POEMS FROM FOR ALL THIS HERE – SELECTED POEMS 1975–2015

VOICES FLOAT FROM BOUGH TO BOUGH

Hangok szállnak ágról ágra
  

In memory of Petrarch (1304–1374)

In the dark depths of the dream, a man’s voice wakes me, full and clear. Light glistens somewhere in the heights, as if on the arches of an inner courtyard. The voice is telling a poem. Its music I understand, its words I try to grasp in vain. I recognize him: this is the first time he has addressed me, him, the friend of Popes, of whom I rarely thought, and who used to ignore me.

This voice calls out to me from the gush of the cataract, from the rumbling gorge, where a pillow of haze softens the sharp edges. A hermit’s voice, over the ravages of plague and a sullen train of refugees. Over a dream thrown into the winds. In vain I try to grasp the words, I hear only the voice, the warm resonance.

A man’s voice full and clear is telling a poem emerging, a message from behind six hundred and fifty frayed years. I recognize it: it is my father’s voice. Words are taking shape slowly, a dream thrown into the wind: they will become this song.

A tear starts from the corner of my eye, and I wake. I hear the warm resonance: ‘In the dark depths of the dream a man’s voice full and clear’…

1994

Translated by Thomas Cooper and the author

POET OF OLD SENDS WORD ON THE WIND

Régi költő üzen a széllel

‘You see, whom I do not know, the wind
comes into my room and talks to me’

Tu Fu, free translation

Beyond fifty on a summer night, you awaken to a sound.
From your stomach a coldness sneaks through your body.
How many more years will she give, your fate, gracious or cruel?
You wonder, you keep counting, you count the years.

In nerve and cell, a numbness spreads:
one more, or two, three, a dozen, twenty?
a single day, another night,
or will flesh be frozen in a final freeze

on your bones, as heart and brain are abandoned
by soul surfeited and inconstant?
Will you have another day, familiar and certain,

which the heart finds sweet? And the other light dawns now,
it beckons you, and the cleaving promise glows. Do not fear!
The wind has entered my room, and it talks to me.

1998

Translated by Thomas Cooper and the author

 THE WIND HAS ENTERED MY ROOM

A szél jött be szobámba

 The wind has entered my room, and it talks to me.
 From the wind the answer comes into my labyrinth,
 the rustle of the leaves? The poet of old?
 To whom the wind talked once, and now he speaks
 To me, that I may pass his sentence on?
 Wherefore do I live, my besieged life, where is it heading,
 this is what I was contemplating
 at the twilit hour. Whom or what does my self
 Serve, this stubborn world-devouring machine? How
 should I explain when my daughter or son asks
 why they must live, why I must live? The wind spoke:
 “For all this here, to be a party to it.” Like this it sounded,
 somehow like this. Is that enough? I pleaded. “Enough.”
 In my dream I hear the wind stirring and mumbling.

1998

Translated by Thomas Cooper and the author

THE SERMON OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

Keresztelő Szent János prédikációja

After Pieter Bruegel the Elder

They circle the edges of the forest, the prefect’s police. Suspicion is their profession, but as the morning passes, they gradually grasp that there will be no breach of order here. Thousands are sitting in the clearing, orderly. No one orchestrates them. Among them, permeated even against their will by the silence radiating from the crowd, sit the informants, staring on in wonder. Here, everyone is a “brother,” or will be. Sometimes, they sing a line and then fall silent. Slowly, those who have grown hungry take out a bite to eat. Others chat and laugh, and their voices murmur and fall with the babble of the brook under the cool tent of the forest. An infant’s cry is heard, and small children run hither and thither, step on the adults’ hands, trip on their feet, fall into their embrace. And the adults scold, calmly, kindly.

Whole neighborhoods have set out to gather here. Their patience and their trust suggest that they are one big family. Is there a family or a neighborhood down there untouched by discontent, untouched by hatred? There is order here, even in the distant nook of the forest, where the men and the women are waiting in separate lines to relieve their bladders in the bushes.

The clearing is jostling for the most part with peasants and craftsmen. Hardly a wealthy or fashionably dressed man to be seen, and when one happens by, he modestly strolls onward. The wealthy, those who spend this festive day in fashionable garb, are idling by the banks of the river. They did not even notice the little groups which have been wandering forth since early morn and disappearing among the trees on the hillside. And while the authorities perhaps took their preparatory measures a bit too far, the well-informed on the grass below dismiss the event up here with a shrug of the shoulders, a yawn, a wave of the arm. ‘The Baptist. The hillside shepherd. The clods need their claptrap. Let them graze. Let them drink from the spring. Let them bleat and baa.’

A wave of wonder ripples across the crowd, all the way to the edge of the clearing. John has stepped forth. He gives a wave of his arm and begins to speak. Those who have been pushed to the back stand up to see better. They seek out little mounds on which to stand, and the younger men clamber up into the trees.

The police come closer too. Some of them join those standing among the bushes at the back. With their heads tilted to one side, they listen to the words, lest yet again they be rebuked by a curious wife back home. ‘Why did you spend the whole day there if you were sitting on your ears, you oaf?’

The chronicler stands almost at the edge of the circle, his back against a tree. He is incognito. His round, symmetrical face is pleasant and reserved. The police avoid him. They consider him a gentleman informant. John seems almost to be preaching to him. He turns towards him, and his dark eyes look into the distance, past even him. The chronicler, his head turned noticeably to the side, takes in the entire spectacle in a single glance. His gaze is both heedful and absorbed. Between his eyebrows, a deep furrow sets out up his forehead.

1977

Translated by Thomas Cooper

January

Január

Snow, snow, snow.
January, snow.
January, month of snow. Sundays of snow, Sun and Snow.
Rebirth of Sun in snow.
January, month of my birth. Sun and Light born of snow.
Asleep, half-dreaming in a caul of snow, under a white feather cover.
Trees, bushes, dry stalks sprout from under the snowy cocoon. Drawn with sharp, clean lines, shaped with a finality. Contours and colors – black, silver-gray, russet, blue. Sounds: barking and croaking, faultless shapes hovering over the snow. Human voices, perfectly shaped, scattering.
A dense cloud of breath, the soul fraying into the world. Breath to air.
Hot soul-clouds, glass lacework intertwining in the branches, hoarfrost petals on windowpanes, thoughts perfectly etched.
A world dreaming in a caul of snow, images sprouted from beneath.
We set out into the year, the caul begins to melt, slushy green peaks out from underneath.
We set out, unstopping, towards the howling horn of plenty
of the fertile soil, the clamor, blood, the stench, the gray concrete cold.
From dreams beneath the caul of snow we set out slowly, with the memory of clear images, reluctantly, through the lukewarm heat of April towards the fire, towards the damp dying of November, with the hope of return to January, death and rebirth, towards the new infant.
January, snow and Sun, the hoarfrost petals of the Infant God, the snow-tree of life.

1991

Translated by Thomas Cooper and the author

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