|CHAPTER XXIII Transylvanian Heritage||CONTENTS||2. Since World War II|
As a consequence of the Treaty of Trianon in 1920, a considerable part of historical Hungary, including Transylvania, was annexed to Romania. In an area somewhat larger than the remaining territory of Hungary there lived over five million inhabitants, of whom about two million were Hungarians. Although the Hungarians of Transylvania, including the Székelys,* had, due to historical circumstances (particularly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when Transylvania became a semi-independent principality), lived under somewhat different conditions from those prevalent in the rest of Hungary, they had never developed an independent national or ethnic identity. Yet there has always been a vague sense of separate mentality, which at least since the Reformation had manifested itself in literature, and was prominently displayed in autobiographies during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The early nineteenth century witnessed the rise of the novel with a strong Transylvanian accent (Jósika and Kemény), but after the Settlement of 1867, when Budapest became the undisputed centre of literary life as a result of the modernization of Hungarian literature, the Transylvanian spirit seemed to assert itself less conspicuously than previously, although the recently-discovered Székely balladry received wide publicity as being a unique voice from the land ‘beyond the forest’.*
When the frontiers were closed, those writers who found themselves on the wrong side of the border, and chose to remain there, began to reorganize literary life in the centres of Transylvanian intellectual life: Kolozsvár, Nagyvárad, Arad, Temesvár, and Marosvásárhely.* Initially the Romanian authorities raised no obstacle to the progress of Hungarian cultural life, for the interest of the new regime was best served by a Hungarian minority separated from the intellectual influence of Budapest and developing on its own. While this policy was carried to its logical conclusion by restricting the distribution of printed matter of any description from Hungary, it also resulted in tolerance of the upsurge in local intellectual activity. Periodicals and newspapers were mushrooming, a sign which heralded and warranted revival. To be sure, Hungarian authors experienced a profound identity crisis, arising out of the conflict between the traditions of their own language and literature and their changed social and political status in the newly-created greater Romania. Their main concern was a vigorous search for a separate and fully-autonomous irodalmi tudat, which would ensure both a modus vivendi and ethnic survival. This new identity was achieved by selecting from the rich cultural heritage of Transylvania, with its complex multiracial and multilingual background, features that carried the signs of intellectual and historical continuity and independence. In other words writers, in order to accomplish their creative aims, chose to adopt an attitude of conscious regionalism.
The chief architect of Transylvanism, as the underlying concept of the new irodalmi tudat was called, was Károly Kós (1883-1977), a versatile artist, writer, and scholar, whose book Transylvania (Kolozsvár, 1929) was the best statement of this concept. His work in organizing the literary life of Transylvania may be compared to Kazinczy’s a hundred years previously, for his ability and energy were entirely devoted to the revival of literary life. He was an editor of the Kolozsvár periodical Herdsmen’s Campfire (1921-44), which became one of the leading literary organs in the inter-war period, and a founding director of the Transylvanian Literary Guild (1922-44), the chief publishing house of Transylvanian writers. The Guild financed its network of book-distribution by producing limited editions, relying for subscribers on the upper classes, who, inspired by a sense of patriotism, set aside their conservative convictions and liberally supported writers of all political creeds. It was Baron János Kemény (1903-71), himself a writer and the director of the Kolozsvár National Theatre, who summoned authors to a conference at his Marosvécs castle in 1926, out of which Transylvanian Helicon, a writers’ co-operative, was formed. This produced a periodical, Transylvanian Helicon (1928-44), whose editorial policy was based on the principles of Transylvanism and l’art pour l’art.
Naturally, writers’ associations such as these tended to come under the influence of particular pressure groups, and their profiles kept on changing. The only intellectuals to keep their distance from the major groups were the Communist sympathizers; their periodical, Our Age (1926-40, re-established 1957- ), was launched by exiles of the 1919 revolution. Under the editorship of Gábor Gaál (1893-1954), from 1931 onwards Our Age became the leading Hungarian Marxist review; its emphasis shifted from literature to the social reality, and only socialist poetry or fiction was welcomed in its pages. When Northern Transylvania was returned to Hungary as a result of the Second Vienna Award (1940) Our Age was suppressed.
