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This report is taken from PN Review 85, Volume 18 Number 5, May - June 1992.

István Vas, 1990-1991 Clive Wilmer

István Vas, Hungarian poet, essayist and translator, died in Budapest on 16 December, 1991. He was the last major survivor of the glittering generation that included Gyula Illyés, Attila József, Sandor Weöres and his close friend, Miklós Radnóti.

He was born in Budapest in 1910, the son of prosperous Jewish parents, modern and secular in their outlook. Intended for a business career, Vas rebelled. He became a Marxist and from 1929 to 1944 worked as an ordinary clerk in Budapest factories. In 1945, by now a well-known writer, he started a second career in publishing, which ended when he retired in 1971. Much given to rebellion, he was received into the Roman Catholic church in 1938, a conversion which only modified his leftist views.

Vas's literary career began in avant-garde circles. At the age of 18 he fell under the influence of Lajos Kassák, the high-priest of modernism, whose stepdaughter was to be his first wife. Before long, he rebelled here too and adopted a classical manner, using rhyme and traditional metres, for his first collection in 1932. At this time he became associated with Nyugat, 'the epoch-making literary magazine that espoused the ideal of literary humanism. Nyugat in fact means West and the editors looked to France and Britain for their inspiration. One of them, Mih&acaron;ly Babits, became Vas's enduring master. Like Babits, he preferred the individualism of English poetry to the systematic modernism of the French; he admired its irony and its taste ...


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