Selected Poetry from the Antology edited by Csilla Bertha and Gyula Kodolányi1

Part III



Isten háta mögött

empty mangers empty stalls
christmas here no longer calls
no use waiting for
the wisemen at the door

the creator’s got a lot to do
can’t see to all those in the queue
the star of that night
is far from here to give much light

we know we must have faith in him
but the evenings are so dim
the lack of loving care
leaves us feeling cold and bare

in foresight oh lord you don’t lack
but take a look behind your back
folks here for a while
have been waiting for your smile


Translated by Paul Sohar

Divény (Divín), parish church, 17th century. Photo: József Sisa



Kései bűnbánat

 It was I who abandoned you, my Lord,
 And for this you’re punishing me now.
 Today I saw men, grown men crying,
 Accomplished men, among them my own father,
 And another one, too, who burst into tears:
 I’ve seldom seen an aged peasant cry.
 My Lord, misery is nothing new to you,
 Nor the infinite defencelessness
 That crushes the greybeard as his power wanes.
 The poet, he, the prophets’ progeny, said:
 Behold the age-old misery of old age.
 As I gaze across my natal land,
 Now orphaned, the quiet within me is so great, my Lord,
 That the sighs of all, living and dead,
 The words of the living, the ancestral chorus,
 All reach my heart here, within. Noisy
 Aliens! Those who perturb my peace anew
 Cannot disturb this silence.
 Just this side of the horizon
 Rises the trench-embankment in the field –
 Some ethnos (what a technical term to use!)
 Left it at least a thousand years ago.
 That they should be not Romans but barbarians
 Is merely the usual sneer that history makes.
 I could swear I’m already hearing the crickets
 As dusk settles toward the evening in June,
 Or maybe, I’m just hallucinating again:
 It’s only the lorries trucking toward Europe.
 And after the silence comes the historical sobbing:
 Thus sobbed the Greek above Patroclus’s body.
 My Lord, surely do I deserve your anger,
 As many others surely do as well:
 We’re selfish, our ambition infinite,
 Many abandoning our compatriots,
 We too are scattered in our slow diaspora
 Just like the prophet’s people in the world.
 We’ve been scattered, but over our natal lands.
 We no longer sense our path, my Lord,
 Neither separately, each one his own,
 Nor together, no matter how many we may be.
 Where we should go, my Lord, I do not know.
 For fear has set up shop within us now,
 We prick our ears, we lie low, we loiter,
 Inuring ourselves: the tears of crying men
 Scarcely touch our souls.
 I sit on steps before a door: it’s locked.
 Here was once the station’s waiting-room.
 The station’s exit is fully overgrown;
 Weeds spread where people seldom tread.
 Hardly a soul departs hence anymore,
 Not even those who left here once before.
 Once departed, they no longer visit.
 When wind whips up, the world sends dispatches
 Over telegraph poles – Morse in the humming,
 But in a different language, incomprehensible.
 My Lord, many of us have abandoned our past,
 While the spiteful present has barred our way.
 This present cannot even be expressed,
 And the future that belongs to us
 And to our heirs is at this point all
 The less expressible. Free us, my Lord,
 But not from the past, our past, to which we cling,
 Not from the present – we’re loath to yield that, too –
 Nor from the future, which remains unknown,
 But from our loitering, our expectancy;
 Put words in our mouths: the intelligible
 Word, Do not let us hobble our own strides,
 But show us the way, the true and passable one:
 My Lord, watch over each in our assembly!

Translated by John M. Ridland and Peter V. Czipott

Divény (Divín), parish church, 17th century. Photo: József Sisa



(Számûzött szivárvány) (Excerpts)


you have fallen naked into a bomb-crater
the sky above you studded with barbed wire
eternal night sunless
on your body the rubble of brick

crawl out to the ground on all fours
stand up don’t fear you have the strength
lift your head high
all the suffering here is yours

Translated by Len Roberts and Krisztina Lay


Only in imagination can you get home
on the torn-up, wounded roads of familiar faces
barbed wire covers the eyes,
only handshakes can look each other in the eye

we’ll get accustomed to sign language –
dash-parenthesis – some one has bit the dust
three dots … ellipsis … sold down the river,
silence: we’re together

Translated by Ádám Makkai


tossed onto the threshold of my country
tied up tight with grey strings
a howling, suspicious package

I get dissembled and re-assembled
a clock gets planted into my throat
surely my corpse will be force-fed
though till then they won’t even kick me – – –
lo, it’s for me that the bell tolls!


Translated by Ádám Makkai


Rohó (Rohov), country house, 19th century. Photo: József Sisa




Fallen face-first on the litter of leaves
rolling on the thundering boundaries,
that man speaks out his thoughts
like one who hasn’t been slapped in the mouth,
like one who takes even his breath
from the bowels of the earth,

stones cough on his lungs,
clayey mud sticks
on his tongue,
so that he can feel,
not just see,
the earth, where he was taken from,
for resurrection.

