We had a blast during National Translation Month! Stay tuned for more translation news, collaborations, and publishing opportunities we’ll continue to post throughout the year, as we continue to grow our project across the country.
Here are the parting shots: four Hungarian poets translated by Paul Sohar—three from the 20th century and one from the late 18th century, a true Romantic.
Until next year, read, write, and share your favorite translations. The world lies open—take time to explore it.
—Claudia Serea & Loren Kleinman
I would like to feature Sándor Kányádi center stage; he is still alive and actively spreading the love of poetry wherever he’s invited. He was born and spent much of his life in the Hungarian community of Transylvania, Romania. He saw the survival of his ethnic minority in building bridges with the Romanian majority through their poets; he did not only translate them but wrote memorial poems to them. One of them is in this batch, in addition to a poem dedicated to the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi. The other poems demonstrate Kányádi’s eclectic style.
These poems are not in my new Kányádi volume “In Contemporary Tense” published last year in Romania and the US (Iniquity Press); they got left out for technical reasons.
Going back in time, the second poet, Lőrinc Szabó, lived a generation earlier, while Endre Ady ushered in modern Hungarian poetry at the beginning of the 20th century. Mihály Csokonai Vitéz takes us back to the rococo age with his unabashed and amply-demonstrated sentiments.
** ** ** **
The Eternal Shepherd
In memoriam Zaharia Sancu, Romanian poet
they’ve put you in charge of a black-suited
herd darie eternal shepherd
you sit on the other side
of the great river like you did at one time
by the purling Danube
listening with eyes closed
and from now on you go forever
barefoot just as you did as a child
limping to one or another of your helpers
from herd to herd you keep reporting
by the melancholy sound of cowbells
you and your fellows keep sending messages
with every sunset and with every
rise of a full moon
to those still busy shepherding on this side
In memoriam Zaharia Stancu
fekete nyájak számadója
lettél darie örök pásztor
ülsz a nagy folyam túlsó
partján mint hajdanán a zajló
dunát hallgatva lehunyt szemmel
s mint gyermekkorodban annyiszor
most már örökre mezítláb el-
elbicegsz egyik-másik volt
bojtárodhoz számadó társaidhoz
kolompok mélabús el-
elhaló hangján üzengetsz
üzengettek a még innenső
minden naplementével minden
The Legend of Brâncuşi’s Endless Column
He strolled down Main Street toward sunset,
escorted by mountains ambling on his left,
and when he was stopped by a familiar face, a kin,
they too stopped and listened in respectful silence.
Deep in thought he strolled, sometimes even saying
things, mostly to his beard.
The street was clamorous and colorful. His eyes
got stuck on an old geezer who was roaming the city
with a haversack filled with flutes, not hawking
his merchandise, only playing his flute as he walked.
Always the same tune, the same old ditty known to everyone;
he too recalled it from his childhood.
Nothing wrong with that, he thought, why should the song change
just because the streets are always changing.
Smiling at this simple piece of wisdom
he purchased a flute and tried it out;
he scrutinized it with respect due to a work of art
before slipping the musical instrument in a pocket.
Strolling on he carried the ditty in his ear;
his mother appeared to his mind as she was
decorating a platter and humming a tune to herself.
Stopping one place he scrawled zigzags in the dust
with his walking stick. But it was a cemetery, a forest of
gravestones he saw where only a day ago he had vainly sought
the old playmates no longer living in the village;
who knows where and in what soil the war
had buried them?…
Perhaps a monument visible from Paris, from
the Ocean, a column of coffins stacked from end to end
on top of one another would be a worthy memorial…
Strolling on, he scrawled a long row of coffins
in the dust. Then past the church and before the small
hill he looked up – even the mountains backed off – and
with his gaze he etched the Column
into the thickening dusk.
Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) the Romanian sculptor, who lived in Paris, set up his famous Endless Column in his hometown in the Carpathian Mountains in 1938
Legenda Brâncuşi Végtelen-oszlopáról
Ment a Fő utcán az alkonyatban,
hegyek ballagtak balján, kísérték,
s ha megállt egy-egy ismerőssel, rokonnal,
megálltak ők is, tisztelettel és hallgatag.
