Attila József (1905-37), son of an unskilled worker of Romanian origin and of a washerwoman, lost both his parents at an early age: his mother died and the father left the family. Born in Budapest, he studied Hungarian and French literature at the University of Szeged, but after a clash with a conservative professor he left for Vienna and then Paris, never to complete his studies. Although an active member of the illegal Communist Party between 1930 and 1933, his disagreements with the Moscow-inspired Party line both on ideology and on strategy led to an ‘expulsion’ from the movement. His ﬁrst book of poetry was published in 1922; six further collections followed, the last of which Nagyon fáj (It Hurts Too Much, 1935) sold only a few copies and it was only after his suicide under the wheels of a freight-train at Balatonszárszó that József was recognised as a major poet. The “proletarian” Surrealism of his early poetry was later tempered by a classicism in which he tried to fuse the thought of Hegel, Marx and Freud with often exciting results. His last poetic period, when he became editor of the independent leftist review Szép Szó, produced work striking in its linguistic inventiveness and sombre, bold imagery; at the time he was tormented by guilt feelings, by a kind of angst not unlike that of the Existentialists. There are numerous collections of József in English of which The Iron-Blue Vault: Selected Poems, tr. Zsuzsanna Ozváth & Frederick Turner (Bloodaxe Books, 1999), Perched on Nothing’s Branch, tr. Peter Hargitai (Apalachee Press, 1987, 1989, and 1993), and Selected Poems and Texts, tr. John Bátki (Carcanet Press, 1973) tr. John Bátki, have had the most critical attention.
Books by Attila József