For a long while I concealed
you, a slowly ripening fruit
hidden by leaves on a branch,
and now, like frost blooming coldly
across wintry windowpanes,
your blossom flowers in my
mind. And now I know what it
means when your hand flutters
down on your hair; I guard in
my heart your slender ankle
and marvel as coolly at
your ribs’ great natural
as one who has long reposed
among such living wonders.
And yet in my dreams I have
habitually a hundred arms
like a god in a dream, and press
you tight in my hundred arms.

20 February 1942
Translated by John M. Ridland


Októbervégi hexameterek

In its dancing channel the white-laughing creek sprints down off the mountain, the autumn leaf dances and, smoothing itself on the wave-crest, swims off.

Just look: in the shadows the dogwood’s tart jewels are aglow on the bushes, and, sunlit, the little grass blades, a-sparkle, tremble like old folks.

The sun still shines but so ripely that now only craft, slow and steady, holds it aloft on the sky not to drop: it fears for its gold.

I too am slow and crafty in this crafty, slow radiance,

and I worry for you in the winter cold, the way firewood is worried; blind worry about winter clothes ebbs and flows in your eyes

and its winter breath will be fogging its mirrors, so sleepy remorse floods the blue radiance; on your lips the sentence drops off to sleep and the kiss wakes up. Snow will come blackly with winter, the corners of the wide autumn sky already are darkened, the steps of the hours before dawn are already slippery with ice. Come then, fall asleep

under the long beards of the night, and look, I’m your child but also your man, your grown-up son and your lover, I’m ripe to share worries, dead earnest not only in poems. Soon we’ll lie down and my night ear will hear in the dark the beating of sleeping cares on your heart.

I listen, and I wait. And just as a young fledgling stork learning to soar in autumn will teeter back and forth in the sky,

so I toss on the broad day-bed. And slowly the woes waft me off. I take them all over, their measured beating puts me to sleep;

we drop off, two sharing the one concern. And until dreams catch us, the autumn night’s damp banner audibly, darkly, snaps.

Nagytelek major 28 September–14 November 1942



Mennybôl az angyal

Now go in haste
To charred and freezing Budapest.
There, where amid the Russian tanks
No bells are tolling out in thanks,
Where Christmas doesn’t sparkle
now, No golden walnuts deck the
bough, Nothing but cold and
shivering hunger. Teach them to
comprehend their anger. Speak it
aloud out of the night:
Angel, report a miraculous sight.

Flap your wings fast and furiously
As the wind: they’re waiting
desperately. Don’t tell them of the
world outside, Where candles shine
at Christmastide, Warm houses with
their laden tables, The priest’s
uplifting parables;
The tissue rustles round the gifts,
Wise words and clever plans uplift,
Where sparkles glitter on the trees:
Angel, speak miracle to these.

Tell them this is a miracle,
The Christmas tree of a poor
people In Silent Night began to
Now many cross themselves and
turn, Around the world, to stare and
stare; Some comprehend, some
unaware Shake heads: for many, it’s
too much. They pray, repulsed at
what they watch: Not candy canes
hung from this tree But the Nations’
Christ, sad Hungary.

Many of them pass by instead:
The troops who left it stabbed for
dead; The Pharisee who got his price;
The one who had denied it thrice;
Who washed his hands off in its
bowl, For thirty coins sold out its
And as he shamed it, cursed and flayed,
He ate its body, drank its blood.
Now many nations stand and stare,
But speak to it? – not one will dare.

It speaks no more, does not accuse,
But watches, like Christ from the
Cross. This Christmas tree is very
strange, Brought by the Devil or an
Angel? – Those who are dicing for its
clothes They know not what they do,
and those Who sniff and howl, they
may suppose The secret’s
underneath their nose:
This Christmas tree is stranger now:
Hungarians hang from every bough.

The world speaks of miraculous sights,
Priests prattle of heroic fights,
The timid statesman patronises,
The Holy Father canonises.
And every order, each estate of
Mankind asks, What’s this in aid of?
Why didn’t they, as asked to, die
out? Sit waiting for the end in
Why were the heavens rent asunder?
Because ‘ENOUGH!’ one people

And many could not understand
What tidal wave flooded this land.
What did the ranks of nations shy
at? One people cried out. Then fell
But many ask: What caused these groans?
Who wrote these laws from meat and
bones? More and more ask: What did they
They stammer, they don’t have a clue,
– Those who had always known it freely
– ‘Is Freedom such a big thing really?’

Angel, let it be understood:
New life will always spring from blood.
They’ve mingled as the centuries
pass – The Child, the Shepherd and
the ass – On straw beside the
manger crèche,
As life breathes life into the flesh,
They still protect the wondrous
Stand watch above it with their breath.
Because the Star shines, dawn breaks
open: Go tell them this,
Angel from Heaven.

New York, December 1956





The mothers, Herod, beware the mothers!
The mothers must be the sword-hacked
ones! As long as mothers walk the wide
It’s in vain you murder the sons.

