Gyula Illyés

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For the Mayor of Satu Mare, see Iuliu Ilyés.
The native form of this personal name is Illyés Gyula. This article uses the Western name order.
Illyés Gyula
Born (1902-11-02)November 2, 1902
Sárszentlőrinc, Tolna County
Died April 15, 1983(1983-04-15) (aged 80)
Budapest
Nationality Hungarian
Spouse Irma Juvancz (married 1931)
Flóra Kozmutza (married 1939)
Relatives Father: János Illés
Mother: Ida Kálley
Daughter: Maria

Gyula Illyés (November 2, 1902  – April 15, 1983) was a Hungarian poet and novelist. He was one of the so-called népi ("from the people") writers, named so because they aimed to show – propelled by strong sociological interest and left-wing convictions – the disadvantageous conditions of their native land.

Early life[edit]

He was born the son of János Illés (1870 – 1931) and Ida Kállay (1878 – 1931) in Tolna County. His father belonged to a rich gentry family, but his mother came from the most deprived segment of society, agricultural servants.[1] He was their third child and spent his first nine years at his birthplace, where he finished his primary school years (1908 – 1912) and when his family moved to Simontornya, he continued his education at grammar schools there and Dombóvár (1913 – 1914) and Bonyhád (1914 – 1916). In 1926 his parents separated, and he moved to the capital with his mother. He continued senior high school at the Budapest Munkácsy Mihály street gimnazium (1916 – 1917) and at the Izabella Street Kereskedelmi school (1917 – 1921). In 1921 he graduated. From 1918 to 1919 he took part in various left-wing student and youth worker's movements, being present at an attack on Romanian forces in Szolnok during the Hungarian Republic of Councils. On December 22, 1920 his first poem was published (El ne essél, testvér) anonymously in the Social Democrat daily Népszava.

University years[edit]

He began studies at the Budapest University's department of languages studying Hungarian and French. Due to illegal political activities he was forced to escape to Vienna in December that year, moving on to Berlin and the Rhineland in 1922.

He arrived in Paris in April of that year. He worked numerous jobs including as a bookbinder. For a while he studied at the Sorbonne and published his first articles and translations in 1923. He met the French surrealists, and some of them became friends, among others Paul Éluard, Tristan Tzara, René Crevel (each visited him later in Hungary).

He returned home in 1926 after an amnesty. His main forums of activity became Dokumentum and Munka, periodicals edited by the avant-garde writer and poet Lajos Kassák.

Early career[edit]

Illyés worked for the Phoenix Insurance company from 1927 to 1936, and after its bankruptcy he became press referent to the Hungarian National Bank on French agricultural matters (1937 – 1944).

His first critical writing appeared in the review Nyugat ("Occident") – the most distinguished literary magazine of the time – in November 1927. From 1928 Nyugat regularly featured his articles and poems.

He made friends with Attila József, László Németh, Lőrinc Szabó József Erdélyi, János Kodolányi and Péter Veres, at the time the leading talents of his generation.

His first book (Nehéz Föld) was also published by Nyugat in 1928. In 1931 he married Irma Juvancz who was a physical education teacher.

Illyés was invited and travelled to the Soviet Union in 1934 to take part in the international writers congress where he met André Malraux and Boris Pasternak. From that year he also participated in the editorial work of the review Válasz (Argument), the forum of the young "népi" writers.

He was one of the founding members of the March Front (1937 – 1939), a left-wing and anti-fascist movement. Subsequently he was invited to the editorial board of Nyugat and became a close friend of its editor, the post-symbolist poet and writer Mihály Babits.

He divorced his first wife.

War years[edit]

During World War II following the death of Mihály Babits, Illyés was nominated editor-in-chief of Nyugat. Having been refused by the authorities to use the same title for the magazine, he continued to publish the review under a different title: Magyar Csillag ("Hungarian Star").

In 1939 he married Flóra Kozmuta, with whom he had a daughter, Maria.

After the Nazi invasion of Hungary in March 1944, Illyés was a fugitive with László Németh as anti-Nazi intellectuals.

After World War II[edit]

He became a member of the parliament of Hungary in 1945, and one of the leaders of the left-wing National Peasant Party. He withdrew from public life in 1947 as the Communist takeover of government was approaching. He was a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences from 1945 to 1949. He directed and edited the review Válasz from 1946 to 1949.

