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Approaches to Milán Füst’s Poetry

György Bodnár:

Approaches to Milán Füst’s Poetry

It is a commonplace in the reception history of Milán Füst’s poetry that he was a solitary planet in the cosmos of Hungarian lyric poetry, tirelessly orbiting around himself, undetectable to the observers who could merely sense it and map out its movement through conjectures. Indispensable as such sensory and suggestive contemporary appreciations are, it reminds one of the astronomer who, in need of proper instruments, establishes the presence of a celestial body by induction from spatial movements and their anomalies. Are we, in posterity, not over-confident to think that today’s poetics can detect and render visible the solitary planet of Milán Füst’s lifework? Even if we trust our modern theoretical and methodological ‘instruments’ – systematic and conceptual thinking –, we cannot do without ascertaining the earlier approaches to it, thus joining in the dialogue of literary history, raising new questions and referring to old ones. Milán Füst was well aware of this when, in the appendix to his selected poems he published  excerpts from the critical reviews of his works and insisted on keeping them in the next edition even though he was suspected of self-advertising. He did so not only because his poems had but a few friends in their time but also because he thought that the “guidance of poetry experts” was crucial in the relationship of poem and reader. 

This dialogue certainly did not begin with the appreciative contemporaries; it goes back to the beginnings of modernisation in Hungarian literature. Conceptual thinking, however, which aims at synthesis, is bound to halt that never-ending process, in order to search for a paradigm that distinguishes the renewal in the early 20th century from the changes that had taken place before it. Earlier, changes of periods were mostly accounted for through the body of historical and social references contained in the literary works, or at best with metaphoric formulations. In the case of literary modernity, however, its very ontological essence called for a self-sufficient definition. This was guided by two ideals – the autonomy of poetics and the expression of the individuum, and, at the beginning, subjectivism.

The two ideals were the products not only of pure reason and literary workshops; they were also a function and a manifestation of the economic and social changes of the period.  Pre-modern and modern Hungarian literature expressed these ideals and life motifs to begin with, then it also recognised the change that had taken place in it own role. First it strove to be independent of politics and power, then, in its conception of literature, it took the assertion of its own internal norms as a starting-point. The process was taking place in interaction with the knowledge and the influence of the literatures of the more advanced Western countries, and served to remedy the deficiencies, at times belatedly, and concurrently, to carry on a dialogue with world literature.  It is not by chance that the discontented writers of the period first turned to naturalism, for it liberated them from the postulates of the idealizing realism prevailing earlier. Then the modern trends that emerged one after another at once carried forward the vein of thinking of the previous one and shaped a new paradigm. Thus naturalism was followed by impressionism, art nouveau, symbolism and the avant-garde. Due to the growing insignificance of period styles in world literature and, in Hungary, to the intellectual belatedness, modern Hungarian trends emerged in congestion, as it were, rather than in sequence. As Endre Ady, representative poet of Hungarian literary modernity wrote, “In our part of the world, autumn, winter, spring and summer converged.” In the literary history of the period, this was called stylistic plurality. The majority of the poets around the literary review Nyugat [West] were guided by the desire for the expression of the consciousness of the self. As early as 1908 Lajos Fülep, art historian and art philosopher, recognised, primarily from painting, in the wake of Cézanne, that after the empirical ego, modern art and literature had to re-discover and reformulate the metaphysical ego of the cultic ages. Philosopher and aesthete Georg Lukács gave voice to the same thought at the same time when he entitled his article polemicising with Nyugat’s subjectivism “The Ways Have Parted” (1910).

Independently of them, the programme and the practice leading to a necessary second beginning of a new period in Hungarian modernity was carried out in the 1910s by Milán Füst (1888–1967), who was a few years younger than the founders of Nyugat.

