New Lyricism, New Tastes

Over the fifty-year period ending in 1711, most of the experiences and events that Transylvanians wished preserve for posterity were immortalized in works of poetry. The custom of the age in Transylvania, as in the rest of Europe, was to convey all manner of information — weather forecasts, advice on finances and health, codes of conduct — in rhyming verse, perhaps because this made it easier to remember. These verses, together with those commemorating christenings, engagements, weddings, funerals, and saints' days, may have had little literary merit, but they reflect the forms of self-expression taught in schools. The versified renditions of dramatic experiences, both collective and personal — great fires, military campaigns, imprisonment — served primarily as a form of mass communication; but insofar as they include remarkable imagery and artful metaphors, they also preserve the poetic values of that era.

Many of these poetic works reveal an authenticity of feeling as well as creative power, and while they were designed merely to inform, they remain an important cultural legacy. The authors and {2-503.} numerous transcribers, most of whom can no longer be identified by name, included clerks and priests, teachers and soldiers, aristocrats and nobles as well as burghers, people whose origins lay in market towns or villages, native Transylvanians as well as visitors or refugees from Hungary. In some cases, they borrowed and refined verses from Hungary, while others had been influenced by visits to Vienna or some other European university town; it is therefore difficult to identify distinctively Transylvanian elements in this vast outpouring of poetry.

István Czeglédi's Dágon ledűlése (The Fall of Dágon), published at Kolozsvár in 1670, is suffused with the militant spirit of the Reformation, yet even his verses reflect the impact of secularization. The issues of faith, custom, and politics gradually transcended the barriers between denominations; thus Czeglédi recounted surviving pagan customs, dismissed the practice of bell-ringing to ward off storms as a popular superstition, offered a vivid rendition of Dies Irae, and evoked such novel concepts as 'spiritual freedom'.

The principality was deep in crisis when Mátyás Nógrádi sojourned there and wrote Idvesség kapuja (The Gate of Salvation). The work, which was published in 1672 at Kolozsvár, offers an exegesis of psalms, interspersed with political commentary. It clearly reflects a Transylvanian outlook that is deeply marked by Europe: 'Vienna knows of rich Kolozsvár's fame,/ The English and French are aware of its fine name.'[181]181. Mátyás Nógrádi, Idvesség kapuja (Kolozsvár, 1672). Political events were promptly related in verse form. Kristóf Paskó, a politically radical nobleman from Székelyhíd, wrote in 1662 a comprehensive chronicle of the preceding three years. Published in 1663 at Szeben, A nemes és régentén híres Erdély országának keserves és szomorú pusztításáról írt siralom (A Lament over the Painful and Sad Destruction of the Noble and Long-famous Country of Transylvania) includes a striking account of the siege of Várad and that town's heroic defenders. The author had drawn on {2-504.} Szamosközy's chronicle, and his poetic style is reminiscent of that of Sebestyén Tinódi. Some lines suggest that he was familiar with Zrínyi's epic poem, e.g. Másnap hogy szárnyára a szép fényes hajnal égre felemelkedék / Rettenetes lövés a pogány táborra a várból kiadaték (Next morning, as the bright dawn rose on its wings in the sky / The pagans came under fearsome fire from the fortress).[182]182. RMKT X (Budapest, 1981), p. 179. The work reflects the political attitudes prevailing in 1663–64, when Transylvania was at war with the Ottoman empire: Paskó's tone is strongly anti-Turk, and he deplores the Habsburg emperor's policy as well as Europe's indifference. Rákóczi's War of Independence, which closes this period, is recounted in verse by Gerzson Dálnoki Veres; his work has greater merit as history than as literature.

Ali Pasha's punitive attack of 1661 on the Székelyföld is immortalized in verse by István Horváth, and a work entitled Csík Ország pusztulásáról szóló ének (Song about the Destruction of the Csík Region) does the same for the Tartar invasion of 1694. The decisive defeat suffered by Kuruc forces in 1704 is faithfully rendered in the lyrical epic Holdvilági és feketehalmi harcról (On the Battles at Holdvilág and Feketehalom). Another fine example of epic literature is A kolozsvári veszedelemről való história (The Story of the Catastrophe at Kolozsvár), which is believed to have been written by György Felvinczi. Domestic political struggles are reflected in the satirical poems issuing from various contending parties and in the self-critical verses concerning one or the other of the leading figures. The many verses about György Rákóczi II tend to criticize his military campaign while acknowledging that the prince fell fighting against the Turks and that Transylvania was linked by her interests to Christian Europe.

