Slovakian literary great Hviezdoslav (1849-1921) was a genuine Renaissance man; poet, dramatist, journalist, translator, patriot, and Champion of the Slovak language.
The Slovakian poet and translator Hviezdoslav was born Pavol Országh on February 2, 1849, at Vysny Kubin. He was the son of a farmer and attended gymnasium (high school) in Miskovec, Hungary. He continued his studies in Kezmarok, culminating with law school in Presov. He started out as a lawyer in his native Orava (north-west Slovakia) and quickly entered state service as a judge in Dolny Kubin. While practicing law, he simultaneously studied and wrote poetry under the tutelage of his teacher and mentor, Adolf Medzihradsky. He originally wrote in Hungarian and was a Hungarian patriot. He then wrote in German for a time but switched to the Slovak language on the advice of his teacher in 1868. He quickly became a Slovakian Nationalist and champion of the Slovak language. He published his first poems in 1868 when he was 19 and took the pseudonym Hviezdoslav in 1875 when he was 26. His hope was that the pseudonym would help to separate his identity as a poet from his identity as a lawyer. He presided as a judge for the state for three years and resigned in 1879 to work in private practice in Námestov. He retired in 1899 so that he could devote his life to literature.
The Biographical Dictionary of European Literature—European Authors 1000–1900 points out that "Hviezdoslav's poetry combines elements of romanticism and Parnassianism [a French poetic movement emphasizing metrical form rather than emotion]. On one hand he is a patriot whose verse describes his love of country and the beauties of the Slovak landscape; on the other he is an aesthete and accomplished technician who introduced new verse forms such as the sestina and terzina to Slovak poetry." Lauded by the National Slovak Society webpage as the "last, brightest star in the Slovak poetical firmament," Hviezdoslav was considered one of the leading artists in the national revival of Slovak literature and language. His dedication to writing in Slovakian supported the people's right to use the Slovak language in schools and public life and helped to develop national consciousness while still managing to publish at least fifteen volumes of original poetry in his lifetime. Much of Hviezdoslav's poetic expression is highly religious. He wrote contemplative lyrical cycles on biblical subjects: Agar (Hagar), Ráchel (Rachel), and Kain (Cain), as well as a biblical play in verse: Herodes a Herodias. The lyric cycles Letorosty (Off—shoots), Stesky (Laments), and Dozvuky (Echoes) revived memories of a pleasant childhood while expressing an ever growing dissatisfaction with Slovakian dependence. His mature lyric cycles Growth Rings I, II, & III, Walks Through Spring, and Walks Through Summer were important because they provided the reader with personal contemplations that naturally touched on concerns of the human condition that all people could relate to. His epic compositions Hájnikova zena (The Forester's Wife or The Game–Keeper's Wife), Ezo Vlkolinský (Ezo Vlkolinský), and Gábor Vlkolinský featured a sophisticated use of allegory and native themes to comment on the state of the Slovak nation. Hájnikova zena (The Forester's Wife or The Game–Keeper's Wife), published in 1886, told the story of Hanka—the wife of a young gamekeeper—who kills the son of their master when he attempts to rape her. Although epic in scope, the heart of this narrative poem is its sincerity and its sweeping descriptions of the natural beauty of the uplands. In the latter part of his career his focus switched to realism, and he wrote about topics he found in contemporary life rather than in the past. This change was heralded by his infamous collection of anti–war poems Krvavé sonety (Bloody Sonnets or Blood–Red Sonnets). This acclaimed sonnet cycle is identified by The Penguin Companion to European Literature as "a humanist's passionate protest against the madness of war." It was written during World War I, and projects a dramatic collage of images that showcase the horrors of war. The World's Lawyer Poets website notes that Hviezdoslav's poetry "vastly extended the range of possibilities of the Slovak poetic language which he enriched by neologisms and dialect expressions, and which he employed in the most diverse forms of poetic creation." The Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature notes the way he "developed a new type of reflective lyric, which was both a modern poetic narrative form and a verse play." Critics agree that his work helped to raise Slovak literature from provincialism. He was a humanist by nature and focused on patriotism, evangelical faith, democracy, and social and economic justice. His work has been translated into numerous other languages, and his versatile talents produced an impressive body of work that included verse plays and journalistic pieces as well as poetry. Hviezdoslav's major influences were Andrej Sladkovic, Jan Kollar, Jan Holly and the Czech poets: Jaroslav Vrchlick, Vitezslav Hálek, and Svatopluk Cech. While Jan Holly was known as the father of Slovakian poetry, Hviezdoslav was considered by many to be Slovakia's greatest poet.
A Master of Language
In addition to his accomplishments as a poet and master composer of the Slovak language, Hviezdoslav was also a celebrated translator. He translated English, Russian, German, and Hungarian literature into both Czech and Slovak. It was his desire to translate the world classics into Slovak. He translated William Shakespeare—including Hamlet in 1903 and A Midsummer Night's Dream—Friedrich Schiller, Alexander Pushkin's Boris Godunov, Sandor Petofi, the prologue to Johann Goethe's Faust, Adam Mickiewicz's Crimean Sonnets, and the work of Juliusz Slowacki.
Servant to His Country
Hviezdoslav was truly a servant to his country, and he supported the Slovak culture outside his substantial literary contributions. He was a vocal advocate of Czech—Slovak cooperation, and he openly supported the Czechoslovak Republic, serving as a delegate to its National Assembly when the new state was founded and as a member of its Parliament. He was rewarded in his lifetime in numerous ways. On August 5, 1919, the Slovak Cultural Institute (Matica Slovenska)—originally opened in 1861 but closed by the Magyars—was re–opened and re–dedicated. Hviezdoslav was honored by being named its new head. It was later enlarged by the addition of a Slovak National Museum. He also served as Poet Laureate of Slovakia for an extended period of time.
Living in Memory
Hviezdoslav died November 8, 1921, at Dolny Kubin at the age of 72 of natural causes. He is buried in the city cemetery at Dolny Kubin in Slovakia. His life and works have been posthumously celebrated ever since his passing. His life and work are displayed in the literary wing of the Orava Museum in Dolny Kubin. A newly re–constructed town square, Hviezdoslavovo námestie (Hviezdoslav Square) was named after him and boasts the National Opera House, among other attractions. In the Pantheon Hall of the Czech National Museum—which pays homage to Czech history, culture and science—there is a bronze bust of Hviezdoslav, which was added to the collection of statues and busts of contributors to the culture in 1930. A commemorative stamp with his face on it was issued January 28, 1998, and a commemorative silver coin bearing his portrait was issued in 1999 for the 150th anniversary of his birth. The Hviezdoslav Theatre was built from 1943 to 1947 and serves as the theatre of the Slovak National Theatre Company. The first performance in it was Hviezdoslav's Herodes a Herodias. The P.O. Hviezdoslav Museum documents in detail the life and works of the famous poet, and the Forester's Lodge—where he wrote Hájnikova zena (The Forester's Wife or The Game—Keeper's Wife)—is open to tourists and boasts the original furniture that Hviezdoslav used while composing the epic.
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