Debrecen and literature


The first visit

Sándor Petőfi first visited Debrecen in October 1842, as a 16-year-old student from Pápa. He had two destinations in the city: the tomb of his great ancestor and idol, Mihály Csokonai Vitéz in the Hatvan Street cemetery and the Reformed College, the stronghold of Protestant culture. A special feature of his first visit is that these are the two places among the Petőfi memorials in Debrecen that are still in almost the same condition as the poet saw them in his day.

Hard times

At the end of 1843 Petőfi returned to Debrecen as a travelling actor, but his visit was far from pleasant. For lack of money, he managed to find accommodation in the house of the theatre usher, Mrs. József Fogaras, where he was very poor, weakened and fell ill. Her landlady took care of him, cooked for him, did his laundry. The house where the poet spent these difficult times stood outside the city gate, in Várad Street, today's Petőfi Square. A few years later, he recalled these hard times in his poem “One winter in Debrecen. I have suffered much in you, And yet it is so good for me, When I remember you.” Although Petőfi spent the most miserable days of his life in Debrecen in the winter of 1843, his stay here is still significant in the poet's oeuvre, as dozens of poems were written there, which soon afterwards established his career. The tiny house where he lived has long since been demolished, and its site is marked by a plaque on the outside wall of the arrivals side of the Great Station.

The celebrated poet

One of Petőfi's legendary visits to Debrecen took place in the autumn of 1846, when he was already a well-known poet throughout the country. After his arrival, he entered the theatre, which at that time stood in the courtyard of the house of Senator Gábor Nánássy, in the Harmincados street, today at the corner of Batthyány street and Szent Anna street. It was here, in a granary building, that the temporary theatre operated between 1835 and 1861, where a few years earlier Petőfi himself and his good friend János Arany had tried their wings as actors (the memory of which is also commemorated on a plaque near the entrance to the building on Batthyány Street). When the actress found out that the poet was present, she replaced the original setting of the song with Petőfi's poem to music, “You Cannot Ban the Flower”.  What more did the ardent poet need, he asked the actress out on a date and the next day he proposed to her. But the affair didn't work out, and after a few exchanges of correspondence, the relationship broke down. The interesting thing about the 1846 affair is that the poet already knew his future wife, Julia Szendrey, but he heard a rumor that Julia was engaged, so it is possible that he was planning to take revenge.

Family home

Petőfi and his wife, Júlia Szendrey had their first home together in a room overlooking the street in the house of master tailor Gábor Ormós, at 16 Harmincados (now Batthyány) Street. It was here that the couple's only child, Zoltán, was born on 15 December 1848, exactly nine months after the outbreak of the Revolution. The little boy was baptized in the nearby St. Anne's Church, and on the memorial plaque on the parish wall, which can still be seen today, is a passage from Petőfi's poem “On the Birth of My Son”. Unfortunately, the young couple did not enjoy the warmth of their shared home for long, as Petőfi, who took an active part in the events of the Revolution, left the house in Batthyány Street to join General Bem on the battlefield. His fate is known: he disappeared on the battlefield of Segesvár on 31 July 1849, and the exact circumstances of his death remain unclear to this day.