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Obituary Otto Orban Essay Research Paper Otto

Obituary: Otto Orban Essay, Research Paper

Otto OrbanOtto Orban, who has died aged 66, was the leading Hungarian poet of his generation, but his influence extended well beyond the confines of literary and academic institutions. His passionate, funny and virtuosic poems combined the fully personal with the overtly political, and his barbed verses on Hungarian government pretensions were a source of irritation to those in power. They were, in effect, a kind of brilliant, vicious, Swiftian graffiti. Born in Budapest, Orban’s earliest experiences were of the fierce wartime bombardments that destroyed much of the city and involved regular sprints to the cellar and tentative excursions back into fire, smoke or blinding daylight. On one occasion, a neighbour went downstairs to fetch water for her bath just as a raid was starting. When it was over, she returned upstairs and Orban remembered her screaming, “There is a bomb sitting in my tub.” The surreal meeting of the explosive and the comic marked his own development, as he was to write: The moderns in their screaming nosedive showered us with cream-puffs that exploded. I tasted them and have been this way since, standing by the cellar, light, light, infinite light and a fluttering, the wrecked yard. The cream-puffs, the cellar, the wrecked yard and the infinite blinding light underlie everything Orban wrote. By the end of the war, he had lost his Jewish father, his mother had abandoned him, and the he had been taken into care. He might have passed through the institution as just another “ordinary scruffy neanderthal child” – as he himself put it – but for a teacher who set the children to write verses. His first attempts were so successful that he was asked to edit a children’s anthology, which attracted a lot of attention; in one step, his life was transformed, from problem to prodigy. Meanwhile, through his mother’s liaisons, Orban had gained a half-brother and a stepfather, who did not approve of poeticising. Though Orban’s poems were being published, he was not accepted by the university he applied for. He slept at friends’ apartments and on park benches. After the 1956 revolution, during which he was bystander rather than a participant, he suffered a nervous breakdown, but by 1960 the books began to appear. Orban was prolific, and moved with ease between free-verse and highly formal poetry. Like all Hungarian writers, he translated the literatures of other languages, particularly English. His translations occupy three large collected volumes, and include works by Chaucer, Dylan Thomas, Robert Lowell and Allan Ginsberg, as well as by Spanish, German, Greek, Indian and Japanese poets. He also wrote articles, travel books – one entire book on India based on a six-week stay -books of essays and poetry for children. Some of his best work was inspired by visits to the United States, a country that both excited and horrified him. But everything was grist to his mill. The poetic language he was developing was voracious and capacious, full of rampant energy. He was, as he wrote, born under the sign of the bull, and had the ability to charge at subjects with a bull’s weight and instinctive grace. The mind that inhabited that energy was imbued with what he felt were disappearing moral values. “It makes me laugh when I consider my beliefs,” he wrote ruefully, “the great humane ideals, sheer 19th century.” During the 1980s, he contracted Parkinson’s disease, which progressively weakened the body but left the mind and spirit untouched. A recent operation improved his condition for a while, but he was in physical decline again before he died, at a writers’ retreat by Lake Balaton. Orban had received every prize the Hungarian state had to offer, but his movements were ever more restricted. A trip to the theatre became an enormous effort for him. His work was often published in English: in England, selected under the title of The Blood Of The Walsungs (1993), and in the US as The Journey Of Barbarus (1997). The corpus of his work is extensive. His last published poems were a series of 15 short witty songs on death. Orban nurtured and encouraged a number of younger Hungarian poets, whose work has also appeared in English, and his death leaves a great hole in the fabric of not only Hungarian but also European writing. He is survived by his wife Julia, and his two daughters, Kati and Eszter, the dedicatees of two delightful books. · Otto Orban, poet, born May 20 1936; died May 26 2002