In their individuality, his poems reveal a talent whose originality, subversive atmosphere and darkly glistening cult shook contemporary Hungarian literature like a fever. On 27 January, 100 years ago Endre Ady died, one of the greatest Hungarian poets and one of the most important figures of Hungarian political journalism.
One hundred years ago, in the morning of 27 January 1919 the nation woke to a tragedy: one of the greatest Hungarian poets had died. Endre Ady had been in a sanatorium for two weeks, his doctors suspected that he couldn’t be helped, but the news still came as a surprise. Later that morning countless people visited him on his deathbed, and later still huge crowds gathered by his catafalque at the National Museum, where among others Móricz and Babits gave speeches. On 29 January 1919, Endre Ady was accompanied on his last journey, from his catafalque at the National Museum along Rákóczi Street towards the Kerepesi Cemetery. Never before seen footage has been uncovered of the national funeral service from exactly one hundred years ago. The camera of the tabloid newspaper Az Est made it into the ceremony, and the masters of the originals have just been discovered.
Ady was born in November 1877, he had an unusual family inheritance in that he was born with six fingers on each hand. The baby’s vestigial extra fingers were bound with string, so that they eventually wasted away and almost disappeared without a trace. Ady would by all means show off the scars on his hands, since he regarded them as proof that he was chosen. (The belief was that having several fingers was the mark of a shaman.)
After Petőfi, Ady was the next poet to become a considerable cult figure while he was still alive. He worked hard to make a star of himself, and considering the means available at the time, he managed quite expertly. Beyond his exhibitionism and his talent, it was also key that his first photographer was Aladár Székely, who was an incredibly well revered photographer. From 1908 until the end of his life they shot series of photos designed to make Ady a household name. But his contemporaries also deemed him a star, as his most piercing talent was innovation and reform. He became an era-defining, modern, 20th century poet who, on the one hand, brought about change through his love poems, and on the other, through his role as a prophet and his assertion of a messianistic self-awareness. Petőfi was also a prophetic poet, both of them had the self-awareness, though Ady more emphatically bore the responsibility of prophet. This irrepressible self-awareness may cause for dislike in some; were he alive today, we’d say he was a divisive figure. Endre Ady is still divisive in his afterlife. Having reacted in his poems and in his articles almost daily to political events, he created the conditions for posterity that his thoughts might come to mind at practically any moment in history.