All the babies can do is whimper and plead,
Those sluggish, tormented women are
numb, But the meeker the masks that they
put on, The darker their plotting will

For while they rip and tear their breasts,
And mourning gradually robs them of reason,
In the womb’s strange workshop the next
rebellion Prepares to break out in a new

They conceive more sons in the secret cave
Of their loins which re-opens like a cliff’s face,
And they push their shrivelled spawn into the world
And teach them how to put words in place.

Then the earlier sacrifice was in vain.
You can keep on having the infants killed.
But the women, Herod, remember the women!
Butcher them, they must all be stilled!

Excess of pity yields only pity.
Your throne, your robe – your rule may
cease. Only when mothers no longer exist
Can your power be safe, so you dream of peace.

Translated by John M. Ridland




I – An Unsuspecting Poem of October 15th

One moment kisses you on the
mouth the next one stabs you in
the heart, the third’s a quiet, soft
full moon,
the fourth plants roses in your heart,

some moments densely sweet, like
honey, some are flame-throwing
burning bushes, some are a world
struck speechless, dumb, some whoop
and holler as the wine sloshes,

some, we don’t even see pass by,
yearning, silent music is what they
play, some moments, present
everywhere, some fly apart, every
which way,

this one’s fire licking round the
Earth, that one tramples a lady-bird,
some all childlike curiosity,
some, out of Africa, will be heard,

some into which, with his pitchfork, the
Devil pierces from underground,
some are atomic gas, death by bomb
– and there the last utter loathing is

looking at you so inanely, gently,
as retch-inducing and amiable
as a cockroach peering from a croissant,
or a sheep’s eye from sausages on the table.

II – One Week Later

One week later, in a couple of hours
the nation-wide Anthill seethed with wrath:
once numb, now David took his stance
and down fell the statue of Goliath,

Buds bloomed on caps! Hungarian
flowers! Slingshots launched petrol
bombs in flight. The radio sang a
Kálmán song.
Starving for honour we went to fight.

Freedom, it was the task of
Youth to see your heroic
banner wave.
And already the world gazed,
marvelling, at a people clambering out
of their graves.

Ten days of freedom? Make that eleven!
From the heart, every moment, kisses were torn!
And you were no longer ashamed
to admit that you had been Hungarian-

Ten days of freedom? Make that eleven!
Plans bubbled, every brain glowed and blazed.
Our future burgeoned in the test tube
and we buried our dead whom we had praised.

Our windows all lit with candlelight!
But then already suspicions were
Just one more night. And round
Budapest caterpillars tightened their iron

III – In Mid-December

And then the dawn cried out in pain:
come morning, night broke over the
The Monster with Ten Thousand Soles
stomped us, the Grotesque danced on its

From the public W.C. across the
road came the mortar and artillery
shells –
the armoire and the wall by the bed, blown
away! With a Lehár tune, the radio swells.

And something took counsel in council
and then it was back to the Same Old Thing,
and everything around fell into corruption
congruent with the custom of corrupting,

and the treads drove ahead. I don’t know,
I no longer know how it was, and what
happened I no longer know. But the days
passed, and the year-long week – like

They dragged the deported Danube,
we were told, in Austria,
and even today in factories, gunfire
commended Kálmán’s ‘Hazazaa’…

Yet the moment kissed you on the lips
and fair hope mutes the cries of pain:
No! We shall be slaves no longer!
And further: God bless the Hungarian!

Translated by John M. Ridland and Peter V. Czipott




Iron-shod hooves clack and clatter on the pebbly bank…

Two Székely horsemen lead two pairs of horses to the water – Pants and shirts off in a flash – and they’re already in it, splashing. Quickly the water reaches as high as the horses’ chests,

And sweep them away it would, but the riders’ knees tightly squeeze And their heels dig in, as they order the horses to turn –

The horses yield to the men’s command, stretching their necks, So turning, they swim up and down a few times easily

Until one youth, impudent, calls out over his shoulder:

Hold it tight, Imre! And the other: Áron, don’t let yourself go! And loud and raw they laugh heartily at their play –

Then, bored with that, they stand in the bankside shallows, To dry in the sun that beams its tremendous light and heat.

The myriad droplets like golden dust as the creatures shake themselves! This is how they spend the time on horseback, practically petrified, Two tough Székelys, trouble-worn, mournful, stubborn-faced –

Birds beat past and the shadow-casting clouds swim overhead – Noon becomes even more incandescent – they stand, motionless As statues. Once they (or their fathers) stood in these postures At the River Prut too, and also like this on the grenade-shredded

Cliffs at Doberdò1 – or the same in the deadly air of Pennsylvanian mines And they stood wherever they had no choice but to stand,

Confronting their fate with bitter defiance.

And I don’t know what fate holds in store for these in the future. Will there still be joy beneath this ominous sky?

But this I know for certain: if, instead of joy,

Fiery thunderbolts should also plunge down on them here

– While mournfully hundreds of years should pass away – They, even joyless, demented in their torment:

Will stand here forever – so Imre’s holding it tight, While Áron, for his part… Áron’s not letting himself go!


Translated John M. Ridland and Peter V. Czipott

1 The River Prut and cliffs at Doberdò were scenes of some of the bloodiest battles of the First World War, the former on the Russian front (now in Ukraine) and the latter on the Isonzo front north of Trieste in Italy.

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