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Born Jan. 1, 1823, in Kiskőrös; died July 31, 1849, in Fehéregyhaza. Hungarian poet and revolutionary democrat; participant in the Revolution of 1848-49 in Hungary.
Petőfi’s father, I. Petrovics, a Serb by birth, was a cattle merchant; his mother was from a poor Slovak family. Poverty led Petőfi to enlist as a soldier in 1839. He was dismissed from the army in 1841 because of illness. He became an itinerant actor and also earned his living by translating and copying. His first poem, “The Drinker,” was published in 1842. In 1844 his collection Verses was published on the recommendation of M. Vörös-márty. It already revealed a nationally based world view and a realism imbued with humor. Many of Petófi’s poems, such as “Once Into the Kitchen I Flew” and “Bargaining,” have become popular songs.
The rebellious protest of Petőfi’s poetry became democratic in character at an early stage, as seen in “Against Kings” and “The Wild Flower.” In his heroicomic narrative poem The Village Smith (1844) and the folkloric fairy-tale epic The Knight János (1844), Petőfi abandoned the prevailing conservative pseudo-romantic literary canons and affirmed popular content and form.
Disappointment in love, critical attacks on his alleged crude-ness and tastelessness, as well as concern for the fate of his country, led to an inner crisis for Petófi. The cycle Clouds (1845— 46) is imbued with a sense of the disharmony of existence, and the narrative poems Szilaj Pista Silai (1846) and Salgó (1846) contain tragic themes.
In 1846, Petőfi attempted to found a revolutionary organization, the Society of Ten, among the radical youth of Pest, in order to strive for a democratic literature. His friendship with J. Arany and marriage to Julia Szendrey (1847) were of great importance for Petőfi. As the social struggle intensified, his poetry became almost a calendar of its events, expressing civic responsibility and a craving for revolutionary action. This is seen in “Only One Thing Troubles Me,” “The Palace and the Hovel,” “To the Poets of the 19th Century,” “In the Name of the People,” and “Heroes in Sackcloth.” In his love lyrics, Petőfi celebrates a woman whom he sees as a comrade in the revolutionary and patriotic conflict. The unity of socially analytical realism and revolutionary romanticism and of clarity of expression and intense intellectuality, as seen in Man and Lights!, elevates Petőfi’s work to humanistic and literary heights.
In 1847, Petőfi became head of the Young Hungary organization. He helped develop the program for the bourgeois democratic revolution (the “12 Articles”). Together with P. Vasvári, he led the revolutionary uprising of Mar. 15, 1848, in Pest and Buda. He called for the complete abolition of feudalism, the intensifying of the revolution, and the founding of an independent and democratic Hungarian republic. The poet-tribune demanded full implementation of popular rights in such works as “National Song,” “To the Gallows With the Kings!” and “To the Nation.”
Defeated by the nobles in elections to the National Assembly, Petőfi joined the revolutionary army in September 1848, becoming the aide-de-camp of J. Bem in January 1849. He wrote battle songs glorifying the soldiery. As before, the content of his lyrics merged with the revolutionary cause, but now tragic chords appeared as well, evoked by national difficulties, the enemy’s military superiority, and the absence of other revolutionary centers in Europe. These traits are seen in “Most Terrible Times” and “Life or Death” and in the narrative poem The Apostle (1848; published in full in 1874), whose hero sacrifices his life for the liberation of the people.
Petőfi died in a clash with cossacks of the tsarist army. His works began to appear in Russian in the 1850’s in translations by V. Benediktov, F. Korsh, M. Mikhailov, and A. Mikhailov. In the Soviet period his translators have included V. Levik, G. Abashidze, A. Lunacharskii, L. Martynov, B. Pasternak, L. Pervomaiskii, and N. Tikhonov. His poetry has been translated into most of the national languages of the USSR.
WORKSÖsszes művei, vols. 1-3. Budapest, 1955.
Összes Költeményei, vols. 1-2. Budapest, 1966.
In Russian translation:
Sobr. soch., vols. 1-4. Moscow, 1952-53.
Tigr i giena. Moscow, 1957.
Izbrannoe. Moscow, 1958.
Stikhotvoreniia, poemy. Moscow, 1971.
Vitiaz’ Ianosh: Izbr. stikhotvoreniia. Moscow, 1972.
REFERENCESP-ov, S. “Aleksandr Petefi: Vengerskii poet.” Russkoe slovo, 1861, no. 3.
Mikhailov, A. “Aleksandr Petefi.” Zhivopisnoe obozrenie, 1878, no. 21.
N-v, N. “Aleksandr Petefi.” Zhivopisnoe obozrenie, 1899, no. 32.
Kun, B. “Shandor Petefi—poet mirovoi svobody.” Inostrannaia literatura, 1958, no. 3.
Gidash, A. Shandor Petefi. Moscow, 1960.
Lunacharskii, A. V. “Aleksandr Petefi.” Sobr. soch., vol. 5. Moscow, 1965.
Shakhova, K. O. Shandor Petefi spivets’ ugor’skoi revoliutsii. Kiev, 1969.
Gershkovich, A. A. Poeticheskii teatr Petefi. Moscow, 1970.
Iiesh, D. Shandor Petefi. Moscow, 1972.
Rossiianov, O. K. “Sovremennost’ Petefi.” Inostrannaia literatura, 1973, no. 1.
Ferenczi, Z. Petőfi életrajza, vols. 1-3. Budapest, 1896.
Hatvany, L. Igy élt Pető fi, vols. 1-5. Budapest, 1955-57.
Ady, E. Ifjú szivekben élek. Budapest, 1958.
Pándi, P. Petőfi Budapest, 1961.
Petőfi tüze. Tanulmányok Petőfi Sándorról. [Budapest] 1972. (Bibliography, pp. 565-77.)
O. K. ROSSIIANOV