Tűnődve ment, olykor még valamit mondott is,
csak úgy a szakállába.
Hangos volt az utca és tarka. Egy öregen
akadt meg a szeme, aki egy tarisznya furulyával
rótta a várost. Nem kínálgatta áruját, csak ment
és furulyált. Mindig ugyanazt fújta,
valami együgyű dalocskát, amit mindenki ismert,
ő is ismerte, még gyermekkorából.
Igaza van, gondolta, minek változzon a nóta,
ha már az utcák úgyis váltakoznak.
Mosolygott az egyszerű bölcsességen,
és vett egy furulyát, ki is próbálta;
műnek kijáró tisztelettel mustrálta végig,
majd zsebre tette a zeneszerszámot.
Ment tovább, vitte fülében a dalocskát;
az édesanyja jutott eszébe róla:
papírt csipkéz a tálasra és dúdolgat önfeledten.
Megállt és botjával cikcakkokat rajzolt a porba.
Aztán a temetőt, a fejfák erdejét látta,
hol épp a minapiban járt s ahol
hiába kereste a régi játszótársakat, akiket
a faluban nem talált; ki tudja hol s milyen
földbe temette őket a háború?…
Egy olyan fejfa, mely Párizsig, az óceánig
ellátszik, egymásra-rakott koporsók végtelen oszlopa,
talán az lehetne méltó emlék…
S ahogy ment, botjával hosszú koporsó-sort rajzolt
a porba. Majd a templomon túli dombocska előtt
fölkapta fejét – a hegyek és hátrább hőköltek –, és
a sűrűsödő alkonyatba metszette tekintetével
The Table and Chairs
If someday humans should forget how to sit,
someday when we evolve beyond sitting like
we did beyond walking on all fours, let’s say, someday
humans forget about sitting, and the various
seating implements will be exhibited in museums,
or not even there; and if aging mankind should be
overcome by an explicable atavistic reflex to sit down,
tempted by the desire to sit around a table in silence, for
no other reason than to be together, each one of us alone
in his own self-governed solitude and yet all together:
all we will have to do go to the banks of River Zsil, to the table
of Keeping Quiet – that’s where the chairs will be waiting.
Az asztal es a székek
Ha egyszer ülni is elfelejtenének az emberek,
valamikor, amikor az ülést is kinőjük, mint ahogy
kinőttük a négykézláb járást, mondom, ha egyszer
ülni is elfelejtenének az emberek, s eddigi ülő-
alkalmatosságainkat már csak múzeumokban mutogatnák,
s végül már ott sem; s ha mégis az öregedő
emberiséget megkísértené az ülni-vágyás, mint valami
megmagyarázhatatlan atavisztikus reflex, hogy körül-
üljünk egy asztalt szótlanul, csak azért, hogy
együtt legyünk, ki-ki a maga öntörvényű magányával,
de mégis együtt: csak el kell mennünk majd a Zsíl
partjára, a Hallgatás asztalához – ott várnak a székek.
Were the Sun…
(Ha a napnak)
Were the sun endowed with feet,
he’d walk with a steady beat.
Had he two hands, they would sag,
he too would lug a shopping bag,
and when tired he wouldn’t blench
but sit down with us on a bench.
Dropping callused hands on knees,
he’d watch the moon rise at his ease.
He’d just sit there with a grin
and wait for earth to circle him.
Between Two Poplars
(Ket nyarfa kozt)
Between two poplars, on the hill,
now the sun is saying its goodbye.
It’s still summer but skittish leaves
seem to feel they’re about to die,
and in the shade emaciated
mountain grass is shivering:
the huckleberry-flavored dusk
has but frost carpeting to bring
with nightfall – and then that’s it!
The sun may have some light to give,
but I’ll have this summer-killing
dusk in me as long as I live.
