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Modernism: Representations of National Culture

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter IV. Aesthetic modernism and collective identities

I am the son of king Gog of Magog; Song of the Hungarian Jacobin

Endre Ady
Traduction de Adam Makkai et Sir Maurice Bowra

Texte intégral

1Title: Góg és Magóg fia vagyok én (I am the son of king Gog of Magog); Magyar jakobinus dala (Song of the Hungarian Jacobin)

2Originally published: Góg és Magóg fia vagyok én was published as the opening poem of the volume Új versek (New poems) (Budapest: Pallas, R.T., 1906). Magyar jakobinus dala was the first poem of the cycle Téli Magyarország (Winter Hungary) of the volume Vér és arany (Blood and gold), (Budapest, Franklin-társulat, 1908)

3Language: Hungarian

4The excerpts used are from Ady Endre összes versei (Budapest: Szépirodalmi, 1950), p. 7 and p. 114.

About the author

5Endre Ady [1877, Érmindszent (Transylvania, Rom. Mecenţiu, present-day Ady Endre, in Romania) – 1919, Budapest]: poet, critic, journalist, the key figure of Hungarian modernist literature. He was the descendant of an impoverished Calvinist gentry family. He attended the Piarist Gymnasium in Nagykároly (Rom. Carei, presentday Romania) between 1888 and 1892, and then the Calvinist College in Zilah (Rom. Zălau, present-day Romania) between 1892 and 1896. He then studied law in Debrecen and Budapest. He interrupted his university studies and became member of various editorial boards in Debrecen. His poems, short stories, and critiques appeared in local newspapers. In 1900, Ady accepted a job in the journal Szabadság (Liberty) in Nagyvárad (Rom. Oradea, Ger. Gross-Wardein, in present-day Romania) and decided, contrary to his family’s wishes, to pursue a career as journalist and writer. Later, he joined the staff of the liberal journal Nagyváradi Napló (Nagyvárad diary). He became acquainted with a married woman, Adél Brüll, in the summer of 1903, and began a ten-year relationship with her. In January 1904, he traveled to France, spending nearly a year there and returning repeatedly over the following three years. Ady was deeply influenced by French culture. In 1908, he became a contributor to the leading modernist literary magazine, Nyugat (West). During these years he was also politically active, closely cooperating with the radical intellectuals who pressed for universal suffrage and social reforms. In 1915, he married Berta Boncza, daughter of a Transylvanian noble family from Csucsa (Rom. Ciucea, in present-day Romania). He moved to Budapest in 1917. After periods spent in hospital due to his syphilis, Ady fell fatally ill during the October Revolution in 1918 and died in Park Sanatorium three months later. While his oeuvre has been interpreted in radically different ways by different cultural-political subcultures, he remains a central figure of modern Hungarian literary history.

6Main works: Új versek [New poems] (1906); Vér és arany [Blood and gold] (1908); Az Illés szekerén [In Elijah’s chariot] (1909); Szeretném, ha szeretnének [I want to be loved] (1910); Vallomások és tanulmányok [Confessions and studies] (1911); A menekülő élet [Fugitive life] (1912); Margita élni akar [Margita wishes to live] (1912); A magunk szerelme [Our self-love] (1913); Ki látott engem? [Who saw me?] (1914); A halottak élén [In front of the dead] (1918).


7The Hungarian gentry underwent a dramatic transformation after 1867. Traditionally identified with the ‘Hungarian nation,’ it had participated extensively in the reform movement of the 1840s and the revolution of 1848. After the Ausgleich of 1867, however, the position of this social stratum was challenged: its members had to endure the counter-effects of the very modernization process they had been promoting a generation before. Urbanization, bureaucratization and industrialization all contributed to the shift in the symbolic power-relationships, and, by the turn of the century, it was a commonplace that the gentry’s way of life was in a deep crisis. Ady came from exactly such a milieu.

8Politically this stratum was a fervent supporter of the ‘Independentist’ ideology, which gradually lost most of its liberal components and turned more and more nationalistic (with the notable exception of the veteran politician, Lajos Mocsáry). But there was an alternative potential inherent in the ‘Independentist’ discourse as well, envisioning a democratic reform as a means of undermining the Ausgleich, which was perceived to have been created by opportunist politicians disregarding the national interest and betraying the heritage of the 1848–49 revolution. The Achilles’ heel of this ideological option was the nationality question, as any kind of further democratization would threaten the Hungarians, who made up barely one half of the population of the country, with the collapse of their multi-ethnic state. At the same time, new political groupings which challenged the political system of the country were emerging: on the one hand the social-democratic movement and, on the other, the urban intelligentsia and upper middle-class. These groupings felt completely excluded from traditional politics dominated by gentry and state-bureaucracy, and thus became increasingly radicalized.