If we collate the key-words from the reviews of Milán Füst’s poetry, we see a theoretical mosaic picture of objective poetry before us. Frigyes Karinthy had called him “the poet of objective sadness” before Füst’s first volume appeared, and drew the co-ordinates of the statement by saying that Füst put every little feeling in an infinite perspective; he searched in them for the absolute, and was guided by cosmic forces; he gave light effects the charge of expression and rendered values material and massive. The sum of such an approach is that “with philosophy in his heart, the poet cannot be an impressionist” (1909). Following the publication of Füst’s first volume of poetry in 1914, perceptive reviewers spoke up one after another and all followed the direction Karinthy marked out in his approach. Dezső Kosztolányi also perceived the sombre tone in his strange fellow poet’s work and sensed that it is not a manifestation of the ego. “On the wings of precise and prompt associations,” he writes, he soars above things up to a lucid observation and offers objective poetry in the Schoperhaurian sense; he gives voice to law and truth.” He also recognised that Füst’s sombre visions are lit up by pathos, and as for the forms of lyrical verse he turns back most frequently to  the ode, which he brings close and renders modern with his unexpected digresses. Kosztolányi followed the development of Milán Füst’s poetic world continuously and for a long time, contrasting it with the aestheticist inclinations of Nyugat. Viewed from this angle, he saw him “in a separate place”, for Füst ruled out “everything facile and incidental. He did not want to be beautiful; he wanted to be true to himself” (1922). In 1914, the same year as Kosztolányi first wrote about Füst, Zoltán Nagy also pointed to the uniqueness of Milán Füst’ lyrical verse and noted that he refrained from using aestheticist means. “He uses few adjectives and metaphors,” he writes, “the structure of his poems is created by clearly seen visions which are described tangibly, in three dimensions.” In the 1920s, Aladár Komlós, both a contemporary and the historian of the lyric poetry of Nyugat, detected various masks in Füst’s poems, which “hide the perennial grief of human life confronting death”, rather than of the ego. It is hardly by chance that Komlós does not find a single plain-air line in this poetic world. He deems that Milán Füst considers the search for beauty as frivolous, he aims to express “essential truths” – hence his objectivity, the extinguishing of incidental, individual emotions and the dominance of the symbols of total existence. Also in the 1920s, Lajos Kassák stated expressly that Milán Füst was an “anti-impressionist”, in whose works the duality of the visionary soul and the conscious intellect was always present. The “essential subject matter”, the existential sentiment in his message is constant, objectless fear. Starting out from previous appraisals, in the 1930s István Peterdi went on to recognise that in Füst’s poems, “vision”, rather than “sight” was put into words. The poet extrapolates his sentiments into a world of abstraction, yet what he describes is marvellously concrete, almost palpable. A poet from the third generation of Nyugat,  István Vas also emphasised the visionary character of Füst’s poetry in the 1930s, but he contrasted it with the metaphor, not with the sight. This is why he thought Füst could be even called a surrealist (1934). Andor Németh, around the same time, aimed to describe the cosmic character of Füst’s poetry more precisely (1934). His poems do not describe what is real, he writes, but “a frame of mind pictured through the landscape and the atmosphere”. That is, they suggest a totality of reality, while conveying an existential paradox, namely that “there is only one reality, which is at the same time illusory”. Géza K. Havas sought to formulate a more precise conception of objectivity too, which in his opinion could be identified with “impersonality” – this could be a substitute for the critic T. S. Eliot’s ‘depersonalisation’. In 1947, Endre Vajda’s ‘investigation’ led back to the symbolist legacy of impassibilité. He thought Füst had to avoid being a mouthpiece of his hero speaking in the first person singular, which he achieved by giving him various “roles”. The poet is wandering in biblical, ancient Greek and mediaeval lands, yet he describes his experience in a “Parnassism beyond the Parnasse, strict and condensed in the way only Mallarmée could write. This is why he is lyrical when he writes a novel, and objective when he writes verse.”

When Kosztolányi asserts that Milán Füst “did not want to be beautiful; he wanted to be true to himself”, he does not merely confront one subjective perception of the ego with  another – he also touches on the consequences in the formal aspect. It is not by chance that he said, in his review of 1914, that Hungarian vers libre appeared for the first time in Milán Füst’s poetry.  In 1922 he offered a summary of the concept too: Milán Füst “allowed his inner inspiration, which drove him to write, to prevail; he did not care whether these words tore up rhythm, killed the then fashionable rhyming; he listened to the truth alone, and this is why I think we all accepted his free verses … we did not long for the beat or for any other ornament.” Though the character of this form of verse came immediately under debate, the reviewers sceptical of the terminology described the interaction between the subject and the construction of the expression in Milán Füst’s poetry the same way as did Kosztolányi. Of them, Miklós Radnóti undertook to clarify the theoretical aspects of the issue of the verse form in his dissertation on Margit Kaffka. In his opinion, verse libre, a technical term relating to the form, implies the intention to disrupt the norms of the verse form, in this way it is a creation of form only in so far as the reaction and creative power of form are almost non-existent. Its distinguishing feature is to be found in the process of “shaping”, as opposed to “shape”. From this angle, Radnóti avers that the majority of poems generally intended to be and accepted as free verses are not free verses.  He agrees with Kassák in that Milán Füst’s poems are not free verses proper, they are ‘unbound’ poems. In Füst’s lyric poetry, he adds, “if the metre is loose, it is peculiarly loose, and if it is fixed, it is peculiarly fixed, but it is always shaped and rendered a strictly closed structure by the norms of form.” This is how a uniform tone is maintained throughout the poem, which is informed by “a universal sadness of existence.”

