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Tibor Weiner Sennyey: The Békássy-paradox – and an important discovery

Tibor Weiner Sennyey: The Békássy-paradox – and an important discovery

2015. 06. 25., Csü - 15:12
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It is often unjustly claimed that the 22 years he lived was not enough for anything significant. If only he could have lived longer...he was too young, snobbish, unknown, distant, etc. they say... but those who are so judgemental  about Ferenc Békássy are bound to miscomprehend the nature of poetry or even life itself, for that matter. 

Sándor Nagy: Ferenc Békássy

Portrait of Békássy


A tartalom magyarul itt olvasható

Arthur Rimbaud was 21 when he gave up writing, Sándor Petőfi died at the age of 26, Ferenc Békássy fell at the Eastern front on 25 June 1915. If he only had written his last poem: „Költő akartam lenni...” (’I wished to be a poet..’), or the other that goes: „Jöjj, szólt a herceg” (Come – said the prince’) or „Bacchus”- the one he was writing and rewritng for 5 years he would earn his rightful place in Hungarian poetry, but needless to say he wrote a lot more then these. If he had written no more but his essay on Hungarian poetry in which he translates Ady, Babits, Kosztolányi to English for the first time, he would deserve a reserved seat in Hungarian cultural history but he wrote a lot more, of course. If he had written only a few letters to Noel Olivier he would have provided more then enough sources for the Hungarian-English relations but he wrote 32 letters to her and corresponded with other members of the British elite such as John Maynard Keynes. If he had done nothing else but return from Cambridge and die as a hussar hero for Hungary in one of the first major battles of the war, even then we ought to keep his memory alive. Needless to say there is a lot more to it then this. 

Békássy lived for a mere 22 years and achieved as much as many cannot do even if they live to be a 100,

because they are not interested in the world, they a only care for themselves. We have to make a living – they say and go on compalining about the weekdays...and that it is not their fault that they cannot speak other languages or read or train themselves from time to time. It is always somebody else’s fault and responsibility, not theirs. Those who read and learn are wealthier. Békássy read and worked non stop. Luckily for us he wrote as well. 

According to Endre Czeizel genetic scientist  the Békássy phenomenon is the so called predeceased talent that never reaches its bloom. Although the good professor is absolutely right when he claims that:

’the Békássy phenomenon is to be considered a memento for the good and benefit of young lives and potential geniouses as safeguarding talent equals saving lives as well.’ 

On the other hand I have to disagree with him when he suggests that the so called ’fate factor was the obstacle that omitted Békássy’s extraordinary intellect to succed.’ It is completely unacceptable that he only tries to interpret writers and poets from a genetic, psychologic or ancestral point of view. I have to admit that his work on geniouses is utterly important but I cannot accept these points at all. The fact that somebody could make it to be a great poet and a remarkable personality regardless of ’fate factor’ and painfully short ’time factor’ lies in the core of the Békássy paradox. 

Poets do not follow the footsteps of the ancestors, they follow the gods. 

The poet according to T. S. Eliot is:  ’...a spectator and not a character’.  Béla Hamvas adds to this that: ’poets are nowadays considered to be idle charecters not worth taken seriously as oppoesed to the rational and sober common people, ignoring the fact that whatever these good men of ratio utter is mere idleness compared to the words of poets that represent a higher order of sobriety.’ 

Ferenc Békássy was more sober than most of his environment, wiser than his peers, more clever than his friends and yes, he died at the age of 22. 

Between 2005-2010 I absorbed in his life story and writings and within these 5 years we managed to publish his collected works, his biography and a few years later in 2013 we also launched his letters to Noel in Hungarian. In the meantime with the help of the best professors of literary history such as László Szörényi, Lajos Sipos or George Gömöri I could publish several essays and articles about Ferenc Békássy and I also admit that he had a huge impression on my poetry as well. 

Since he passed away in 1915 there was but a tiny selection of his writings published in 1990 thanks to Zoltán Éder (apart from BF’s mother’s limited publications after the war) although even Adriatica that was launched by Virginia Woolf and co in England, 1925 is more monumental than that. Today, in 2015 there is a quasi Békássy renessaince compared to that. Or is there such? Are his works respected and read? Hopefully they are, now that they are fully available. 

In this past decade not only Békássy’s writings came out but also some other pieces of art that relate to him. 

The painter Sándor Nagy- a representative member of the Gödöllő group and Hungarian art nouveau- designed 9 stained glass windows to the chapel that should be raised in the Zsennye park above the tomb of Békássy just like a shrine of poetry. 

Nagy Sándor kilenc ólomüveg-ablak terve a Békássy-kápolnához. 1915. Hermann Ottó Múzeum.
Sándor Nagy: Plans for the stained glass windows of the Békássy Chapel. 1915. Hermann Ottó Museum.

