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March 15th: Sándor Petőfi’s Nemzeti Dal (National Song), Hungary’s Most Famous Poem

By Fanni Kaszás // 2018.03.16.

170th years ago, on March 15th1848, the young poet and revolutionary Sándor Petőfi read a poem aloud to the gathering crowd in downtown Budapest. By the end of the poem everyone was chanting the refrain together as they began to march around the city, seizing the presses, liberating political prisoners, and declaring the end of Habsburg rule in Hungary. 

Liberty and love /These two I must have. / For my love I’ll sacrifice / My life. / For liberty I’ll sacrifice My love.

wrote Sándor Petőfi in one of his famous poems, and indeed he ultimately sacrificed his life for Hungary’s freedom. Having played a leading role in the literary life of the pre-revolutionary era, Petőfi greatest day in his painfully short life came on 15 March 1848.

The talented poet, a member of the so-called radical youth movement the “Youths of March”, was co-author and author, respectively, of the two most important written documents of the revolution: the 12 points (political demands) and his revolutionary poem Nemzeti Dal. Both were presented by Petőfi himself on the front steps of the National Museum on March 15th.

After Petőfi was unable to secure a seat in the post-revolution National Assembly, he decided to join the Hungarian Revolutionary Army and fought under the Polish Liberal General Józef Bem, in the Transylvanian division. He was last seen alive in the Battle of Segesvár (Sighișoara, Romania) on 31 July 1849, where he is presumed to have been killed in the fighting .

In honor of the 170th anniversary of the 1848-49 Revolution and War for Independence, here is Petőfi’s “National Song”, in English and Hungarian:

Nemzeti dal (Hungarian)

Talpra magyar, hí a haza!
Itt az idő, most vagy soha!
Rabok legyünk, vagy szabadok?
Ez a kérdés, válasszatok! –
A magyarok istenére
Esküszünk,
Esküszünk, hogy rabok tovább
Nem leszünk!

Rabok voltunk mostanáig,
Kárhozottak ősapáink,
Kik szabadon éltek-haltak,
Szolgaföldben nem nyughatnak.
A magyarok istenére
Esküszünk,
Esküszünk, hogy rabok tovább
Nem leszünk!

Sehonnai bitang ember,
Ki most, ha kell, halni nem mer,
Kinek drágább rongy élete,
Mint a haza becsülete.
A magyarok istenére
Esküszünk,
Esküszünk, hogy rabok tovább
Nem leszünk!

Fényesebb a láncnál a kard,
Jobban ékesíti a kart,
És mi mégis láncot hordunk!
Ide veled, régi kardunk!
A magyarok istenére
Esküszünk,
Esküszünk, hogy rabok tovább
Nem leszünk!

A magyar név megint szép lesz,
Méltó régi nagy hiréhez;
Mit rákentek a századok,
Lemossuk a gyalázatot!
A magyarok istenére
Esküszünk,
Esküszünk, hogy rabok tovább
Nem leszünk!

Hol sírjaink domborulnak,
Unokáink leborulnak,
És áldó imádság mellett
Mondják el szent neveinket.
A magyarok istenére
Esküszünk,
Esküszünk, hogy rabok tovább
Nem leszünk!

National Song (English)

On your feet now, Hungary calls you!
Now is the moment, nothing stalls you,
Shall we be slaves or men set free
That is the question, answer me!
By all the gods of Hungary
We hereby swear,
That we the yoke of slavery
No more shall wear.

Slaves we have been to this hour,
Our forefathers who fell from power
Fell free and lived as free men will,
On land that was their own to till,
By all the gods of Hungary
We hereby swear,
That we the yoke of slavery
No more shall wear.

Whoever now his life begrudges
Deserves his death with thieves and drudges,
For setting his own worthless hide
Above his country’s need and pride.
By all the gods of Hungary
We hereby swear,
That we the yoke of slavery
No more shall wear.

The sword shines brighter than the fetters
It is the finery of our betters,
Of slaves and fetters we grow bored.
Leap to my side, ancestral sword.
By all the gods of Hungary
We hereby swear,
That we the yoke of slavery
No more shall wear.

Magyars, once more our name and story
Shall match our ancestors’ in glory
The centuries of shame and hurt
Can now be washed away like dirt.
By all the gods of Hungary
We hereby swear,
That we the yoke of slavery
No more shall wear.

And wheresoever we may perish
Grandchildren those graves shall cherish
Singing our praises in their prayers
To thank us that our names are theirs.
By all the gods of Hungary
We hereby swear,
That we the yoke of slavery
No more shall wear.

1848

Translated by George Szirtes

 

via babelmatrix.org

featured image via wikimedia