In the reception history of Füst’ poetry, the next link to posterity is György Somlyó’s work in the series Arcok és vallomások [Faces and Confessions], published in 1969, the first book on the master in which biography, career and the interpretation of his works are integrated. The use of the word ‘master’ here is not a stylistic synonym, for Somlyó was the young poet whom Milán Füst allowed to get the closest to him for a long time. Thus, while relying on appraisals by the poets of Nyugat, Somlyó also uses his personal memories of Füst and the manuscripts he left behind. He gives a summary of earlier opinions formulated about Milán Füst’s objectivity, and also explores their origins, in which the master was truly seen from the outset as a planet revolving around itself. He recalls the crucial event when Milán Füst, aged twenty, called on Ernő Osvát, editor of Nyugat, for the first time and handed him his essay on Peter Altenberg. From various memoirs Somlyó tries to reconstruct the dialogue that may have taken place between the two, and highlights the words the young man said to the editor to the effect that he did not want to be a poet and he summed up his goals in the following way: “I can, want to, and like to think.” At the time and also later, this was thought of as an anti-lyric attitude, though one directed not against poetry: it was a modern alternative as opposed the dominant literary canon.  Milán Füst was guided by the mutual dependency of thought and lyric poetry from the outset of his career, of which he wrote too in his early essay “Sketches of Thoughts on Outer and Inner Approaches” (1909). In it he concludes that the greatest writers’ creative method results from a synthesis of outer and inner vision. The inner one reflects the individual, and the outer one the universal fate of Man thrown into existence, and their perennial dialogue distances the writer from subjective lyric poetry as a matter of course, rendering his work objective, for it is impersonal and cosmic. This is was also the background to the reply Füst gave to Osvát about the direction he would start in, should he decide to write poetry – “not just some jingling-rocking rhymes, you know, but poems to my liking, which make the columns rumble…”

With ideals like these, Füst inevitably became, as we have said, a lonely planet in the sky of Nyugat, though he was not the only one. It was not by chance that, after some of his poems had been published, Frigyes Karinthy came forward with a precise description of Füst’s poetic method –  Karinthy’s authentic place in literary history is also to be found in the chapter on modern Hungarian objective lyric poetry. Posterity counts Mihály Babits too also among the objective poets of Nyugat, who in a letter written from Fogaras as early as 1910 undertakes the poetic kinship with Füst: “I find in your work the same ideals for which I myself have fought … It gives me unending pleasure to know I am not entirely alone.”

The perception and description of distinctive paradigmatic features in Füst’s objective poetry naturally also resulted from the strengthening conceptual demands in Hungarian literary scholarship. The observations, at times of literary historical dimensions, and metaphors of contemporary criticism ought to have been followed by a thorough poetic analysis, but for a long time, alongside the personal criticism based on the experience obtained from reading the work, the history of ideas (Geistesgeschichte) counted as representing the demands of modernity. The history of ideas, however, postulated the idea and the ontological condition of history, thereby occupying the position from which to view values outside of the works in question. After the Communist takeover in 1948,  when in literary scholarship everywhere followed trends that disputed and transcended Geistesgeschichte, Milán Füst’s whole oeuvre fell out of the dictatorial canon, and thus the critical dialogue with it was also suspended. The process called the Hungarian revolution of poetics started only at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s, in which a deeper poetical analysis alongside the train of thought of the quoted contemporary reviews was possible.

The first to draw a par excellence literary historical profile of Milán Füst’s life and work was Tamás Ungvári, in volume V of the literary history published by the Academy of Sciences, keeping in mind also the requirements of a reference work. Perhaps understandably, given the situation in which the text was born, in the early 1960s he based his work on the poet’s confessions – it seems a tempting solution too, as Füst was a self-reflexive writer. Ungvári also took contemporary appraisals as his starting-point, which the poet himself included in some editions of his collected poems. Still this intellectual  mosaic picture contains almost all the important features, which led Füst to confront conservative tradition as well as the modernity of the Nyugat. Ungvári brings to mind the accusation on the part of conservative criticism of “prosaism”, and of the approaches by more understanding critics, he emphasises that Füst was seen kinless also in the Nyugat movement. He next expounds on Füst’s biography and oeuvre in an interactive manner. “Life affected the work and vice versa,” he writes of Füst’s poetic world, which rendered him akin to mainly to the pre-Raphaelites.  The poet dons the habit of a medieval monk, but this is a metaphor in the European poetry of the fin-de-siécle. Milán Füst describes his poetic ideal with the metaphor of the “man with downcast eyes” in 1909. His lyrical objectivism follows from this conception, which in Ungvári’s opinion is a change of form. As regards his attitude to life, it expresses revolt, wanderlust and escape, and in his poetics it leads to abandoning similes and metaphors, as well as to the powerful pathos which provides a unified modality of Füst’s poetry.  Finally, Ungvári appraises Füst’s oft-mentioned verse libre free of the dogmas of literary forms, which is, in fact, governed by stricter rules than any of his contemporaries’ – as was ascertained earlier by Kosztolányi, Zoltán Nagy and Radnóti.  The cohesion in this type of verse is created by a dialogue of outer and inner visions, which leads to the expression of a “pure train of emotions” deprived of factual content. Ungvári says it was not by any chance that, alongside Ady, Milán Füst was the greatest target of conservative criticism, nor that his influence was to be felt belatedly in his successors’ poetry.

This mosaic picture naturally left much scope for new analysis, for Milán Füst’s self-interpretations, contemporary comments and the questions Ungvári posed gave rise to a demand for a wider poetical and philosophical assessment and for tracking the formal work mechanism of the concepts  raised.

