A Proletarian Poet from Hungary:

Attila József




A Proletarian Poet from Hungary: Attila József


He was born on the 11th of April 1905, in one of Budapest’s proletarian suburbs called Ferencváros. He had the ordinary fate of proletarian children – he was starving and freezing, if it was necessary he was working and stole firing in order to let his family live through winter-time. In 1920, he got to the country, to Makó, where he started to study in grammar-school and by this time made his début as a proletarian poet. After this, the first volume of his poems, called Szépség koldusa (Beggar of the beauty) was published. He became to Budapest again, the government took action against him about blasphemy, because of his poem Lázadó Krisztus (Revolting Christ) – the white terror was wide awake. He came up to the university at Szeged, by this time he had a connection with the working class movement. On a breaking-out to Pest he met Mátyás Rákosi, who after the 2nd World War became arbiter of life and death of the Hungarian high politics, the head and tail-piece of the Party, otherwise a Bolshevik-bourgeois pitty monarch and heresy-hunter, a rat committed to Moscow.

At Szeged he got to know the Bolshevik-social democratic clubs. He was stuffing himself with literary modernness from the leftist prophet Endre Ady to the expressionist communist Lajos Kassák, and by dint of these languages he shaped his own individual style. The poem published here, Tiszta szívvel (Innocent song) is a very good example of this. Many people declare this poem the most brilliant example of his anarchist period. In 1924 was published his second volume, entitled Nem én kiáltok (It’s not me who shrikes). After this he came up to the university at Vienna and connected closer with the working class movement. „Red Vienna” was under social democratic control, he got hold of Marx’s Capital here, which was significant element of his life from this time on. By this time he was reading Engels, attending philosophical lectures by Max Adler and Grünberg and reading up the subject of anarchism and socialism. He got to know Ernő Weiler – an anarchist from Hungary – and his club, attended a lecture by Pierre Ramus also, but he didn’t take part in the movement. He met the Hungarian Bolshevik emigrants also at Vienna – György Lukács, Béla Balázs and others. He contracted a friendship with Andor Németh, a leftist writer, who afterwards wrote a very good book about Attila József.

He was in Paris in 1926 and joined the Anarchist-Communist Union - the editor of its journal was Sébastian Fauré, the old anarcho-communist, who co-operated platformists (Mahno and his group) at the beginning, but afterwards fell back into the old „synthetic-popular front puppet-show anarchism”. A brilliant document of this period is Szabados dal (Emancipated Song), which – written in the form of a march – demands the liquidation of the bourgeoisie. It’s a pity that it has no English translation – it’s not surprising, because the Bolshevik literati always wanted to see Attila József as a „humanist”. The Paris Worker’s Paper (a journal in Hungarian language), which notified the death of Herman Gorter, didn’t publish the poem, because of its radicalism. He was actuated by avant-gardism (Cocteau, Apollanaire), got to know French surrealism and made an advance to Bolshevism. He returned to Hungary, he was studying at Pest at the Faculty of Arts when he fell in love with a bourgeois missy, Márta Vágó, who afterwards wrote a long book about the poet. Later he was living with Judit Szántó, who was a Bolshevik activist and wrote a book about him also – after the death of the poet, the bourgeois scribble-scrabbles made an upon the proletarian woman and stated that she was not adequately intelligent. While the bourgeois missy… „I have loved a substantial girl, her Class has carried away her…”

He tried to acclimatize, published everywhere he could – he was waiting for appreciation. He wanted to untie his alienation in successes – but what the hell he was waiting from the bourgeois society for?! In 1928 he joined the Bartha Miklós Association, which was a nationalist organization with leftist and popular deviations. He affiliated due to his aloneness and according to some, because of his disappointment in love (the family of Márta Vágó – which had Jewish origins – had rejected him previously). Of course it was not an ultra-right organization – rather a society spiced with eclectic, romantic, but dangerous „anticapitalism”. In despite of his consciousness he coquetted sometimes with this „anticapitalism”. Sometimes this resulted nationalist deviations, which appeared also in some of his writings.

Afterwards began the period of swinging to the left, although he had been always leftist and Marxist. His new volume was published in 1929, called Nincsen apám, se anyám (Without father without mother). In 1930 our poet joined the illegal Hungarian Party of Communists, which by this time was totally Stalinist – it condemned everybody counter-revolutionary or Trotskyist, who stood more on the left than they were. However Attila József had never been a Stalinist, but he was a Bolshevik – it makes no difference for us, the prehistory of Bolshevism is also the history of the counter-revolution.

He was an infatuated Marxist, he read Marx's works in the original and used his remarks in his poems. Ferenc Fejtő, a Marxist historian – who was a friend of his – said about the poet: „he was one of those few in this country, who read rightly and understood rightly Marx’s writings”. He was a fanatic arguer – he enjoyed if he could explode contradictions in the arguments of his antagonist. He was giving lectures about dialectic for the workers, he got up Lenin’s State and Revolution and Hegel’s works, and he also took part in the propaganda activities. In this period his helpmeet was Judit Szántó, the same Bolshevik activist, who was not a Party member natheless. In 1931, his volume, Döntsd a tőkét (Turn over capital or Cut down the wood) was published – the police confiscated it immediately and the poet was imprisoned for 8 days for incitation to class-hatred. It outweighed more when the „platformists” of Sarló és Kalapács (Sickle and Hammer) condemned him a social-fascist – the bureaucracy of the Party attacked everything, which didn’t went by the Comintern and didn’t apotheosize „the country of iron and steel” in elevated poems. In their Platform, they tried to blast everybody, who didn’t adopt RAPP’s policy. Lajos Kassákan other proletarian poet-activist – had been the victim of the same circumstances also. Attila József answered immediately to the attack and defended his positions: „I’m not mouthing in Moscow without talent in the 14th year of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but I’m working decently in Budapest in the 12th year of the counter-revolution.” He subjoined that his revolutionary poems were well-known within proletariat in Hungary and were living parts of the working class movement.