One of the finest literary mementos of the period is a recently discovered poem commemorating the 'two good princes', György Rákóczi II and János Kemény. The work draws analogies with ancient times and likens the princes to the Good Shepherd. Its dominant {2-505.} theme is the need for national unity. 'Beautiful Buda was lost as a result of discord', and internal disunity was a destructive, 'poignant contagion':

'Két fejedelmeket hamar meghöletek,
Rákóczi György egyik kit ti elvesztetek,
Kemény János másik kit megh emésztetek,
És két ártatlan vér kiált ellenetek.'
[You soon precipitated the demise of two princes,
One of them was György Rákóczi,
And other you was János Kemény,
The blood of these innocents testifies to your guilt.][183]183. The poem was discovered in the Csáky Archives by Ildikó Horn while she was doing research for the course 'The Transylvanian Principality and Royal Hungary' at the Department of Medieval Hungarian History, Loránd Eötvös University, Budapest.

Transylvania's receptiveness to poetry from Hungary is best exemplified by the popularity of Zrínyi's epic. Reflections in verse on religious persecution, political lawsuits, and political movements in royal Hungary offer further evidence of the keen interest that prevailed in the principality regarding the mother country.

Transylvania's quest for political salvation served as the inspiration for two major lyrical works. The first was the Rákóczi epic, of which a 500-line fragment has survived; it was written in baroque heroic style, and probably originated around 1670 in the entourage of Zsófia Báthori. The other, by the Hungarian poet István Gyöngyösi, was Porábul megéledett Phoenix, Avagy ... Kemény János erdélyi fejedelemnek emlékezete (Phoenix Rising from the Ashes, or ... A Memorial to János Kemény, Prince of Transylvania), published at Lőcse in 1693. The work, which, according to recent research, was based on letters and other documentary sources relating to Transylvania, justifies Kemény's policies as being driven by immediate political necessity.

Many verses that survive in manuscript celebrate the shared outlook and mentality of Hungarians and Transylvanians. One of the finest examples is the song Magyarország, Erdély, hallj új hírt! {2-506.} (Harken to the News, Hungary and Transylvania!). The profusion of ballads testifies to the vibrant creative spirit at work in Transylvanian society. Some, like Kerekes Izsák balladája and Rákóczi László balladája, served not only to preserve fragments of real history but also to shape subsequent events. Variations on the ballad about László Rákóczi, who fell in 1664 at Várad, would evoke Thököly as well as the imprisonment of Ferenc Rákóczi II at Wiener Neustadt.

The national spirit was a central theme in Transylvanian poetry, and one that acquired a social dimension. The many ballads about victims of war, overrun towns, and imprisonment not only express sympathy but also serve as a uniquely rich source of information about the society as a whole and the sufferings of ordinary men, women, and children, of peasants and townsfolk. And yet, notwithstanding the apocalyptic circumstances and the proscriptions of the Protestant Churches, the songs also celebrate the humour and the pleasures of life. Indeed, love, sorrow, and other personal feelings figure even more prominently in the songs that date from the years of plague and war.

The best known variety of rhythmic dance verses was the Transylvanian hajdú dance, which celebrated homecoming and local patriotism with joyful exuberance. A new, sensual tone marked the poem that was composed in 1660 at Szeben, and opened with the line Égő lángban forog szívem higgyed éretted… (Believe Me when I Say My Heart Burns for You). The poem Hajnal vitorláján, aranyszínű szárnyán (On the Sails of Dawn, On its Golden Wings), found in the Teleki-énekeskönyv (Teleki Songbook) is an unbridled tribute to happiness in love. Szentsey György daloskönyve (György Szentsey's Songbook) includes a lovely song about the temptations of love, Hallod-e ifjú, jöszte egy szóra (Come Here, Lad, and Have a Word with Me). A song that begins Sokan szólnak most énreám nagy ártatlanul (Many now rebuke me unjustly) upbraids those who turn against happy lovers, {2-507.} and it may also carry a second, political message regarding the enemies of a good cause.

Love and politics were often intertwined in the songs about prisoners, separation, and unfaithfulness. The longing for a distant loved-one, voiced in Ifjúság mint sólyommadár (Youth as a Falcon), could also be construed as a wish for better times. At times, it is difficult to ascertain whether the entrapped man is a prisoner of war or a captive of love; for instance, a song in the Teleki collection is considered to emanate from a deceived lover, but the initial letters of the lines spell out the name Ferenc Bónis, an executed member of the Wesselényi conspiracy. In Transylvanian anthologies that date from this period, notably the Vásárhelyi-daloskönyv and the Szentsey-daloskönyv, there are many songs of farewell and exile. The commonest experiences of the age, homelessness and persecution, are powerfully evoked in such songs as in Gonddal teljes üdő (Worry-filled Times), Siralmas esztendő (Year of Sorrows), and Az gerlice madár ki társától elvált (A Turtledove Separated from Its Mate).

