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Biography

1817 born in Nagyszalonta (Salonta, Romania)
1817 born in Nagyszalonta (Salonta, Romania)
1828-33 student and teaching assistant in his hometown
1833-36 student in Debrecen, teacher s assistant in Kisújszállás
1836 joins a travelling acting troupe
1836-49 returns to hometown, as teacher, then notary
1840 marries Julianna Ercsey
1847 begins career as poet
1848 member of the National Guard
1851-60 teacher in Nagykőrös
1858 elected a member of the Hungarian Academy of Science
1860-62 editor of the literary journal Szépirodalmi Figyelő
1860-65 director of the Kisfaludy Literary Society
1863-65 editor of the journal Koszorú
1870 secretary general of the Hungarian Academy of Science
1882 dies in Budapest

The Lost Constitution
1845

Arany’s first work is a comical epic poem, a satirical description of county politics, bravely mocking both conservatives and righteous reformers. This is Arany’s only work that explicitly examines the political problems of his day.

Toldi
1846

Arany won the literary competition of the Kisfaludy Society with this epic poem, which proved to be a decisive factor in Arany’s career; he was suddenly acknowledged as a major national poet, and the highly acclaimed Sándor Petőfi immediately wrote him a letter to offer his friendship, something Arany happily accepted. The work appeared in print in 1847. Miklós Toldi was a legendary historical hero, a peasant boy who rose to become a valiant knight. Arany used a chronicle song from 1574 as a historical source. This epic, which depicts the adventures of the hot-tempered and powerful Toldi, begins with his flight from his homeland and ends with his victory over a foreign knight at the Royal Court, thus winning his own knighthood. Toldi is not merely a peasant hero, but a symbol of a nation, representing a world where virtue and personal achievement are important above all else. The poem is compulsory reading for children in Hungary.

The Gipsies of Nagyida
1852

A tragic-comic satire, an indictment of revolutionary leader Lajos Kossuth and his followers, and a sad farewell to national ideals lost after the failed war of independence.

Toldi’s Eve
1854

The concluding part of the poet’s epic Toldi-trilogy. (The middle part of the trilogy, The Love of Toldi, was completed last.) The first version of the text was written in 1847-48, but was revised and published only in 1854. The straightforward narrative of the first part is now modulated by humour and a tragic-elegiac tone. The story begins with the old champion digging his own grave, feeling out of place and out of favour at the Royal Court, where the king himself considers him a redundant relic. When he hears the news that an Italian knight has defeated all comers at the Royal Court, he decides to fight once more for Hungary’s honour. He defeats the knight, but in a rage kills a pageboy who was mocking him; for this the king sends troops to capture him. Toldi soon dies by the side of the repentant king, who pledges that knightly valour shall be replaced by civic virtue, and physical superiority by intellectual power.

Lyrical Poems
1856

As a lyrical poet, Arany is a meditative thinker, a forerunner of the objective poets of the twentieth century. He is a sensitive and melancholic character, but also temperate and rational. Arany, together with his friend Sándor Petőfi, reformed Hungarian literature with the help of folk poetry, and they determined the tone and language of versification for decades. Their influence is alive even today; most amateur poets write in their manner, and their clarity and intelligibility is often set as an example for today s unintelligible poets.

Death of Buda
1864

This grand epic poem (written in 1862-63) was planned as the first part of an unfinished trilogy about the Huns. Arany fashioned a folk legend to demonstrate the power of fate over people and nations. The complexity and psychological insight of the epic resembles that of great European novels. The story describes the two royal brothers of the Huns, the valiant Etele and the pensive Buda, who intend to share power but end up fighting each other. First Etele then Buda gets hold of the mythical sword of the gods, and Etele kills his brother, sealing the fate of himself and his nation. Arany s minute, realistic descriptions are combined with his capacity to mould a monumental epic and result in a poem considered by some to be his best work.

Ballades, Little Autumn Flowers
1877-1880

The elderly Arany produced this remarkable cycle of poetry in a clasped notebook, on Margaret Island in Budapest. In his quiet seclusion, under the oaks of the island, Arany began to write lyrical poems that appear simple only at first reading; they are in fact very modern and multi-layered, displaying humour, self-irony and strange rhythms in abundance. Arany’s ballads, a genre in which he first experimented in 1847-48, are modelled on folk songs, Scottish ballads and historical songs and remain perhaps the most popular of all his poems. “Our fathers read a different Arany than we do. Theirs was young, epic and calm. Ours is old, lyrical and nervous.” (Dezső Kosztolányi)

Toldi’s Love
1879

This middle part of the Toldi-trilogy proved to be difficult and tedious work: Arany began writing in 1849, continued it in 1863, and finished it only in 1879. He begins with Toldi’s love for Piroska, whom Toldi betrays by passing her into the hands of a friend. He comes to regret the deed and tries to win her back, only to kill her husband. She, deeply wounded, retreats to a cloister and dies in seclusion. Toldi meanwhile wanders the world as a monk, but after many adventures comes again to fight alongside the king in an Italian military campaign. The psychological subtleties of the poem are combined with grand descriptions of armies and battles, in a rich, powerful language full of memorable images and observations.

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