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by Bamber Gascoigne

Endre Ady (1877-1919)


Poet, journalist, short story writer, who took the role of "the conscience of the Hungarian nation," prophesying spiritual rebirth or pessimistically the destruction of "Everything". Ady is best-known for his daring works celebrating sensual love, but he also wrote religious and revolutionary poems. His expression was radical in form, language and content, mixing eroticism, politics, and biblical style and images with apocalyptic visions.

oh I have lived a disgusting life,
oh I have lived a disgusting life;
I shall be such a pretty corpse,
I shall be such a pretty corpse.

(from 'The Last Smile')

Endre Ady, descended from impoverished landed gentry, was born in the remote village of Érmindszent, Austria-Hungary (now Ady Endre, Romania). At his birth Ady had six fingers on each hand. The extra two fingers were cut off by the midwife. Later he used to show the scars, calling them his '"wizard marks." Until the age of nine Ady attended the local Calvinist school – his mother came of a long line of Calvinist ministers. He changed to a Catholic school and went then to a Catholic gymnasium at the town of Nagykároly. Partly because of his drinking habits and free associating with girls he was transferred to a Calvinist college at Zilah.

During these years Ady started to write and consume alcohol seriously. After graduating he entered a law school but abandoned his studies for a newspaper post in Debrecen. Versek, his first book of poetry, appeared in 1899. From 1900 until his death Ady worked as a journalist, drifting from one provincial paper to another. He spent four years in Nagyvárad (now Oradea, in Romania), an important centre of intellectual life, where he contracted syphilis. Ady called Nagyvárad "a city with a wonderfuo air, daring, conquering". He served on the staff of an opposition paper and his militant attitude to the excesses of nationalism was seen in poems written during this period. Budapest represented for Ady an union between Jews and non-Jews; "The Jews made Budapest for us," he said in his famous article entitled 'Korrobori,' written in 1917, but published in Nyugat in 1924. (Jewish Budapest: Monuments, Rites, History by Kinga Frojimovics, Géza Komoróczy, Viktória Pusztai, Andrea Strbi, 1999, p. 468)

Még egyszer,  which came out in 1903, was Ady's first significant volume of poetry. In the same years he met Adél Brüll (Diós), the cultured wife of a lawyer, who became "Léda" (notice the anagram of Adél) of his poems and his muse for the next nine years. Ady's thinking radicalized after the 1905 Revolution. With his next collection, Új versek (1906), Ady made his breakthrough as a poet, and initiated a revolution in Hungarian literature. At the request of Ady himself, the book was illustrated by Sándor Nagy (1868-1950) in Art Noveau style. The painter György Leszkovszky (1891-1968) illustrated the poem 'To Cry, To Cry, To Cry,' originally published in Vér és arany (1907). These watercolour paintings were exhibited at the National Salon in 1922.

From 1904 until 1914, Ady lived in Paris with Brüll much of his time, but he also made frequent visits to Hungary, Italy, and elsewhere. Paris was for Ady the city of light but also the city of the Commune of Paris (1870-71) and the craddle of modern poetry, Baudelaire and Verlaine, both of whom he translated. To support himself, Ady worked as a foreign correspondent for Budapest papers, among others for Budapesti naplón. Many of his writings dealt with fine arts. Ady admired works by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), who had escaped to Tahiti to paint, and Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), also a hero of Hungarian artists flocking to Paris.

Between the years 1908 and 1919, he was closely associated with the journal Nyugat, which kept him in the public eye. The journal published works from some of the best writers of the era, and took a major role in fostering the emergence of modern Hungarian literature. In addition, Ady was active in a society of young writers, called Holnaposok (Those of Tomorrow), which published a literary review entitled Holnap (Tomorrow). György Lukács called in 1909 in the journal Huszadik Század (Twentieth Century)  Ady's poetry the flag around which everything "progressive" can be rallied once it comes to fighting. ('Modern Sociology and Modern Art in Early Twentieth Century Hungary by Attila Pók, in Hungarian Studies, Volume 9, 1994, p. 68)

Óh, nagyon csúnyán éltem,
Óh, nagyon csúnyán éltem:
Milyen szép halott leszek,
Milyen szép halott leszek.