Békássy’s face drew much concern too, as we only had three portrait photos of him: one represent the graduate, the other two the handsome but grave hussar. 

Békássy Ferenc, mint végzős Cambridge-ben. 1914.
Békássy, the Cambridge graduate. 1914.

Békássy Ferenc, mint huszár Magyarországon I. 1915.
Ferenc Békássy, Hungarian Hussar, WWI, I 1915.
Békássy Ferenc, mint huszár Magyarországon II. 1915.
Ferenc Békássy, Hungarian Hussar, WWI, II. 1915.
Kiss Márta: Békássy Ferenc. 70x50 cm, olaj, vászon, 2010.
Márta Kiss: Ferenc Békássy. 70x50 cm, oil on canvas, 2010.
Nagy Sándor: Békássy Ferenc portréja. kb. 1910(?). (dia-repró)
Sándor Nagy: Ferenc Békássy 1910(?). (slide reproduction)

Apart from these there was an earlier painting too, the black and white reproduction of which was found in the library of the castle. As to the whereabouts of the original we knew nothing until now:

After the 2015 renovation of the Zsennye castle a collection of 100 slides were found,

most of which documented the 60’s and 70’s events in and outside of the castle, its furniture and artifacts included. Among them a painting, or the painting I should say, the missing, well preserved quality portrait made by Sándor Nagy of the adolescent Ferenc. This painting adds an awful lot to the understanding of Békássy as it shows the true, youthful, gifted poet who he was. Inserting this painting in the lineage of photos we can observe how this young, extraordinary boy wil grow up to be a responsible hussar. This painting must have been kept in the castle up until the 70’s and although I am awfully happy for this reproduction too, I must admit I would be happiest to see the original in the castle where it belongs, together with Marta Kiss’s painting of course. 

Finally on a more personal tone I would like to state that I have not ever intended to overestimate Ferenc Békássy when I have talked about him or admired his works. It is true though that he became part of my identity and art, since every poet is awaited upon by another poet to be lead as they reach the gloomy forest at the height of their lives. Dante had Vergil and Békássy is mine to show direction in the dark.

Ferenc Békássy  (7 April 1893 – 22 June 1915) was a Hungarian poet killed in World War I.

He was born in the family mansion at Zsennye in Vas County, western Hungary. He and his five siblings were sent to Bedales School for a progressive English education.[1]

After six years at Bedales, he entered King’s College, Cambridge in 1911 to read History. At Cambridge University his friends included James Strachey, E. L. Grant Watson and especially John Maynard Keynes, who went to stay with him in Hungary during the summer. He was elected a member of the Cambridge Apostles, the semi-secret debating club.[2] He and Rupert Brooke courted the same woman, Noël Olivier, whom Békássy had known from Bedales.[3]

He wrote poetry in both Hungarian and in English. Some of his English poems appeared in a Cambridge anthology in 1913. The Hungarian poems were only published posthumously.[3]

When war was imminent, with the assistance of Keynes,[4][5] he returned to Austro-Hungary to enlist. He served in a Hussar unit and four days after arriving on the Eastern Front, he was killed in action against the Russians at Dobrovouc in Bukovina on 22 June 1915.[6] His body was brought back to the family estate for burial.[7]

In a side chapel at King's College Chapel there is a plaque commemorating members of the college killed serving in the Great War, including Rupert Brooke. Carved into the stone of another wall there is a single name, that of Békássy. Keynes had asked the college to include him among those commemorated but another of the Fellows of King’s, who had lost a son in the war, objected to the name of someone who had died fighting the Allies being listed with the other fallen.[3]

A collection of his poems in English, edited by F. L. Lucas, was published in 1925 by Leonard and Virginia Woolf's Hogarth Press.[8]


  • Ferenc Bekassy: Adriatica and other poems; a selection, with preface (Hogarth Press, 1925)
  • Békássy Ferenc egybegyűjtött írásai; edited by Tibor Weiner Sennyey (Budapest, 2010)


  • [1] Kenneth McRobbie, "Under the Sign of the pendulum: Childhood Experience as Determining Revolutionary Consciousness. Ilona Duczynska Polanyi", Canadian Journal of History, Autumn 2006
  • [2] William C. Lubenow, The Cambridge Apostles, 1820-1914
  • [3] a b c Hungarian Quarterly; Vol. LI, No. 199, Autumn 2010
  • [4] Paul Levy, The Bloomsbury Group
  • [5] Milo Keynes, Essays on John Maynard Keynes, p. 67
  • [6] Michael Copp, Cambridge Poets of the Great War: An Anthology, p. 236
  • [7] "Zsennye" (in Hungarian)
  • [8] John H. Willis, Leonard and Virginia Woolf as Publishers: The Hogarth Press, 1917-41, p. 141.