MALÉTER – POEM

MALÉTER1

I saw you once, a lanky man,
step outside Parliament, look round bewildered,
and get in the car.
Little did you know
it was your ride to lengthy execution,
you gaunt insubordinate,
who joined the tattered
and the mortified
to lead them
in this downtrodden land
where only hangmen
earn serene retirement.
Even if you did
have a hunch
– hailing from the pack –
you had no choice
but to take that ride,
with head held high
and feigned naiveté,
as any honourable dupe.
Unconcerned with
crystal-gazing history,
the learnèd mumbo jumbo,
you only saw the moment,
the leaping second of final
revelation, like
Rákóczi,
who, schooled by a cardinal,
joined to lead the rising footmen
without asking
what comes after:
exile or the mass grave,
shackles and flogging,
the noose or a volley,
a nocturnal burial
– bone to bone –
and who knows how long
one will be left to lie
face down to the belly of the earth
after declaiming the words,
Recrudescunt diutina inclytae
Gentis Hungarae vulnera.2

Translated by Péter Balikó Lengyel

NOTES:

1 Pál Maléter (1917–1958), a Colonel and commander of a Budapest armoured division, sided with the freedom fighters in the Revolution. As the new Minister of Defence, he was treacherously arrested by the Soviets during negotiations, imprisoned, and executed along with Imre Nagy and others in 1958 on charges of treason and attempting to overthrow the People’s Republic.

2 “The wounds of the illustrious Hungarian nation open up again”. The opening line of Prince Ferenc Rákóczi II’s 1703 Manifesto, before he began his War of Independence against Austria.

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