A NATION DISMEMBERED – SELECTED POETRY FROM THE ANTHOLOGY EDITED BY CSILLA BERTHA AND GYULA KODOLÁNYI – PART I

MIHÁLY BABITS

MUTILATED HUNGARY

Csonka Magyarország

I wish I had a voice as clear and sharp as that of bells! Yours is
muddled like the bracken of swamps! You bow down before the Steel Idol!
… let force decide!
and the Force decided…
what right do you have to speak now?
But I do have that right!
You threw away the Battle Cry: like the fool his weapon! You have no right to cry out:
but I can cry out:
Oh Justice, the only battle cry! the only weapon! the trumpet of Jericho! Blast!
let walls tumble from its voice!
Let spines feel horror! in Europe! and in America! because
justice horrifies the spine!
What use are the freshly-built walls around me?
there Justice horrifies the stones! It burns in the mountains! Floods the rivers!
Oh, let the clear, sharp trumpet resound!
and never go silent!
not even for a day! not even for an hour! not even for a minute! as the pain
doesn’t go silent in the nerves while the malady persists…
as gravity is not silent in the stone until it falls in its place to rest…
as the bird is not silent until it lands in its nest…
as the river is not silent until it reaches the sea…
and neither is the breeze
as long as it breathes…

*

I do have the right!
I can cry out:
Justice!

You threw away this word like the fool his weapon, my poor brothers!

and you have but your weak muscles left, your bare hands, naked
and shackled.
If they tried to punch, they could only punch themselves
they can neither rebel nor bow down truly before the Steel Idol –
or have you become the land of the Steel Idol, my homeland?
Do you have any hope in that?
in dark avenues?
No! – Only in the Sun!
that burns on a stone and shines in a river run.
You, my poor brothers, said: Let force decide!
Now your voice is muddled, marshy bracken like.
What I say: let the force of the Sun decide!
I offer my words to the Sun, pure and bright.

*

You threw away the horn,
but the horn is not forlorn,
it resounds not in your hands,
but in rivers, in uplands,
in Transylvania, in Northlands,
in the sky,
and in my sigh!
I never said: “Let force decide!” and now I have the right to say: “No! No!”

(1920)

Translated by Paul Sohar

SÁNDOR REMÉNYIK

THE CHURCH AND THE SCHOOL

Templom és iskola

Your fight’s intended to do no harm,
God will be your witness here,
But there’s none amongst you
Who’d refuse to persevere.
God guarantees you the right
To fight for His laws to rule:
Don’t give up the house of worship,
Don’t give up the church and school!

You respect the law and order
That provides the ground for peace.
But why shouldn’t you hear God’s word
In Hungarian, if you so please?
Why shouldn’t children hear their parents’
Language as their teachers’ tool?
Don’t give up the house of worship,
Don’t give up the church and school!

As a young lad I used to sprint
Between the schoolyard and the church,
A cool wall for my fevered forehead
Being the object of my search.
Many a time I still return to relive
The springtime of a gentle fool.
Don’t give up the house of worship,
Don’t give up the church and school!

Even a beggar, a pariah or
A vagrant has the God-given right
To worship in his native tongue,
To seek his God’s help in his plight.
Why’s our church the open sky
And the dirt road’s dusty pool?
Don’t give up the house of worship,
Don’t give up the church and school!

In your tiny whitewashed churches
Now so much power can accrue,
In the whitewashed churches’ pews
Even the dead sit down with you.
In the eyes of your grandparents
The urge is hot, the charge is cool:
Don’t give up the house of worship,
Don’t give up the church and school!

(1925)

Translated by Paul Sohar

THE PLAINTS OF A CHRISTMAS TREE

A karácsonyfa panaszkodik

You, homeless pines ensnare my eyes,
Your limbs torn from the forest loam.
So many now can say with you:
Oh yes, I too am without a home!
My body and soul are on the block,
My life is goods that’s bought and sold.
They deck me out with cotton balls
Instead of real frost of old.
I know: the cut-off limb will wither,
I know: never again will I be
Back at the bosom of the forest.
My fate: wet plains and not high crest,
A narrow room for infinity.

Translated by Paul Sohar

DEZSŐ KOSZTOLÁNYI

MY NATIVE LAND, NOW SUNKEN IN SORROW

Szülőföldemnek bús határa, hajh

My native land, now sunken in sorrow,
will my grief still find you there tomorrow?

I can no longer reach you by the train,
only fly to you on the wings of pain.

My childhood, blissful under skies of blue,
now dispossessed – hear me call out to you!

Cradles, caskets, tombs lined up in the dust;
a church wall glowing crimson in the dusk.

The small school I attended by the spire,
its toll as sweet as a chord on the lyre.

The greens, the stones, the flowers, and the snake
of rails winding its way toward the lake.

The moon, a dance, the clouds beyond the trees,
poplars like tall girls swaying in the breeze.

The gold of twenty years locked in the heart:
sweet poison of the things that fell apart.

Grown old too soon, clasping my hands behind
my head, I summon you before the mind.

One of the poor who don’t pretend to more,
a spent Hungarian at thirty-four,

I do not ask if night is nigh to fall;
not even if I still exist at all.

