Erben is usually considered the second most important Czech poet of Romanticism, next to Karel Hynek Mácha. He published only one collection of his own poetry, Kytice (A Bouquet of Flowers, 1853). In contrast to Mácha’s emphasis on uniqueness and individuality of one’s life, Erben focuses on the validity of a universal law, interpreted usually as Fate. His poetry has a strong tendency toward epic plot structure. His characters usually act against the law of nature, God or instinct, and eventually are punished. The text was successfully recreated into a musical with a comical twist by a singer-poet-writer Jiří Suchý and composer Ferdinand Havlík in early 70’s at the Semafor theater. Selected poems from Kytice were turned into a visual fantasy-horror in a film directed by Deana Jakubisková-Horváthová (2000).
Other than his own poetry, Erben wrote essays on Slavic mythology and collected folk songs (Písně národní v Čechách, 3 vols. (1841-45), Prostonárodní české písně a říkadla (1864)) and fairy tales (Sto prostonárodních pohádek a pověstí slovanských v nářečích původních, 1865). The story here comes from the latter.
Erben also translated legends, myths and fairy tales from the other Slavic languages (Vybrané báje a pověsti, 1869), as well as an old Russian epic (Nestorův letopis ruský, 1867). He wrote his own fairy tales (České pohádky, posthumously 1905), and short stories. Transcripts of his dreams were published in 1970 (Sny). He edited old Czech literature and historical manuscripts and wrote on Czech history and especially on local names and areas (Autentický ukazatel ulic a náměstí i čísel domovních král. hlavního města Prahy, 1871).