Mihály Babits was born the only son of an intellectual Roman Catholic family. His father, a circuit judge, was assigned to Budapest and the city of Pécs before he died in 1898. Thus, young Babits became acquainted with various parts of Hungary but always considered Transdanubia (or, as he preferred to call it, Pannonia, after the ancient Roman territory) as his home region. From 1901, he studied at the University of Budapest, majoring in Hungarian and Latin. During his school years, he began to write poetry, and among his best friends he could count Dezső Kosztolányi and Gyula Juhász, who were also to become outstanding poets. After receiving his diploma in 1906, Babits taught in high schools in Szeged, in Fogaras (Transylvania), and in one of the workers’ districts of Budapest. His poems were first published in 1902, and by 1908 he was one of the chief contributors to the new literary journal Nyugat. During the years preceding World War I, he published several volumes of poetry, read voraciously to acquire a broad European background, and began to translate the classics. He was opposed to the war from its beginning, and his pacifism became ever more outspoken. The nationalist press of the period attacked him, and one of his poems, “Fortissimo,” provoked the confiscation of the journal in which it appeared.
Although decidedly apolitical, Babits welcomed the Revolution of 1918, seeing in it the end of Hungary’s participation in the...
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