József, Attila 1905-1937

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JÓZSEF, Attila 1905-1937


Born April 22, 1905, in Budapest, Hungary; committed suicide December 3, 1937, in Balatonszárszó, Hungary; father a soapmaker, mother a laundry worker. Education: Attended University of Szeged (Hungary), Sorbonne, University of Budapest, and University of Vienna.


Poet and translator.



Külvárosi éj, 1932, translation published as Upon the City's Outskirts, 1961.

George Gömöri and James Atlas, editors, Selected Poems and Texts, translated by John Bátki, Carcanet Press (Manchester, England), 1973.

Joseph M. Ertavy-Barath, editor, Attila József, translation by Anton N. Nyerges, Hungarian Cultural Foundation (Buffalo, NY), 1973.

Perched on Nothing's Branch: Selected Poems, translated by Peter Hargitai, introduction by Maxine Kumin, Apalachee Press (Tallahassee, FL), 1999.


Szépség koldusa (title means "Beauty's Beggar"), 1922.

A kozmosz éneke (title means "Song of the Cosmos"), 1932.

Imádság megfáradtaknak (title means "Prayer for Those Who Are Tired"), 1924.

És keressüek az igazságot (title means "And We Are Searching for Justice"), 1924.

Anyám jeghalt (title means "My Mother Died"), 1925.

Beteg vagyok (title means "I Am Ill"), 1925.

Nem én kiáltok (title means "It Is Not I Who Shouts"), 1925.

Egy átlátszó oroszlán (title means "A Transparent Lion"), 1926.

Nincsen apám, sem anyám, 1929.

Döenstd a toőkét, ne siránkozz (title means "Remove the Tree Stump, or Don't Whine"), Europa Koenyvtar (Budapest, Hungary), 1931.

Medvetánc (title means "Bear Dance"), 1934.

Ki-be ugrál (title means "It Keeps Jumping in and Out"), 1936.

Kirakják a fát (title means "They Are Unloading the Firewood"), 1936.

Nagyon fáj (title means "It Hurts Very Much"), 1936.

Nincs bocsánat, 1936-37.

Utolsó versek, 1937.

Thomas Mann üdvözlése (title means "Greeting Thomas Mann"), 1937.


Works included in various volumes, including Attila József összes muűvei, 4 volumes, 1952-67, and Összes versei, 1972. Also contributor to periodicals, including Nyugat.


Attila József was a prominent Hungarian poet who became known for his probing psychological and political verse. József was born in 1905 in Budapest, where he endured impoverishment, the desertion of his father at the age of three, and the death of his mother when he was fourteen years old. While still in his teens, József made his literary debut by publishing poems in the prestigious Hungarian periodical Nyugat. By the time he reached his twenties, he had already produced several verse collections.

József's poetry, especially works written in the 1920s, reflects his interest in Freudian and Marxist principles, as well as his decreasing mental stability. Zoltan L. Farkas, writing in the Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, affirmed that József's poetry at this time was "typically loose in form and … generally pessimistic in nature.… Other poems written in this period were escapes from the confusion of József's world." Anton Nyerges, meanwhile, wrote in his introduction to Attila József that the earlier poems bear similarities to those of other writers, and he described József as "a blend of poets whom he studied and liked, primarily Ady, but also Juhász … and Walt Whitman."

József continued his education at various institutions, including the University of Szeged, from which he was eventually expelled due to publication of his scandalous "Tiszta szívvel" ("Song of Innocence"), a poem promoting anarchy. By the late 1920s József had become increasingly active in the Hungarian Communist party, and in the ensuing years, he produced a substantial body of proletarian poetry. These verses bear such titles as "Young Worker," "Worker," and "Factory District: Night." Such poems have led to considerations of József as "the foremost Hungarian socialist poet," according to Lóránt Czigány in the Oxford History of Hungarian Literature: From the Earliest Times to the Present. In Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism Nyerges lauded József as "one of the very few genuine proletarian poets whom Western civilization has produced."

At the same time as his expulsion from the Communist party in 1932 for clashing ideologies, József's mental state declined significantly. Over the next several years, however, the poet managed to produce some of his most distinguished verse, much of which detailed emotional troubles ranging from childhood hardships to romantic and political setbacks. As Farkas wrote, "His later poems abound with dark premonitions of his fate: his greater concern with death, madness, and the futility of his existence." Miklós Szabolcsi, in an essay for the History of Hungarian Literature, József's poetry from his later years is not exclusively bleak: "He is not always brooding and pensive … playfulness, mockery and irony, a fondness for the grotesque and play as a part of human life are always present in his poetry."

In 1937 József entered a sanitarium, but his mental condition failed to stabilize, and before the year closed, he ended his life by hurling himself in front of a moving train. In the years after his death, József's reputation rose in Hungary, where his work was prized by both the intelligentsia, who lauded his independent nature, and the governing communists, who appropriated his verse as exemplifications of socialist order. Lóránt Czigány affirmed that József "put into effective verse form a legacy pointing far beyond the manipulations of any regime … and as a result, he is still an active force in Hungarian literature." Joseph Reményi stated Voices that József was "the poet of the slums, city-peripheries, the hungry and static village, of the insipid, tame, but also intransigent destiny of the proletariat, of his own vulnerable and irreconcilable spirit.… [His poetry] is now regarded as a creative experience of special psychological, sociological, and aesthetic interest."



History of Hungarian Literature, translated by József Hatvany and István Farkas, Collet's Publishers (London, England), 1964, pp. 229-308.

József, Attila, Attila József, edited by Joseph M. Ertavy-Barath, translation and introduction by Anton N. Nyerges, Hungarian Cultural Foundation (Buffalo, NY), 1973, pp. 9-39.

Oxford History of Hungarian Literature: From the Earliest Times to the Present, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1984, pp. 343-360.

Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Volume 22, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986, pp. 152-166.


Choice, January, 1974.

Encounter, March, 1954, pp. 3-6.

Literary Review, summer, 1959, Zoltan L. Farkas, "Poems of Attila József," pp. 586-588.

Times Literary Supplement, October 5, 1973.

Voices, spring, 1948, Joseph Reményi, "Attila József, Contemporary Hungarian Poet," pp. 55-62.*