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The Day of Hungarian Poetry: Easter Poems with Translations

Fanni Kaszás 2020.04.11.

Each year on April 11th, Hungarians come together to celebrate the Day of Hungarian Poetry. The event – which has been held on famous Hungarian poet Attila József’s birthday since 1964 – brings people of all ages together to admire the inspiring achievements of the country’s greatest literary geniuses. This year, as the celebration of poetry coincides with the celebration of Easter, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we decided to collect Christian poems from Hungarian poets written about the celebration of Easter and the Savior.

János Pilinszky (1921–1981) was one of the greatest Hungarian poets of the 20th century. He served with the Hungarian army in the Second World War. Pilinszky’s style includes a juxtaposition of Roman Catholic faith and intellectual disenchantment. His poetry often focuses on the underlying sensations of life and death; his time as a prisoner of war during the Second World War, and later his life under communist dictatorship, furthered his isolation and estrangement. Although it was not published for 10 years after its completion because the ruling communist party thought it to be pessimistic, his poetry volume, titled Harmadnapon (On the Third Day, 1959) established him as a courageous witness to the horrors of mid-twentieth century Europe. The book contains his most well-known poem, Apokrif (Apocrypha). Two selections of his poems were translated into English (Selected Poem in 1976later published as The Desert of Love in 1989, and Crater in 1978).

János Pilinszky: On The Third Day

And the ashen grey skies start blustering,
the trees of Ravensbrück towards dawn.
And the roots start to feel the light.
And wind rises.
And the world resounds.

Because perfidious mercenaries may have killed him,
and his heart may have stopped beating, –
on the third day he triumphed over death.
Et resurrexit tertia die.

Pilinszky János: Harmadnapon

És fölzúgnak a hamuszín egek,
hajnalfele a ravensbrücki fák.
És megérzik a fényt a gyökerek.
És szél támad.
És fölzeng a világ.

Mert megölhették hitvány zsoldosok,
és megszünhetett dobogni szive –
Harmadnapra legyőzte a halált.
Et resurrexit tertia die.

Mihály Babits (1883-1941) was a Hungarian poet, writer, and translator. Babits traveled a lot to Italy and his experiences during his travels led him to translate Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy (Hell in 1913, Purgatory in 1920, and Paradise in 1923) into Hungarian. From 1911 on, Babits became one of the editors of Hungary’s most famous literary magazines, the Nyugat (West). Eventually, in 1929, he was appointed as editor-in-chief of the paper (sharing the role until 1933 with novelist Zsigmond Móricz), which he held until his death. His poems are well known for their intense religious themes, and he was a dedicated pacifist all his life as well (although he did protest against the label, saying he preferred to be called a humanist, as he “was born a fighter”). When reciting his poem Húsvét előtt (Before Easter) – which includes both religious elements and the idea of peace – at a Nyugat event, the crowd picked up on the refrain: “it’s enough! it’s enough! enough now!/come peace! come peace!”

Mihály Babits: Before Easter

If my lips shred to pieces – oh, courage!
this wild, wild burgeoning month of March,
drinking excitement with trees all excited,
drunk with seething, tantalising,
intoxicating,
blood-bearing, salt-scented March winds,
by grey, heavy skies,
enmeshed in the murderous mill wheel;

if my lips shred to pieces – more courage!
if bleeding raw with the song, and if
drowned by the thunderous Mill, my song
cannot be heard but merely tasted
by tasting the pain,
even so, give me yet more courage
– oceans of blood! –
bring the bitter song of bloodshed!