By way of a critical intermezzo, Imre Bori’s studies played an important role in the reception history of Milán Füst’s poetry. In the medium he worked in – Yugoslav literary policy which shed Soviet dependence – the road was open for the most radical trends opposing socialist realism, and for the avant-garde.  Searching for the autonomy of literature, Imre Bori found his own liberator in the avant-garde, rather than in the revolution of poetics. In his first survey of the avant-garde (“From Art Nouveau to Dada”, 1969), he marked out Füst’s place in the sphere of attraction of expressionism. He then still admitted that Füst’s encounters with avant-garde trends signalled parallels, rather than identifications.

Three years later it turned out that this short sketch was a mere ‘upbeat’ in Bori’s thinking, which Milán Füst inspired and thematised. He expounded the basic perception of his sketch in an entire monograph, and he conspicuously paired it in a volume with a major study on Kassák’s work. The title is most provocative – “Apostles of the Avant-garde” (1971) – for the analysis is radical in its criticism of Nyugat’s modernity, and in searching for Milán Füst’s alternative he is as much guided by the secret of objective lyric poetry as were Milán Füst’s contemporaries and first critics. He takes the influence of French symbolism on the dominant type of poetry of the Hungarian literary ‘revolution’ as his starting-point, and conceives of it as a “survival of the 19th century”. There were initiatives to follow other directions, Bori writes, “but they assumed no significance”. Milán Füst’s poetry was a case in point – alongside with the poetry of the young Béla Balázs, of Anna Lesznai, Margit Kaffka and Lajos Kassák ­ – which, “though unspoken, had a significant role in the development of the idiom and forms of Hungarian lyric poetry that could be compared to that of Apollinaire in French”. Despite of that, with the exception of Sándor Weöres, no Hungarian poet put this alternative of modern poetic usage fruitfully to use.

If we collate the interpretations of the poems and the descriptions of processes in Bori’s monograph with the title, “Apostles of the Avant-garde”, we can hardly detect the concepts relevant to the latter. Bori defines Füst’s poetry, the ‘apostle of the avant-garde’, most frequently by distinctive features which are the pillars of world concept and poetics in the modernisation of the entire Hungarian literature. To begin with, he also contrasts modernity with the traditional Hungarian conception of lyric poetry. “Similarly to Lajos Kassák, Milán Füst, as well as the whole ‘modern’ and ‘European’ range of 20th-century Hungarian literature whose representatives continued their initiatives … have thus far failed at the examination presided by the traditional conception of literature. For this reason, Milán Füst’s proper place in the forefront of Hungarian literature is yet to be allotted.” Bori goes on by claiming that Milán Füst’s artistic technique is “alienating”, which leads to the objectivity of his lyric poetry. He approaches the avant-garde paradigm when, discussing Lajos Gulácsy’s “visionary” painting and its “surrealist” features, he avers that Milán Füst is akin to the painter. Eventually, in appraising Füst’s verse libre, Bori explicitly calls him an avant-garde poet: “… in fact we have to speak about Füst’s syntax, rather than his ‘free verse’ … His poems are sweet and sour fruits, and obviously because of our reservations vis-à-vis things unusual we have to call them imaginary realisations, though actually we ought to speak about Füst’s ‘surrealism’”. Elsewhere Bori reverts to the keynote of his earlier sketch when in Milán Füst’s objective lyricism he detects the absurdity of existence on one hand and expressionism on the other. His further approximations in his monograph on Füst refer to changes in the world-concept of modernisation. He thinks it is paradoxical that when Mihály Babits “yearns to render the universe to the poem” (“The Lyric Poet’s Epilogue”), Milán Füst’s first volume of poetry had already appeared, offering the solution, at any rate a solution, to the inner debate on   “the concept of the ego”. Thus he aims to express the essence and existence not only in the outer forms of objective poetry but also in the entire, self-constructive verse structure.   

When one gets acquainted with its wide conceptual, world-conceptual and verse typological coordinates, it is hard to understand why Bori’s interpretation of Füst’s poetry triggered such a long and oft-recurring polemics. The emphasis of the book title certainly weighed in more than the analyses of the poems and the depiction of processes in the monograph. It may also be assumed that neither the critics nor the readers could find a definite explanation of the paradigm of the avant-garde behind Bori’s quoted references. They may have questioned the validity of Bori’s “eternal avant-garde”, just as Georg Lukács’s “eternal realism” was confronted with the categories in the periodisation of literary history. But if we set this polemics aside, which was never dismissive, we can detect a relevant and coherent train of thought in Imre Bori’s monograph, the initiator’s role of which must be acknowledged in the history of the discipline.