(1924)

Translated by Péter Balikó Lengyel

ÁRPÁD TÓTH

IN FIELDS OF WHEAT

Fénylő búzaföldek között

When sometimes, on an evening walk,
I muse and stroll the highway lined
With poplar trees on either side
And leave the city far behind –

They catch my eye, the fields of wheat,
Touched by the evening sun’s caress.
The yellow tracts stretch endlessly
And shimmer, stern and motionless.

The breezes at the forest edge
Share restless whispers as they twine,
While with an eastern indolence
The great tracts hardly breathe a sigh.

It sleeps, the old Hungarian land,
And odd, the way it roasts its grain
And grumbles like an aged lion
Who shakes and suns his shaggy mane.

An aged lion which westward strayed
To Europe’s seas and mountain crests,
A thousand years the hunted prey,
A thousand knives, a thousand nets.

He little cares, his weary hide
He stretches in the sun and rests.
No matter now, he’ll wait his fate,
And shimmer, stern and motionless.

Perhaps he waits to spring once more?
Perhaps in evening’s glinting flames
He stokes an old ancestral rage,
A fury fearful, fury plain.

And at his blow the lands will shake,
All Europe, east to west, struck dumb.
And then he’ll turn and fall asleep
For good, the lion from Asia come.

Who knows? You odd Hungarian land,
Both dear and soaked with blood and grief.
Stern Magyar land, by evening light
I stroke your shimmering spears of wheat.

Take me, the whelp of sombre serfs,
Now long the child of polished West,
The temptress suave, yet at your sight,
An old song wells within my breast,

Within my soul, a song with scents
Of mare’s milk, scents of distant plains,
A song which wells and wails and dies
In fields of wheat at eventide.

(1925)

Translated by Thomas Cooper

LÁSZLÓ TOMPA

SOLITARY PINE

Magányos fenyő

It stoops, like one atoning for its sin,
That sad bush battered by the autumn wind!
Leaves beaten off the branches to the ground
Flip in the force by which they’re downed.
The forest litter flies, old willows groan –
Dust, ashes, ruins, all of them moan.
Everything in this grim land waits its end –
but I won’t bend.
While all else crumbles, falls into oblivion,
On this bleak promontory I hang on
By my roots – sad Székely
pine – alone,
Stand up defiant, without companion.
When a windy day, or a wild night
throws over me a robe of snow,
I tell myself, “Tell terror, NO!
you’ll see the winter come and go!”
To the mocking moon that talks about
death and such, I give a shout:
“Sir, I’m all too used to hearing crows
predicting doom atop the gallows!
I’ve stooped at other times, it’s true
beneath the snow and ice – kept quiet,
But then my trunk and needles too
held to their green beneath the white.
I have lasted many winters out,
Till icy winds arrived to clout,
And my twigs, like aeolian strings,
Played music in the gentle breezes.
That’s how the years renew, passing by…
I look the times straight in the eye!”

 (1929)

Translated by John M. Ridland and Peter V. Czipott

GYULA ILLYÉS

BY THE DANUBE IN ESZTERGOM

A Dunánál Esztergomban

1

That’s it, the border, over there.2
Watch as the Danube river glides,
Much like a line across a map,
Red in the blush of eventide.

The old, mysterious river weaves
Across the open misty leas,
A creature from a fairytale,
Alive, betwixt the shimmering trees.

A border, just another link,
A link, another in the chain
With which the slumbering world will bind
Itself in trusses once again.

The border, Europe’s wordless sign
Which cuts across both field and hill,
On this side we’re to live and die,
On that side we’re to hate and kill.

A dark splotch in the soil around
The orphaned nations, as if blood
Were seeping telltale from the ground
Beneath the souls who pace above.

2

The border of my land! Beyond,
Small houses huddle in despair,
A sweep well cranes above the flock
And silently returns my stare.

The border of my land! the soil
From which I drew my sustenance,
Which nourished me with scents and light
And words with flavours rich, intense.

And where if I now name the flower,
the leaf, the reed, the rush, the grass,
they give a friendly nod and gaze,
familiar faces looking back.

The border of my land! The land
Where I’ve the right to sing aloud,
The land where my voice is at home,
Where borders catch its echoing sound.

The land for which, if there are words,
I’ll be ambassador and cry
Its plea of indignation, rage
And outrage to the world outside.

Against all borders, every trench,
And every battle, every curse,
Or anything which seeks to halt
Our wholesome hearts, brave, clear and pure.

3

A rumbling engine, strains of song,
like smuggled wares, still slip across
the rippling foam, past sentries armed,
sneak stealthily through scrub and copse.

The shadows cast by passing clouds
Coaxed by the sun across the sky Fall
on the mottled riverbank,
And idly drift from side to side.

The bridge alone stands motionless,
A foreigner between two lands,
Like Christ, unmoving on the cross,
Twixt earth and sky with outstretched hands.

The palms outstretched and pierced by nails
Give life, forgiveness left and right,
Are watched over by soldiers mute
And orphaned youths on either side.

On either side bright bayonets
By bright youths held, and for my part
I feel their youthful lust to pierce
With kisses hot my peaceful heart.

(1932) – Translated by Thomas Cooper

Notes:

1 Székely (in English Szekler) is the name of the particular Hungarian ethnic group inhabiting the core of Transylvania.

2 Esztergom, a Royal seat until the 13th century, and perennial seat of the Roman Catholic Church of Hungary, northwest of Budapest, on the two sides of the Danube, was severed from Párkány and the entire Northlands after the First World War, with the Danube becoming the new border.

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