God, we have now heroes to glorify!
the mighty giants’ blind, bloody victories,
engines and red-hot gun barrels
busily packed with cold compresses
for their dreadful exercise:
but I will sing no paean to victory,
the rough-shod iron tread of trampling triumph
is as paltry to me,
as the deadly mill of the tyrant:

the teeming, pregnant winds of March, mighty rush,
fresh tingling blood, won’t let me salute the mad
death-machines, monstrous mills, rather
lovemaking, people, and the living
swiftly flowing, racy blood:
and if my lips are torn to shreds – give courage!
in these salty, blood-scented March winds,
by grey heavy skies,
enmeshed in the murderous mill wheel,

where mighty thrones and nations grind to dust,
century old boundaries,
iron shackles and ancient beliefs
crumble into smithereens,
flesh and the soul in double demise,
as gangrenous sores
are spat in the face of the virginal moon
and one rotation of the wheel
ends a generation:

I will not praise the mighty machine
now in March when in the air,
excited by the blustering wind
keenly we sense the moistness,
taste the sap rising, precious Magyar
blood to awaken:
my mouth, as I swallowed the sharp salty spray
flaked into sores,
saying verse is a curse of a pain now.

but if my lips shred to pieces, oh courage!
Magyar song soars in the month of March,
blood-red songs fly, ride the tempest!
I scorn the victor’s glorious fame,
the blind hero, the folk-machine,
the one, who spells death wherever he goes,
whose gaze can maim, paralyse the word,
whose touch betokens slavery,
but I’ll sing, anyone who may come,

the one, the first, who comes to pronounce the word,
the one, who first will dare to say it aloud,
thunder it, oh fearless, fearless,
that wondrous word, so waited for
by hundreds of thousands, holy,
mankind-redeeming, breath-restoring,
nation-salvaging, gate-opening,
liberating, precious word:
it’s enough! it’s enough! enough now!
come peace! come peace!

peace, oh peace again!
Let us breathe again!
Those who sleep shall rest asleep,
those who live keep coping,
the poor hero buried deep,
the poor people hoping.
Ring the churchbells to the sky,
glory, alleluia,
bring us blossoms, new-born March,
bountiful renewer!
Some shall go their work to do,
some their dead to witness,
may God give us bread and wine,
wine to bring forgiveness!

Oh peace! come peace!
we want peace again!
Let us breathe again!
The dead do not seek revenge,
the dead do not mind us.
Brothers, if we stay alive,
leave the past behind us.
Who was guilty? never ask,
plant the fields with flowers,
let us love and understand
this great world of ours:
some shall go their work to do,
some their dead to witness:
may God give us bread and wine,
drink up, to forgiveness!

Babits Mihály: Húsvét előtt

S ha kiszakad ajkam, akkor is,
e vad, vad március évadán,
izgatva belül az izgatott
fákkal, a harci márciusi
inni való
sós, vérizü széltől részegen,
a felleg alatt,
sodrában a szörnyü malomnak:

ha szétszakad ajkam, akkor is,
ha vérbe lábbad a dallal és
magam sem hallva a nagy Malom
zúgásán át, dalomnak izét
a kínnak izén
tudnám csak érezni, akkor is
— mennyi a vér! —
szakadjon a véres ének!

Van most dícsérni hősöket, Istenem!
van óriások vak diadalmait
zengeni, gépeket, ádáz
munkára hűlni borogatott
ágyúk izzó torkait:
de nem győzelmi ének az énekem,
érctalpait a tipró diadalnak
nem tisztelem én,
sem az önkény pokoli malmát:

mert rejtek élet száz szele, március
friss vérizgalma nem türi géphalált
zengeni, malmokat; inkább
szerelmet, embert, életeket,
meg nem alvadt fürge vért:
s ha ajkam ronggyá szétszakad, akkor is
ez inni való sós vérizü szélben,
a felleg alatt,
sodrában a szörnyü Malomnak,

mely trónokat őröl, nemzeteket,
százados korlátokat
roppantva tör szét, érczabolát,
multak acél hiteit,
s lélekkel a testet, dupla halál
vércafatává
morzsolva a szűz Hold arcába köpi
s egy nemzedéket egy kerék-
forgása lejárat:

és mégsem a gépet énekelem
márciusba, most mikor
a levegőn, a szél erején
érzeni nedves izét
vérünk nedvének, drága magyar
vér italának:
nekem mikor ittam e sós levegőt,
kisebzett szájam és a szók
most fájnak e szájnak:

de ha szétszakad ajkam, akkor is,
magyar dal március évadán,
szélnek tör a véres ének!
Én nem a győztest énekelem,
nem a nép-gépet, a vak hőst,
kinek minden lépése halál,
tekintetétől ájul a szó,
kéznyomása szolgaság,
hanem azt, aki lesz, akárki,

ki először mondja ki azt a szót,
ki először el meri mondani,
kiáltani, bátor, bátor,
azt a varázsszót, százezerek
várta, lélekzetadó, szent,
embermegváltó, visszaadó,
nemzetmegmentő, kapunyitó,
szabadító drága szót,
hogy elég! hogy elég! elég volt!

hogy béke! béke!
béke! béke már!
Legyen vége már!
Aki alszik, aludjon,
aki él az éljen,
a szegény hős pihenjen,
szegény nép reméljen.
Szóljanak a harangok,
szóljon allelujja!
mire jön új március,
viruljunk ki újra!
egyik rész a munkára,
másik temetésre:
adjon Isten bort, buzát,
bort a feledésre!

Ó, béke! béke!
legyen béke már!
Legyen vége már!
Aki halott, megbocsát,
ragyog az ég sátra.
Testvérek, ha túl leszünk,
sohse nézünk hátra!
Ki a bűnös, ne kérdjük,
ültessünk virágot,
szeressük és megértsük
az egész világot:
egyik rész a munkára,
másik temetésre:
adjon Isten bort, buzát,
bort a feledésre!

Hungarian poet and translator Jenő Dsida (1907-1938) was born in Transylvania, where his childhood was overshadowed by World War I, when his father was captured by the Russians, and later by the Romanian occupation. He was discovered by Hungarian journalist and the nation’s “great story-teller,” Elek Benedek, who helped him throughout his career. Most of his poems were written with a cheerful tone, brilliant rhymes, and rhythmic games, with a sense of melancholy towards life. Dsida’s recurring themes are patriotism, deep Catholic religiosity, love, and the fear of death. He wrote of himself: “I believe in faith, courage, the beauty of life that remains in all circumstances. I believe in the almighty smile.” The poet died at the young age of 31 because of his ongoing heart disease.

Jenő Dsida: Maundy Thursday

No connection. The train would be six hours
late, it was announced, and that Maundy Thursday
I sat for six hours in the airless dark
of the waiting room of Kocsárd’s tiny station.
My soul was heavy and my body broken –
I felt like one who, on a secret journey,
sets out in darkness, summoned by the stars
on fateful earth, braving yet fleeing doom;
whose nerves are so alert that he can sense
enemies, far off, tracking him by stealth.
Outside the window engines rumbled by
and dense smoke like the wing of a huge bat
brushed my face. I felt dull horror, gripped
by a deep bestial fear. I looked around:
it would have been so good to speak a little
to close friends, a few words to men you trust,
but there was only damp night, dark and chill,
Peter was now asleep, and James and John
asleep, and Matthew, all of them asleep…
Thick beads of cold sweat broke out on my brow
and then streamed down over my crumpled face.

Dsida Jenő: Nagycsütörtök

Nem volt csatlakozás. Hat óra késést
jeleztek, és a fullatag sötétben
hat órát üldögéltem a kocsárdi
váróteremben, nagycsütörtökön.
Testem törött volt, és nehéz a lelkem,
mint ki sötétben titkos útnak indult,
végzetes földön csillagok szavára,
sors elől szökve, mégis, szembe sorssal
s finom ideggel érzi messziről
nyomán lopódzó ellenségeit.
Az ablakon túl mozdonyok zörögtek,
a sűrű füst, mint roppant denevérszárny,
legyintett arcul. Tompa borzalom
fogott el, mély állati félelem.
Körülnéztem: szerettem volna néhány
szót váltani jó, meghitt emberekkel,
de nyirkos éj volt és hideg sötét volt,
Péter aludt, János aludt, Jakab
aludt, Máté aludt, és mind aludtak…
Kövér csöppek indultak homlokomról,
és végigcsurogtak gyűrött arcomon.

featured photo: Zoltán Balogh/MTI