Bori is the first to have organised his predecessors’ observations into a coherent system. In it, the expression of an impersonal personal character is both a poetic attitude and the source of objective poetry. The secret and transposed modes of self-expression come to the fore, and imitative techniques are replaced by creative motivation. Milán Füst’s visions cannot be described by the everyday meaning of the word. He projects into space his experience and the knowledge he gained of their essence at the same time. He keeps his eyes open for reality, but he describes what his soul reflects of it, rather than what he sees. Two key concepts of his self-reflection are the sense of existence and the critique of existence. Among poetic forms, he sought out those which were dormant in his time, having been relegated into the background by romanticism. This is dissimulation, integrated with the personal element. Milán Füst’s classicism is related to the perennial confrontation of the outer and inner vision, of which he wrote in his early essay. Between the two poles of the world he projects before us in his poems – the everyday and the mysterious – he creates a tension in which poetics and ethics, naturalism and mysticism appear. The quintessential Füst poem is the autonomous image which exudes the mood the poet keeps in his soul, but which emerges through objectivation. In this, the dualism of the poetic vision and the poetic means is tangible through the transmission of the recreated image of reality on one hand and the expression of the mood  pervading reality on the other. The image is born through a description of small gestures through which the particular mood is captured. Early on in his poetic career, Milán Füst discovered the kind of world, his own particular viewpoint from which he could immerse in a universal spectacle of alienation and existence, for which he was seeking an explanation in a series of varied works. Thus he could be viewed as a writer of a single work, who observes the world from the viewpoint of the ego on one hand, and observes his own, most subjective self from the world. This provides a constancy versus the attempts of identification.

According to Imre Bori, Füst had only two major periods in his lyrical poetry – the one in the early 1910s, the other from the turn of the 1920s and 1930s to 1934. In the latter, the change may be detected when one recognises his aim at creating flawless poems and the full effectiveness of his poetics, which by then had a sole task: that of evoking and expressing a real sense of life in irreality.  In them, the flawless poem á la Milán Füst is shaped by the use of the pseudo first and third person, of a kind of subjectivity that allows make-believe, of the intensified use of poetic forms and genres (letter, motet, mediaeval forms), the particular, magnifying technique of the hyperbole, the preference for lyrical ballads, and the specific functionalism of verse sentences. The structure of the poem is shaped within the co-ordinates, the horizontal of which is the experience of old age, and the perpendicular is the landscape in the poems, with the relations of alienation in the origo. Milán Füst found the expression of his main concept in old age, which for him is timeless old age, rather than the timelessness of age. He uses the myth of the ancient, as it appeared in both Homer’s time and the Bible. Understandably enough, Füst’s anthology piece is “Old Age”.

Imre Bori’s appraisal and interpretation of Füst’s poetry was carried on by János Bányai, though he did not accept the avant-garde paradigm. In his criticism of Bori’s “Apostles of the Avant-garde”, he avers that in approaching Füst’s poetry, ‘isms’ are best to be put in parentheses, despite the fact that the avant-gardist Kassák published a play by him in his periodical Dokumentum. In Bányai’s opinion Füst was in actual fact a solitary figure who cannot be attached to any literary trend, though his oeuvre carries some features of the avant-garde. He was indeed an apostle – one that lived his own lifework.

Bányai published his review in 1971, when he must have been preparing to write his own book on the poet, Füst Milán költészetének struktúrája [The Structure of Milán Füst’s Poetry], which bears the date 1973 in the Füst bibliography. Ten years later, Imre Kis Pintér still mentioned it as a manuscript, which it may be to this day; this is why Kis Pintér’s account of it is used here to join it to Milán Füst’s reception history. Bányai carried out a systematic structural analysis of Füst’s poems and, based on a close knowledge of the texts, further  developed Somlyó’s and Bori’s conceptions. In the literary history aspect he built on Georg Lukács’s early study, “Aesthetic Culture”, and on the other hand, he describes Füst as an aestheticist and, in this intellectual sphere, akin to the other Nyugat writers. He too tackles the objective character of Füst’s poetry, in which he identifies the poetic ego as the focus. In Füst’s poetry, he writes, “the poetic ego forms part of the poetics, rather than the theme of the poem, and this is why the variable factor is the attribute of the poetic ego as against the permanence of the experience of existence. The poetic ego is a product of the idiom of the poem, its characteristics depending on the nature of poem’s grammatical status and linguistic make-up.”

In the early 1970s, György Rába, a researcher of Babits’s poetry, necessarily also encountered the phenomenon of objective poetry in the heroic age of Nyugat. He started out from the fact that already in Figyelő [Observer] Ernő Osvát, Gyula Szini and Arthur Elek, and later in Nyugat, Georg Lukács all argued for the need of an ars poetica more comprehensive than the representation of the moment and the fragment. “The poetic revolution of the Nyugat set out to achieve two goals: to introduce impressionism, as yet rootless in our literature, and at the same time, in light of the developments in world literature, to transcend it.” Rába sees Milán Füst on Babits’s side, at the pole opposite to impressionism, and in describing his “personal impersonality” he also confronts Imre Bori’s book. His starting point is, however, the fantastic quality of Füst’s lyrical poetry, which asserts itself “in elements and phenomena above experience, and his mythical persona manifests itself in extraordinary or never-to-be-seen attitudes.” This mythical world emerged, in Rába’s opinion, under the inspiration of the Arabian Nights: taking on the attitude of the Arab chronicler, Füst goes on to weave his “fantasticality, his poetic world at once tragic and comic, solemn and petty.” Thus his poetry is a creation of a world, “the correction of imperfect experience”. We do not pay proper attention to Milán Füst’s farewell poem, Rába claims, which is his poetic testament (“Farewell Poem of a Hellenistic Arab Poet”). Füst gives voice in his poems to his beyond-the-personal message in the third person plural, with the consciousness of a natural philosopher and ancient poet, and with universal astonishment. In this way, “his objective poetic world is a reproduction of an ancient order of nature, which in part takes over the expression of the problems of the ego and in part renders them redundant.” At this point Rába refers back to Bori’s book: “In light of this, we may search for an early connection between Füst’s  first volume of poetry and the avant-garde.”

