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This article is taken from Poetry Nation 6 Number 6, 1976.

János Pilinszky - An Introduction Ted Hughes

HUNGARIANS CONSIDER János Pilinszky to be one of their best living poets. Sándor Weöres, a towering poet, and nobody's lipserver, calls him 'our greatest'.

Pilinszky's special quality is not easy to define. He recognizably belongs to that generation of East European poets which includes Herbert, Holub and Popa, but his differences draw any discussion of him into quite another context. Hungarians tend to set him a little outside their ordinary writers, and his poetry a little outside ordinary poetry. The reason for this is something essential to Pilinszky's character. Critical judgement cannot rest in the aesthetic excellence of his work: it inevitably ends up arguing the ethical-religious position of Pilinszky himself, not at all a simple one in modern Hungary or anywhere else, but one which his poems and other writings and his life define with such poignancy and authority that it confronts the critic with a problem - a private, existential challenge. His 'greatness', then, unlike Weöres', is not a greatness of imaginative and linguistic abundance. It has more to do with some form of spiritual distinction. The weight and unusual temper of his imagination and language derive from this.

The bulk of his work is quite slight. His forms are traditional - varying only between tightness and looseness. The quality of his actual style is notable: it is simple, unambiguous, direct, but Hungarians agree that it is a marvel of luminosity, unerring balance, sinuous music and intensity - a metal resembling nothing else. ...


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