His lot was a hard one and this high-strung poet from 1931 started a psychoanalytical course and got to know Freud’s writings. His poetry had been masterfully mature by this time. He overpassed stereotypes and alloyed the trueness of Marx’s theses and the actual problems of the working class movement – his poems were not only agitation, but they were intense criticism of capitalist society without any reformism. Counter to Brecht or other Bolshevik writers – who also wrote revolutionary poems, but couldn’t pass reformism, for example the Leninist Party – we can hardly find signs of Bolshevik agitation in his poems. His poem Lebukott (The Busted) contradicts this in some measure, which commends Sickle and Hammer, although it hurrays not at all the Party, but the workers’ councils (all the same Red Aid was also a Bolshevik charity organization). You can read also this poem in this brochure.

He didn’t get the experiences of capitalism’s misery from indirect sources, but he experienced directly these in his own life – starving, he orphaned of both father and mother, the forced labour in his childhood, the contempt of the snobbish artistdom. For his rousement, it wasn’t necessary for him to read Lenin or Trotsky. In despite of the fact that he was a prepared Marxist, his false consciousness had held his class-consciousness captive. But when he recognized the counter-revolutionary nature of Bolshevism, he composed his experiences immediately (we are speaking about the poem Világosítsd föl (Do enlighten) but there are also other important examples for that).

In 1932 was published his new volume, Külvárosi éj (Night on the outskirts). In the same year he wrote a pamphlet in solidarity with the two Bolshevik condemned men, Imre Sallai, Sándor Fürst, but they were executed by the fascists. By this time he was again near to Bartha Miklós Association. Afterwards was published his volume with his selected poems, entitled Medvetánc. The Bolsheviks attacked him again in the journal Társadalmi Szemle – the butcher was Ferenc Pákozdy, who queried that he is a proletarian or a revolutionary poet. From this time he started to become a stranger to the Party.

From 1933 antifascism cemented in this region also and Attila József gave support to left-wing united front. Our poet was descending farther to democracy’s slough and in the same year he wrote his article, Nemzeti szocializmus (National Socialism). In this writing he tried to pair working class in accordance with race and class – afterwards he discarded it, but we have to remember Bartha Miklós Association and the fact that he had the idea of forming a National Communist Party. These episodes also show his disillusion of Bolshevism – the end of this story was his exclusion from the Party. The smarted poet wasn’t swinging to the left towards, but he became such an indifferent popular front leftist, although his class background stopped him to become bourgeois-minded.

In 1934 he had the opportunity go to the Soviet Writers’ Congress, but all went amiss and he couldn’t travel. He exagerrated this case and he was getting into a bad temper. In the same year he published his essay entitled Wisdom of Socialism – he rejected Bolshevism, but he remained a Marxist. He had been writing existentialist poems affected by Kafka, but he was not apolitical.

In 1936 was published his last volume, which appeared in print in his life, called Nagyon fáj (Hurts so much). He formed with his leftist friends a journal, Szép Szó, which gave support to popular front and dealt with politics crisply. Due to Wilhelm Reich, Freudian-Marxism was spreading within the leftist clubs and Attila József’s pathological mind was sensitive to this and he had been taking part also in a psychoanalytical course because of his psychological problems - we can read about this in Szabad ötletek jegyzéke. Freud’s affection appeared also in his poems. He broke off with Judit Szántó, but his poetry on the aspect of active working class movement became enervate. He wrote his essay entitled Hegel – Marx – Freud and continued poesy also. He had new lovers (Edit Gyömrő, Flóra Kozmutza), it was the period of agued nights and becoming gloomy. Finally he committed suicide at Balatonszárszó in 1937.

The summary of Attila József’s life: the aloneness of the proletary within the capitalist system; those who he believed to be comrades, rejected him; he attacked those few real communists, who he could have had a connection with – we mention to Hartstein and his group which was a council communist gang. This group was fighting against Bolshevism and other capitalists also. Numerically it was a small group in Hungary, but it was working as an active organization. The poet should have joined this group – he was predestinated to this due to his class background and his revolutionary anger. Attila József was a real proletarian poet, but he could only very rarely brake off from the trap of Bolshevism and social democracy. But in the periods of rousement he wrote his great revolutionary poems!

A lot of his poems had been translated to English, but they didn’t show really his class background and his conflicts with the contemporary bourgeoisie (liberals, social democrats, Bolsheviks). Anglo-Saxon poetry politically had been represented by the line of Auder and Spence; we want to show a more committed and a more intense proletarian poet – who was coeval with the same poets – who deserves attention. We think it’s important for the proletariat living in the West to get to know Attila József presented in a class-struggle view-point.


Barricade Collective, 2005. autumn




Look, the Silent Machine

(A hallgatag gép)


Look, the silent machine has arrived

and rolls on across hulks that arc still

squealing. The medium groans. Now,

through the masses come ranks of

workers wheeling.


It's hard work, I low can they squeeze through

when white-eyed cods in an advanced state

of decomposition, stand either side, to watch

bankers flit in and out at the gate?


The hoops of the world are cracking.


We'll found a workers' state of refined steel –

on a bed of polished rock

and see its symbol flicker across lined faces

like a snatch of song through a tenement block.



At last



I have scrubbed boilers, I hare cut seedlings,

On rotting straw mattresses I've found sleep;

judges have sentenced me, fools have mocked me

My glitter poured forth from cellars deep.

I've kissed a girl who sang even as

she was baking someone else's bread,

I was given clothes and I gave books

to peasants and to workers instead.

I was in love with a well-to-do girl

but her own class wrested her from me;

I ate but once every other day

and I got an ulcer finally,

I've felt that the world, too, was a turning

inflamed stomach and that slimy thing,

our dyspeptic love was on our mind

while we were nothing but bloody vomiting.

Since sourish silence has filled our mouth,

I kicked my heart that in might shout with rage.

How could my active mind content itself

with lulling songs composed for a wage.

They offered money for my great vengeance;

priests have said: trust in the Lord, my son

And I knew, he who returned empty-handed,

with axes and hoes and stones would come.

I have flashing eyes and the will to win,

and I must have the willingness, the means

to do justice and so to take sides

with these severest of memories.

But what concern are memories to me?

Rather, I lay my worthless pencil down

and sharpen the scythe's edge instead,

for time is ripening in our land

with a silent, threatening sound.






As smoke pack thickly drifts under a leaden sky

across the face of this sad region,

so floats my mind's eye,

sinking, sliding.

But not gliding.


Hard soul and soft imagination!

