November 28, 2012

Gyula Illyés

Gyula Illyés [Hungary]

Gyula Illyés was born in Rácegres, Hungary on November 2, 1902. His father (an agricultural machinist) was a Catholic, while his mother, a servant, was Calvinist. Living on an estate which was run in an almost feudal manner, Illyés experienced both traditional forms and the need for rebellion. In his youth, he joined the revolutionary army, but when the proletariat dictatorship collapsed in 1919, he was forced into exile, time in which he attended the Sorbonne of the University of Paris, while at the same time working as a miner, a bookbinder, and a teacher. In Paris he encountered French Surrealism, which influenced his earliest poems.

     Illyés returned to Hungary in 1926, when he worked as a clerk. But his passion was still writing, and when the great Hungarian author Mihály Babits offered him a regular space in the avant-garde monthly Nyugut, Illyés began contributing poetry, addressing Hungarian problems in a surrealist manner. Through these writings the young author became known as a spokesman for the peasantry, living at the time under near serf-like conditions.

     His first book of poetry was Nehézföld, published in 1928, in which he decried the conditions of the peasants. Further exploring the theme in his prose work Puszták népe (The People of Pusztak, 1967), published in 1936, Illyés recalled the events of his own youth, exposing the terrible conditions of families such as his. In part because of this continued fight for better conditions for the peasants, the poet was elected to the Hungarian Parliament in 1945.

     After the Communist takeover in 1947, Illyés’ anti-Marxist views brought attack from party leaders, and he was silenced. Gradually, however, as writers began to speak out again in the 1950s, Illyés took a central position in declaring revolution, and during the 1956 revolution he published the famous poem “One Sentence of Tyranny” (written in 1951) that continues to stand as a masterwork of Hungarian modernism. When the revolution was crushed, he was again silenced, writing major works of poetry in private. In 1948, 1953, and 1970 Illyés won the Kossuth Prize for Literature, and in 1965 he received the Maison Internationale de la Poesie (in Brussels) International Grand Prix.

     He died in 1983.


Nehéföld (Budapest: Nyugat, 1928); Három öreg (Budapest: S. Szerző, 1932); Hősköről beszélek (Cluj-Koloszvár: Korunk, 1933); Ifjuság (Debrecen: Nagy Károly és Tásai, 1934); Szálló egek alatt (Budapest: Nyugat, 1935); A kacsalaba fargo var (Budapest, 1936); Nem menekulhetsz (Budapest, 1936); Rend a romokban (Budapest: Nyugat, 1937); Külön világban (Budapest: Cserépfelvi, 1939); Ősszegyüjött versek (Budapest, 1940); Egy év (Budapest: Sarló, 1945); Megy az eke (Budapest,1947); Ősszes versei (Budapest, 1947); Szembenézve (Budapest: Revai, 1947); Tizenkét nap Bulgáriában (Budapest, 1947); Két kéz (Budapest: Athenaeum, 1950); Illyes Gyula válogatott versek (Budapest, 1952); A casudafurulyás juhász (Budapest: Ifjúsági, 1954); Oda Bartokhoz (Budapest, 1955); Egy mondat a zsamoksagrol (Budapest, 1956); Kéfogások (Budapest: Magvetö Konyvkiadó, 1956); Uj versek (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1961); Nem volt elég (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1962); Nyitott aftó (Budapest: Europa Konyvidiadó, 1963); Dőlt vitorla (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1965); A kolto felel (Budapest: Athenaeum Nymoda, 1966); Poharaim (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1967); Fekete-Feher (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1968); Abbahagyott versek (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1971); Haza amagasban: Összegyüjött versek, 1920-1948 (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1972); Minden lehet (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1973); Teremteni: Összegyüjött versek (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1973); Illyes Gyula Összegyüljött versei (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1977); Nyitott ajok: Összegyüjött versforditasok (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Konyvkiadó, 1978)


 A Tribute to Guyla Illyés, edited by Thomas Kabdedo and Paul Tabori (Washington, D.C.: Occidental Press, 1968); Selected Poems, edited by Thomas Kabdebo and Paul Tabori (London: Chatto & Windus, 1971); selections in Modern Hungarian Poetry, edited by Miklós Vajda (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977); selections in In the Quest of the Miracle Stag: The Poetry of Hungary, edited by Adam Makkai (Chicago: Atlantis-Centaur/Budapest: Corvina Publishers, 1996); selections in The Colonnade of Teeth: Modern Hungarian Poetry, edited by George Gömöri and George Szirtes (London: Bloodaxe Books, 1996); What You Have Almost Forgotten: Selected Poems by Gyula Illyés, edited by William Jay Smith (Budapest: Kortárs Kiadó/Willimantic, Connecticut: Curbstone Press, 1999); Charon’s Ferry, trans. by Bruce Berlind (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2000); selections in The PIP Anthology of World Poetry of the 20th Century, Volume 4, ed. by Douglas Messerli (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2003)

The Apricot-Tree


The apricot-tree
shoulder-high or less—
Look! An apricot
at branch-tip ripeness
Stretching, straining,
holding out a prize,
the tree is a maiden
offering closed eyes.

You stand and wonder:
will she bend or sway
her slender waist or
step back, run away.
With quick breath shudders
from heat or passion,
fans herself, signals
in the high fashion.

Shakes the shimmering
pomp out of her dress,
then blushing she waits
for your compliments.

This garden a ballroom,
she gazes about,
anxiously, constantly,
wants to be sought out.


I spend each evening
all evening with her.
Come again tomorrow
she says in whisper.
She rustles softly
when I salute her.
It seems my poetry
can still transmute her.

Sweet apricot-tree,
in a dream I saw
the cool arbor, and you
on the crackling straw.

First you glanced around
anxiously, then left
the dark hedge, the well,
in your moon-white shift.

Your steeping increased
the silence gently,
brought me your body
soft and sweet-scented.

Since that dream I glance
towards you, flushing.
Please look at me too,
askance and blushing.


—Translated from the Hungarian by Christine Brooke-Rose

Grass Snake and Fish

Among pebbles, at the pond’s edge,
     in limpid shallows whose water
flows as transparent as the atmosphere,
     suddenly visible

in the world made for other lungs,
     living purity, where
the stone wavers in the drift
     of the reflection, a branch in air;

into that shut Eden, slides the snake
     guided by the oldest law
a fish palpitates hanging from its fangs
     howling what no one can translate.


—Translated from the Hungarian by Charles Tomlinson

“The Apricot Tree” and “Grass Snake and Fish”

Reprinted from What You Have Almost Forgotten: Selected Poems by Gyula Illyés, ed. with and Introduction by William Jay Smith (Budapest: Kortárs Kiadó/Willimantic, Connecticut: Curbstone Press, 1999). Copyright ©1999 by Curbstone Press. Reprinted by permission from Curbstone Press.  

1 comment:

Thomas McGonigle said...

I am reading Illyes's PEOPLE OF THE PUSZTA it is one of the greatest prose works even in translation... i came to him cia Murnane in australia... never have i read such a book about a group of people who are thought to be without language without an inner life