(from 'Az utolsó mosoly', in Új versek)

In Új versek, and in its successor Vér és arany, Ady found his own way of expression, deliberately shocking with piled up adjectives and repetitions. Az Illés szekerén (1908) expressed Ady's continuous struggle with religion. God is for the poet the Almighty who is bored with virtuosos and doesn't guide, revenge or reward. "My skin belongs to the devil," he confesses. A product of a Calvinist upbringing, Ady protested in 1911  against the proposition of kneeling at prayer, arguing that Hungarian Calvinists should not kneel even if the Protestant reformer himself had done so.

For the younger generation Ady's works provided an immediate challenge.  Different generations and their literary opinions were divided and his unconventional language, adopted from symbolist, shocked the audience. He attacked the ruling class for their greed, castigated Hungary as a backward-looking country, and advocated modernity. In 'Az ős Kaján' he wrote: "My Lord, my soil is Hungarian soil, barren exploited. / Why encourage us to unmindful rapture? / What is worth of pledges in wine and blood? / What may the worth of a Hungarian be?" Among others, prime minister István Tisza, and the leading conservative journalist Jeno Rákosi were his prominent opponents.

In 1912, "Léda" started an affair with another man and Ady's 'A Message of Gentle Dismissal' from 1913 became his final words to her. Feeling exhausted, Ady consulted Freud's outstanding Hungarian pupil Sándor Ferenczi, who sent him to a clinic. After recovery he started a series of affairs, and married in 1915 a young girl, Bertuka Boncza ("Csinszka" in his poems), with whom he had corresponded. However, Ady found only brief periods of happiness and respite from nervous tensions in the secluded Transylvanian home of his wife. In one poem he said, "I do not know why and how long / I am going to remain with you / but I hold your hand / and guard your eyes."

You hear the hollow hoofbeats of
a horseman lost since long ago.
The shackled souls of ghosted woods
and ancient reedlands wake to woe.

(from 'The Lost Horseman')

During World War I Ady protested vigorously against the war and forces of reaction. In 'Láttam rejtett törvényed' (1914), written after Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo, the poet hears thunder from clouds and sees himself dead, in ice while the world is in flames. When the radicals took over the government and István Tisza, the war leader, was murdered, Ady was horrified. He suffered a stroke that affected his speech, but not writing. Ady's pacifist poems – unique at that time in Hungary – were collected in A halottak élen (1918).

Ady was elected in October 1918 chairman of the Vörösmarty Academy which was just founded. In the last months of his life, Ady was "more of a living corpse than a brilliant intellect" (Lóránt Czigány in The Oxford History of Hungarian Literature, 1984). Weakened by alcoholism, Ady died of pneumonia in Budapest on January 27, in 1919. A new revolutionary government, formed in the wake of postwar upheavals, arranged a state funeral for him. Ady's final poem was 'Az utolsó hajók' (Last Ships), where he leaves open his belief or unbelief in God – "you Are Not" he wrote in front of death. It is told that just a few months earlier Ady teared up his old faithful companion, the Bible, which had deeply impressed his own language.

Ady was very prolific. He wrote some 1,000 poems and published 10 volumes of poetry in 12 years, as well as short stories and countless articles. Ady's complete poems, Összes versei, were first published in 1930. Ady has  remained a legendary figure in Hungarian literature. Although he founded no school he opened up new possibilities for expression. Some of the critics have claimed, that a part of Ady's poetry was essentially political journalism in verse form, requiring familiarity with the issues of the poet's time.