In the same year, 1978, György Rába expounded his comparative analysis of Füst’s poetry and the Arabian Nights in a major study. In his interpretation, the central meaning is suggested by a homogeneous epic quality of supranatural plasticity in both the Arabian Nights and Füst’s poetry. Füst’s creation of a lyric world is informed by the sensuousness and fantasy of oriental tales and their ancient, animistic world concept, and conjoins his self-tormenting passion with the visions, and its Weltschmerz-like subjective character with the objective poet’s indirect directness.  

In 1983, a new monograph on Milán Füst was published. Imre Kis Pintér says in his A semmi hőse [The Hero of Nothingness] that as a historian of literature and the third monographer of the poet, he has to give an outline of his predecessors’ approaches and conclusions in order to be able to formulate his own conception and apply it in his descriptions of processes and the analyses of the works. These accounts are, by necessity, also polemical treatises. On Tamás Ungvári, for instance, he comments that he takes no notice in Füst’s oeuvre of the moral incentives against aestheticism. With Somlyó, he takes exception for his over-emphasizing of his own personal grievance as a writer. In Bori’s book he discovers that when featuring those qualities which testify to Füst having been a groundbreaker of the avant-garde, he neglects the heroic struggle of the poet entirely at the mercy of his own thoughts. Finally, while emphasising the philological and intellectual originality of János Bányai’s and György Rába’s approaches, he maintains that the angle from which they examine their subject is “a single, narrow one” – just as is customary in “deep-drilling”.

When he begins to formulate his own conception he quotes László Németh: “Art, devoid of the human guarantee, is a mere sophistry of forms.” Hence the aim he sets out to achieve: “to show the human guarantees in Milán Füst’s poetry.” He is aware, though, that  while the poet expects to resolve his problems of life through art, the format and the characteristic features of his poetry should be sought in “the consistency of  execution”, rather in these problems. The total invalidity of life and the alienation of the soul is demonstrated precisely by the fact that Füst considers the situation of “what may have happened” as authentic, as opposed to “what has happened”, and instead of life, he values the “thought” that may be conceived of it. His poetry is thus “philosophy that has taken on a sensual form”. At the beginning of his career he upheld two ideals – “an intimate, unconditional identification with expression and at the same time, a king of communication divested of all personal and individual aspects.” His work is “the poetry of a fictitious consciousness, abstract expression, a generalisation of experiences, the elevation of the phenomena in the world of substantiality, an intensive expression of thought experiences and at the same time the preservation of their sensual quality.” This is how Milán Füst’s powerful symbols and allegories come to life; this is how his poetry is at once emphatically reality-less and ontological. And though he was solitary in his consistency, his bipolar thinking connects him to the intellectual world of fin-de-siécle Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. In his text analyses, Imre Kis Pintér demonstrates that Füst builds into his poetic world freely floating concepts, figures, symbols and words in a poeticised way, which renders his poetic means ironic. His deliberate anachronisms and linguistic archaisations are the tools of irony.

When extending his way of thinking about the world concept to the final ontological questions, Milán Füst places death, the condensed event of the absurdity of existence, in the centre of his motifs. From that point it becomes clear that the most special formal feature of Füst’s poetry, “the poetic role-play, stylisation, the mask, is a necessity for someone who does not have a single, genuine role.”

Another starting-point for Imre Kis Pintér from which to approach Füst’s poetry is Füst’s moral “monomania”, which, he thinks, was not sufficiently studied in earlier literature on the poet. The motif of death, the end of life that leads to nothingness, is also connected to it.  His point is, therefore, mundane, i.e. moral in nature in the first place. Its characteristic conflict is that “the poet defies the logically total state of powerlessness … he argues with nothingness, he quarrels with the wind.” He projects his conflict unambiguously onto the moral sphere. On one hand, he insists on delivering moral justice, and on the other, the dependence between him and God or the Sovereign or the Mentor is total, thus “their acts cannot be adjusted into a moral relationship.” If the poet is “ungrateful, he accepts moral relativity, and if he is grateful, he is immoral.” By raising the issue, Kis Pintér sums up his point, “Füst regularly reproduces the perennial conflict, and the sharper his logic is, the more emphatically absurd is the vision he gives of it. The basic formula is the guiltless guilt of the individual. It follows from this unusual conflict that the lyrical persona divides into two in imagination: one is the reality without Man, the other identifies himself with the truth of human reality. “Man struggles here not with the alien, bleak universe but with himself.”

