Gyula Illyés

“Harsh discord?” – Yes! They think it thus
which brings us solace!

Yes! Let the violin strings,
let singing throats

learn curse-clatter of splintering glass
crashing to the ground

the screen of rasp
wedged in the teeth

of buzzing saw; – let there be no peace, no gaiety
in gilded, lofty far

and delicate, closed-off concert halls,
until in woe-darkened hearts!

“Harsh discord!” Yes! They think it thus
which brings us solace!

that the “people” live
and have still a soul,

their voice is heard! Variations on the curse
of steel grating crashing against stone –
though on the tuned and taut

piano and vocal cords

to stark existence their bleak truth,
for this same “harsh discord”,

this woeful battle-cry disturbing hell’s infernal din
cries out


For this very anguish cries out

– through how many falsely sweet songs – and

to fate: Let there be Harmony,
order, true order, or the world is lost,
the world is lost, if the people

speak not again – in majesty!

O stoic, stern musician, true Magyar

(like many of your peers – “notorious”)
was it ordained by law, that from the depth
of the people’s soul, whither you descended

through the trumpet, the as yet mine-shaft throat

of this pit, you should send up the cry
into this frigid-rigid giant hall

whose soft-lights myriad candles are?

Frivolous, soothing melodies played in my ear
insult my grief:

let no light-tuned Zerkovicz sing the dirge at this,
our mother’s funeral;

homelands are lost – who dares to mourn them
with grind-organ arpeggios?

Is there hope yet in our human race?

If this be our care and the reeling brain battles
benumbed, speak, you

fierce, wild, severe, aggressive great musician,
that – for all that! – we still have cause

to hope, to live!

And that we have the right

– for we are mortals and life-givers –

to look all that in the eye
which we may not avoid.

For troubles grow when they are covered.

It was possible, but no more,

to hide our eyes, to cover our ears
while storms wreak their havoc,
and later revile: you did not help!

You do us honour by revealing what
is revealed to you,

the good, the bad, virtue and sin –
you raise our stature by
speaking to us as equals.

This – this consoles!

What different words are these!

Human, not sham.

It gives us the right; and so the strength to face
the harshest despair.

Our thanks for it,

for the strength to take victory
even over hell.

Behold the end that carries us on. Behold the guidon: by speaking out
the horror is dissolved.

Behold the answer to life’s riddle

by a great mind, an artist’s spirit: it was worth suffering
through hell.

Because we have suffered such things that still
there are no verbs for them,

Picasso’s two-nosed women,
six-legged stallions

alone could have keened abroad
galloping, neighed out

what we have borne, we men,

what no one who has not lived it can grasp,

for which there are no words now, nor can be perhaps,
only music, music, music, like your music

twin lodestars in our sky of sound,
music alone, music alone, music,

hot with ancient breath of mine-depths,
dreaming “the people’s future song”,
nursing them to triumph,

setting them free so that the very walls
of prisons are razed,

for bliss promised, here on earth
praying with blasphemy,
sacrificing with sacrilege,
wounding to cure,

music now lifting

worthy listeners to a better world –

work, a good healer, who lulls not to sleep;

who, probing our soul

with your chord-fingers, touches
where trouble lies,

and how strange, how wholesome is the salve you give:

the plaintive call,

the lament which would spring from us,
but cannot spring,

for we are born to dumb stillness of heart:

your nerve strings sing for us.


Translation by Claire Lashley

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