All entries for Thursday 25 January 2007

January 25, 2007

Ferenc Juhász (entry from The Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature

Pascale Petit refers to Kuhasz in her collection, The Huntress, so I am interested in his background and poetics.

Ferenc Juhász was a Hungarian poet, born in Bia, the son of a poor bricklayer. In 1947 he moved to Budapest, where he studied Hungarian philology for a while, later earning his living as a writer and an editor. Juhász’s first works, Szárnyas csikó (1949; Winged Foal), A Sántha család (1950; The Sántha Family), and Apám (1950; Father), were heavily influenced by such classic Hungarian writers as Sándor Peto”fi and János Arany (see Hungarian literature), yet these volumes give evidence of Juhász’s poetic gifts, especially his daring use of imagery. After a period of naive revolutionary optimism, Juhász became disenchanted with the political status quo. The volume Óda a reptüléshez (1953; Ode to Flight) broke through the rigid canons of socialist realism, and his next work, A tékozló ország (1954; The Prodigal Country), a very long epic poem on the peasant revolt of 1514 led by György Dózsa, ends with a passionate hymn to freedom. From an aesthetic point of view, this work, in spite of its heterogeneous character, is an important landmark: it marks the liberation of the Hungarian poetic imagination from the tutelage of old-fashioned realism, and it is also a bold experiment in verse form, demonstrating Juhász’s “extended syllabic line.”

Juhász’s next collection, A virágok hatalma (1956; The Power of Flowers), contains some of his most mature and moving work, but it poses the threat that his visionary panbiologism - the proliferation of natural and cosmic imagery in his work - will devour the message and destroy the “traditional” structure of the poem. In the long poem “A szarvassá változott királyfi . . .” (1955; The Boy Changed into a Stag”), Juhász adapted folk motifs used by Bé1a Bartók in Cantana Profana, creating in his poem a Bartókean synthesis of sound and image. Some years later, in József Attila sírja (1963; Eng. tr., The Grave of Attila József, 1968), Juhász appeared to have lost the balance between form and content, his theme being overgrown by functionally irrelevant clusters of metaphors. This tendency has continued in A szent tu”zözön regéi (1969; Tales of the Sacred Fire-Flood), which consists of endless variations on the theme of universal catastrophe and the ultimate devastation of nature and mankind, as well as in A halottak királya (1971; The King of Dead), where the poet returns to a more traditional verse form, but remains obsessed with death, corruption, and decay, his images and metaphors gushing forth in a monotonous, exasperating torrent of verse. His poetry has found more than one English translator, including Kenneth McRobbie (1970) and David Wevill (1970).

See: K. McRobbie, Introduction to F. Juhász, The Boy Changed into a Stag: Selected Poems (1970).


Ferenc Juhász, a Hungarian Poet

I have been doing some research into the Hungarian poet, Ferenc Juhász, because in her collection, The Huntress, Pascale Petit writes a version of his poem ‘At the Gate of Secrets’. Juhász was born in Budapest (1928) and was awarded the highest prize in Hungarian literature. The Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature explains the background to his work

A new phase in Hungarian cultural policy was ushered in by the so-called Lukács controversy in which Lukács was castigated by Communist Party spokesmen for preferring “Western” critical realism to (Soviet) socialist realism. Although the era of enforced socialist realism was relatively short (1948-53), its adverse effects could be felt for years afterwards, and only since the early 1960s can one speak of a genuine pluralism in the cultural policy of the government. Nevertheless it was in the early 1950s that a new constellation of poetic talents emerged. These were poets of peasant origin -Ferenc Juhász, László Nagy, István Simon, Imre Takáics, and Sándor Czóri—-who soon left behind their primitive realism or initial naive romanticism. These writers, especially Juhász and Nagy, created a syncretic imaginative style that grappled first with problems of the small community and later with those of a chaotic yet interdependent world. (“Hungarian Literature”)

The Princeton Encyclopaedia of Poetry and Poetics goes further descriing Juhasz as one of the two great Hungraian poets (along with László Nagy (1925-78)). It describes how ‘[t]heir instinctive images go directly from impression to creation of a vision’ and commenting specifically on Juhász, it states that while ‘[h]is lyric mirrors the suffering of the troubled mind’, it also, ‘turns towards great visions, a world-view of micro- and macrocosms’ (“Hungarian Poetry”).


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