Posted by Bob Denham on September 24th, 2012
I have recently returned from a successful conference in Budapest honoring Frye in his centenary year. In a discussion with the Hungarians I mentioned that on several occasions Frye referred to Ferenc Juhász’s The Boy Changed into a Stag Cries out at the Gate of Secrets (1955), a poem much admired by Auden and by Frye as well. Back home, I’ve tracked down the references:
From Notebook 21 in CW 13: 163
Maybe revolution-rebirth is the telos of Four, in spite of what I’ve said, its 5 reversal being resurrection. Maybe the universe contained in the mind, the apocalypse of that wonderful Juhasz poem, is reversed by interpenetration. It’s the same principle of everywhere is here inside out. Similarly, resurrection is rebirth’s “Behold, I make all things new,” inside out. The consubstantial risen Christ? (CW 13: 163)
From “The Times of the Signs,” CW 27: 353. Frye is quoting from The Plough and the Pen, Writings from Hungary 1930-1956, edited by Ilona Duczynska and Karl Polanyi (1963).
At the same time that the Romantic movement had begun the final separation of mythology and science, the Industrial Revolution was making technology a central factor in society. Both Marxism and the theory of progress in the democracies seized on industrial production as the central uniting force of society, and the realizing power of civilization. Their conception of technology was much the same: they differed only on whether a capitalist or a socialist economy should control it. The great advantage of having technology in such a role was that it seemed to develop automatically, with the minimum of reference to the nagging mythological question: is this really what man most wants and needs? Marxist poets were urged to celebrate the glories of technology under socialism as their ancestors had celebrated gods and heroes. A magnificent Hungarian poem by Ferenc Juhász, The Boy Changed into a Stag Cries Out at the Gate of Secrets, translated by the Canadian poet Kenneth McRobbie with Ilona Duczynska, thus describes the apotheosis of its transformed hero:
There he stood on the renewing crags of time,
stood on the ringed summit of the sublime
universe, there stood the lad at the gate of secrets,
his antler prongs were playing with the stars . . .
Mother, my mother, I cannot go back:
pure gold seethes in my hundred wounds . . .
each prong of my antlers is a dual-based pylon
each branch of my antlers a high-tension wire,
my eyes are ports for ocean-going merchantmen, my veins are tarry cables, these
teeth are iron bridges, and in my heart the surge of monster-infested seas,
each vertebra is a teeming metropolis, for a spleen I have a smoke-puffing barge
each of my cells is a factory, my atoms are solar systems
sun and moon swing in my testicles, the Milky Way is my bone marrow,
each point of space is one part of my body
my brain impulse is out in the curling galaxies.
[Quoted from The Plough and the Pen, Writings from Hungary 1930-1956, edited by Ilona Duczynska and Karl Polanyi (1963). [NF]]
Frye also refers to Juhász in a letter to William V. Spanos replying to Spanos’s request for possible topics for a new journal:
As for suggestions, it seems to me that your letter is full of them, and very good ones. It seems to me that science fiction is a rather significant field to explore, as much for its obvious weaknesses as for its strengths. Science fiction in the Western world is very largely a matter of missed opportunities: in the Soviet Union it seems to have a more genuine relation to their cultural developments, as it certainly ought to have in these days of space flights and moon landing. As for other countries, the one I know best is Canada, and there is a good deal of very lively writing, mainly in fiction, done by the younger people, and published by the younger publishers, especially Oberon, Anansi, and the New Press. I should also like to see some attention devoted to the topic of Marxism as a means of renewing traditional imagery and symbolism, as it operates in, for example, [Ferenc] Juhász in Hungary. Then there is the emergence of what might be called guerrilla poetry, in [Daniel] Berrigan and others.
So far as I know Frye does not refer to other Hungarian writers, but in 1949 he wrote an editorial on Cardinal József Mindszenty for the Canadian Forum. In 1948 Mindszenty, who was also the Archbishop of Estergom, had been arrested for treason and was convicted the following year.
From Canadian Forum, 28 (March 1949): 267. Reprinted in RW, 7–8 and in CW 11: 220–21.
It is quite possible that Cardinal Mindszenty was, as he admitted, at least technically guilty of most of the charges against him. One of them, treason, is the same as our charge against Communists here: “conspiring to overthrow the government by force.” Western reaction and comment to the trial is an inconsistent mixture of several things. We are given to understand that he should not have been tried because he was an eminent clergyman, that he was innocent of all charges, and that if he was conspiring to overthrow the government, good for him. Our newspapers, without intending it, are thus raising the same sort of dust storm propaganda and confusion of moral issues as the Hungarian government.
The reasons for condemning the Mindszenty trial are quite simple, and have nothing to do with his rank or even his guilt. First, there is the whole illegal procedure in which the accused is kidnapped by the police and held incommunicado. The same thing happened in our spy trials, but here all thoughtful citizens, of whatever political creed, saw the insult to democracy in it. Protests were made, questions asked in Parliament, and those responsible for the bungle considerably embarrassed. More important, when the accused were brought to court they got a fair trial and were acquitted if there was no evidence against them. Second, there is the dreadful possibility, and even probability, of torture. The Communists appear to know much more about torture than the Nazis ever did, and to understand how to handle a man so that no external signs of torture can be discovered, while the whole soul and body within have been so destroyed that there is no will power left to resist any suggestion. It is unnecessary to labour the point that torture and justice cannot exist side by side. Third, there is the whole conception of a trial as a publicity stunt, as propaganda for the government, which turns the procedure into a ritual of human sacrifice, based on the principle that, as Caiaphas said at the trial of Christ, “it is expedient that one man die for the people.” This evil thing is coming over here, and while it has of course not touched the courts yet, it is present in the Thomas committee hearings and other forms of extra legal action. [John. Parnell Thomas was chair of the infamous US House Committee on Un‑American Activities.]