9Ady started his journalistic career as the supporter of the Independentist-nationalist camp. However, after his stay in Nagyvárad, which was a rapidly modernizing town with a Westernized, predominantly Jewish bourgeoisie, and following his cathartic experience of modernity in Paris, he changed his allegiances both in aesthetic and in political terms. He met Oszkár Jászi and his radical circle, and sympathized with their efforts to reshape the Hungarian national discourse in order to create a common symbolic ground for the different social strata discontent with the ruling regime. The distinct poetic language Ady added to this was a peculiar fusion of the idiom of early modern Protestant political theology, characterized by motifs such as ‘elect nationhood’ (based on the parallel of the Hungarian nation with the Jews of the Old Testament), anti-Habsburg cultural discourse, and literary Modernism.

10Ady’s 1906 volume, entitled ‘New Poems,’ was a milestone in Hungarian literary history and has even been described as the starting point of Hungarian Modernism. The poem ‘I am the son of king Gog of Magog’ was a poetic credo, placed before the first cycle of poems in the volume. Its claim was that modernity and Hungarianness were not at all contradictory; what is more, authentic Hungarianness was compatible with the Western cultural canon. The poem created a powerful symbolic geography to support this claim. Ady asserted that, contrary to the opinions of the conservative-nationalist camp that cherished a petrified post-Romanticism, not only could his modernist poetry not be excluded from Hungarianness, but it represented its true spirit.

11The second poem appeared two years later in the context of the sharpening political conflicts in the country. In Ady’s view, the official political elite was completely doomed. This was proved by the 1905–1906 constitutional crisis, when Francis Joseph I was unwilling to nominate the leader of the Independence Party, the son of Lajos Kossuth, as Prime Minister, even though the opposition won the election. The political struggle led to a chauvinistic campaign orchestrated by the Independentists against the government imposed by Vienna, which in turn sought to strengthen its legitimacy by proposing universal suffrage and a number of social reforms aimed at the underprivileged classes and the nationalities. Going against the general opinion of the Hungarian political class, Ady supported these measures of the ‘unconstitutional government,’ which, however, quickly collapsed under the pressure of widespread unrest and institutional sabotage. When the Independence Party eventually came to power through a compromise, it could not implement its program of revising the dualist system and legislated a series of oppressive measures against the nationalities. All this destroyed any hopes of a potential fusion of the Independence Party with a democratic program.

12Ady thus identified with the political platform of the civic radicals, who tried to integrate the different opposition movements, most significantly those of the socialists and the nationalities, in demanding universal suffrage and the democratization of the country. This ideological stance also referred to the discourse of Marxist and radical intellectuals, such as Ervin Szabó (1877–1918), in which the social and political conditions of the country were defined as inherently feudal. The ‘Song of the Hungarian Jacobin’ is a symbolic formulation of this ‘offer of cooperation.’ It evokes the Hungarian Jacobin conspiracy (see József Hajnóczy, Letter to Miklós Forgách), an anti- Habsburg movement in the late-eighteenth century, in which the members of the Hungarian political and cultural elite were implicated in a program of radical democratic transformation. The message of the poem is that social and political emancipation can only be reached through a radical transformation, based on the cooperation of the Hungarian and non-Hungarian peoples against the “lords and rascals” of the post-feudal oligarchy.

13Ady’s figure became a crucial icon of the radical opposition, and his aesthetics became a point of reference for an entire generation of poets, even though Ady personally was rather irritated by the cohort of modernists following in his footsteps. The 1918 Revolution, which brought together social democrats, civic radicals and the left-wing splinter group of the Independence Party under Count Mihály Károlyi’s coalition, took Ady as its symbol. This is why, in the 1920s, his figure was under heavy attack from the conservatives, who attempted to exclude him from the national canon because of his ‘decadence’ and left-wing political sympathies. It took a decade of violent cultural debates to reach some kind of minimal consensus, after which he became a common cultural reference, even though different ideological camps constructed their ‘own Ady’—ranging from the image of an ‘ethnic genius’ to that of the ‘progressive poet.’ He was, to a certain extent, also appropriated by the communist cultural politics of the 1950s. The communists disseminated only his ‘revolutionary’ poems, while playing down his religious poetry and eliminating the actual political and cultural context of his oeuvre. These connotations of his work were only re-addressed in the 1960s and 1970s, with the publication of the critical edition of his works and alongside the gradual rediscovery of the ‘civic radical’ political and cultural heritage.