Other intellectuals who were involved in the revival of Transylvanian literature included Elek Benedek (1859-1929), who at the end of a celebrated literary and public career returned to his native Transylvania. Benedek was a household name at the beginning of this century, mainly on account of his enormously popular tales and children’s fiction, which were based on folk-tales mostly collected by himself (e.g. Székely Fairyland, 1885). His best known collection, Hungarian Popular Tales (5 vols., 1894-96), was known to generations of schoolchildren, and after his return to Transylvania; he once more worked with great enthusiasm to provide children with reading material in their native tongue. Sándor Makkai (1890-1951), Calvinist bishop of Transylvania, represented a liberal protestantism, and championed, for example, the poetry of Ady (Fate of the Hungarian Tree, 1927), causing a minor sensation; Ady was still exotic fare to conservative taste, and Makkai’s book attempted to gloss over Ady’s radical and revolutionary attitudes. As a novelist, Makkai achieved success with his Witch-Ball (1925), in which the historical setting served only to disguise the incestuous love story of Anna and Gábor Báthori. In 1936 he moved to Hungary, and became professor at the University of Debrecen. Finally, György Bözödi (1913-1989) in his Székely Cares (1938) produced a brilliant sociological survey of the Székelys; he explored their social conditions with the same relentless candour that characterized the work of the village explorers.
It is difficult to establish a clear picture of this early period of separate Transylvanian literature, and not only because writers could not rely on a local tradition in their efforts to establish a literary life; the main problem was the prevailing fluidity of the situation. Writers who happened to be living in Transylvania at the time it was annexed to Romania often hesitated as to whether they should stay, or move to Hungary; the attraction of the mainstream of literature in the language, and the fear that regional literary life would fall a victim to provincialism made it a difficult decision to stay. On the other hand there were Transylvanian authors who felt it their duty to return to their native region. These uncertain attitudes delayed the shaping of an independent irodalmi tudat. Of the older writers, Aladár Kuncz returned to Transylvania to participate in literary life there, yet his Black Monastery shows no signs of regionalism, let alone provincialism; it is a product of the universal war experience. This same experience was, however, blended with the stifling atmosphere of small-town life in the works of Benő Karácsony (1888-1944). He expressed the mood of a generation which, having returned from the trenches feeling that they had been duped, found no ideals to guide them in their existential uncertainty. Their frustrating experiences set the tone of Karácsony’s entertaining novels, in which bitterness is always hidden behind a light cynicism and an apparently youthful irresponsibility. A lawyer by profession, Karácsony first wrote plays and short stories, but made his name with a largely autobiographical novel, Petrushka (Kolozsvár, 1927). His best work, Sunny Side (Kolozsvár, 1936), also draws on his own experiences; its hero Kázmér Felméry, an eccentric sculptor and a social drop-out, is an emblematic figure of his generation. Karácsony’s sense of humour brightens the dialogue, and he succeeds in avoiding both mannerism and sentimentality. The novel concludes on a note of wise resignation, which strikes the mood of its sequel, On the Paths of Resignation; this was published posthumously (Kolozsvár, 1946), since Karácsony perished during the German occupation, a victim of racial persecution.
Székely traditions provided the subject-matter for the works of Domokos Gyallay (1880-1970). His narrative art belongs to the old school, being slow, evenly paced, and permeated with warm humour; and although his figures are thoroughbred Székelys, their speech is never marred by the excessive use of dialect, the principal shortcoming of all those writers who prefer colourful regionalism to clarity. His Iron Bread (1925) relates an episode of the miners’ struggle in the late seventeenth century, an event which caused general consternation just before Prince Rákóczi’s War of Independence.
