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New Left Review I/24, March-April 1964


Introduction to Attila Jozsef

No collection of poems by Attila Jozsef has ever been published in English, although he is certainly one of the major poets of the century. He was born in Budapest in 1905. His father was a worker in a soapfactory, his mother was a scrub-woman. While he was still a young child his father left the family and disappeared. When he was five years old he was put out to foster-parents in the country, where he started at primary school, but later he returned to his mother in Budapest. There he began to write poetry and his first volume of poems came out when he was 17. He became notorious when he was expelled from Szeged University for writing a poem, thought blasphemous and unpatriotic by the university authorities, after which he left Hungary for Vienna and Paris. In Paris he joined an anarchist-communist organization and later became a Marxist and joined the Communist Party of Hungary. Jozsef wrote several essays on Marxist theory and it was for one of these, On the Unity Front, published just before Hitler came to power in Germany, that his connections with the Communist Party were severed. His advocacy of a united front with the social democrats against the Nazis was unacceptable to the sectarian party leaders of that time. Jozsef found that he could not identify himself with any literary or political move lent and was forced into isolation. But he still remained vocal, an anti-Fascist, a Marxist and a revolutionary. Poverty, nervous breakdowns and isolation combined with the growing Nazification of Hungary to throw him into despair. In December, 1937, he jumped in front of a train. The poem, This is my Native Earth, published here, was the last he wrote. The two translations which follow are looser English versions of the strict Hungarian: Jozsef used mostly traditional forms.

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