For further reading: Ady Endre kultúrharcai: a keszténység megtámadása Európában és a Magyar Királyságban by Ernő Raffay (2019); Ermindszent: Ady Endre szelofaluja by Katalin Benak (2007); Endre Ady: Poet of Preverbal Experiences by Fiore Mester (2000); Ady Endre, 1877-1919 by Sandor Borbely (2000); 'Ady, Endre,' in World Authors 1900-1950, Volume Two, ed. by Martin Seymour-Smith and Andrew C. Kimmens (1996); Unkarin kirjallisuus, toim. Tibor Klaniczay (1986); The Oxford History of Hungarian Literature by Lóránt Czigány (1984); A History of Hungarian Literature by Istvan Nemeskürty et al. (1983); The Explosive Country by G.F. Cushing (1977); Ady Endrérol by György Lukács (1977); Emlékezések Ady Endréről, ed. by Miklós Kovalovszky (1961-1974); Ady by Lajos Hatvany (1974); Ady Endre I-II by István Király (1972); Poems of Endre Ady (1969, trans. A. Nyegers); Hungarian Writers and Literature by J. Reményi (1964); Ady minden titkai by Gyula Földessy (1949); Az igazi Ady by György Bölöni (1947); Ady Endre by Lajos Ady (1923) - Suomeksi on julkaistu valikoimat Eliaan vaunuissa, suom. Anna-Maija Raittila (1977) ja Lensi riikinkukko (1978). Anna-Maija Raittilan lisäksi Adyn runoja ovat kääntäneet Arvo Turtiainen (Vapauden tuulet, 1952), Toivo Lyy (Unkarin lyyra, 1970), Aale Tynni (Tuhat laulujen vuotta, 1974). Teokseen Lensi riikinkukko on koottu kilpailun tuloksena useita Adyn runoja eri kääntäjiltä.  Adyn runokieltä valaisee Anna-Maija Raittilan suomentamat säkeet runosta Kocsi-út az éjszakában: "Kaikki Ehjä on särkynyt, / jokainen liekki on vain loimahdus, / risana jokainen rakkaus, / kaikki Ehjä on särkynyt."

Selected works:

  • Versek, 1899
  • Még egyszer, 1903
  • Új versek, 1906 [New Poems]
  • Vér és arany, 1907 - 'Blood and Gold' (title poem), in 7 Poems by Ady (tr. Watson Kirkconnell, 1945)
  • Sápadt emberek és egyéb történetek, 1907
  • Az Illés szekerén, 1908 - 'Elijah's Chariot' (title poem), in 7 Poems by Ady (tr. René Bonnerjea, 1945)
  • Szeretném, ha szeretnének, 1909
  • Uj csapáson, 1909
  • A tizmilliós Kleopátra és egyéb törtenetek, 1910 - 'A Cleopatra Worth Worth Ten Millions' (title story), in Neighbours of the Night (tr. Judith Sollosy, 1994)
  • Igy is történhetik, 1910
  • A Minden-titkok versei, 1910
  • Az Illés szekerén, 1911
  • A menekülő élet, 1912
  • Margita élni akar, 1912
  • A magunk szerelme, 1913
  • Muskétas tanár ur, 1913
  • Ki látott engem?, 1914
  • A halottak élén, 1918
  • Az utolsó hajók, 1923
  • Összes versei, 1930
  • The Magyar Muse, 1933 (anthology of Hungarian verse, edited and translated by W. Kirkconnell)
  • Poems, 1941 (tr. René Bonnerjea)
  • Vallomások és tanulmányok, 1944
  • 7 Poems by Ady, 1945 (tr. René Bonnerjea, Watson Kirkconnell)
  • Párizsban és napfényországban, 1949
  • A nacionalizmus alkonya, 1959
  • Összes Novellák, 1961
  • Ady az irodalomról, 1961
  • Összes Verek, 1961
  • Poems by Endre Ady, 1969 (tr. A. Nyerges)
  • Összes versei I-II, 1975
  • The Explosive Country, 1977 (introd., transl. and annot. by tr. G.F. Cushing)
  • Ady Endre koltemenyei, 1984
  • Selected Poems, 1987 (tr. Eugene Bard)
  • Neighbours of the Night: Selected Short Stories, 1994 (tr. Judith Sollosy)
  • Egy keresztvetés története: zsidó történetek, 2006 (válogatta, szerkesztette és az utószót írta, Kőbányai János)

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