Mihály Babits (1883–1941), poet, writer, literary translator and literary historian was an outstanding personality of 20th-century Hungarian literature. He became the editor of Nyugat (Occident) in 1919 and maintained that position until his death in 1941 when the journal ceased publication.
Babits was born in the town of Szekszárd and always thought of the Transdanubian countryside to the west of the Danube with nostalgic longing. It is thus understandable that, leaving behind the nerve-racking life of the city, Babits and his wife sought to relax in the country, at least during the months of better weather. While in Esztergom Babits edited Nyugat by post. The town and their house on the hill inspired him, and directly appear in much of his poetry and prose.
In the last years of his life Babits suffered from cancer of the larynx. At the same time the consolidation of a totalitarian regime in Germany filled him with despair. It was at their Esztergom home on 17 August 1938 where Babits gave a reading to his wife of his last poetic work, The Book of Jonah. In the words of literary historian Lorant Czigany: “While Jonah is the symbol of man’s helplessness, unable to discover the intentions of the Eternal One, he is also a self-portrait: Babits’s bitter repentance for his withdrawal into the miniature world of the self. Babits now realized that no poet can refrain from assuming responsibility, ‘because he who is silent is an accomplice of the guilty ones, / brother is called to account for the deeds of his brothers’.
Throughout his illness the attachment Babits felt for the house on the hill was unrelenting, as it embodied life with all its memories and atmosphere of bygone happy years. “I’d rather stay in Esztergom…” he entreated his wife. He continued to work until his last day. His manuscript of a Sophocles translation was collected from his bedside table by his friend, the poet Gyula Illyés.
Main Works of Mihály Babits
Volumes of Poetry
Leaves from Iris’s Wreath, 1909
Prince, What if Winter Comes?, 1911
The Valley of Unrest, 1920
Island and Sea, 1925
Gods Die, Man Lives, 1929
Racing with the Years, 1933
Complete Verses, 1938
The Book of Jonah, 1939
The Stork Caliph, 1916
The Son of Virgil Timár, 1922
Castle of Cards, 1923
The Sons of Death, 1927
Pilot Elsa, or the Perfect Society, 1933
Essays and studies
Life and Literature, 1929
A History of European Literature, 1936
Trials and Tribulations in My Life, 1939
Writers Between Two Wars, 1941