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Árpád TÓTH
( 1886 - 1928 )

» Serenade at Dawn (1913)
» On a slow Galleon (1917)
» Fleeting Joy (1922)


1886 born in Arad (now Romania), April 14
1896 - 1904 studies in Debrecen
1905 - 1909 majors in Hungarian and French Literature in Budapest
1908 contributor to the Nyugat (West), the most important periodical of the time
1909 due to financial reasons, moves back to Debrecen and works as a journalist
1911 contributor to the daily, Debreceni Nagy Újság
1913 moves back to Budapest and works as a tutor and theatre critic
1915 - 16 his pulmonary consumption is treated in the Tatras
1917 Editor at the journal, Esztendő (Year)
1918 Secretary of the Vörösmarty Academy
1921 member of the staff of the daily, Est (The Evening) together with Lőrinc Szabó; journalist
1928 dies in Budapest iof tuberculosis

Serenade at Dawn

The Nyugat generation considered him the second best poet after Endre Ady; although this is certainly an overstatement. Even today Árpád Tóth (in spite of his relatively meagre output) is considered among the greatest poets of the century. He was greatly influenced by the philosophy of Schopenhauer and wrote about the unfulfilled desires of mankind and the hopeless solitude of the individual. In spite of its sunny title, Tóth's first volume of poems has a melancholy atmosphere characteristic of the poet. The title love poem is constructed around the words "sorrow" and "desire" (one-syllable words in Hungarian: "bú", and "vágy", which are important because of the highly musical composition of Tóth's verse: "I give my heart: Let it be the violin"); the other characteristic is his visual intensity: ("fresh canvas is spread out across the sky / by Dawn, an eminent impressionist", quote from the title poem, translated by Jess Perlman). In the opening poem (Bistro) the hopelessly poor city scenery appears, the world of "crumbled desires", where the presentiment of death and passing time are present. Only love and a certain Art Nouveau type of eroticism presents an alternative (Elegy in the Music Hall); the poet nevertheless grows to understand and accept his hopeless situation, and understand that money, women and free, wandering life are out of his reach. At the end of the volume, he tries in vain to find an equilibrium between hoped joy and present sorrows.

On a slow Galleon

“O give force to the sad elegy-writer / Thou Youth of Hymns!” (To the Ruby-Winged Cherubim) The volume thus starts with odes and elegies and ends with perfect sonnets. One of the most interesting poems is the Strange Play with Rhymes, a love-present and a synthesis of desire and resignation, adorned with sparkling rhymes which are “crying though sugary”, and speak about castles, parties, Swiss sunsets, English hunters, beautiful women and Greek goddesses, only to admit final despair due to hopeless poverty and sickness. “As a poet, he is best remembered for the basic sadness of his disposition reflected by his most frequently used words: ‘sad’, ‘quiet’, ‘meek’, ‘shy’, ‘tired’, ‘sick’, ‘dilapidated’ and ‘languish’. He was familiar with both world literature and Hungarian literature and this profound erudition, added to his natural talent, made him a major 20th-century master.” (Adam Makkai)

Fleeting Joy

“At the time he was at the peak of his glory, but only in professional cycles and among the refined readers. His third book, Fleeting Joy, was already published, and the paper he was working at was publishing his new poems every week … he was more of a writer and a learned bohemian than a public speaker; his spirit was preoccupied mostly with principles, truths, eternal feelings and dispositions: he wanted to find a kind of lyrical eternity in the reality of fleeting moments. He was the artist of fairy atmosphere, meditative harmony, beauty and sadness, refined taste and high culture, rich music and inner concentration, a believer in true humanity, honesty and progression, a classic author of elegies that were bright at the beginning and much darker and simpler towards the end.” (Lőrinc Szabó)

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