Fallen face-first on the litter of leaves,
and still going on,
waking the tall
but sleeping poplar,
not letting the pine forests
stitch together, with green needles,
all that is already mythless,
but still conscience –

Fallen face-first on the litter of leaves,
looking for some danger,
in bone-wood up to his waist,
he just keeps going further and further,
like someone for whom a reigning forest
and such a land were custom fit,
so as to save this grievous dominion,
breath by steady breath.


Translated by Len Roberts


Alsókorompa (Dolná Krupá), Brunswick mansion. Charles Moreau, 1820–1822. Photo: József Sisa




Ladies and gentlemen
the man in whose blood
they pan for gold
Louis Armstrong
now sings for you

Homeless in my homeland
I’m a livid spot on my country
it’s me
the dirty scum
it’s me
the blood spat on snow
it’s me
the dark billiard ball
it’s me
the second-hand burial suit
it’s me
the twentieth-century black pine boksz
it’s me
the lump of coal thrown in the fire

a homeless
livid spot
the holy ascension of liberty
that’s me
the worn-out record
that’s me
the soot-stained glass
held up to the solar eclipse
that’s me
the shadow of graveyards
that’s me

a livid spot on my homeland
homeless in my homeland

in whose blood
they panned for gold
ladies and gentlemen
the man with the golden horn
Louis Armstrong
sang for you

Translated by Paul Sohar

Malonya (Mlyňany), Ambrózy-Migazzi mansion. Loránd Balogh, 1895. Photo: József Sisa



Csehszlovákiai magyar költő fohásza az Úrhoz

 My Lord, enlighten our wits,
 create ministers, scalawags
 and piano tuners for us,
 deliver us from tinnitus,
 from earlobe-tugging and tongue transplants,
 for our fate’s as thorny as a cactus,
 and hard, too, as a ram’s horns –
 look upon your peasants, my Lord,
 stuck neck-deep in the ground like onions,
 yielding nothing but barren invective;
 do something with us, All-powerful,
 let us not forever snare flies
 like the fly-amanita fungus:
 seat us on your shining threshold,
 slip your business card into our breast pockets
 and initiate us into your secrets!
 we’d willingly accept from You
 some powerful trumpets,
 the jawbone of an ass,
 brimstone hail, and whatnot.

Be good-hearted toward us, my Lord:
we’ll rustle up a burning briar bush for You,
from which your crackling mercy
can pummel us, too,
now and forever after


Translated by Peter V. Czipott

 Nemesgomba (Hubice), country house, 19th century. Photo: József Sisa



Ha egyszer elfogyunk

Often I can’t fall asleep,
the bed is hot, I’m tossed by the wave,
in dreams I see my people’s fate
is no great obsequy but a withering.
And I groan out loud like a galley-slave.

I don’t fathom ourselves and you, God:
so, have we no minds, have you no heart?
your hat will lose its crown of flowers,
it’ll be a shame if once we disappear,
and a greater shame, if we forever depart.

(1937) – Translated by John M. Ridland and Peter V. Czipott

 Rárósmulyad (Muľa), parish church. István Medgyaszay, 1909–1910. Photo: József Sisa



Noé bárkája felé

on the back of the Imre Nagy painting4
We must gather in, herd in everything.
The words as well. Not one word,
not one dialect word should be left out.
Nothing is superfluous.

It may as well pour for forty thousand days
and forty thousand nights, if not even
one bubble of remorse
trails the ark.
For the water shall go down.
And the mud shall dry.

And then from the preserved,
existing word we can
again bring forth
the very first wheat stalk,
if we are not allowed to live
upon the Word anymore.


Translated by Len Roberts and Mariann Nagy

Kistapolcsány (Topoľčianky), castle, 17th century. Photo: József Sisa


1 A Nation Dismembered: The 1920 Treaty of Trianon in Hungarian Poetry. Hungarian Review, Budapest, 2019, 216 pp. Corrigenda. In our March issue, on page 100, the missing name of the poet of “Indian Dirge” is Tibor Tollas. With our apoligies, the Editors.

2 These lines form a pessimistic rebuttal to the poet Mihály Vörösmarty (1800–1855) and his lines in his poem, “Szózat” (Appeal): “Around the graves where we shall die / a weeping world will come, / and millions will in pity gaze / upon the martyrs’ tomb.” (Translation: Watson Kirkconnell.)

3 This line alludes to the poet Sándor Petôfi (1823–1849) and his lines in the poem, “A magyar nemzet” (The Hungarian Nation): “If Earth’s the hat that God puts on / Then Hungary is its flowery crown.” (Translation: John M. Ridland and Peter V. Czipott.)

4 One of the best-known paintings of the renowned Transylvanian Hungarian painter, Imre Nagy (1893–1967), is entitled “Noah’s Ark” (1973).

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