Although he lived a reclusive life in Tihany and Budapest until the early 1960s, his poetry, prose, theater plays and essays continued to make an important impact on Hungarian public and literary life.

On November 2, 1956 he published his famous poem of the Hungarian revolution of 1956, which was not allowed to be republished in Hungary until 1986: "One sentence on tyranny" is a long poem written in 1950.

From the early 1960s he continued to express political, social and moral issues all through his work, but the main themes of his poetry remain love, life and death. Active until his death in April 1983, he published poems, dramas, essays and parts of his diary. His work as a translator is also considerable.

He translated from many languages, French being the most important, but - with the help of rough translations - his volume of translations from the ancient Chinese classics remains a milestone.

Works[edit]

In his poetry Illyés was a spokesman for the oppressed peasant class. Typical is "People of the puszta", A puszták népe, 1936. Greater universality and an appeal for national and individual liberty mark his later work.

Selection of works[edit]

Poetry[edit]

  • Nehéz föld (1928)
  • Sarjúrendek (1931)
  • Három öreg (1932)
  • Hősökről beszélek (1933)
  • Ifjúság (1934)
  • Szálló egek alatt (1935)
  • Rend a romokban (1937)
  • Külön világban (1939)
  • Egy év (1945)
  • Szembenézve (1947)
  • Két kéz (1950)
  • Kézfogások (1956)
  • Új versek (1961)
  • Dőlt vitorla (1965)
  • Fekete-fehér (1968)
  • Minden lehet (1973)
  • Különös testamentum (1977)
  • Közügy (1981)
  • Táviratok (1982)
  • A Semmi közelit (1983)

Prose[edit]

  • Oroszország (1934)
  • Petőfi (1936)
  • Puszták népe (1936)
  • Magyarok (1938)
  • Ki a magyar? (1939)
  • Lélek és kenyér (1939)
  • Csizma az asztalon (1941)
  • Kora tavasz (1941)
  • Mint a darvak (1942)
  • Hunok Párisban (1946)
  • Franciaországi változatok (1947)
  • Hetvenhét magyar népmese (1953)
  • Balaton (1962)
  • Ebéd a kastélyban (1962)
  • Petőfi Sándor (1963)
  • Ingyen lakoma (1964)
  • Szives kalauz (1966)
  • Kháron ladikján (1969)
  • Hajszálgyökerek (1971)
  • Beatrice apródjai (1979)
  • Naplójegyzetek, 1-8 (1987–1995)

Theater[edit]

  • A tü foka (1944)
  • Lélekbúvár (1948)
  • Ozorai példa (1952)
  • Fáklyaláng (1953)
  • Dózsa György (1956)
  • Kegyenc (1963)
  • Különc (1963)
  • Tiszták (1971)

His work in English translation[edit]

  • A Tribute to Gyula Illyés, Occidental Press, Washington (1968)
  • Selected Poems (Thomas Kabdebo and Paul Tabori) Chatto and Windus, London (1971)
  • People of the Puszta, Translated and afterword by G.F. Cushing, Chatto and Windus, London (1967), Corvina, Budapest (1967)
  • Petőfi, Translated by G.F. Cushing, Corvina, Budapest
  • Once Upon a Time, Forty Hungarian Folk Tales, Corvina, Budapest (1970)
  • The Tree that Reached the Sky (for children), Corvina, Budapest (1988)
  • The Prince and his Magic Horse (for children), Corvina, Budapest (1987)
  • 29 poems, Translated by Tótfalusi István, Maecenas, Budapest (1996)
  • What You Have Almost Forgotten (Trans. foreword and ed. Willam Jay Smith with Gyula Kodolányi) Kortárs, Budapest (1999)
  • Charon's Ferry, Fifty Poems (Translated by Bruce Berlind) Northwestern University Press, Evanston, Illinois (2000)

In anthologies and periodicals[edit]

  • Poems for the Millennium, (ed. Jerome Rothenberg) 2000
  • Arion, essays and poems, several issues
  • The New Hungarian Quarterly and the Hungarian Quarterly, several issues
  • Icarus 6 (Huns in Paris, trans. by Thomas Mark)
  • Homeland in the Heights (ed. Bertha Csilla, An anthology of Post-World War II. Hungarian Poetry, Budapest (2000)

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Judit Frigyesi, Béla Bartók and turn-of-the-century Budapest, University of California Press, 2000, p. 47 [1]