László Nagy Critical Essays

Nagy, László

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Nagy, László 1925–

Nagy is a Hungarian poet.

[Perhaps] the main thing that strikes a British reader [about Love of the Scorching Wind], in the present climate of our own poetry, is the absence of tight-lippedness, the variety of the attitudes, the fullness of the personality and its changes through a very difficult period of Hungarian social and personal life. No doubt some of the refreshing aspects of this poetry derive from Nagy's peasant background, others from the comparatively romantic tradition of Hungarian poetry. Others again from the fact that Nagy is a socialist who is not afraid, as Gömöri says, to 'open himself to the human community' and voice disappointments, fears, aspirations which are communal as well as personal, though very seldom abstract. Pleasuring Sunday is a fine example, the sensuous, grotesque, detailed depiction of the seventh day becoming a metaphor for wealths of experience denied by everyday social habits and a myth of what life could be in a better society. Unfortunately, the longer poems seem to succeed less well in translation…. (pp. 70-1)

Anne Cluysenaar, in Stand (copyright © by Stand), Vol. 16, No. 1, 1974.

László Nagy is a poet of affirmation fascinated by the miraculous survival of beauty in the modern world where "Green earth is growing huge, blessed and blossoming with showers". He is, however, enough of a European to know that affirmation means different things to different people, for "under torture heads nod Yes to life and No to death". This gives a sombre frame to the ecstatic wordscape of "Pleasuring Sunday", one of the longest and finest poems in this impressive book [Love of the Scorching Wind]. Nagy is at his best when he has room to sustain a theme among rapidly oscillating moods and images of simplicity under attack. The four long poems in this book—"Pleasuring Sunday", the title poem, "Wedding" and "Sky and Earth"—eulogize a rural ethic while recognizing its limitations.

Nagy is also enough of a Hungarian to have been profoundly affected by the events of 1956. In a poem written around 1955, "Have a Good Rest", he expressed a desire to withdraw from life…. To Nagy's despair poetry had been spectacularly ineffectual at a time of crisis.

Not that Nagy is a politically committed poet. As a man who feels that "Existence is pealing out a strident No No No to death" he is naturally hypersensitive to suffering. For Nagy the concept of birth—of plants or people or ideas—is the only offer of salvation. (p. 267)

The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd., 1974; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), March 15, 1974.

The problem [of translating] becomes acute with the work of László Nagy, one of the post-war generation of Hungarian poets…. An exclamatory logic … seems to underlie Nagy's use of imagery, which is demonstrative, and seems to surrender any chance of a developing inflection of meaning in favour of momentary incandescences, loosely linked. Even when this throws up arresting images,… it only skims their possibilities. (p. 109)

Nagy fails in his attempt to draw on Hungarian folk tradition, because he writes the subjective lyric of post-Romantic sensibility, rather than the objective lyric of folk poetry…. (p. 110)

Roger Garfitt, in London Magazine (© London Magazine 1974), June/July, 1974.

The title poem of László Nagy's new collection, Versben bujdosó (Hiding in Poems), can be read as an attempt at self-definition: "You are a bandit hiding in poems" says the poet himself. Yet on further reading it becomes clear that it was he who created his situation and surroundings, the "forest and thicket" around him. Also, he is a noble, a romantic bandit; his loneliness and "thorny steadfastness" are more important than his opposition to the law. In what way should Nagy feel isolated or anachronistic? As a romantic socialist, perhaps, whose vision of a new society soars high above the realities of the Janus-faced "consumers' socialism," and even more so as a believer in the power of the word who at the same time is dazzled and perplexed by the enormous advances of technology. In Versben bujdosó many poems center around the conflict between traditional human values and technological achievements. Nagy seems to be wondering whether you can have both—his oratorio "Sky and Earth" (also included in Love of the Scorching Wind, the new English collection of his poems) movingly illustrates his concern over the impersonal and dehumanizing aspects of the technological revolution. In the passionate argument between the hopelessly earthbound Father and the mechanized, sky-roaming Sons Nagy takes the side of the latter but not without real sorrow for the lost world of nature.

In many respects this collection continues Himnusz minden idöben [Hymn for Anytime], Nagy's most important book of poetry. There is a cycle about masters and spiritual kinsmen (Bartók, Ady, Hölderlin and others); another one could be regarded as variations on the well-known "king of life" motif (Ajándék). The prevailing tone of the poems is mythical-surrealistic, some bringing to mind Lorca's dark-purple lyrics with their gypsy charms and mystic undertones…. [A] sensuous and defiant personal mythology [is] expressed…. While impressive in the association of unusual images and rich metaphors, Nagy's new collection is not without problems. In recent years his poetic idiom has become enigmatically involved, on occasion even artificial. Is this the result of conscious self-stylization or the lack of contact with social reality? Even a myth-centered poet needs new information and experiences shaping his vision of the world. While László Nagy is among the most accomplished poets of his generation, it would be unfair to keep silent about this aspect of his imaginative and valuable work. (p. 821)

George Gömöri, in Books Abroad (copyright 1974 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 48, No. 4, Autumn, 1974.