Retracing thus the harsh tracks of reality

to your self self, to your nativity,

come down and see!

Here beneath a once swift-flowing sky

a sullen poverty

trapped amid these sheetwalls' haggard loneliness,

by mute threats and pleading silences

dissolves the thickened pain

in the sensitive man's heart and brain

and mingles it

with that of millions.


An entire human world

is here preparing. All's but ruins yet. A hard

head dandelion pops its umbrella

in the empty factory yard.

By faded stairs of small cracked window-panes

the daylight sinks toward the drains

into die darkening below.


Are you from here?

Never able to get clear

of sombre yearning to possess

what ail the wretched of the earth must bear,

in whom an age of greatness they can't know

is pent, their faces warped to ugliness?


You rest here in the empty yards

where this crippled paling guards

with screech and scream

the pigs' regime.


Recognize yourself? These souls await

some better-founded future, workmanly

and beautiful; they wait as empty as the state

of vacant lots around them, in their dreaming

- sombre and musing as they well may be -

of mansions tall with their rooms a-spin and teeming.

With fixed eyes lusterless the shards of glass

stuck in the dried mud stare and see

the aching hedges that still fence them in.

The sandpiles sometimes spill a thimbleful

of sand... and one by one, zigzagging, plausible,

the buzzing flies arrive, green, black, and blue,

drawn here by the human residue

and tatters,

from richer climes and riper matters.

Here too in its own ways the table's set

by usury-tormented,

blessed mother earth.

Yellow grass blooms yet in an iron pot.


Do you know

what barren mental joy you undergo

that pulls you so, that you can not get free,

what rich and subtle agony

attracts you so?

To his mother thus returns the child

by strangers shoved and beaten and reviled.


here only may you smile and may you cry.

Here you've yourself for company.

O soul! This is your country.



Flood (Five Poor Men Speaking)



J say, good men, where to where?

Wherever we get work to do,

here and there in this wide world.

Our shoulder bags are empty now.

We were on strike, have no well.

Mould on mould sits everywhere,

our families stay in leaking sheds.

How could we stay since we must go?


If there were a cloud in the sky

it would blow like a scarf into flame;

if a melon were lying on the ground,

it would start to jump and spark...

Five poor men speaking; we'd like a bath,

wash out our shirts

then head off and

just take it easy.


But the Guardian of the stream,

the frog-chaser, the landlord's fool,

clenches his teeth and shouts

'Shove off, you good-for-nothing shower!

No swimming here for bastards like you!

We don't want any riff-raff loitering around.'


O Shepherd of the waters, herd homewards

ail the rivers of the globe!

The water-beetle would be the one

to sing in this landlord's backyard!

Let him buy a much bigger farm

one fit for an even fatter master

- and then let water be his roof

and his floor too.


Let him plough the sea

with deep iron teeth,

sow long-legged rain for himself

and his son to stack up.

If he has enough fish-scale coins

let him open a pub for the bream

and, wearing a tornado for a hat,

move around in rubber boots!


And with the quiet river for blanket

may his fleas turn into green frogs

which his daughter can pick from her hem;

may the digger wake him up

to a dawn turned green as envy and

may he be finally carried away

in a flood of his own sweat!


I say, proles, where to where?

A couple of them here and there,

and a thousand times a thousand.

In this world they wake in froth

The waters seethe and froth, break in iron,

they flood on divided land

and their undivided moment

is toasted with its roar.



Poorman's Girl

(Szegényember szeretője)


World rides on poorman's shoulder,

God on his other shoulder

If he lost his patience at all once

He'd ditch them both at once.


Poorman never asks for white bread

And never gets white bread

With the meanest crust of black break

He saves his soul with black bread.


Poorman's salt is a trifle bland

His mood far from bland

For he can't sell a thing on the street

And he sleeps on the street.


Poorman steals because he's starving

Only when he's starving

But he's still poorer than the poor

And always will be poor.


His child has learned about violence

His wife knows violence

But if I were a beautiful girl

I'd be the poorman's girl.



Tell Me What Lies in Store for a Man...

(Mondd  mit érlel…)


Tell me what lies in store for a man

who gets no chance to hoe or dig,

from whose mustache no crumb dangles

and who's idle among dark worries:

anyone's spuds he'd plant for a third

but there isn't an inch of free land left

and his hair is falling out in tuft

-he hasn't; even noticed it yet?


Tell me what lies in store for a man

who has five acres and a bit,

his scraggy hen squawks at the stumps

the nest of his worries is the pit.

His yoke doesn't: creak and his ox

does not bellow — he hasn't any

from the bottom of the mug rises the steam

as he feeds his small family?


Tell me what lies in store for a man

who lives alone who works alone,

he has no pepper and salt1 for his soup

the grocer would not sell things on loan.

tie has a chair — to make fire with

a cat sits on his cracked stove

he rhythmically swings the key of the door

he gazes and goes to bed alone?


Tell me what lies in store for a man

who works to keep his family.

They quarrel over the cabbage stalk

only the big girl can go to the movie.

The wife just washes — a slave to sludge —

her mouth has a taste of vegetables

when strictness turns the burning light out

silence eavesdrops, darkness gropes about?


Tell me what lies in store for a man

who is out of work and lounges about,

a woman is clapping the lid in his place

or a small blonde boy with a colourless face;

he vainly looks through the factor fence

- he carries baskets when he is awake-

if he pilfers things he is easily caught

when falling asleep, they give him a shake?


Tell me what lies in store for a man

who weighs out potatoes bread and salt,

wrapped in newspapers, sold on tick

he leaves the balance-pan unswept.

Muttering he potters in the dark

the debts are large, the rent is high —

it's no good charging more for the oil

there's no profit —he doesn't know why?


And tell me what lies in store for a man

who's a poet, afraid and sings like this,

his wife washes floors and he

spends the day typing out copies.

His name, if he has one, is just a trademark

like washing powders of utility

and his life, if he still has a life

belong to a poor men's posterity.







In our family goodness is a guest.

Interest arranges all things like a host

Foolishly, but the rich were long aware

Of this, and now it dawns on most of the poor.


Every entanglement works loose at last.

While we are sure of our truth and hold it fast,

Our lives gloss over those with bad designs.

A change of setting does not change the lines.


