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Biography

1554 born in Zólyom (today Znojmo, Slovakia)
1564 tutored by court preacher Péter Bornemisza in Zólyom
1565 studies in Nuremberg
1569 father arrested on suspicion of contributing to a plot against the Habsburgs; the family flees to Poland
1575 to prove loyalty to the Hapsburgs, joins a military campaign against the Báthory Court in Transylvania; Balassi is taken prisoner but finds favour with the Prince of Transylvania, István Báthory, who resists handing him over to the Turks
1576 serves and follows Báthory, who leaves Transylvania to become King of Poland
1578-84 courts the wife of Ungnád Kristóf, née Anna Losonczy (muse of the Anna Poems)
1579-82 lieutenant in Eger, force under his command inludes over fifty horses
1584 marries his cousin, Krisztina Dobó, a widow
1585 sues his guard, then (1587) his unfaithful wife
1586 converts to Catholicism
1588 his marriage is declared void; new marriage plan fails; writes Szép magyar comoedia
1588-89 the Julia Cycle of love poems; A Book Written in His Own Hand; organises the Renaissance circle of poets, "The Eight Youths"
1589 departs on a military campaign to Poland; writes the Coelia Poems, the muse for which is the wife of Ferenc Wesselényi, née Anna Szárkándy; studies at the Jesuit Institute of Braunsberg
1591 returns home
1592 sues Anna Losonczy, who sues him in return
1593 writes the Fulvia Poems; participates in the sieges of Divény and Kékkő
1594 mortally wounded by a cannon ball at the siege of Esztergom
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ca. 1650 the so-called Balassa codex comprising "The Fragments of Bálint Balassi's Poems"
1874 the so-called Balassa codex is found
1958 Szép magyar comoedia (A Beautiful Hungarian Comedy) discovered

"A Book Written in His Own Hand"
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The poems written before his marriage comprise the first half of the book, the most beautiful of them being No. 33 (the number is not accidental). A religious verse called “Bocsásd meg, Úristen, ifjúságomnak vétkét” (Forgive me, my God, the sins of my youth) follows the love-poetry. Balassi’s name may be read in the initial letters of the lines of his poem: “Balassi Balinthé” (Bálint Balassi’s). Most of the second half of the book’s first cycle comprises the Julia poems; by then Balassi was writing in the manner of the courtly lyric, giving a pseudonym to his love. The cycle provides a narrative framework (in accordance with the story in Szép magyar comoedia (A Beautiful Hungarian Comedy). Due to their passionate, personal tone, their melodiousness and detail of observation, the poems remain fresh and timeless. Among the most memorable of them are “Ez világ sem kell már nékem nálad nélkül, szép kedvesem” (I no longer wish for this world without you, my beautiful love), addressing the indifferent object of desire, and “Ó nagy kerek kék ég” (Oh, great, round, blue sky), the lover struggling to move beyond love. It is with this intention that the poet recalls the ideal of cavalry in “Vitézek, mi lehet e széles föld felett szebb dolog az végeknél” (Gallant Friends, what can be in this round world more beautiful than life in the borderland), a.k.a. “Katonaének” (Soldier Song). The cycle continues with nine devotional poems (humanistic paraphrases of psalms) and poems of memories and of exile, among them nine unnumbered “Turkish beyts” (love poems). In the second part of the book (in the third phase of the poet’s life, concluding the Julia romance), are the Coelia Poems, addressing an earthly Venus instead of a yearned for, distant Julia. More and more these poems are to be read rather than sung, and their composition is increasingly closed.

The poems left out from the composed collection
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Balassi s religious poems appeared several times in print after his death. In the most beautiful of them, Adj már csendességet (Give Me Peace Now), an increasingly defiant Balassi refuses to negotiate with God. The Protestant, Platonist attitude is characteristic, as is the lifting cadenza. Also, missing from A Book Written in His Own Hand are the so- called Cím nélküli gyűjtemény (Untitled Collection). These are the five poems that survived in Balassi s own hand, the ones he mentions in a letter as Valami új versek (Some new poems). Each one of the five pieces addresses a new love, Fulvia; each comprises one simile written in one so-called Balassi stanza, the culmination of the path to closed form.

The Complete Poems of Bálint Balassi
1999

The first great classic poet of Hungarian literature, Bálint Balassi’s most significant innovation is found in his verse form. He was a poet of the Renaissance and the first Hungarian Petrarchist, although his poetry has mediaeval traits, and his later poetry begins a transition to Mannerism. During his lifetime only his translations were in print, whereas his poems survived in the so-called versei Balassa codex, completed approximately fifty years after his death and discovered in 1874. His A Book Written in His Own Hand is a fragmentary, but planned and edited book of poems. According to the most recent theory, however, the fragmentary nature of the book is both arbitrary, as its title (The Fragments of Bálint Balassi’s Poems) alludes to Petrarch’s Book of Songs (Rerum vulgarium fragmenta). “In the world of the imagination, the original plan devised by the poet to fill the book with exactly 99 or 100 poems failed, yet if one counts the number of poems composed by Bálint Balassi before closing the complete book, they amount to exactly 100 ... After the failure of the great project, it apparently escapes the fictitious poet’s attention that, involuntarily and without noticing it, he eventually created what he had wished for. The re-established book is not homogeneous; it comprises relgious poems, Turkish beyts and the Coelia Cycle (love poems). The three periods of Bálint Balassi’s poetry coincides with the three main parts of the collection (Before Julia, Julia, After Julia).” -Iván Horváth, specialist in Balassi studies.

Dainty Hungarian Comedy About the Love of Thyrsis for Angelica and of Sylvanus for Galathea
1999

Balassi translated and, according to the needs of his own love poetry, greatly transformed the Italian Renaissance pastoral by Cristoforo Castelletti. In his preface, addressing the women of Transylvania, Balassi outlines his purpose, i.e., to introduce this lighter genre of love alongside the more serious ones of theology, history, etc. The play takes place in Arcadia. Credulus, who has been wandering for seventeen years (under a pseudonym), mourning his beloved Angelica, falls in love with Julia, a girl very much like her; meanwhile his friend, Sylvanus, also falls in love with Julia and leaves Galathea. Meanwhile Julia does not wish to become unfaithful to her one-time lover, Thyrsis. After some difficulties, the lovers, just like those in Shakespeare s comedy, A Midsummer Night s Dream, find their partners, as Credulus turns out to be Thyrsis and Julia his Angelica (wrongly thought to be dead).

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