turned the corner onto nondescript Velkoprevorske Namesti a crowd was gathered in front of a multi-colored wall pointing at the likeness of Lennon, talking, laughing and shooting photos. Just as many visitors were contemplative. A street musician played “All You Need Is Love” on a violin.

John Lennon was a folk hero in Prague during the totalitarian era when the Communist ruled. Western pop songs were banned by the authorities and in some cases musicians were jailed for playing them. Lennon’s lyrics praising freedom were especially threatening to the Communist regime.IMG_0953

After Lennon’s assassination in 1980 his picture was painted on the wall along with some of his lyrics. Young people began writing messages defying the authorities. By painting the wall and writing anti-government slogans, young activist risked prison for “subversive activities against the state.” But the threat of incarceration didn’t suppress the young who had no other way to express their outrage against the repressive government. As many times as the Communists police washed the wall, it was filled again with lyrics, slogans and messages.

The John Lennon Wall was more than a memorial to their hero. It became a monument to free speech and non-violent rebellion. Some people have referred to the wall as Prague’s equivalent to the Berlin Wall, others claim it played some role in the Velvet Revolution in 1989 which led to the fall of Communism.

The poem “John Lennon” by Mary Jo Salter is compliments of my good friend Monk who sent it along after reading this post:

John Lennon

The music was already turning sad,
      those fresh-faced voices singing in a round
            the lie that time could set its needle back
and play from the beginning. Had you lived
      to eighty, as you’d wished, who knows?—you might
            have broken from the circle of that past
more ours than yours. Never even sure
      which was the truest color for your hair
            (it changed with each photographer), we claimed
you for ourselves; called you John and named
      the day you left us (spun out like a reel—
            the last broadcast to prove you’d lived at all)
an end to hope itself. It isn’t true,
      and worse, does you no justice if we call
            your death the death of anything but you.
It put you in the headlines once again:
      years after you’d left the band, you joined
            another—of those whose lives, in breaking, link
all memory with their end. The studio
      of history can tamper with you now,
            as if there’d always been a single track
chance traveled on, and your discordant voice
      had led us to the final violence.
            Yet like the times when I, a star-crossed fan,
had catalogued your favorite foods, your views
      on monarchy and war, and gaily clipped
            your quips and daily antics from the news,
I keep a loving record of your death.
      All the evidence is in—of what,
            and to what end, it’s hard to figure out,
riddles you might have beat into a song.
      A younger face of yours, a cover shot,
            peered from all the newsstands as if proof
of some noteworthy thing you’d newly done.

About Jim Brennan

Jim is a Philadelphia-based writer, author, poet and editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal.
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