Yet at the top of our voices we all sing,

Borne on the gusto wine and powders bring.

Mouth empty, our spirit sinks: we drain the vats.

He is best who, bearing disillusion, pauses.

We are as full of small and mordant causes

As the murmuring willow grove is full of gnats.



My mother



I see her still, holding the mug in both

hands; It is one Sunday, towards evening.

Presently a smile lights up her face,

As she sits in that half-light long ago.


Evenings when she brought her supper home

in a small dish from her rich employer's,

I would think, as we went up to bed,

"Unlike us, they eat from a full pot."


She was small, my mother. She died early;

washerwomen always do die early.

Their legs shake from too much heavy lifting,

and their headaches always come from ironing.


While, for mountains, they have dirty linen!

Cloud-formations too, to cure their vapours;

since, to find a change of air and steam,

they can always climb up to the attic.


Still I see her, pausing, iron in hand,

that frail body broken by money-grubbers.

Day by day she grew thinner and weaker.

Think of that, my comrades — note it well.


She was bent by labour; only later

did I realize that she was young,

Sometimes, in a dream, she wore a

clean apron, and the postman waved to her.



On the edge of the town

(A város peremén)


On the edge of die town, where I live,

when sundown slowly ends

then, like diminutive bats, on soft

winglets the soot descends,

and settles silently like guano

in layers, hard and dense.


This is the way our age weighs on the soul.

And as the autumn rain

may wash its way along a bad tin roof

scarred with rust and stain,

so tries sorrow to wipe from our hearts

the growing crust, in vain.


Or blood may cleanse it, — we are what we are.

New people, newer deal.

Our idiom has different inflections,

our hair another feel.

Neither god nor the human intellect,

but coal and oil and steel,


living matter was our creator

who cast us in rage and heat

into the moulds of this vile society

to stand tall on our feet,

to plead and fight for humankind

at history's judgement seat.


Thus after priests and knights and bourgeois

we have become the true

prophets of the law. The sense of all

things human, old and new,

like a viola booms inside us,

resounding through and through.


Since it began our solar system

Has never witnessed such

destruction of the indestructible.

The past's relentless clutch

starvation, dogma, cholera, war

still holds us very much.


We have been predestined to conquer,

yet, with unparalleled

force you humbled us, under the stars,

and most cruelly quelled:

we cast our eyes on the ground and saw

the deep secret it held.


Look out, our pride, the machine became

a raging vagabond!

It stamps its foot, and frail hamlets crack

like thin ice on the pond,

the heavens howl, tall towns tremble,

within sight and beyond.


Who'll stop it? The squire? The savage dog

is now suddenly tame?

We grew up together with the machine,

our childhood was the same.

Speak to it, it'll eat out of your hand.

We know of course its name.


And we know you will be on your knees

and worship at its feet,

although it is your property

you're trying to entreat

But it prefers those who by themselves

give it something to eat...


Here we stand, the children of matter,

joined but cautiously shy.

Lift up our hearts and they shall belong

to him who lifts them high.

He'll become strong who is filled with us

and whom we fortify.





The poor man is the poorest thing of all

(Aki szegény)


If God were a conscientious office clerk

pushing his pen beyond the midnight hour,

even so he could nor register

all the torments suffered by the poor.


The poor man is the poorest thing of all.

He gives his freezing bones to winter.

Summer absorbs his precious little warmth.

Open fields deprive him of his anger.


On weekdays work is endless once it starts.

In worrying, even his Saturday is ruined.

And should Sunday somehow lift his heart,

Monday brings him to his knees again.


Yet soft-voiced pigeons live inside of. him,

their dun plummage sprinkled with stars,

pigeons who, at length, become griffins

and who, in turn, turn on raven creatures.



Night on the outskirts

(Külvárosi éj)


Slowly the light's net is lifted

Out of the yard, and our kitchen

Fills with darkness

Like the hollows deep in a pool


Silence —

The scrubbing brush creeps to life,

Above it, a patch of wall

Hesitates, hangs, not sure

Whether to stay or fall.


A night that wears oily rags

Heaves a sigh,

Halts in the sky;

Then settles on the outskirts,

Waddles over the square

And lights a bit of moon to see by.


Like ruins the factories loom.

But inside them a denser gloom

Even now is being produced. It sets,

A foundation for silence.


Through the windows of textile mills

Fly moonbeams in sheaves —

Moon thread till morning weaves

On motionless looms a fabric

Of girl workers' dreams.


Farther on, like a cloistered graveyard,

The foundry, bolt makers, cement works

Echoing family crypts.

Too well these workshops keep

The secret of resurrection.


A cat's claws on the fence:

And the simple night-watchman sees

A ghost, a flashing signal.

Coolly gleam

The beetle-backed dynamos.


A train whistle blows.


Dampness seeps into

The shadows, the boughs

Of a fallen tree.

The dust on the road grows heavy.


In the street a policeman,

A muttering workman, pass.

Now and then a comrade

Flits past with leaflets —

Keen as a dog on the track ahead,

listening, cat-like, for noises behind him;

avoiding the lamps.


The tavern door belches out

A tainted light, its windows

Vomit, leaving puddles.

Inside, a half-stifled lamp

Slowly swings,

A solitary labourer keeps awake.

While the inn-keeper snores and wheezes,

He bares his teeth at the wall,

His grief climbs the stairs. He weeps,

Cries out for the revolution.


Cold metal, the water clinks.

A stray mongrel, the wind

Wanders. Its great tongue hangs

To.-touch the water, and laps it.

Straw mattresses are the rafts

That drift on night's currents.


The warehouse's hulk is aground.

In the foundry's iron dinghy

The smelter dreams red babies

Into the metal moulds.


All is damp, and heavy.

Mildew draws a map

Of misery's regions.

And there, on the dry meadows,

Rags and paper litter

The ragged, papery grass.

How they would whirl and fly!

They stir, but inertia holds them.


Night, your sluggish breeze

Is a flapping of soiled sheets.

Like frayed muslin to cord

You cling no the old sky,

As wretchedness clings to life.

Night of the poor, be my coal,

Smoulder here on my heart,

Melt the iron in me, to make

An anvil that never will split,

A hammer that clangs and glints,

A smooth blade for victory, night!


Grave this night is, and heavy.

