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Bálint Balassi

This page is about a poet. If you are interested by the economist, who gave his name to the Balassa-Samuelson effect, see Balassa Béla

Bálint Balassi baron of Kékkőmarker and Gyarmatmarker, (20 October 1554, Zólyommarker (today Zvolen, Slovakia) - 30 May 1594, Esztergommarker), was a Hungarian Renaissance lyric poet, who wrote mostly in Hungarian, but also in Turkish. He is the founder of modern Hungarian lyric poetry and the first author of Hungarian erotic poetry.

He was educated by the reformer Péter Bornemissza and by his mother, the highly gifted Protestant zealot, Anna Sulyok.

His first work was a translation of Michael Bock's Wurlzgertlein für die krancken Seelen, (published in Krakówmarker), to comfort his father while in Polish exile. On his father's rehabilitation, Bálint accompanied him to court, and was also present at the coronation diet in Pressburg (today's Bratislavamarker), capital of Royal Hungary in 1572. He then joined the army and fought the Turks as an officer in the fortress of Egermarker in North-Eastern Hungary. Here he fell violently in love with Anna Losonczi, the daughter of the captain of Temesvármarker, and evidently, from his verses, his love was not unrequited. But after the death of her first husband she gave her hand to Krisztóf Ungnád.

Naturally Balassi only began to realize how much he loved Anna when he had lost her. He pursued her with gifts and verses, but she remained true to her pique and to her marriage vows, and he could only enshrine her memory in immortal verse.

In 1574 Bálint was sent to the camp of Gáspár Bekes to assist him against Stephen Báthory; but his troops were encountered and scattered on the way there, and he himself was wounded and taken prisoner. His not very rigorous captivity lasted for two years, during which he accompanied Báthory where the latter was crowned as King of Poland. He returned to Hungary soon after the death of his father, János Balassi.

In 1584 married his cousin, Krisztina Dobó, the daughter of the valiant commandant,István Dobó of Egermarker. This became the cause of many of his subsequent misfortunes. His wife's greedy relatives nearly ruined him by legal processes, and when in 1586 he turned Catholic to escape their persecutions they slandered him that he and his son had embraced Islam. His desertion of his wife and legal troubles were followed by some years of uncertainty, but in 1589 he was invited to Poland to serve there in the impending war with Turkey. This did not take place and after a spell in the Jesuit Collegemarker of Braunsbergmarker, Balassi, somewhat disappointed, returned to Hungary in 1591. In the 15 years war he joined the Army, and died at the siege of Esztergommarker the same year as the result of a severe leg wound caused by a cannonball.

Balassi's poems fall into four divisions: religious hymns, patriotic and martial songs, original love poems, and adaptations from the Latin and German. They are all most original, exceedingly objective and so excellent in point of style that it is difficult even to imagine him a contemporary of Sebestyén Tinódi Lantos and Péter Ilosvay. But his erotics are his best productions. They circulated in manuscript for generations and were never printed until 1874, when Farkas Deák discovered a perfect copy of them in the Radványi library. For beauty, feeling and transporting passion. there is nothing like them in Magyar literature until we come to the age of Mihály Csokonai Vitéz and Sándor Petőfi. Balassi was also the inventor of the strophe which goes by his name. It consists of nine lines a b c c b d d b, or three rhyming pairs alternating with the rhyming third, sixth and ninth lines.


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