The work of Bálint Balassi and other serious poets had left an impact on Transylvanian culture and folklore. Local versifiers readily drew on this legacy, and their output was uncommonly rich in imagery. The motifs included traditional images, themes from the psalms and the Bible, and such medieval symbols of love as the lark and the turtledove. The poetic imagery encompassed Renaissance flower motifs, the names of planets and of gods from Antiquity, and the personification of fickle fortune; as well as more weighty, baroque elements such as whistling winds that drive smoke, shadows, and the golden ships of the reddening dawn, or storms beating at the rocks of the Transylvanian alps. Theirs was a poetry of turbulent times and political drama, of previously unexpressed feelings, of great expectations and dark despair. Neither the new vision of a heliocentric world ruled by the laws of nature, nor the early signs of industrialization found much place in their work, although {2-508.} the occasional evocation of these phenomena was marked by a sensitive association of images.

Kata Szidónia Petrőczi rebelled against traditional upper class tastes to adopt a new, lyrical style of poetry; her work integrated a new literary style, a new genre, and new themes. Born in Hungary, and brought up in Poland, the daughter of Thököly's general developed her distinctive poetic talent in Transylvania. Kata married Lőrinc Pekry, a politically volatile man who ended up as Rákóczi's general, and experienced glittering court life as well as the stifling isolation of captivity and distant exile. Pál Esterházy's literary circle, in Upper-Hungary, initiated her to the complexities of the baroque, but the spirit of these aristocratic Hungarian courts did not help to elucidate the existential questions raised by her experiences and suffering. She found no fulfilment in baroque values, and regarded the aristocratic lifestyle as unreal:

'Világnak szépsége, kincse s ékessége lehet-é vigasztalóm?
Úri méltóságba, nyugodalmát abba szivemnek nem találom,
Mert minden vigasság, tréfaszó, mulatság
énelöttem csak álom.'
[Can worldly beauty, riches, and ornaments be my consolation?
My heart finds no peace in lordly dignity,
For all mirth, jesting, and revelry are like
a dream world to me.][184]184. M. S. Sárdi, Petrőczy Kata Szidónia költészete (Budapest, 1976), p. 111.

Transylvanian Pietism shaped her thought and emotions, and the floral motifs of the Renaissance stimulated her imagination; her verbal skills were honed on the language of the psalms and Transylvania's Hungarian vernacular. Out of this crucible arose a new lyrical voice. Kata Petrőczi's sense of personal tragedy was transmuted into concern for the fate of the community. She was the first to express in poetry the feelings of a loving wife whose husband is {2-509.} unfaithful. In the late 1690s, after discovering Pietism thanks to the mediation of Saxon burghers, she sought out the roots of that religious philosophy. She lived through a hellish crisis of faith, enjoyed a brief phase of serenity, then lost her patience and, in her last years, became a passionate champion of her defenceless fellows and her country's cause.

Kata Petrőczi was the first Transylvanian poet to eschew the trappings of classical mythology, probably because the latter did not figure largely in the education of girls. In her early work, she gave a realistic portrayal of her turbulent life and emotions; later, she depicted her country's problems with great emotional lucidity. Her poems may well have been influenced by folk poetry, for they include love songs as well as traces of Hungarian, German, and Slovak church hymns. Kata Petrőczi's verses represent a fragile and narrow, but artistically original bridge between the two major genres of contemporary poetry: pure poetry, and political versification that came from the grass roots.

After 1711, much of Hungarian poetry was recorded in manuscript songbooks and anthologies. Thanks perhaps to the comparative backwardness of Transylvania's literary culture, the country became a veritable treasure house of such manuscripts. The lyrical creations of 17th-century Transylvania and Hungary were thus preserved for posterity in collections like the Bocskor-kódex, compiled by a valiant Székely from Csíkszentlélek, János Bocskor; the an-thology produced by György Váradi Szabó in 1699–1703, at Székelyudvarhely; the Vásárhelyi daloskönyv of 1672; the Teleki-énekeskönyv, which included works composed between 1655 and 1660; the Unitarian song collection from Kolozsvár; and the Felvinczi-kódex.