I too shall sleep now, my brothers.

May our souls not be smothered by want.

Nor our bodies be bitten by vermin.



Innocent song

(Tiszta szívvel)


Without father without mother

Without God or homeland either

without crib or coffin-cover

without kisses or a lover


for the third day-without fussing

I have eaten next to nothing,

My store of power are my years

I sell all my twenty years.


Perhaps, if no else will

he buyer will be the devil.

With a pure heart – that’s a job:

I may kill and I shall rob.


They’ll catch me, hang me high

In blessed earth I shall lie,

and poisonous grass will start

to grow on my beautiful heart.



The woodcutter



I split a cord of chilly timber,

knots gleam and shriek in brightening timbre,

frost wings my hair hoary feather,

tickles my neck in the cold weather-

on velvet now my minutes run.


High up, frost’s glittering axe-head flashes,

all sparkles, earth, sky, eyes, brow, lashes,

dawn whoops, light flicks away in splinters-

the woodsman grunts and chops: these winters

I cut the branch but not the trunk


Ah, break the stock without misgiving,

nor fret every chip and shaving,

if you strike out at fate, then surely

the lordy owned land scream with fury,

the broad bright axe-blade strokes and smiles.




Do enlighten

(Világosítsd föl)


Do enlighten your own child

terrorists are human  too:

witches are hags and hucksters.

-Not she wolves, just bitches true.

Some wager, some philosophise

but all change hope for hard coins:

this  sells coal, and that sells love,

and others sell this type of poems.


Comfort your child-if comfort it is

to receive words that are very plain

about commies who are fascists,

a new tale wont’ be in vain .

Some sort of order the world needs

the purpose of which none other than

to stop doing whatever is good

and good should be forbidden.


And if he gazes and if he gapes

looks up at you starts whimpering ,

don’t kid yourself, don’t you believe

your words have meant him anything.

Look at the cagey babe and see

it howls to get your sympathy,

then while  it’s smiling at the breasts

grows nails and teeth with empathy. 






I fled like an antelop

a gentle grief in my eyes,

and tree gnawing wolves pursued in my heart.

I left my antlers swaying on a bough —

I was an antelope once,

and now a wolf.

A handsome lobo,

I stop spellbound.

My mates are frothing,

and I try to smile.

I prick my ears

as a roe gives her call.

I sleep, on my shoulders

dark mulberry leaves fall.



The masses

(A tömeg)


Work and bread!

Work and bread!

The masses! The masses!

Stones swarming

like startled flies.

Rocks in the air, tiny sparks

you see

when struck by a beam.

The masses       

walk like a wilderness.

If it stops, they are rooted in blood,

their soles and palms a fertile land,

their loaves a hundred thousand hills,

and their wine a mist

covering the hillsides.

But the masses have no real bread.

Like swollen dough the



hard germ cells, inflated,

grow feelers,

develop, transform into amoebae,

absorb other nodules.

World, the masses will devour you!

Their breath is a cloud,

their teeth

a staggered row

of rotten tenements.

They grab where they can

factories, barns, wheat stacks,

a seven hour workday,

Dippers, Pleiades,

and deep Alfold wells.

Clammy old men

and thin girls

are the masses.

They are girded by steaming pipes —-

a piece of straw poked in the river,

the current snatches it,

sweeps away benches,

chests, carts,

shakos, horses,

and upraised swords.

All else


bargain, curse, silence, words.

The masses:

building and builder,

foundation and roof,

maker and planner.

Long live worker and peasant

free of middle class cunning.

Millions of legs kick up.

Ho masses, onward, onward.



The busted



They grilled, and we bled in flesh.

As you saunter, comrade, like the light

think how we scurry up and down

our cells and stare from the corners.

Our muscles are flabby, our cots hard.

We spit their food out.

They condemn us to belly rot and lung rot.

Either we die, or they kill us.

We struggle, but how wasted we are.

Brother, help the busted.

At home the fireplace is cold and cracked.

Their dinner is cooking in a cold pot —

cabbage leaves and pickings

from the slimy stones of the market place.

My wife has dizzy spells, she scolds,

and our neighbor shouts in the hall,

complains, she will never get back

the inch of lamp oil we borrowed.

Winter is near, frostwhite — and hunger.

Brother, help the busted.

Smell the stinking honey bucket,

balls of disease unraveling in the steam.

Send us soap and horsemeat,

and for our wasted bodies, winter clothes.

Send us books, no matter how stupid

for the suede rat of night and the dreams

that tease it off can drive us mad.

Ease our agony if you are a worker and free.

Comrade, you are the Red Aid.

Brother, help the busted.

We fought for the revolution.

We cannot die and must live on.

They are waiting for us — the handbills,

the cops, and a wage.

The movement waits, our work, our family

until exploitation ends.

The sickle gleams, the hammer swipes,

and the locks fall from prisons and factories.

Long live the Soviets, the workers' councils!

Brother, help the busted.



Workers – passage



But, my comrades, this is the working class

which put on overalls of iron for class war.

We stand up for it like a chimney — look!

We go underground for it like fugitives.

On the assembly line of history

this is how the world makes ready,

as on dark factories the working class

will nail up the red star of Man!





(Szocialisták, 1926)


Agony, oppression, and goodness have driven

us together.

We are tramping high wheatfields, our bottoms

jabbed by our favorite weapon.

Go on jabbing

until we learn again and again — no victory

by chance.

We are in no hurry, we are strong, we know

whom we try and why.

We hold counsel on a hilltop; quail and

rabbits hide calmly at our feet.

A cloud passes to reveal

every alien airplane.


You go south, you west, and I north,

my Comrade.




(Szocialisták, 1931)


Screw capitalism, for the workers Meat & Power.

We wade the crap of capital, our bottoms

jabbed by our favorite weapon.

Jab, jab, favorite weapon.

Let us learn again and again — no victory

by chance or peace.

We move with purpose — numberless our living

and our dead,

holding counsel on a hilltop where we arrived

from mines and basements and pits.

A fog is lifting and plainly you see our peaks.

