KÉPES, GÉZA (b. Mátészalka, Hungary, 1 January 1909; d. Budapest, 19 August 1989), Hungarian poet and translator of Persian poetry. He was the son of a blacksmith and proud of his origins, claiming that the legacy of his father’s craftsmanship as a skilled artisan had somehow percolated through to his own poetical production.
He began his education in Mátészalka and continued his studies in the Protestant gymnasium of Sárospatak, where he began translating Greek and Latin poets and composed verses in Latin. He completed his literary and philological studies in Hungarian, German, and English at the Pázmány Péter University of Budapest as a fellow of the prestigious Eötvös College. He then became a teacher in the gymnasium of Sárospatak and a tutor in the English Institute there. During Word War II he worked as a translator for the Department of National Defense and took part in the Hungarian resistance.
Appointed professor at the Eötvös College in 1945, he also headed the literary Department of Rádió Budapest. In l955 he founded Magvetö, a publishing house that soon achieved great popularity. In 1956 he was elected secretary of the Poets’ division of the Hungarian Writers Association. On November 4, 1956, when the Russian army invaded Budapest to quash the Hungarian uprising, Képes issued a most moving appeal for help addressed to the writers of the world, writing in his capacity as secretary general of the Hungarian section of the Pen Club. No arrest or retaliation followed when the communists reestablished their rule over Hungary, except that in 1957 he was discharged from Magvetö, the publishing house that he had established so successfully. He was, however, kept under close observation for almost two years. He then became a member of the Institute for Literary History, a think-tank for highly esteemed but politically ill-favored scholars. It was about this time that he began to show an interest in classical and modern Persian language and literature.
Having translated numerous works from classical (Greek, Latin) and modern languages (English, French, German, Finnish, Russian, Bulgarian, and Japanese), he was now enchanted by Persian literature. For two and a half years, under the guidance of the Iranian section of the Eötvös Lóránt University, he studied classical Persian authors. During this period he translated into Hungarian selections from the Divān of Hafez, the Robāʿiyāt (Rubaiyat) of Omar Khayyam, the didactic narratives of Saʿdi, the epigrams of Forāt, and a few odes from the Tajik poetry of Lāhuti. The finest translation in this context is his rendering of the modern poet Faridun Kār’s poem, “The Eagle” (ʿoqāb) into Hungarian.
In transplanting Persian poems into Hungarian, Képes successfully tried to preserve the formal features of the original, on the principle that form is an integral element of the poetic expression. Not only did he reflect in his Hungarian translation the meter, rhythm, rhyme arrangements, alliteration and other components of the external form, but he also followed the often intricate inner structure of Persian poems. Thus, his translation scans like the Persian original, and maintains to a great extent the semantic and formal correlation of the poem’s inner elements. The maṭlaʿ of the first ode in Hafez’s Divān is an example:
Ha sirázi török szépem kezét szivemre tenné hát
Oda’dnám hindu holdjáért Samarkandot meg Bukharát.
Agar ān tork-e širāzi bedast-ārad del-e mā-rā
be-ḵ-āl-e henduyash baḵššam Samarqand o Boḵ-ārā-rā.
[If that Turk of Shiraz captures our heart,
To her Indian mole will I bestow the cities of Samarqand and Bokhara]
It meets the requirements of the hazaj meter and displays the same parallelism of objects and notions within the distich (cities, parts of the body, names of people, metaphors for the Beloved, etc.; Rypka).
His involvement in Persian deeply affected his own work. While in his early years he was an impressionist, strongly influenced by Hungarian folk poetry, as well as by poems in Greek and Latin, from the late fifties the influence of classical Persian is felt both in the intellectual and formal qualities of his poems. He began to use a greater variety of verse forms and applied new techniques. Some of his poems, such as the Tavaszi betegség (Sickness in Spring), the poem he wrote when his wife was taken seriously ill, bear all the poetic hallmarks of Hafez’s odes, even the radif “féltelek”(“I am concerned about you”) seemsto echo the leitmotif of the poem at the end of each verse.