The most original figure of Székely folklore, the góbé,* also appeared in the literature of the inter-war period. The characteristic qualities of the góbé are a sharp native wit and a peculiarly clever way of thinking; he testifies to the resourceful verbal defence mechanism of an ethnic group. In a way, the góbé is the counterpart of the cockney in English literature, and provided writers with colourful characters whose innocence, primitive qualities, tendency to talk in riddles, or occasional sententiousness they were only too liable to exaggerate. This is exactly what often happened to the góbés of József Nyírő (1889-1953). Nyírő’s original voice was noticed by the critics when he published his first collection of short stories, Man Carving Jesus (1924). Although they were not entirely free of mannerism or of obscure dialect words, Nyírő’s stories immediately succeeded in communicating a unique atmosphere with lyrical sketches of Székely life in the mountains. He was one of the first writers to portray the particular world of the Székelys and the natural beauties of the snow-capped Transylvanian Alps. With a feeling for timelessness, tragedy, and transcience, Nyírő’s sensitivity emerges best in the short stories of Kopjafás* (1933), all describing the ultimate event in man’s life, the conclusion of individual tragedies: death.
Yet as a novelist Nyírő often lacked the will to halt his own search for the unattainable; he sought in vain for perfect symbols which would epitomize the final mysteries of life and death. In Bence Uz (Székelyudvarhely, 1935), however, he created a popular góbé whose escapades and general prankishness are always entertaining, despite the fact that the character is obviously overdrawn. The source of Bence Uz’s magic is his closeness to nature, his healthy common sense, and carefree retorts. Uz is also endowed with a deep, natural faith which enables him to experience life more fully; his instincts never let him down. Doubtless, the notion of primeval man’s mystic union with nature is romantic, yet Bence Uz points the way to a native land of human innocence. In God’s Yoke (Kolozsvár, 1926) tells the story of Nyírő’s apostasy, for he had been a Catholic priest until 1919. His doubt, disappointment, and bitter experiences drove him to a humanist perception of religion, free from dogmas: ‘You know I was a priest and I deserted the Church. I, too, thought that I had deserted. It is not true. Only now, from this very moment am I a real priest. Up to now I changed bread into God, from now on I change God into bread’ declares the hero of In God’s Yoke when he becomes a village miller. This autobiographical novel is Nyírő’s best; not only does he preserve a sense of proportion by curbing his love of excess in both style and incident, but there is present in the work an artistic authenticity which seems to be lacking in his other novels, where his vision frequently became blurred in his frantic search for myths, mysteries, and the ‘ultimate riddle of life’.
When Northern Transylvania was returned to Hungary in 1940, Nyírő moved to Budapest, and became involved in politics. At the end of World War II he was forced to go into exile and he died in Madrid, far from the mainstream of Hungarian literature. Since 1945 he has been surrounded by an official silence in both Hungary and Romania.
The paramount significance of regionalism can be best appreciated in the works of another Székely writer, Áron Tamási. Born on 20 September 1897 at Farkaslaka in the heart of the Székelyföld,* Tamási owed his education to a childhood accident, as a result of which his family considered him unfit for manual labour and sent him to a gimnázium. Before his final examinations he was called up, and having returned from the trenches, he found, like so many of his contemporaries, that the ideas and values received during his education were worthless in a changed world. Disillusioned, he emigrated to the United States in the early 1920s and it was there that he began to write. It was also there that he found the answer to the perplexing quest for an aim in human existence: ‘We are born to this earth to find a home on it’ as an American Negro explained to Ábel, Tamási’s most original hero. This discovery remained the leitmotif of Tamási’s writing.
