János Arany (March 2, 1817—October 22, 1882), was a Hungarian journalist, writer, poet, and translator. He is often said to be the "Shakespeare of ballads" – he wrote more than 40 ballads which have been translated into over 50 languages, as well as the Toldi trilogy, to mention his most famous works.
He was born in Nagyszalonta
, Bihar county
which is now part of Romania
. He was the youngest of eight children, but because of pneumonia
running in the family, only two of them survived childhood. At the time of his birth, his elder sister Sára was already a married woman and his parents, György Arany and Sára Megyeri, were very elderly. János Arany learned to read and write early on, and was reported to read anything he could find in Hungarian
. Since his parents needed support early in Arany's life, he started working at the age of 14 as an associate teacher.
From 1833 he attended the reformed college of Debrecen where he studied German and French, though he quickly became tired of scholarly life, and temporarily joined an acting troupe. Later on, he worked in Nagyszalonta, Debrecen, and Budapest in teacher, newspaper editor, and various clerk positions.
In 1840 he married Julianna Ercsey (1816–1885). They had two children, Julianna, whose early death in pneumonia devastated the poet, and László, who became a poet too.
After Toldi, one of his most famous works, was published, he and Sándor Petőfi became friends (see their letters: To János Arany by Petőfi and Reply to Petőfi by Arany). His best friend's death in the 1848 Hungarian Revolution had a great impact on him.
Arany was elected a member of Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1858. He was the secretary-general of the Academy since 1865. Also he was elected director of the Kisfaludy Society, the greatest literary association of Hungary.
Arany died in Budapest.
The first scientific monograph on Arany was written by Frigyes Riedl
He translated three dramas of Shakespeare
into Hungarian, A Midsummer Night's Dream
and King John
, and they are considered to be some of the greatest translations into Hungarian in history; he also helped other Hungarian translators with his comments, and translated works by Aristophanes
, Mikhail Lermontov
, Aleksandr Pushkin
, and Molière
The epic poetry of János Arany presents the legendary and historical past of his nation. The Death of King Buda (1864), the first part of a projected Hun trilogy is one of the best narrative poems in Hungarian literature. The other parts of the trilogy (Ildiko, and Prince Csaba) are unfinished.
One of his most famous poems, "A Walesi Bárdok" (The Bards of Wales). Arany wrote this poem when Franz Joseph the Austrian Emperor visited Hungary first time after he defeated Hungarian Revolution of 1848. Originally Arany was asked to write a poem to praise the Emperor. The poem is well-known in Hungary and concerns the campaigns of Edward I to subjugate the Welsh and trample over their culture. Arany was drawing a parallel here with Austria's treatment of Hungary and the Hungarians. It is this poem, more than anything else, that has ensured Hungarians are familiar with Wales.
His poem "Dante" is one of those few verses in Western literature that can seize concisely the whole meaning and transcendency of human life. (Peter Ustinow - British actor)
A few remarkable verses are relatively well translated to English by Watson Kirkconnell (published in: The Magyar Muse - An Anthology of Hungarian Poetry 1400-1932 - Kanadai Magyar Újság Press, 1933)
He is today considered as one of the greatest Hungarian literary figures beside Sándor Petőfi, Endre Ady and Attila József.
Poems in English
- The Legend of the Miraculous Hind or The Legend of the Wondrous Hunt
- Years, O Years That Are Still to Come
- I Lay Down the Lyre
- In Autumn
- The Bards of Wales
- On the Slope
- Family Circle
- The Nightingale
- Reply to Petőfi
- The Mother of King Matthias
- The Two Pages of Szondi
- Duel at Midnight
- Bier-right or Ordeal by Blood
- Becky Scarlet
- Corn Husking
- Annie with Golden Hair
- The Seamstress Girls
- Consecration of the Bridge
- Mistress Aggie / Mistress Agnes
- Imprisoned Souls