Author's page

Domokos SZILÁGYI
( 1938 - 1976 )

» Dream in the Airport (1962)
» The Dance of Several Loves (1965)
» Wizard (1967)
» The Encyclopaedia of Fever (1967)
» János Arany, Our Contemporary (1968)
» Farewell to the Tropes (1969)
» Mistletoe (1971)
» Press Conference (1972)
» Half-Period (1974)
» The Book of the Old (1976)
» Wedding on the Seashore (1978)

Biography

1938 born in Nagysomkút (ªomcuta Mare, Romania)
1955 finishes secondary school in Szatmár (Satu Mare)
1955-60 degree in Hungarian at Kolozsvár University (Cluj)
1958-59 on the staff of the Igaz Szó literary journal
1960-70 works for the daily Előre in Bucharest
1961 marries his first wife, the poet Gizella Hervay
1963 divorces Hervay
1970 retires for medical reasons, moves to Kolozsvár
1976 commits suicide

Dream in the Airport
1962

The title poem is, as the poet states, a collection of “love poems to freedom”, and it reflects the longing for liberty of the post-war generation. The book’s other lengthy poem, “The Shadow of Death”, is a requiem, and shows, as a contrast, the monstrosities of war, the death of soldiers and the deported and how these trials of the 20th century ended any illusion of happiness and the beauty of childhood. In these epical poems and the other pieces of the collection, romantic illusion and minute details of everyday reality mingle, and Szilágyi accepts the political expectations of the times by stating that poetry is not art for art’s sake, but a useful means of building the future. His early poems, however, are much more than propagandistic verses; they contain high aesthetical qualities and show both respect for tradition and remarkable individual talent. Especially appealing are the first sparks of Szilágyi’s irony and humour.

Wizard
1967

The age of doubt: the structure of Szilágyi’s poems begins to change, something hinted at in the previous volume. Multi-layered meanings, polyphonic construction, a texture of counterpoints—it seems that Szilágyi uses the technique of music composition, conveying not one single message but many, keeping, however, the emotional unity of the whole. The rational, clear-headed poet turns to ancient myths and characters (storm-brewing wizards, alchemists and witches) or composes from sentences heard on the street, writing lengthy poems of polyphonic structure and throbbing rhythm. The last poem of the volume is a clear and linear one: an ode to Europe, showing the longing of the caged poet for historical and geographical distance and the rationality of Reason.

The Encyclopaedia of Fever
1967

A long poem or rather a montage of poems that examines and summarises the relationship of the poet to society. It starts from the depths of personal and historical time (childhood, prehistory), rising ever upwards through history, towards a future that can never be reached. The mosaic-like pieces show a fantastic variety of language and styles that can be considered as a poetical feat. Here playfulness is always counterpointed by pain and overwhelming doubt: what if there is no need for poetry in a world so grand and, ultimately, indescribable?

János Arany, Our Contemporary
1968

An essay about the great 19th century poet János Arany, who together with Mihály Babits and T. S. Eliot played an important role in Szilágyi’s poetical development. The author intends to prove the importance and freshness of the poet’s oeuvre.

Farewell to the Tropes
1969

A final farewell to utopia: constant scepticism leads to the realisation that everything is in vain—without God or ultimate truth there is no truthful measure. The volume reflects the desperate fight of rationality and morality, secretly revolving around one single question: is salvation possible? As the son of a pastor, Szilágyi was well acquainted with the Bible and Christian tradition, as well as with tragic and ultimately inexplicable historical experiences, and found that he could not rationally explain the world from a Christian perspective. The titles of the poems (“The Prophet”, “Forced Landing”, “Summer Solstice”) all show a disillusionment and bitterness that gives a special power and finality to these poems. This philosophical foundation also leads to the problem of writing: “How to Write a Poem” shows how a poet can cope with extreme political and ideological restraint, and “Summer” reflects Szilágyi’s belief that—in his full poetical armour—he must face the final limitation of poetry: if everything can be described (as in this poem of various rhythms and free associations), than perhaps nothing can be.

Mistletoe
1971

Disillusioned, in a world that cannot be understood, Szilágyi desperately tries to find something to keep his empty existence valid. On the border of nothing, without the consolation of religion or any kind of irrationality, the outer and inner circumstances becoming ever tighter, Szilágyi ventures out to explore the unknown, still believing that freedom is possible. “Missa Solemnis”, a poem about aimless and boundless human suffering unredeemed (or even supported) by Christianity shows the influence of T. S. Eliot, and “Mistletoe”, a text based on the traditional Transylvanian image of shell and pearl, reflects tragic scepticism.

Press Conference
1972

The poet, as the central character of the poem “Job, by Mestrovic” makes a final attempt to accept the world. His ethical imperative is that everybody must wrestle with his or her own fate and find a valid answer to seemingly unanswerable questions. If history is aimless and personal existence is redundant, only a sense of community can help.

Half-Period
1974

A fragile balance is finally reached: the poet’s everyday life is somewhat ordered by love, and the unsolvable questions of existence are countered by the happiness of private life. Szilágyi’s joyful and humorous nature is again revealed in rhythms and playful experimentation. Play might show a way out of the trap of scepticism. The volume, however, is full of allusions to forthcoming death: the last poem, “Requiem” is termed in a tragi-comical Whitman paraphrase (Szilágyi was a translator of the American poet) “Song of Myself”.

The Book of the Old
1976

A sad book in 699 numbered lines, this describes old age and human existence leading inevitably to death.

Wedding on the Seashore
1978

This posthumous book summarizes Szilágyi’s views about the world that could only be ended by suicide. The poems reflect a vision of Europe far away by now from communist Romania; they show that love’s consolation, although sweet, will prove to be insufficient, and even playfulness can not avoid the end.

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