Peculiarities derived from the Székely background established the technique of his short stories (Soul-Moving, Kolozsvár, 1925). While a certain influence of Nyírő can be discerned, it is the freshness and liveliness of the spoken language that lend Tamási’s stories their essential features. Their playful humour owes much to the first rule of góbé wit: a direct answer should never be given to a direct question. The psychological background to this peculiarity of Székely behaviour is complex; it may serve as a cover up for natural shyness; it may also provide an opportunity for a battle of wits between friends, which, in turn, is a source of entertainment for both the participants and the audience. In addition, it may be a product of an age-old defence-mechanism, aimed at revealing as little as possible to a stranger whose intentions are not clear. Whatever the explanation, góbé wit is an effective intellectual weapon in a closely-knit ethnic community whose survival may often depend on its own resourcefulness. The stories are based on minute observation, yet Tamási always creates an irrealistic atmosphere; the descriptions are poetic, and the structure of the stories is similar to that of folk-tales. It is remarkable that in the midst of mines, factories, skyscrapers, and the bustling traffic of the New World, Tamási should have turned homeward for his subject-matter, to the primitive world of Székely villages where nervous breakdowns were unknown and the tempo of life was generally slow; life was often little else but a struggle for a meagre livelihood.
When Tamási returned from the United States, his reputation as a new voice from Transylvania had already been established. When, however, he turned to writing novels, he lost his sureness of touch; he could not keep his easy-flowing picturesque sentences under control in Prince of the Virgin Mary (Kolozsvár, 1928). Another novel, The Titled Ones* (Kolozsvár, 1931) is full of passionate, but ineffective, social criticism. As Tamási hardly knew the upper classes, his novel about them may be regarded only as an attempt to break fresh ground in search of new subject-matter.
Nevertheless, he established a harmony between his stylistic innovations and the traditional anecdotal manner in his Ábel trilogy (Ábe1 in the Wilderness, Kolozsvár, 1932; Ábel in the Country, Kolozsvár, 1934; and Ábel in America, Kolozsvár, 1934). Ábel is a veritable alter ego of the writer, whose message he carries convincingly. The first part concerns a winter the young Ábel spends in the Hargita mountains as a solitary sales-clerk-cum-watchman of a firewood depository. On the surface, it is a small-scale adventure story; nothing extraordinary happens to the young boy in the wilderness, he merely fights for his existence against human cunning and inclement nature. On a deeper level, however, Ábel is a mythical hero who, in the course of his struggles, shows his ability to survive at all costs; from a defenceless child who has been kicked around by people and tossed by events he develops into a man, as he learns the tricks of the trade for survival, cunning against cunning, cheating against cheating. In the second part, as in a folk-tale, Ábel sets out to prove himself. Tamási, however, seems to be on less sure ground in city life than in the wilderness of the mountains, and Ábel’s figure is frequently no more than an unintentional caricature of his former self; his adventures lack the quality which makes the first part of the trilogy an irregular, yet remarkable, Bildungsroman. Ábel’s American adventures in the third part reveal him again as a hero of destiny who is willing to stake everything, and whose bold and sometimes belligerent spirit is not afraid of risking disillusion. His behaviour is incalculable, since he goes through experiences that are alien to him; but he proves his ability to preserve his integrity amid the outlandish sights and sounds of a mechanized civilization. The underlying motifs of Ábel in America is uprootedness, and Tamási’s purpose is to escort this proud and sometimes dazed Ulysses back home, to the snow-capped Transylvanian mountains, because in Tamási’s belief man’s natural shelter is home, and home belongs to the native soil. The minor characters of the trilogy are drawn with the same originality and loving care as is Ábel they are the chief accessories to Tamási’s regionalism.