The fog is clearing from time that came

with war and undergrounds of misery,

bread that turned stale as a worker sliced it,

porridge that turned moldy as a worker cooked it,

milk that turned sour as it poured in a worker's jug,

a kiss that turned foul as it woke the workers' young,

a house that collapsed as a worker moved in,

clothes that fell to rags as a worker dressed,

freedom that turned oppression when a worker was born,

a cigar that turned into plug as a worker grew up,

capital that towers into work as the

apprentice matures,

and he strikes with his Ax,


where the cutting edge is white and hot.

Go, my poem, be a fighter for your class

and rise with the masses.

You go south, you west, and I north

my Comrade.



Where do you belong – passage

(Hova forduljon az ember)


Where do you belong if you are

not an activist,

you don't smash windows or tear

up the streets?

Where do you belong if you are

not an activist,

neither content nor discontent?



Look! I speak but what should I say?

He listens but tunes in an old man

way inside,

who wanders in the autumn rain, smiles

sadly, hair flying loose.

I too feel the cold wind, and tremble.

Let me go from here, go.

He is the enemy, the enemy with foggy eyes —

His iron claws out, care cowers on a

cold stove and rattles the lid.



On profits

(A tőkés hasznáról)


Make dough by gaslight

fire the punch-hole bricks

blister your hand on a hoe

sell yourself in a swirling skirt

lie prone and sink a well

haul sacks to the market

learn or do not learn a trade —

the profits go to the capitalists.

Rinse the silks in gasoline

toil and harvest onions

kill the goat that bleats at you

tailor a trouser that fits one well

work when you want to rest.

They'll kick you out, and what's your gain?

Will you beg? Rob? They'll clap you in —

the profits go to the capitalists.

Spin your forlorn poems

pack the ham like they do in Prague

gather simples, mine coal

keep books and hide the secrets

wear a goldbraid hat

live in Paris or in Szatymaz

before you get your wage

the profits go to the capitalists.



If I pursue it, I'll bore you, prolet.

You know caviar is not your diet.

As long as they employ you —

the profits go to the capitalists.







bourgeois: Hey, working stiff, where you going?

Come on, hold on a minute.

proletarian: Don't kid around. You can't fool me.

b: Look at this nice place. Come on, work.

You'll get good pay.

p: A class-conscious worker never breaks a strike.

b: Class-conscious, yeah. You're the only one.

p: Am I? Didn't my friends make me class-conscious?

b: They'll be coming with their paws out pretty soon.

p: When they do, I'll be with them.

b: Your wife is waiting for you with an empty pot.

Think about her.

p: That's how she's always waited.

b: Your kid's dying. He's like a toothpick.

p: If I work hard, why?

b: I'll take them all back and kick your ass out.

p: We strike together and return together.

b: Just talk. You'll be walking the streets  alone.

p: Alone! With 15 million workers.

b: I see now you were the main agitator in my factory.

p: I was, and when I wasn't others were.

b: Stuff it, you rotten bastard. I'll have you put in the army.

p: Good, they need agitators.

b: Crazy instigator! I'll have you thrown in jail right now.

p: Go ahead, exercise your throat until you snag a rope.


The bourgeois rushes enraged to the police to have the workers driven back to their benches. Our prolet hurries away to consider with the cell how to take up the cause everywhere — even in the shoemaker's trade — for better wages until the majority learns that only a class-conscious proletarian dictatorship can end exploitation by the bourgeoisie forever.





I was born in Budapest in 1905 and I am Greek Orthodox by religion. My father, the late Áron József left the country when I was three years old and the National Council in Aid of Children sent me to live with foster-parents in Öcsöd. 1 lea- I lived until I was seven and I even started working, as a swineherd, like most poor children in the country. When I was seven years old my mother, the late Borbála Pőcze, brought me back to Budapest and enrolled me for the second class at elementary school. My mother supported us (my two sisters and myself) by taking in washing and doing domestic work. My mother worked at a number of different houses and was away from home from morning fill evening, so J was left without any parental supervision, slaved away from school and played about in the streets. In the reader for die third class, however, I found some interesting stories about King Attila and threw myself in reading books. These tales about the King of the Huns interested me not simply because my name was Attila bill also because my foster parents in Öcsöd had always called me Pista. They consulted the neighbours about die name Attila and 1 heard them come to the conclusion that there was no such name. This astounded me, I fell they were casting doubt on my very existence. I think the discovery of these stories about King Attila had a decisive died on all my ambitions after that. In the last analysis perhaps it was this experience that led me to literature, that made me a thinking person, the kind of person who would listen to the opinions of others but would examine them carefully in his own mind, the kind of person who would answer to the name of Pista until it was shown that his name was really Attila, as he himself himself had always thought.

War broke out when I was nine and our lot became progressively worse. I did my share of queuing. There were occasions when I joined a queue at the foodstore at nine o'clock in the evening and just when my turn was coming at half past eight the next morning they announced that all the cooking, fat had gone. I helped my mother as best I could. I sold fresh water in the Világ Cinema, I stole firewood and coal from the Ferencváros goods station so that we should have something to burn. I made coloured paper windmills and sold them to children who were better off, I carried baskets and parcels in the Market Hall, and so on. In the summer of 1918 I had a holiday in Abbázia on the Dalmatian coast under the auspices of the King Karl Holidays for Children Fund. My mother was now ill with a tumour of the uterus and I applied on my own for assistance from the National Council in Aid of Children. So I went to Monor, and spent a short, time there. Returning to Budapest I sold newspapers and I trafficked like a little banker in postage stamps, and later, in the white and yellow inflation money. During the Rumanian occupation I worked as a boy waiter selling bread in the Cafe Emke. I was at the same time attending secondary school, having passed the five classes of elementary school.

My mother died in 1919 at Christmas time. The Orphans' Hoard appointed Dr. Ödön Makai, now deceased, to be my guardian. One year I served all spring and summer on the tugs Vihar, Török. and Tatár of the Atlantica Ocean Shipping Company. At this time I took my exams, as a private student, for the fourth class of secondary school. Then my guardian and Dr. Sándor Geisswein sent me to train as a novice with the Salesian Order at Nyergesújfalu. I only spent two weeks there since I am Greek Orthodox and not Roman Catholic. From there I went lo Makó where, shortly afterwards, I got a free place at Demke college. During the summer I taught at Mezőhegyes in order to earn my board and lodging. I passed out of the sixth class at Grammar School with hill marks in spite of the fact that, lacking the guidance of a good friend, I had several times tried to commit suicide as a result of my troubles at puberty. My first poems appeared at this time: 'Nyugat' published some of my poems written at the age of 17. They took me to be an infant prodigy but it was just the fact that I was an orphan.

