Gyula Illyés Analysis

Other Literary Forms

Although principally a poet, Gyula Illyés was also the author of significant prose and drama. Two of his most important prose works appeared in the 1930’s: Puszták népe (1936; People of the Puszta, 1967), widely translated, is partly an autobiographical documentary and partly a sociography of Hungary’s poverty-stricken peasantry; Peto``fi (1936; English translation, 1973) is both a personal confession and a scholarly analysis of the great nineteenth century poet, Sándor Petőfi. Published late in Illyés’s life, the essays collected in Szellem és ero``szak (1978; spirit and violence), officially banned but published in the West in a facsimile edition, reflects his concern about the mistreatment of four million Hungarians living as minorities in countries neighboring Hungary. His principal plays deal with a search for lessons in Hungary’s history.

Illyés also excelled as a translator of Louis Aragon, Ben Jonson, Robert Burns, Paul Éluard, Victor Hugo, Jean Racine, François Villon, and others; a collection of his translations was published in 1963 under the title of Nyitott ajtó (open door).


Gyula Illyés is internationally recognized as one of the leading poets of the century. French poet and critic Alain Bosquet wrote about him: “Only three or four living poets have been able to identify themselves with the soul of the century. Their genius burns in the Hungarian poet Gyula Illyés.” The International Biennale of Poets in Knokke-le-Zoute, Belgium, awarded to him its Grand Prix in 1965, and the University of Vienna awarded to him the Herder Prize in 1970. He received two literary prizes in France: the Ordre des Art et Lettres in 1974 and the Grand Prize in 1978 from the Société des Poètes Français. In 1981, he was awarded the Mondello literary prize in Italy. In 1969, he was elected vice president of the International PEN Club. In Hungary, among many other awards, he was three times the recipient of the Kossuth Prize.

Apart from the highest critical acclaim, Illyés achieved the status of a national poet and an intellectual leader in Hungary and in Europe. His unbending loyalty to the downtrodden and his contributions in clarifying the most important issues of his times earned him an extraordinary moral authority.


Kolumbán, Nicholas, ed. Turmoil in Hungary: An Anthology of Twentieth Century Hungarian Poetry. St. Paul, Minn.: New Rivers Press, 1982. A collection of Hungarian poetry translated into English with commentary.

Smith, William Jan. Introduction to What You Have Almost Forgotten, by Gyula Illyés. Willimantic, Conn.: Curbstone Press, 1999. The well-known poet provides a substantial introduction to Illyés and his poetry.

Tezla, Albert. An Introductory Bibliography to the Study of Hungarian Literature. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964. Contains publication information and some commentary on Illyés’s work.

Tezla, Albert. Hungarian Authors: A Bibliographical Handbook. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970. Extension of An Introductory Bibliography to the Study of Hungarian Literature, and is to be used in conjunction with that work.