Debrecen and literature


Hungarian literature celebrates a milestone anniversary in 2023: 200 years ago, on 1 January 1823, Sándor Petőfi, one of the most famous Hungarian poets, was born. In the year of the bicentenary, the poet is commemorated with a number of events across Hungary, including in Debrecen, where he visited dozens of times during his short but eventful life.


The first rock and roll star of Hungarian literature, 19th century influencer, David Bowie of the reform era. There are many adjectives that could be used to describe one of the greatest figures of Hungarian literature, Sándor Petőfi, but it is only through his poems that we get a more nuanced picture of his life, work, and influence on Hungarian culture. Petőfi led an eventful life: he travelled around Hungary, worked as a travelling actor, lived in squalid conditions, then became a celebrated poet, and took an active part in the events of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848-49. He conquered many women's hearts and married Júlia Szendrey, in whom he found a worthy partner both as a woman and as an intellectual. They had only one child, Zoltán. Petőfi died young, at the age of only 26, on 31 July 1849, killed in a headlong flight after the Battle of Segesvár. He sacrificed his life for Hungarian freedom.


During his short life Petőfi wrote nearly a thousand poems, of which about eight hundred and fifty have been handed down to posterity, the better-known ones being translated into many languages. The significance of this oeuvre of world literary stature and size is that he was the first poet to establish in Hungarian poetry such themes as freedom, patriotism, love for parents, passion for one's spouse and praise for the Great Plain. He spoke to everyone in a simple, accessible way, and incorporated the language of the people into literature. His poetry is characterized by directness, sincerity, and naturalness, which makes it easy to understand in foreign languages.


Petőfi visited Debrecen twelve times. Reading his travel letters and poems, one might think that the poet did not like the city, as it was here that he experienced deprivation and failure, but Debrecen is also the place where the significant events of his life took place: it was here that his personality matured and he became a mature poet, it was here that he and his wife had their first home together and it was here that he became a parent.