Contemporary Romania, however, failed to provide a home either for Ábel or for Tamási, whose moving account (My Birthplace, 1939) of the autochthonous home of a people now living as a minority is entirely free from hatred of the new masters. Tamási’s mind is resigned to the changed conditions of the Székelys; it is only his soul which revolts against being a second-class citizen in his native country. His most original novel, Matthias the Icebraker* (Kolozsvár, 1935), is probably a sublimation of this predicament; the narrative concerns a lost spirit arriving from the stars whose transmigration through flea, spider, bee, stork, owl, eagle, fox and dog eventually ends when he moves into a human being whose birth is the conclusion of the story. Critics found it difficult to interpret Tamási’s peculiar naïve surrealism, which subsisted on the accumulated primitive wisdom of Székely fables and popular beliefs, and which, at the same time, was an artistic recreation of the timeless metaphysical struggle between good and evil, the primeval theme of ancient epics. The spirit of goodwill moves from animal to animal with ironic resourcefulness, as if each metamorphosis had provided Tamási not only with an opportunity to exercise a benevolent influence over the fate of human beings who are assisted by the spirit, but also conceive many of the episodes with an impish humour, lending to the whole book an irresistible charm and a playful lightness which, in turn, contrast well with its metaphysical aspects.
In the sequel to Matthias the Icebreaker (A Star Is Shining, Kolozsvár, 1938) the spirit is finally tucked away in a Székely boy, who had to discover for himself that humans are blessed with more failings than animals. There is, however, a wide gap between the two novels, for Matthias is not an exponent of universal metaphysical truths, but a Messianic figure with a calling to improve his people’s lot. The novel abounds in autobiographical episodes and moving descriptions of Székely poverty; the portraits of the villagers who form the background to the growing up of Matthias are no less vivid, yet A Star Is Shining fails to live up to the promise of Matthias the Icebreaker, in which ordinary reality is effortlessly supplemented by speaking storks or wise male fleas, in which a sorcerer attends regular mass in the church, or a goblin drinks brandy by flickering candle-light; the sequel remains only a reassertion of Tamási’s fundamental belief in a world of peace and harmony.
His short stories, which he continued to write during the whole of his career, successfully retained an anachronistic, timeless atmosphere, the naïvety of folk-tales, the mystery of ballads (e.g. ‘Orderly Resurrection’, ‘In Praise of a Donkey’), yet his figures are portrayed with tangible vitality and airy freshness, and the ruthless struggle for survival always emerges as the fundamental motive, set against a background of looming, rugged mountains; man’s defenceless existence is captured and frozen by the hands of a magician for unaccountable incidents are made plausible, and the reader is not taken aback if a story comes to an end abruptly. (Bird at Dawn, 1929; Inappropriate World, Kolozsvár, 1931, and Buds and Hope, 1935.)
In the 1930s Tamási experimented with playwriting; he created some memorable scenes of dramatized folk-tales; on the whole, however, his plays prove his inability to exchange his natural manner of writing, which is narration, for dramatic construction. The symbolism of the plays gave directors the opportunity to produce original stage settings and special lighting effects, yet the spectacles were insufficient to compensate for the lack of dramatic intensity. (Songbird, 1934; Radiant Jerome, in Three Plays, 1941.) Tamási always sympathized with the népi writers, in both their political and their artistic creed, and at the end of World War II, when Northern Transylvania was re-annexed to Romania, he remained in Budapest, where he stayed until his death in 1966.
The last period of his creativity is characterized by an effort to shed the colourful plumage of his népi surrealism. In addition, during the period between the Communist takeover and ‘the thaw’ he was restricted in publishing his works; The Cradle and The Owl, for example, was written in 1949, but was published only in 1953. It was intended as the first part of an autobiographical trilogy, and in it the ageing writer descended finally from his magic world into the more immediate and more tangible world of reality. The other novel he wrote during this period, Domestic Mirror (1953), contains the reminiscences of a certain Vince Madár who participated in the War of Independence, and wrote his memoirs during the bleak years following its suppression. Tamási clearly intended to draw a parallel with an equally bleak present. When history repeated itself in the abortive revolution of 1956, Tamási himself played a prominent part in the writers’ revolt.
