Attila József

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Statue of Attila József near the University of Szeged

Attila József (April 11, 1905 - December 3, 1937) was one of the most outstanding Hungarian poets in the 20th century.


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[edit] Biography

The son of Áron József, a half-Romanian soap factory worker and Hungarian peasant girl Borbála Pőcze, he was born in the poor Ferencváros neighbourhood of Budapest. He had two elder sisters: Eta and Jolán. His father abandoned the family when he was just three years old. They lived in extreme poverty: the mother could barely support the three children and pay rent for the tiny flat they were living in. Thus the children were cared for by the National Child Protection League and foster parents in the country town of Öcsöd, where he worked on a farm. It was typical of the conditions there that his foster father said "There is no such name as 'Attila'", and therefore called him 'Pista'. The conditions were so bad that he escaped back to his mother in Budapest.

His mother died in 1919, aged only 43. After this, he was looked after by Ödön Makai, his brother-in-law, who was relatively wealthy and could pay for his education in a good secondary school. Later he applied to the University of Szeged - his dream was to become a secondary school teacher - but he was soon turned out because of a provocative poem he had written.

From this point on, he tried to support himself from the little money he earned by publishing his poems. He started showing signs of schizophrenia, and was treated by psychiatrists. He never married and only had a small number of affairs, but frequently fell in love with the women who were treating him.

He committed suicide on 3 December 1937, aged 32, at Balatonszárszó, where he was staying at the house of his sister and brother-in-law. He lay down across a railway line and a passing train killed him. There is a memorial to him not far from the spot where he died.


[edit] Poetry

Attila József is the best known of the modern Hungarian poets internationally. His verses have been translated into many languages and he is taught in world literature classes around the globe. Hailed during the communist era of the 1950s as Hungary's great "proletarian poet", his life, personality, and works are now being re-evaluated with the current celebrations of the centenary of his birth. [1]


His first volume of poetry was A SZÉPSÉG KOLDUSA (1922); at that time he was 17 and still in school. József studied privately for a year, and then entered the University of Szeged in 1924 to study Hungarian and French literature. With the help of a mesenat, Lajos Hatvany, he acquired a good education in Austria (1925) and Paris (1926-27), where he studied France and discovered the work of François Villon, the famous poet and thief from the 15th-century.

In 1925 Jószef published his second collection of poems, NEM ÉN KIÁLTOK. He was expelled from the university because of a revolutionary poem, 'Tiszta szívvel' (With a Pure Heart) With his manuscripts he traveled to Vienna, where he made a living by selling newspapers and cleaning dormitories, and then to Paris, where he studied at Sorbonne. During this period he read Hegel and Karl Marx, whose call for revolution appealed to him.


József's works were praised by such internationally known Hungarian researches and critics as Béla Balázs and György Lukács. In 1927 several French magazines published József's poems.


József's third collection of poems, NINCSEN APÁM SE ANYÁM (1929), showed the influence of French surrealism and Hungarian poets Endre Ady, Gyula Juhász, and Lajos Kassák. Next year József joined the illegal Hungarian Communist Party. DÖNTSD A TŐKÉT (1931) was confiscated by the public prosecutor and in 1931 József's essay Literature and Socialism ('Irodalom és szocializmus') led to indictment.

KÜLVÁROSI ÉJ, a mature collection of poems appeared in 1932. His most famous love poem, 'Óda', from 1933 took the reader for a journey around and inside the body of the beloved woman. József's last two books were MEDVETÁNC (1934) and NAGYON FÁJ (1936). With these works he gained a wide critical attention. Ideologically he had started to advocated humane socialism, and alliance with all democratic forces. József's political essays were later included in vol. 3. of his collected works (1958). [2]


[edit] Publications

His original volumes:

A SZÉPSÉG KOLDUSA, 1922

NEM ÉN KIÁLTOK, 1925

NINCSEN APÁM, SE ANYÁM, 1929

DÖNTSD A TŐKÉT, NE SIRÁNKOZZ, 1931

KÜLVÁROSI ÉJ,1932

MEDVETÁNC, 1934

NAGYON FÁJ, 1936


Published posthumously:

COLLECTED VERSE AND SELECTED WRITINGS, 1938

COLLECTED VERSE AND TRANSLATIONS, 1940

COLLECTED WORKS, 1958

COLLECTED WORKS, 1967

József Attila: Selected Poems and Texts, 1973 (introduction by G. Gömöri)

Perched on Nothing's Branch, 1987 (trans. by Peter Hargitai) Winter Night; Selected Poems of Attila József, 1997 (trans. by John Batki) [3]

More recent English translations of Attila József’s poetry by Edwin Morgan ( „Attila József: Sixty Poems”, Mariscat) were published in 2001 [4]

[edit] External links

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