I am the son of King Gog of Magog1

  • 1 Góg és Magóg fia. The translation rectified Ady’s formulation and returned to the Biblical version (...)
  • 2 Verecke (Ukr. Veretsky Pereval): The north-eastern passage where the Hungarians entered the Carpat (...)
  • 3 Vazul: Relative of King Stephen. He was allegedly implicated in a conspiracy against the King and (...)
  • 4 In the original version: Pusztaszer. The legendary place of the final act of the Hungarian tribes’ (...)

I am the son of King Gog of Magog,
I’m banging doors and walls to no avail –
yet I must ask this question as prologue:
may I weep in the grim Carpathian vale?
I came along Verecke’s2 famous path,
old Magyar tunes still tear into my chest –
will it arouse your Lordships’ righteous wrath
as I burst in with new songs from the West?
Pour in my ears your molten liquid lead,
let me become the new Vazul3 of songs –
let me not hear the new songs you have bred:
Come, tread me down in furious, evil throngs!
But to the end, tortured, expecting nothing,
the song keeps soaring on its new-found wings:
even if cursed by a hundred Founding Fathers4
triumphant, new, Magyar, and true it rings.

15Translated by Adam Makkai in Adam Makkai, ed. – In Quest of the ‘Miracle Stag’: The Poetry of Hungary (Chicago: Atlantis-Centaur, 1996), p. 400.

Song of a Hungarian Jacobin

  • 5 Originally “the country of Árpád” (Árpád hazája). This is an ambivalent reference to Hungary, supp (...)

Blood from our fingertips comes welling
when, oh poor, sleepy Hungary,
we touch you with them and we wonder:
do you exist at all? Do we?
do you exist at all? Do we?
How hopes the future to be better?
With anguish in our souls and eyes
we question if the slaves of Babel
will from their slumber ever rise.
Will from a thousand sluggish longings
be born at last one mighty will?
This age-old torment is the portion
Of Vlachs and Slavs and Magyars still.
In anguish and humiliation
a thousand years have made us one:
on the soul’s barricade in fury
why can’t we roar in unison?
Single the voice of Olt and Danube,
a muffled murmur from the tomb.
To him, who is not lord or scoundrel,
woe will befall in Árpád’s home!5
When will we join at last together?
When will our voices speak out loud?
Magyar or not—it does not matter—
we are the crushed, oppressed, and cowed.
How long must we be ruled by blackguards,
poor, chicken-hearted millions, we?
How long must the Hungarian people
like caged and captive starlings be?
Hungary’s miserable beggars
We’ve neither bread nor faith for fare;
but all will come to us tomorrow
if we but wish, if we but dare!

16Translated by Sir Maurice Bowra, in: Adam Makkai, ed. – In Quest of the ‘Miracle Stag’: The Poetry of Hungary (Chicago: Atlantis-Centaur, 1996), pp. 413–414.


1 Góg és Magóg fia. The translation rectified Ady’s formulation and returned to the Biblical version: Gog, King of Magog. Originally a Biblical reference to peoples in the North, who were the descendants of Japheth; they gained an apocalyptic connotation in the prophecies of Ezekiel (Ezekiel: 38). In the medieval ‘Alexander legend’, they were transformed into giants, living somewhere around the Caucasus, locked in a chasm by a metal gate—in Ady these connotations are fused with the reference to the Hungarian ethnogenetic mythology, deriving the Hungarians from the daughters of the Caucasian king Menrot, who was sometimes identified with the Biblical king Nimrod.

2 Verecke (Ukr. Veretsky Pereval): The north-eastern passage where the Hungarians entered the Carpathian Basin.

3 Vazul: Relative of King Stephen. He was allegedly implicated in a conspiracy against the King and as a punishment molten lead was poured into his ears.

4 In the original version: Pusztaszer. The legendary place of the final act of the Hungarian tribes’ occupation of the Carpathian Basin; after the battle, Árpád and the chiefs of the other tribes made a symbolic gesture of appropriating the land. In 1896, a representative monument of the Millennium festivities was built there. For Ady, obviously it was the symbol of official nationalism.

5 Originally “the country of Árpád” (Árpád hazája). This is an ambivalent reference to Hungary, supposedly the land of the Hungarians as a nation, but actually appropriated by the “lords and rascals.”


Adam Makkai (Traducteur)
Sir Maurice Bowra (Traducteur)

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