His last novel, Szirom and His Anthill (1960), is the story of a Székely family from Romania proper* which re-settled in Hungary. The long road of old Antal Szirom, by the end of which he is resigned to present-day historical realities, is emblematic in more ways than one. It not only expresses Tamási’s own resignation at the conclusion of a life burdened with memories of historical whirlpools, but it also shows him in a new role: here he is looking at life with the eyes of an old man, whereas previously most of his heroes had been youngsters on the borderline between childhood and adolescence. Old Szirom, however, dies before completing his notes, and the last chapter is written by his grandson, so that a living link is established between the generations, between past and future:
In my speech I could not walk on earth and fly to trees at the same time* , as dear Grandpa could. Yet I feel pleased to be strengthened through him in common decency while I am writing, just as he was strengthened by me while he was alive. I couldn’t give anyone better advice than that we should strengthen each other. My grandfather was good, and we young people should be enriched by what is good in our elders; in turn, they should be heartened by our renewal. I have nothing further to add.
This last message of Tamási, spoken by a young man, recalls Ábel, who attained and preserved human dignity in a hostile and changing world; it is also a valedictory speech by a writer whose faith in common human decency remained unshaken.
Another Székely writer who created a memorable góbé is Count Albert Wass (1908-1998), whose powerful first novel Wolftrap (Kolozsvár, 1934) was an instant success. In 1944 he left Hungary, and in 1952 settled in the USA, where he became a professor of European literature at the University of Florida in 1956. The main theme of his novels is his intimate love affair with his native Transylvania; his uprooting from there was the most shattering experience he ever underwent. He wrote A Man by the Roadside (Munich, 1950) while the wounds were still fresh; it is a long monologue by an unidentified Székely refuge on the border of Transylvania, in which Wass reconsiders with dramatic intensity the events of the recent past as seen and illustrated by the life-story of his anonymous hero.
His best known figure is, however, the góbé Mózsi Tánczos Csuda, a lively character who, in turn, has to outwit Romanians, Hungarians, Germans, and Russians, merely to stay alive. Mózsi is no relative of Ábel; he had no mystic qualities; his pragmatic common sense is his defence against more powerful circumstances. In Thirteen Apple Trees (Buenos Aires, 1952) Mózsi, a gamekeeper and a family man, makes his appearance just as Romanian rule is coming to an end, on the eve of the Hungarian liberation of Northern Transylvania. Then the Russians come, and in their wake Romanian rule returns. These eventful five years (1940-5) serve as the background to Mózsi’s life; for him the new Hungarian regime is as disappointing as the Romanian reprisals following the short interlude are cruel. Wass is clearly under the spell of Transylvanism; if those mountain people (Székelys, Romanians, and Saxons) were only left alone, he seems to say, they would be able to manage their own affairs with tolerance. This is the message of his best known novel Give Me Back My Mountains! (Munich, 1948); and Mózsi’s life in Communist Romania is described in The Red Star Wanes (Toronto, 1965). While in Thirteen Apple Trees he relates a story that in its authentic details could be told neither in Romania nor in Hungary, its sequel is the paler for his lack of first-hand experience. Wass also wrote historical novels (The Sword and The Scythe, Astor Park, Fla., and Toronto, 2 vols., 1974-6); his technique is traditional, and his novels often consist only of loosely connected episodes. His main virtues as a writer are his descriptive power, prominent in his hunting scenes, and his humorous góbé dialogues.
While Transylvanian prose-writers were mainly concerned with the underprivileged position of the Hungarian ethnic minority in the inter-war period, and attempted to ensure survival by preserving their own identity through advocating regionalism, some of the poets in the same period tried to alleviate the uncertainties, fears, and anxieties of their compatriots. The symbol of Hungarian protest was Sándor Reményik (1890-1941) who, under the pen-name of Végvári*, comforted his people in poems which circulated in manuscript or typescript. These poems had an immense emotional appeal in both Romania and Hungary, and in the latter Reményik was hailed as the embodiment of spiritual resistance in Transylvania. The Végvári Poems (1921) impress the reader with their absolute sincerity and the therapeutic quality of their moral indignation.
