Sándor Petőfi

Portrait of Sándor Petőfi

Sándor Petőfi was a Hungarian poet and revolutionary. He was born on 1st January 1823 in Kiskőrös, Hungary and died on 31st July 1849 in Feheregyhaza, Transylvania aged 26.

Major Works

“János Vitéz” (John the Valiant) (1845)
“Cipruslombok Etelke Sírjára” (Branches of Cypress for Etelke’s Tomb) (1845)
Az Apostol” (The Apostle). (1848)
“Talpra Magyar” (1848)

Biography Timeline

Sándor Petőfi was born on 1st January 1823 in Kiskőrös, Hungary. His father was István (Stephanus) Petrovics, a village butcher and innkeeper and a second-generation Serb or Slovak immigrant to the Hungarian Plain. His mother was Mária Hrúz, a servant and laundress of Slovak descent. The family lived for a while in Szabadszallas where his father owned a slaughterhouse but then moved to Kiskunfelegyhaza which the young poet always called home. He was educated at eight local schools in total and was keen on literature and drama.

1838: Aged fifteen his father experiences financial problems due to the Danube floods and the bankruptcy of a relative and Sandor has to leave his lyceum school in Selmecbanya. He goes to work in a theatre in Pest and works as a teacher in Ostffyasszonyfa. He then joins the army in Sopron but has to leave due to ill health.

1841: After spending much time travelling he attends the college at Papa where he meets the future novelist and revolutionary Mor Jokai.

1842: He joins a travelling theatre to earn money and then writes for a newspaper but can’t make enough to live on. Now sick and starving his friends in Debrecen look after him. His first poem “A Borozó” (The Wine Drinker) is published in the literary magazine “Athenaeum” in November.

1843: He writes the love poems “A Virágnak Megtiltani nem Lehet” (You Cannot Forbid the Flower) and “Befordultam a Konyhára” (I Turned into the Kitchen). In “Jövendölés” (Prophecy) he imagines himself dying young after achieving great things.

1844: On the recommendation of the Hungarian poet Mihaly Vorosmarty he becomes assistant editor of the literary magazine “Pesti Divatlap”. He walks from Debrecen to Pest to find a publisher for his poems and once successful they become increasingly popular.

1845: He publishes the popular epic fairy tale poem “János Vitéz” (John the Valiant) and the cycle “Cipruslombok Etelke Sírjára” (Branches of Cypress for Etelke’s Tomb).

1846: He meets Juolia Szendrey in Transylvania for the first time.

1847: He and Julia are married, against the wishes of her father, and honeymoon at the castle of Count Sandor Telek. They then move to Pest where he joins a group of like-minded intellectuals at the Café Pilvax. Mor Jokai and he jointly edit the revolutionary magazine “Életképek” and attack the privileges of the nobility and monarchy and complain about the social conditions of the poor.

1848: His first volume of poetry “Versek” is published and makes him famous although the tone of some of them scandalises the nobility. On the eve of the Revolution against the Austrians he writes the anthem “Talpra Magyar” (Rise, Hungarian) and during the ensuing fight he becomes aide-de-camp to General Jozef Bem, commander of the Transylvanian army. He becomes one of the main agitators for the revolution, known as Márciusi Ifjak (Youths of March), in Pest and is the co-author of the 12 Pont (12 Points) or demands to the Habsburg Governor General. He writes the revolutionary poem “Nemzeti Dal”. On the morning of the 15th March he marches at the head of his revolutionaries around the city of Pest and he reads his poem and the 12 Points to the large crowd outside the new National Museum forcing the Mayor to sign his agreement. They then march on the Buda. He writes his epic poem, “Az Apostol” (The Apostle) about a revolutionary who attempts to assassinate a king. However at the later General Election, he fails to win a seat. His only son Zoltan is born on 15th December.

1849: At the Battle of Segesvár on 31st July he disappears, assumed killed in the fighting, as his body is never found.

Sándor Petőfi died on 31st July 1849 in Feheregyhaza, Transylvania. (A theory arose in 1980 that 1,800 prisoners were taken by the Russian army and he could have been one of them and that he died of tuberculosis in 1856 in Siberia. In 1990 archaeologists claim to have found his remains in Barguzin, Siberia. Both these theories have been discredited however). He is now considered Hungary’s national poet.

Further Information

List of works by Petőfi.