In light of this, it can be clearly observed what the difference is between the young Milán Füst’s old and new poems. In the former, the poetic persona has but blurred outlines. It exists in the generalities of the tragic tone, death, alienation, escape from the logically irresolvable problems of the absurd life, unhappiness and escapism. The lyric persona of the new poems is an individual, living person whose gestures, thoughts and emotions are organised according to the unconditional certainty of the world concept he has found.

Eventually the poet comes forward with two answers. The one is offered by truth: an idea or God, “an existent which is non-existent”. The other is an aesthetic choice – happiness. Similarly to his great contemporaries, “Milán Füst is unwilling to give up the truth that stands above truths,” Imre Kis Pintér concludes, “and in this case, morality can no longer be the safeguard of truth, and by necessity Truth and Morality become empty, formal and  anti-existence. Fidelity, morality, a spiritually guided life, a fuller humanity that surpasses the particular existence – all have but a sole genuine, solitary chance: the aesthete’s chance for self-fulfilment, of being faithful to himself … The aesthete’s is the active and full life.” This is a conclusion just as tragic as is the final ontological answer about the absurdity of existence.

After the first systematisations, Gergely Angyalosi deemed that new approaches were necessary in the Füst literature. In his work A lélek lehetőségei [The Possibilities of the Soul, 1986], he integrates the philosophical and poetic analyses. First he examines the social and political dimensions of Füst’s poetry, which had earlier been mentioned merely in a biographical context. He notices that on the stage of the poet’s role-play, the main character is the Artist, who is in an entirely dependent and defenceless position. In his odes addressing patrons and maecenases, Milán Füst views the artist as the carrier of absolute values, and sets the patron before us with scathing irony as one who renders his admirers defenceless. In this dramatic relationship, money is present as powerfully as it is in Ady’s poetry. However, while Ady’s “pig-headed master” was created out of political intentions, Milán Füst, rebelling against capitalism, “withdraws behind stylisation, in which he almost fully relaxes”, and this directs our attention to his innermost creative features. Viewed from this angle, Füst’s preference for medieval tones seems a commonplace, with the only remarkable aspect that in his world order the poet and the philosopher have their own definite place. In it, the artist’s intellectual freedom is ensured by a civil occupation; his created medieval world is peopled by artisan philosophers and poets who pursue ‘useful’ professions.  The general meaning of this thematic context suggests “the creation of the moral background of the art of literature”. These motifs are also related to the persistent care, similar to Baudelaire’s, with which the poet chiselled his works to “achieve the self-contained perfection of the lyric poem”. In Füst’s oeuvre, re-writing was a frequent and mostly self-justified act. From such a position, Gergely Angyalosi continues his thought, some bland parnassism might have emerged, but Milán Füst sought for classical formal patterns for the inner structure of his poems and volumes in order to give voice to modern Man’s inner world. “His classical forms are permeated with nervosity; he discarded the form and hid the nervosity, he adopted the tone of classical poetry and substituted the Latin metre by a Latinate, noble free verse. He resolved his inner convulsions through the bucolic impartiality and objectivity of the sentences and images.” The tone of the Antiquity, like that of the Middle Ages, creates the distancing in Füst’s poetry, by which he stylises the expression of the relationship of the individual and the community, rendering it at the same time to poetic matter. In this medium, the subjective experience loses it individual character, which Angyalosi describes by using Georg Lukács’s concepts in the latter’s review of 1946. He calls Füst’s method a phenomenological one, as opposed to a psychological aestheticism. “In the poetic practice, this is none other than a deliberate alienation of the original experience, the treatment of the poem as ‘text’, i.e. matter.”

As already quoted from his early essay, Milán Füst’s heroes are defined in the interaction of inner and outer visions. They are lonely in the community, and are far removed from the extrovert men of movements. Füst calls them “men with downcast eyes”, and no wonder that this metaphor is frequently and emphatically used in the trade literature. As Füst’s lonely hero cannot be identified either the dweller of the ivory tower or with the believer in individual salvation, the poet deems it necessary to give an immediate definition in a footnote: “By chorus I mean a type of dramatic poem which the leader of the imaginary chorus would recite to the musical accompaniment of his fellows on behalf of a great mass of people, i.e. speaking objectively.” Here the place of the poetic persona is to be marked out between the I and the We. Füst’s poetic persona is compelled to withdraw into the chorus. A work of art can only be created in solitude, but this solitude can never be total.  “He who walks with downcast eyes,” Füst writes, “will find tiny waters in the forest, and if he gives his soul such water to drink, he may create fine gems.” Using two concepts of Heidegger’s, Angyalosi calls the artist’s world authentic, as the symbol of the fullness of life, the opposite of which is common and incidental life. Hence Füst’s and other poet’s rejection of everyday existence and their escape into art. In such authentic life, the questions of death and of God necessarily arise. An early recognition of Füst’s was that the Universe was not Man-centred, that its God was indifferent and silent, and identified with death. Therefore, the need for faith is present in Milán Füst’s thinking, yet unaccompanied by the possibility of salvation. The hope of salvation is replaced by “waking to infinity” and the discarding of life, and collective salvation also seems hopeless. The revolution is bound to fail because Man is sentenced to death. There is no chance for any change, which for Füst is an ontological fact.