After his Végvári period Reményik proved to be a prolific poet, although his technique changed little during his career. His rhyme-schemes are conventional; in several of his poems he uses enjambement, which supports the atmospheric unity; his figurative language is seldom exciting, yet most of his poems are pervaded by a noble sadness, brooding moods, and timid love, all of which have contributed to his popularity.
Reményik kept to the beaten track, but János Bartalis (1893-1977) broke fresh ground with his poetry. Critics noticed his spontaneous free verse in Nyugat in 1914, and the free-flowing poems of this peasant poet were likened to Walt Whitman’s ‘liquid billowy waves’. Bartalis never participated in literary life; he led a withdrawn, solitary life as a farmer cultivating the soil, addicted to the enjoyment of physical work, and to the bucolic scenery in the surrounding landscape. He is enraptured by primitive experience; his close communion with nature is idyllic, there is a virginal freshness in the poems. His undemanding soul is enchanted by Mother Nature and he is able to convey his ecstasy to the reader (Oh, Rosetree, Kolozsvár, 1926; Sunbird, 1930; and Earth Is My Pillow, Kolozsvár, 1930).
This idyllic world was irreparably damaged by history; paradise lost was never again regained, for Bartalis was unable to acquire new poetic devices or the fortitude of spirit needed to explore the full emotional range of these disturbing experiences. He eventually fell silent, and reappeared in print only in the mid-1950s. The lyrics of his old age, however, only contain repetitions of, and variations on, his former themes, with less enthusiasm and less emotional intensity.
Of the younger poets, Jenő Dsida (1907-38), who died at an early age, had the most promising talent. He mastered the difficulties of technique with amazing ease, following in the footsteps of the Nyugat poets with his conviction that poetry is valid only as pure art. Far from being an ‘ivory-tower’ poet or an arid formalist, however, Dsida never violated the dictates of his own artistic sensibility. His first volume (Lurking Solitude, Kolozsvár, 1928) shows him experimenting, and at the same time being influenced by Rilke and the Symbolists. His later volumes (Maundy Thursday, Kolozsvár, 1933, and the posthumous On Angels’ Cither, Kolozsvár, 1938) display his mature art. His last poems are haunted by a constant awareness of impending death.
Dsida is essentially a poet of existential uncertainty. He is perhaps the only major Transylvanian poet unaffected by the political issues of the day, not only because he always abhorred ‘big words’, but because his delicate health constantly forced him to listen to the inner voice. Frequently recurring images in his early poetry (empty house, cemetery, autumn forest) indicate an intense Weltschmerz; everything reminds him of transience, and that he is an ailing man whose fleeting moments of ecstasy impose a heavy mortgage on his life which it will be impossible to redeem. Yet he managed to break his sense of isolation simply by moving to Kolozsvár in the early 1930s, and in the midst of bustling city life he was exposed to electrifying and exhilarating experiences.
This encounter with ‘real life’ can be discerned in his poetry; every living organism triggers off exuberant joy. In ‘An Afternoon Walk with My Dear Dog’, for example, the revelry of sights, smells, and sounds suggests hedonistic pleasures unrestrained by the rolling hexameters. The same emotional intensity and hymnic adoration of youth, nature, and love inspire his love poems, which are seasoned with delightfully erotic allusions (‘Why Angels Adored Viola’). Dsida always seemed to find the exact words to convey an intimate experience, his sense of rhythm never let him down; he preferred the iambic metre, but he used other metrical patterns with equal ease and never left a single line unpolished. The graceful musicality of his long poem, ‘A Serenade to Helen’, effortlessly sustained, is one of the major achievements of modern Hungarian poetry; only Kosztolányi or Árpád Tóth, both of whom could claim Dsida as their apprentice, were able to produce such a superbly sonorous effect.
