Top: Ady with his mother; with his wife "Csinszka"; Center: cover of NYUGAT magazine; Ady; "Léda"; Bottom: house where he was born in Érmindszent
Flowers sometimes grow out of the least likely soils. Though some need thorough care, others appear spontaneously. Some are fragrant, some are thorny, some are healing, others poisonous. Sons of notable families sometimes end up on the wayside while offspring of pious peasant parents advance to the top of the cultural world and society.
Ady Endre was born 140 years ago in a modest thatched roof house at Érmindszent, a small village in northern Transylvania on November 22nd, 1877. His family, by then impoverished, was a very old one of the lower nobility (kisnemes), with roots reaching back some seven centuries. Endre’s father, diósfalvi Ady Lőrinc, a hard-working owner of a small piece of land, could provide the family with only the life of peasants, while the mother, Pásztor Mária, a clergyman’s daughter, anxiously tried to assure their two sons’ best possible education. They managed to send both boys to high school (gimnázium) – where Endre excelled – as well as to college. The parents had high hopes for them, especially for Endre who was sent to law school in Debrecen.
The ambitious family seemed simultaneously to accept and question the value system of the existing social hierarchy: they wanted to rise by it while fully aware of their nobility dating back further than the nobility of the ones controlling the country. This lower-nobility consciousness is important familial food for the poet’s journey, playing a defining role in the formation of his political and artistic attitude.
Endre did not finish law school. Instead, he started to write for the Debrecen newspapers. His insignificant first volume of poems was also published there, in 1899. Soon, however, he found the limits of the tradition-based, conservative Calvinist town too restricting and, in 1900, he moved to Nagyvárad, which he considered a real city. In that progressive, dynamic town he signed up with a liberal newspaper, inspired by genuine newsmen and editors.
He was an outstanding journalist who collected his information from people at cafes and all walks of life, as well as from the regular reading all major newspapers. The Bohemian lifestyle of the profession suited his nature perfectly, yet did not prevent him from delivering his articles with ruthless punctuality.
Somewhat predestined by his background, Ady Endre was the proverbial dissenter. His temperament tolerated respect only when it was aimed at him.
He sharply attacked the forces conserving Hungarian feudalism. In those times, his political journalism was more significant than his poetry.
In 1903, his new volume of poems entitled “Még egyszer” (Once More) was published. Although some of the poems suggest a spark of his genius, to his dismay, the book lacked popular success.
In August 1903, his life took a radical turn. At Nagyvárad, he met an educated, sensitive, proud and showy lady visiting her hometown from Paris. She was the wife of a well-to-do Hungarian businessman who had settled in the French capital. Her name was Mme. Adél Diósy, née Brüll. She lit an unprecedented, perhaps long overdue deeply romantic spark in Ady’s body and soul and was most likely the catalyst in his becoming a real poet. In numerous poems he calls her Léda, her first name spelled backwards.
This relationship, the Léda-love, meant an emotional earthquake that woke up Ady’s big dreams. In February 1904, he followed the woman to Paris and found his poetic talents liberated by his acquaintance with the “lovely wonderments of this sacred city”. He became mesmerized by the metropolis that typically affects non-Latins upon their first encounter with the Latin world: life’s undefinable lightness, sweetness, freedom. There he could shake off his northern-Protestant reserve, and discover and adopt the philosophy that life is good. He could be himself without reservations, accepting his own faults and summon up his courage to invent and employ new words, new images, new rhythms. Paris did not directly contribute much to all this, just woke him up to himself.
Ady’s first Paris trip lasted almost a year. The “City of Lights” deepened his political and artistic levels of information that enabled him, on his return, to face a changed and constantly changing, turbulent political scenario in his homeland. He joined the editorial team of the liberal Budapesti Napló, where he published some 500 articles in a year and a half. The paper also became the venue for most of his poems, its Editor-in-Chief being one of the first to discover Ady’s poetic genius.
His third volume, considered the first “real Ady” – “Új versek” (New Poems) – published in February 1906, is a milestone that signifies the birth of modern Magyar poetry. His subsequent “Vér és arany” (Blood and Gold) in December, 1907, sealed his role as the new bard of new times.
