Author's page

Biography

1912 (5th September) born in Eger
1930-35 studies Law in Eger, obtains doctorate in Political Science at Pécs University; civil servant in Eger
1941 civil servant in Budapest; in his office at the Ministry of Defence, he helps his persecuted friends during the war
1941-42 spends two years in sanatorium, suffering from tuberculosis
1949 silenced for political reasons
1948-53 librarian at the Ministry of Defence, eventually dismissed
1953 Editor at Szépirodalmi Publishing House
1957 freelance writer and translator
1985 dies in Budakeszi, near Budapest

His prizes include:
1947 Baumgarten Prize, 1963, 1972 Attila József Prize, 1970 Robert Graves Prize

On a Feverish Star
1957

A prolific writer and translator, Kálnoky belonged to the so-called "third generation" of Nyugat poets, starting their oeuvre in the decade before World War II. In its grotesque scenes of small town boredom and its nostalgia for wider horizons, his first volume of poetry shows the impact of Kosztolányi and Árpád Tóth. Kálnoky’s new start, Lázas csillagon (On a Feverish Star), is characterised by a cosmic vision, counter-balanced by precariously punctual wording. The poems gain tension from their zooming in on close and distant objects, while the language is subtle, often playful. This is partly the effect of Kálnoky’s translations of Verlaine and Baudelaire, yet the fin de siecle mood becomes more concentrated through the poet’s physical suffering. Like Árpád Tóth, Kálnoky suffered from tuberculosis from early childhood onwards. His “Szanatóriumi elégia” (Elegy from a Sanatorium) is a poem of resigned and, at the same time, passionate confession about physical suffering and existential hopefulness. Kálnoky describes the period he spent in sanatorium with intellectual clarity.

In the Shadow of Flames
1970

His poetry is at its zenith perhaps in this volume. István Vas calls Kálnoky’s attitude a “healing pessimism” and writes, “In the shadow of his flames there are only sharp outlines, no smudged blots. There is no complaint, nor self-pity here. ... And no pretensions or affectations ... [either]: this is a masculine pessimism, ruthless with the world and with himself alike.” In one of the best poems of the volume, “De Profundis”, Kálnoky looks back on lost years, and writes the symbolic but at once humorous and punctual lines, “When I soak my lonely looks / in the green veins of neon signs, / when I flounder on / like a lumpish-headed diver / deep in seas of the past, I feel / my shadow quietly flaking off / from my heels and vanishing / in reverse. I feel / fate has stopped waiting for me / neighing, stamping, bridled.” (translated by Edwin Morgan)

Collected Poems
1992

The most characteristic motive of his newer poetry, from Letépett álarcok (Torn Masks), is the metaphor of the world theatre, where all players are puppets. Kálnoky’s grotesque vision becomes central here, a sense of humour counterbalancing the poet’s bitter awareness of the hopelessness of destroying forces in the world. The formal discipline of his earlier poetry gives way to a looser pattern, approaching free verse. In the epic volume of Egy hiéna utóélete és más történetek (The After-life of a Hyena and Other Stories), Kálnoky introduces a persona with a humorous pseudonym, Homálynoky Szaniszló (Ladislaus Dimnick), who relates his childhood experiences. He reappears in some of the sequences of Üvegkalap (The Glass Hat) and Bálnák a parton (Beached Whales). In the last two volumes, Egy mítosz születése. Téli napló 1982-83 (The Birth of a Myth. Winter Journal 1982-1983) and Hőstettek az ülőkádban (Heroism in the Hip-bath), the clownish Homálynoky faces life and death with the punctuality of experimenting, but often through the half-conscious moments of waking dreams. Kálnoky’s later poetry often alludes to Swift and there is indeed a similarity in the bitter sarcasm of the two authors.

Download contents in PDF!