In 1711, and for a long time thereafter, the composition of historical epics became a covert activity; the epics, like folk songs and ballads, were nurtured by local communities, which shaped and refined the works of authors who, for the main part, can no longer {2-510.} be identified. Thus political songs flowed on like an underground stream, handed down in folk memory through the centuries. The cultural links between the higher and lower estates remained strong, probably because the peasantry was directly affected, materially and emotionally, by the country's political vicissitudes. The political poetry of the age was based mainly on folk motifs, and thus comparatively accessible to ordinary people, who — as Hungarian and Romanian folk songs attest — would commonly add their own traditional, social, or purely personal elements. In the process, there was much mutual enrichment between the poetry and ballads of Transylvania and those of Hungary.

For centuries, Transylvania had been a crossroads of melodic exchanges in Europe. The systematic collection of surviving folk songs in the 19th and 20th centuries, together with the earlier manuscript anthologies and hymnals, allow for reconstruction of the melodic forms that prevailed around 1700. The folk song Ez a kislány akkor sír (This Girl Weeps When...) is based on a 17th-century hymn, which itself was inspired by 16th-century French chanson. The verses of A magas kősziklának (To the Lofty Rock) were preserved in the Vásárhelyi daloskönyv, and its melody was reconstructed in the 20th century from the versions still sung by old women in the villages around Zobor. Similarly, the original words to Siralmas volt nekem a világra születni (I Lament the Day I Was Born into this World) were recorded in the Szentsei-daloskönyv, and its melody is known thanks to some old women from Siklód, in Udvarhely district. A song that had been noted down around 1680 in the Vietórisz-kódex — a compilation identified with the culture of the nobility — could be heard as late as 1969. A dance version of the Rákóczi-nóta (Rákóczi Song) was recorded between 1634 and 1670 in the Kájoni-kódex of Csík, while another was identified in the Vietórisz-kódex as a 'Vlach dance', and its tune survives in a religious hymn.

{2-511.} These folk songs, only some of which are linked to specific occasions and events, are generally categorized as of the early type. The precursor of a new type of Hungarian song, the verbunkos (recruiting dance), appeared around 1700. According to the composer-musicologist Béla Bartók, the verbunkos, typified by the Tyukodi song, grew out of the Hungarian swineherd dance, which itself was derived from the Ruthenian kolomeyka. The circumstances of the late 17th century gave rise to a genre known as betyárballada (Hungarian highwaymen's ballads). Historical motifs abound in songs such as Rákóczi László balladája and Kerekes Izsák balladája. The ballad A keresztútállani járó nagy hegyi tolvajnak adott leány (The Maid Given to the Great High-wayman from the Mountains) became known throughout the Habsburgs' domain. Rákóczi's War of Independence is immortalized in the Romanians' various Pintea ballads. Some fragments and themes of political verses reappeared in the highwaymen's ballads.

In prose literature, the most valuable legacy of this period was the work of Kelemen Mikes. The son of a Székely nobleman, Mikes was educated in the Society of Noble Youths and followed Rákóczi into exile as his bodyguard. His Törökországi levelek (Letters from Turkey), written between 1717 and 1758 in Rodostó (Tekirdag in today's Turkey), were permeated by patriotism, by a sense of nationhood and responsibility the future of the country — the sentiments of Hungarians in Transylvania and Hungary proper as they struggled for their independence in the 1700s. These 270 fictitious 'letters', each of them addressed to 'My Dear Aunt', were Mikes's private way of living a romantic saga, one in which sparkling humour dispelled the hopelessness of exile. His taste had been refined in France, and his attitude matured in exile, but both bore the mark of his upbringing as well as of the cultural changes of the late 17th century in Transylvania. The work consists of a series essays, anecdotes, and portraits, on subjects drawn mostly from the early 1700s, such as the low level of civilization in {2-512.} Transylvania, the education of girls, and the exemplary capacity of Rákóczi to surmount fate's bitterest blows. Mikes's prose reflects the Székelys' everyday speech as well as the language of psalms, the Bible, and soldiers' songs. The proverbs he cites, and his turns of phrase can also be found in the countless letters that survive from the 16th and 17th centuries. Mikes's work is finest literary tribute to the cultural policies pursued by Apafi and Rákóczi. The author acknowledged this debt when he recommended that others 'give their sons the knowledge necessary to serve their country well.'[185]185. Kelemen Mikes, Törökországi levelek (Szombathely, 1794), p. 165.