After passing out of the sixth class I left grammar school, and the College, because I felt very idle in my loneliness. I did no studying because I always knew the lesson perfectly well after the teacher had explained it, my full marks bore witness to that. I went to Kiszombor as a crop watchman and day-labourer, the I became a private teacher. However two of my old teachers were kind enough to urge me to take my matriculation certificate and I decided to do so. I took the examinations for the seventh and eighth classes together and thus passed out a year earlier than my class-mates. I only had three months to prepare, however, which is why I just got a 'good' in the seventh class exam and only a 'satisfactory' in that for the eight class. My Matriculation Certificate was better than my mark in the eighth class exam: I got 'satisfactory' only in Hungarian and History. It was at that time, that I was prosecuted for blasphemy for one of my poems. The High Court acquitted me.

After that I hawked books for a time here in Budapest, then, at the time of the inflation, I worked as a clerk in the Mauthner private banking establishment. After the introduction of the Hintz system I was transferred to the accounts department and shortly after this, much to the annoyance of my senior colleagues, I was entrusted with supervision of the currency values to be issued on accounts days. My enthusiasm was somewhat dampened by the fact that, in addition to my own work, my senior colleagues used to foist some of their work onto me. Nor did they omit to chaff me about my poems appearing in the press. "I used to write poetry when I was your age" — they would say. Some time later the hank failed.

I decided once and for all that 1 would be a writer and I would find some employment closely connected with literature. I enrolled myself for Hungarian and French Philosophy in the Arts Faculty of Szeged University. I attended 52 hours of lectures and seminars a week, 20 hours of which were necessary for my end of term examination, which I passed with distinction. I ate when and where I could and I paid my rent out of the royalties on my poems. It made me very proud that Professor Lajos Dézsi declared me to be competent to undertake independent research work. But all my hopes were blasted when Professor Antal Horger, who was my examiner in Hungarian Philology, called me up for interview and before: two witnesses - I still know their names, they are teachers now - slated that as long as he was there I should never become a secondary school teacher because, as he said, "the kind of person who writes this sort of poem" - and here he held up a copy of the periodical 'Szeged' — "is not to be trusted with the education of the rising generation". The irony of fate is often mentioned and this really is a case in point. This poem of mine, 'With a Pure I Heart', became quite famous. Seven articles have been written about it, Lajos Hatvany in more than one place described it as a representative document of the whole post-war generation ‘for future ages', Ignotus, writing about if in 'Nyugat’, said that he had "cradled and fondled tins beautiful poem in his soul, murmured and mumbled over it" and in his 'Ars Poetica' he made this poem the model of modern poetry.

The next year I went to Vienna and enrolled at the university there. I was then twenty years old. I made my living by selling newspapers outside the Rathaus-Keller restaurant and cleaning the premises of the Collegium Hungaricum. The director, Antal Lábán, put a stop to this when he heard about me. He gave me lunch in the Collegium and arranged some pupils for me. I coached the two sons of Zoltán Hajdu, Managing Director of the Anglo—Austrian Bank. From a frightful hovel in Vienna where, for four months, I hadn't even any sheets, I went straight to Hatvan as a guest in the mansion of the Hatvany family. Then the lady of the house Mrs. Albert Hirsch, paid my travelling expenses for me to go to Paris at the end of the summer. I enrolled myself at the Sorbonne. I spent the next summer at the sea-side in a fishing village on the South of France.

Alter that I came, to Budapest. I attended two terms at Budapest University. I didn't take my teacher's diploma since, in view of Antal Horger's threat, I thought I wouldn't get a post anyway. Then when the Foreign Trade Institute had just started up I was employed there on French correspondence. (I think that my former manager, Mr. Sandor Kóródi would be quite willing to supply a reference.) Then I was overtaken by a succession of such unexpected blows that however toughened I was by life I simply could not go on. The National Health Service first sent me to a Sanatorium, then I was recommended for National Assistance, because of severe depression. I left my job since I realised that I could not stay on as passenger in a young growing institution. Since then I have been living on my writing. I am the editor of 'Szép szó', a literary and critical periodical. Apart from my mother tongue Hungarian I read and write French and German, I am experienced in Hungarian and French business correspondence, and I am a good typist. I have learnt shorthand and with a month's practice would regain my speed. I am familiar with the technicalities of printing and can express myself clearly and precisely. I consider myself to be honest and I am, I think, intelligent and a hard worker.




Literature and Socialism (Extracts)

(Irodalom és szocializmus)


... What is art? With this introduction we have dissociated our problem in all its depth from any bourgeois way of putting the question. For although bourgeois aestheticians have also put this question in exactly the same way, viz. what is art?, they put it in another sense; in every case so as to lose its dialectical contents. Many stupidities have originated from this, which have been summarized under the collective name of aesthetics. One should not even think of the many types of incomparable drivel and bourgeois humbug found in the "ism"-s of the recent past and of the way in which words have quite often been deprived of their meaning, by those who have not noticed that it is precisely and exclusively words, that have a direct—and not only teleological—purport, as for instance a tool has; a direct and not only metaphysical meaning, as for instance life has. One should not even bother with all this petty nonsense; it is enough to consider the so-called great theories. The majority of these fall into psychologism and explain art through the soul, although, at the most, works of art may serve to explain the soul itself. Well and good, but where does one procure information about what is a work of art? Continually mistaking the beautiful for the artistic is typical of these theories; in actuality, these two have nothing to do with each other. For the most different things can be beautiful: quiet willow groves; girls, tall and small; horses; an exhibition of books; a game of football. For everything which has form can be liked or disliked. In this manner works of art can also be liked or disliked, just like everything else—so that with this theory of beauty, we have moved the farthest from the thing we wanted to approach, viz. what is art? The explanation of art has also been sought in experience and sentiment. Yet everything one encounters evokes experience and sentiment; constipation, for instance. This sentimental aesthetics is especially surprising. It tries to unravel the nature of the work from the sentiments necessarily accompanying its creation and contemplation which is as much nonsense as trying to explain the nature of the quadratic equation with the sentiments and the experience that necessarily accompany the idea. The person who constructed the theory of the quadratic equation probably derived elation from solving the problem, he drew pleasure from the result of his work, just as the child who, to stick to the example, correctly works out and solves a quadratic equation at school, certainly feels happy about it. But how does one find a mathematician idiotic enough to try to explain the nature of the quadratic equation by alleging that the aim of the quadratic equation is to give pleasure?  It has also been said of literature, and of art, that they are the exposition of sentiment. The so-called "serious" opinions are also in agreement about this. Art, however, differs at least as much from the expression of feeling as do real sobbing and yawning from sobbing and yawning on the stage. Sobbing is indeed the expression of sentiment; but sobbing on the stage is the expression of theatrical sentiment. And this sentiment is not real; this is exactly why it is a theatrical sentiment. And if it is not real, it is no feeling, no sentiment at all. Now someone may scrape together a theory according to which sobbing is the direct expression of a feeling, while sobbing on the stage is an indirect one. All right. In this instance, however, if someone is sobbing on the stage, this does not mean the actor is afflicted by grief, for in that case we should have to do with direct expression. On the contrary, the actor is happy as a lark if he succeeds in portraying grief well. So there is no question „of expressing sentiment in such cases. Just the opposite; grief  and sentiment  are forms, i.e. elements of form for the expression of something else.