In the 20th century Omar Khayyam was a celebrated figure in the Hungarian literary scene. Fourteen poets tried their skills in translating his quatrains into Hungarian; Képes was one, and the finest among them. The influence of Omar Khayyam’s quatrains can be observed in his epigrams. He gradually abandoned the biting personal tone and the berating style. His tenor became more philosophical while making subtle points, laced with irony or a touch of sarcasm. From modern Persian poets he also masterfully translated a few epigrams of Forāt, e.g.,
Šotor-rā ba ʿaybi gereftand, goft
Ḵaṭā bar bozorgān sazāvār nist!
“They found a fault with the camel. He said:
It is most unseemly to carp and cavil at men of eminence!”
“Hibáztattam én a tevét. Nincs vita!
Felelt ö: Nagyokhoz nem illik hiba!”
As a scholar Képes produced essays on various topics of Hungarian and foreign literature. Dealing with Persian, in an article entitled “Hafiz et Csokonai” he analyzes the Persian poet’s influence on the works of the famous Hungarian poet, Mihály Csokonai Vitéz. Following the traces of Persian poetry in the West, he emphasizes the role of two Hungarian philologists of the 18th century, Franciscus Dombay and Carolus Reviczky, in introducing Persian poets and the Persian language to Europe. In a letter of November 27, 1975 (preserved in a private collection) he deplores the fact that Western lexicons ignore or say very little about these two outstanding personalities.
Márványba véslek [I carve you in marble], Budapest, 1933.
Gorgó mereng [Gorgo meditates], Budapest, 1944.
Vajúdó világ [The world in labor]. Válogatott és új versek [Selected and new poems], Budapest, 1954.
Só és bors [Salt and pepper], Budapest, 1956.
A mindenség énekei [The songs of the universe].Uj versek [New poems], Budapest, 1961.
Önarckép hegy formájában [Self-portrait in the shape of a mountain], Budapest, 1978.
Napnyugati madarak [Birds of sundown], Budapest, 1937.
A sziget énekel [The island sings], Angol költök [English poets], Budapest, 1959.
A szabadság magvetöi [The sowers of the seeds of freedom], Antológia orosz és szovjet költök verseiböl [Anthology of poems by Russian and Soviet poets], Budapest,1949.
Válogatott müfordítások [Selected translations], Budapest, 1955.
Napkelte Mongóliában [Sunrise in Mongolia], Verses utinapló [Itinerary in verses], Budapest, 1959.
Ének Igor hadáról [Song about the army of Igor], Budapest, 1956.
Finn versek [Finn poems], Budapest, 1959.
Háfiz: Versek [ḤOāfiẓ: Poems], Budapest, 1960.
Quasimodo válogatott költeményei [Selected poems of Quasimodo], Budapest, 1960.
Szádi: Rózsáskert [Sa’di: Rosegarden], Budapest, 1960.
Képes Géza, “Háfiz és Csokonai” [Hafez and Csokonai], Sötér. I. and Süpek, O., ed. Littérature hongroise - Littérature européenne: Etudes de littérature comparée publiées par L’Académie des sciences de Hongrie à l’occasion du IVème Congrès de l’Association internationale de littérature comparèe, Budapest, 1964, pp. 287-304.
Klasszikus perzsa költök [Classical Persian Poets], Budapest, 2002.
Omar Khajjam, A Mulandóság Mámora. Száz rubái 14 magyar müforditó tolmácso-lásában, Budapest, 1997.
Rába György, “Búcsú Képes Gézától” [Farewell from Géza Képes] Nagyvilág 1989, p. 11.
Jan Rypka, “Bāqī and ḤOāfiẓ,” Lecture in the Turkish Department of the Eötvös Lóránd University, Budapest, January 22, 1957.
R. Simon, ed. Perzsa költök antológiája [Anthology of Persian Poets], Budapest, 1968.
A. Steinert, ed. Omar Khajjam, A Mulandóság Mámora, [Omar Khayyam, The ecstasy of transitoriness], Száz rubái 14 magyar müfordító tolmácsolásában [One hundred rubai’s in the interpretation of fourteen Hungarian translators], Budapest, 1997.
Vezér Erzsébet, “A mindenség énekese. Képes Géza halálára” [The singer of the universe. On the passing of Géza Képes], Élet és Irodalom, 1989, p. 34.
April 7, 2008
Originally Published: April 7, 2008
Last Updated: April 7, 2008