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Sándor Petőfi, Hungary’s National Poet, Born 200 Years Ago

Mariann Őry 2023.01.03.
Sándor Petőfi

Two hundred years ago, on January 1, 1823, Sándor Petőfi, one of the best-known Hungarian poets, was born. A key figure of the 1848/49 revolution and freedom fight against the Habsburgs, he is the author of the poem “National Song.”

Petőfi was born on New Year’s morning of 1823, in the town of Kiskőrös (today in Bács-Kiskun country, central-southern Hungary). The museum established at his birthplace has been holding a traditional Petőfi New Year’s eve celebration every year on December 31.

By the 1840s, Petőfi was a leading figure in literary life and one of the young public figures who launched the 1848 revolution. Among others, he was involved in writing the 12 Points, which summarized the demands of the revolutionaries.


“On your feet now, Hungary calls you!
Now is the moment, nothing stalls you,
Shall we be slaves or men set free
That is the question, answer me!
By all the gods of Hungary
We hereby swear,
That we the yoke of slavery
No more shall wear.”

from “National Song” (“Nemzeti dal”), translation by George Szirtes.

Petőfi joined the Hungarian Revolutionary Army and fought under the Polish General Józef Bem in the Transylvanian army. The army was initially successful against Habsburg troops, but after Tsar Nicholas I of Russia intervened to support the Habsburgs, it was defeated. Petőfi was last seen alive in the Battle of Segesvár on July 31, 1849.

Restored Tomb of Poet Sándor Petőfi’s Family Unveiled
Restored Tomb of Poet Sándor Petőfi’s Family Unveiled

"Monuments are not for the heroes, but for us, the late descendants, who want to preserve, restore, and revive as much as possible of what Sándor Petőfi's life's work embodies and sends a message to today," said Gergely Gulyás, head of the Prime Minister's Office.Continue reading

The 2022-2023 Sándor Petőfi commemorative year started on September 1 last year. The government is providing 9 billion forints to support bicentenary programs, rural museums, and the development of literary memorial houses and memorial sites. The Petőfi Literary Museum in Budapest has launched the Petőfi Bus, a travelling exhibition that visits more than 200 towns and villages in Hungary and abroad, and from January a new permanent exhibition will open to visitors.

The fate and career of Petőfi encapsulate everything that the birth and assertion of the mother tongue culture, the formation of the modern Hungarian nation, and the strengthening of our cultural institutions meant in the Hungarian Reform Era [1825-48],

said Szilárd Demeter, Director of the Petőfi Literary Museum, according to Magyar Nemzet.

In the coming months, the feature film Now or Never will be released, which Magyar Nemzet says is one of the biggest film projects of recent years.

Hungarian President Katalin Novák also marked Petőfi’s anniversary in her New Year’s address:

‘That our country still stands is a miracle from God!’ Thus wrote Sándor Petőfi, who was born 200 years ago today. How true this still is, after the unexpected difficulties of recent years.”

Featured photo via Facebook/petofi200emlekev

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