Angyalosi continues by raising the question whether this conception of existence is really tragic. Alongside the Artist, Füst’s frequently appearing hero is the Wise Man, whose role essentially excludes the tragic character by its very nature. Tragedy can only be conceived of if the acts, the character and the passions of the hero appear in strict unity. Füst’s Wise Man, however, can comprehend the irrationality of the world and the meaninglessness of his own passions, for he recognises that wisdom is in actual fact Man’s struggle against his own being as a creature, a revolt against idleness and, devoid of a chance for an active life, attraction towards immobility. “At the same time, values are still a part of life,” concludes Angyalosi, “because after departing from life and short of the transcendental possibility of faith, they cannot be manifest for the senses.” Their manifestation, therefore, can only be projected on “nothingness”. So the central motif of Milán Füst’s exceptionally consistent intellectual output is by necessity the figure of the Wise Man or the Old Man.

Gergely Angyalosi also applies his analysis of Füst’s world concept in his poetic conclusions. He propounds that in Milán Füst’s poetry, the allegory gained predominance over the symbol and the metaphor, yet he does not consider this a qualificatory feature. Rather than the relationship of the metaphor and the allegory, the most important theoretical issue in this respect is the paradox of objective and impersonal lyric poetry. He uses these two concepts always in the same sense, and breaks away from the traditional view in the history of literature according to which the cost of impersonality is the elimination of individuality as a positive act. He thinks that the avant-gardist answer to this challenge was mostly the break-up of traditional forms. Another option, by the secessionists, was stylisation which, together with other artistic abstractions, creates a specific I from which the personal sphere and the effects of moods are missing and does not feel at home in any community. Angyalosi also adopts his predecessors’ conclusions, namely that Füst uses the artist’s creative power to create a non-existing universe. His ideal is the opposite of the type of artist who in his self-created world uses elements of reality as building-blocks. In Füst’s universe, the border between the real and the irreal world is not only blurred: they constitute an organic system of a new existential quality. And here, the vision and the fugue-like verse structure, the parallel running of contrasting life elements and thoughts come into play. Therefore, a specific feature of Füst’s allegory is that it is multi-layered. So “the novelty of Milán Füst’s poetic method is to be sought in the relationship between the clauses, rather than in the syntax or in the break-up of the syntactical rules of the standard language.” Behind it all there is a powerfully drafted world concept and a poetic world, which proves to be constant from the very beginning.  This explains, in Angyalosi’s opinion,  the intermittent ebbings in Füst’s lyrical output, with the recurrences and the perennial desire for improvements, for bringing it to perfection.

Finally, we have to emphasise that while interpreting Milán Füst’s solitude in the history of Hungarian literature, Angyalosi marks out his place beside Béla Balázs and Georg Lukács by right. In the period of the emergent modernity in Hungarian literature, the common features of their world concepts originated from the same crisis, which explains why their replies to it are either similar or, if contrasting, they represent “a new intellectual configuration”.

Naturally, Gergely Angyalosi also reckons with the fact that it is the poems that carry the conclusions of the comparative analyses of world concepts and poetics, in which the mode of action of the ideas can be traced through the analysis of the poems. Five years after the appearance of his first book, in 1991 he again attempted to accomplish it in his interpretation of perhaps the most enigmatic poem of Milán Füst, “Habok a köd alatt” [Foams under the Fog]. In it he sees his earlier conclusions justified: the narrating persona in Füst’s poems is always to be found in the sphere between ‘I’ and ‘We’. So an examination of Füst’s objectivity should begin by tracing  “the changes in the position of the narrator within a single poem”.  From here he inevitably reaches the points Lajos Kassák and István Vas made earlier. They called the attention to the fact that Füst’s poems are full of events at once capricious and consistent, in which the accuracy of detail serves the enhancement of the realistic nature of the entire atmosphere. As Kassák said about Füst’s poetic world, “It is as though we were wandering in the gardens of sunken worlds: there is nothing palpable around us and yet everything is real to the utmost.” We can see the fight between two linguistic shadows in his poems, in which ‘I’, ‘We’ and ‘They’ exist in a purely linguistic sphere. So Füst’s objectivity can be detected in that the poem  “vehemently professes something that, slowly, in an indirect way, turns out to be hollow. Human voices or, in current parlance, discourses fight in the ‘cold, empty space’, in ‘cosmic cold’.” The protagonist of the poems is a superego, a defence against relativity and craze. Consequently, Angyalosi agrees with Kassák in that Milán Füst is not a neo-classical poet; the objectivity of his speech situations can only be connected with the Hungarian neo-classical trends starting in the 1920s from a great distance.

Angyalosi’s view of the constant character of Milán Füst’s world concept and poetics explains not only the poet’s passion for re-writing his poems but also, after incomprehension and silences, the revivals in his reception history. In the timeless and universal space of his oeuvre, posterity a