His buoyant, sensuous, and witty verse, with which he hoped to arrest the approach of death, was eventually corroded by growing despair and a sense of horror when time began to run out. He found relief in religious devotion, the sincerity of which was often doubted by later critics, yet poems like ‘Maundy Thursday’, or ‘Easter Song in Front of the Empty Tomb’ prove convincingly that mystic experience was not alien to Dsida. A vision of a Christ who is ‘grey, tired and resembles us’ (‘Christ’) frequently haunted him. Dsida’s religion is not the fixed creed of the Catholic Church, it is the humble devotion of the deprived and the wretched. At the same time he is aware of the limitations of his faith, for ‘man’s faith moves with a torn banner’ (‘Harum Dierum Carmina’). When the sadness which had been shadowing him with relentless persistence finally overwhelmed him, the fear of the unknown left its mark on his poetry. In ‘The Elegy of Falling Hair’ and ‘In Vain Do You Look At …’ there is a premonition of the final confrontation; in ‘It Betrays, For It Shines’, no route for escape is left open:
|This wretched world no longer hides me.|
|I crouch among frogs.|
|The heart betrays, for it shines,|
|The eyeballs exhale a fragrance.|
|He who lives cannot hide.|
|It comes. It is here. Next to me.|
Although he spent a substantial part of his creative life in Hungary, Lajos Áprily (1887-1967) remained a Transylvanian regionalist throughout the whole of his life. He published his first volume of poetry (A Village Elegy, Kolozsvár, 1921) when he was thirty-four, and his main themes were already discernible in this volume. First and foremost Áprily sings the praise of his native country in classic forms, with impressive verbal discipline, refined figures of speech, and an all-pervading nostalgia. He certainly has accomplished everything that characterized the best poets of the Nyugat generation, by transplanting to his native land a cult of nature which recalls the Greek authors: his imagery is full of classical allusions. (His ‘Marathon’ is, for example, perhaps one of the best sonnets in the language.) Áprily’s favourite landscape is often unpeopled; pine forests under snow-capped mountains, swift and clear mountain streams running in their rocky beds, bluish, clean forest air, the silence of the wilderness which favours meditations on the change of the seasons, or his deep attachment to this landscape are the subject-matter of his verse (e.g. ‘On the Summit’). Yet in this bucolic solitude Áprily is aware of the outside world; he knows that one cannot escape fate by isolating oneself as if spellbound by nature; he accepts fate with resignation, since wars and historical upheavals are unavoidable, and the poet’s business is only to register his own protest. This protest is feeble, devoid of violent passions; he knows his place, he is only one of the wailing voices in the faceless chorus, while heroes act out the tragedy in the Greek manner. This poetic attitude of his was predominant during World War II. Having survived the siege of Budapest, he laments over the grim and gloomy events, inspired by the Greek tragedies and the Old Testament (The Smoke of Abel’s Fire, 1957). Old age did not impair his artistic qualities; his attachment to Transylvania points beyond ordinary patriotism it is a metaphysical link between man and a secluded, private world, beyond time and history.
His son, Zoltán Jékely* (1913-82), although usually regarded as belonging to the third generation of Nyugat writers inherited and retained a strong attachment to his roots, notwithstanding his early separation from his birthplace (he was educated at Eötvös College), and childhood memories provide the main inspiration in his poetry (Nights, 1936, Towards a New Millennium, 1939). Jékely’s poetry is infected by a morbid longing for death, counterbalanced only by comforting images of nature and love. Elegy is his favourite form, and his frequent use of iambic metres effectively underlines an ever-present nostalgia for the sights of his childhood (‘Autumn at Enyed’, ‘A Ballet of Trouts’, ‘Elegy at the Seaside’). His later poetry (Miles, Years,1943; Forbidden Garden, 1957) is enriched by intellectual themes; moreover Jékely is able to give voice to irony and self-mockery, although the melancholic undertone of his poetry remains unrelieved. He also wrote short stories and novels, in which he was frequently unable to find the appropriate balance between nostalgia and grotesque humour, straightforward narrative and autobiograhical reminiscences.
|CHAPTER XXIII Transylvanian Heritage||CONTENTS||2. Since World War II|