Ady had a strong sense of mission: he envisioned himself a prophet of national renewal. His love for the people became a brand of Socialism, as he identified himself with the peasants and sought to improve their lot. His Socialism, however, was inspired not by Marx, but rather by the historical Hungarian peasant revolutionary Dózsa György, whom Ady considered to be his spiritual ancestor.
In his poem “Góg és Magóg fia vagyok én” (The Son of Gog and Magog), two biblical figures considered in medieval times to be the ancestors of the Hungarians, Ady referred to the fusing of Western influences with his Magyar heritage. It became the manifesto of the new poetic direction he pioneered. His new style, its modes of expression and rhythm all contributed to the turn-of-the-nineteenth-century literary renewal. He created his own Hungarian mythology, much as Wagner created a new German mythology in his operas.
In 1908, he helped to found the new literary journal NYUGAT (The West) that rapidly became a beacon of the fresh, new 20th century Hungarian literature. It remained his “literary home” until his death. The younger generation, bitterly opposed as it was to the conservative literary establishment, readily embraced it, while the old guard considered Ady’s innovative symbolism unintelligible. This symbolism explored spiritual depths, expressing the restlessness of the modern soul. His new voice included sensuous love poems mingled with tortured, decadent, pessimistic elements, reflecting his own way of life.
Between 1904 and 1911, Ady visited Paris seven times for various durations.
Among his faithful followers, in both the figurative and literal sense, was a young Hungarian poet from Transylvania, Áprily Lajos. (Oddly enough, he also has a birthday in November, on the 14th. He was 10 years Ady’s junior, which would make him 130 years old now, but he died 50 years ago.) Imbued with the poetry of Ady, young Lajos went to study in Paris in 1909, living there in abject poverty. His dream was to meet Ady, who was in Paris at the time, but his overwhelming shyness turned Áprily back at his famous idol’s very doorstep.
Ady himself led a dissolute life, which eventually revolted and killed him. Some tragic liaison in his early youth with lesser muses influencing his literary work unwittingly but mercilessly attacked and infected his body with syphilis, then incurable, for life.
Realizing his own sinfulness, he turned to God for liberation, praying for his lost innocence and the ability to believe. His religious poems are among the most beautiful in any language.
Over the years, Ady’s torch of passion toward Léda cooled, leading to his resentment of their relationship and ultimately, to his break-up with the woman.
Her irritating outbreaks of reproach and jealousy may have delayed his decision but, in April 1912, the end, in the form of his poem of cruel release, was inevitable.
News of Ady Endre’s sudden liberation attracted women to him like a magnet. Yet he felt he should settle down at last. After several blighted marriage plans, he visited the young, romantic, exuberant lady of the castle at Csucsa, Boncza Berta, in April 1914. They had corresponded for years. In June, tormented with doubts about his 37 year-old damaged body tying the 20 year-old girl to himself, Ady asked Berta’s father for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The father’s refusal of consent started a lengthy bureaucratic official release procedure.
Meanwhile, the international political situation was signaling impending doom and catastrophe, culminating in the outbreak of World War I. Ady felt an increasing need to find refuge in marriage that finally materialized in March, 1915. He immortalized his bride in a group of poems written for “Csinszka”, his nickname for her in jest. These are melancholy verses but they sing of a more noble love than his Léda poems. In 1917, the couple moved to Budapest where the poet, after a long hiatus, published his 12th volume in 1918.
A new organization of progressive writers, the Vörösmarty Academy was formed and Ady still attended their inaugural meeting where he was elected president. His illness, however, prevented him from delivering his opening address.
He finally succumbed to the killer infection in his body and died in Budapest, in the morning of January 27, 1919, at age 42.
Ady Endre was a very prolific poet, having published 13 volumes (the 13th posthumously). He also wrote numerous articles and studies, but those are of lesser importance. It is his poetry that made him great. He is regarded as the outstanding Hungarian poet of the 20th century whose influence no other poet since his time could totally escape. His works have been translated into English, German, French and Italian.
His birthplace has been renamed Adyfalva in Hungarian and AdyEndre in Rumanian.
Olga Vállay Szokolay is an Architect and Professor Emerita of Norwalk Community College, CT after three decades of teaching. She is a member of the Editorial Board of Magyar News Online.