The confusion around art is total if we consider the applied theories, that is, art criticism. The critic's primary goal and task should be to state whether the poem, painting, etc. in question is really a work of art. However, according to these bourgeois aesthetics, every criticism of art should consist of a single sentence, that is, that either the work before me is a true work of art because I like it, or that it is not a work of art because I do not like it. As a matter of fact, these criticisms have little other meaning, for they do not speak of the work, they speak of the artist's talent or his spirit.

 And they speak about the way in which the poet sees the world, albeit one can see the world either rightly or wrongly. And they do this while examining the "contents" of the poem, etc. By which they again prove that they have not the haziest idea about the dialectical relationship between form and content.

I have mentioned the dialectical relationship between form and content, and thus I have intimated that form can be understood from content and vice versa. Let us assert that every-thing we express is form. Form is the activity which takes place perceptually, the activity which is observable. Content is the meaning communicated to the mind through perception, by form which is necessary for perception.

Thus, the quality of form is determined by its content, which is to say form has a double quality: it is qualified by the content which fills it out, and It is also qualified by our perception-which requalifies form to content.


... Our examples are a simple sentence, a poem, then a thick novel.

The sentence reads: "I am hungry."

If I say this at lunch-time at home, its meaning, communicated to the mind through perception, is something like "what about lunch?". This Is its content. If a beggar says it in the street, then the meaning, the content, is "please, give me some  change". In both cases it is precisely the given content, the meaning, which consigns this sentence, according to its form and style, into the category of the form and style of everyday conversation.

If I write down this sentence — “I am hungry” — in a poem, this does not mean in any sense "why don't you bring me that lunch?", nor does it mean "only a little money, I beg you!". For (apart from the symbolic content that I am dissatisfied with this world) the content of this sentence, its actual meaning, is, that there is such a thing as hunger, and that hunger and its existence have a social purport. If for no other reason, then because of the fact that if the sentence “I am hungry” had no significance for everyone, regardless of the circumstance whether l'm really hungry or not, then it would be socially senseless; nobody would be interested. For what sense would it have to let a nameless pick-and-shovel man at Szeged into the secret of my being hungry? As it is, he would only learn about it in a few years' time, what with printers, etc, etc. In any event, the fact that I am hungry just before lunch is neither artistic nor interesting, in other words, it is socially uninteresting. What I write in a poem must have social and universal purport, and it does have social meaning. In brief, the content of artistic form is universal and social.


How does a work of art take shape? First of all, the act of creation, call it inspiration, divides reality in two, by selecting those parts, those elements of reality from which the work of art will be created. Of course, this does not mean that the poet takes a number of words and decides to write a poem using them. However, one or two lines of a poem, through interdependence, determine the other lines, which comes down to saying that each point of the world of the work is an Archimedean point. Having accepted the one or two lines in question, theoretically the artist has already selected one section of reality—the creation of every work of value confirms this. With these selected elements of reality, inspiration, the act of creation screens all other, non-selected elements from our perception. Clearly inspiration fixes the selected section of reality. And it is also clear that the reality which is fixed by inspiration is only part of reality. What then happens to this fixed section of reality?

If we step into this reality fixed by inspiration, into the work of art, if we let ourselves into its artistic quality, then those elements of reality that have not been selected cease to exist for us; their form is lost. They are inactive—and they simply don't exist for our perception. So inspiration seizes certain elements of reality, places them between the other elements and our perception, and screens the other parts of reality, just as the full moon covers the sun at the time of eclipse. That is, from the perceptual viewpoint, it aggrandizes the selected elements of reality into a complete reality.

However, the part of reality selected, fixed and aggrandized into complete reality also has its parts! If one examines the work of art from the inside, one discovers that the elements figuring as complete reality, i.e. the elements of the artistic part of reality, also lose their existence; they do not act individually, only collectively—in a good work of art only what is common in these elements continues to live in them. The work of art stands as a clean, partless whole before our perception. Our perception can rest at last.


... the work of art is a work of art even in its smallest part, just as the smallest element of an essay, which is a concept in itself, is also a concept. This, however, means that a word in itself is a work of art, since it is the smallest part of a work of art. Yet on the other hand, the word can be considered as perception, while the work of art, in our interpretation, is by no means equivalent to perception. How is this possible? It is possible because the word can only be looked at as perception when used, that is when it is an existing word. Think of the double quality of form. The solution to this question is to consider that if the word is a work of art, while a word, which is used, the existing word, is not, then it is obvious that the non-existing word is a work of art. And as we have been talking about non-existing words which are, however, still words, by word we mean the noscent word. In other words, the word in use can be considered as perception, while the word in genesis can be considered a work of art. So that, in works of art, the word plays the part of its genesis in a way that it simultaneously comes into being with all other words figuring in the poem. Accordingly, the poem can be considered as a single word in genesis; the nascent name of a group of things which it condenses into an indivisible unit and into a final perceptual whole.