Hungary’s Ágnes Nemes Nagy (1922-91) is one of Europe’s major modern poets. Her poems are clear and packed at once, monumental yet crystalline in their thought and organisation. The vast pressures of her nation’s troubled history find their equivalent in human feeling, voiced through the extraordinary compressed power and explosive formality of Nemes Nagy’s poetry. Her subjects include nature, myth and the vastnesses of geological time, but her manner is epic, tragic and epigrammatic.
Co-editor of New Moon, the most important literary magazine in Hungary after the War, her own work was banned and the magazine closed in the 1950s, but both have had a lasting effect on later generations. Too distant, too unbending, too disdainful of popularity to be a popular writer, she was neverthless acclaimed as the most important Hungarian poet of the postwar period, and her influence has been as much a moral force (to do with integrity and intellectual passion) as a matter of range and technique.
This selection contains poems from all periods of Nemes Nagy’s output, from the 1940s to work written immediately prior to her death. It includes poems from her Akhenaton cycle where she grapples most intensely with history, responsibility and justice, carving a new theology or cosmology out of these desperately fissile forces. Identifying with the Egyptian boy-king, she looks to invent a necessary god; recalling the energies of the 1956 Uprising, she tries to ﬁnd rituals to articulate them – as her wild, wild thought is carved into large, clear, rational forms.