** ** ** **
There’s No Money and We Must Eat
(Nincs penz es enni kell)
There’s no money, and you tell me to forget it,
there’s no money and we’re having a fine spring, —
there’s no money, but you’ve never
embraced the man outside of time into your misery,
you’ve never seen a single simple example of
the timeless law governing the dispossessed
and the justification of evil-doers:
there’s no money even though it’s a question
of naked existence! – How am I to put springs
into my steps when I rush to greet tomorrow
there’s no money, and there are folks
waiting for me at home, my loved ones
and innocents, hungry for
bread, — oh, how can I laugh
when there’s no money,
and life can be purchased for money, and
there’s no money,
and we must eat,
and someone inside me keeps
whispering and roaring that
all is a craven lie, the suit
I wear tells a lie, so do my shoes
and the moment that sometimes
seduces me to enter a cinema, the sin palace
of Sound and Color, — oh,
how can I bother with
Beauty, the heavenly beloved
of the soul when
there’s no money, and there are
folks waiting for me at home,
loved ones, innocent and hungry
for bread, — why should I proclaim
life is worth living
even if you’re poor, and
there’s no money,
and you must eat, and in me too
the curse of bread has broken
all will to live, — how could I
be happy when wherever I look I
the Needs of the Body hovering
over the black republic
of poverty, and the eternal
tyrant of Physical Existence and
Who stands with the disembodied
Horror of his foot on our throat
without though squashing us like a worm
and who, flashing
distant light signals into our
invisible night prevents its
partner in us from falling asleep,
Its naïve little partner, hope!
Since You’re Nowhere
(Mert sehol se vagy)
Since you’re nowhere, I seek you everywhere,
the sun, the fields; a cloud can be your dress,
the world keeps showing you, continues to possess
your essence, even in the way my stare
predictably fails to capture you;
the play of light and shadow, cricket noise
can reproduce the tinkling of your voice,
imagination can always find a clue:
I see you and I don’t, your dear name
in my heart always echoes yours,
yet every moment robs me of my claim:
I open myself to the stars and prick my ears,
but while chasing you, this predator is lured
into your grave; into himself he disappears.
Since there’s no part of her left
I love all that she used to own
around her, the pillow for her rest,
the bracelet, orphaned objects left alone,
the key that used to lead me to her,
distant forests, cities, the travel dust
we stirred up together, the smile that
ran up from her heart to her eyes in a gust
when sitting for a portrait: — no substitute
but the whole world is filled with them,
and it’s only now they make me astute:
the sky and earth and all else are a lane
to her: I have to love my thoughts of her
for no other parts of her remain.
** ** ** ** **
(Az én sirásom)
Don’t you cry if I cry for you,
Don’t dig a grave if you’re wise:
I am the cemetery king,
My cries are almighty cries.
When I weep, Life too weeps,
Death, failure, crash, curses and sigh.
When I cry out with a painful cry.
I can only loan out tears and
Torture to those I love too well.
Those I cry for will be wreathed
In laurels even deep in hell.
I Want to Hold on to You
(Meg akarlak tartani)
This kiss-filled reality drives me insane,
this great big fulfillment,
this surrender, this goodness again and again.
With tearful face in your lap, I give you the right
and beg you my lady most earnestly:
kick me out, send me off into the night.
When my lips reach their peak of fire,
let yours freeze up rigid
and trample on me, laugh at my desire.
Desires alive are cruel executioners,
I’m leaving you because I want you too much,
the present even at its best is a curse.
Let your body in joy forever last,
let me see it conquering
on the scented cushions of the past.
I want to hold on to you so hard
that I choose attraction-building
separation as your beauty’s guard.
I want you always to act out my dream
of a woman who artfully loves me
and remains forever my love supreme.
The Wish of a Winter-Bound Man
(Telbe-hullo ember vagya)
My days: beggars, dropping into Winter,
Silent, desperate, mortally ill,
Surrounded by merrily babbling
Springtime brooks that splash and spill,
And green winks beneath retreating snow.
Think about it, about the fever:
The fever and I make a perfect wreck,
With Winter coming what’s the use of
Pursuing Spring on this sorry trek
With Spring farther and farther off.
But I do have fresh and babbling dreams,
They rend the purple of waning Winter sky,
And budding violets come running after me
Like street urchins on the sly:
May we not get there together all of us?
The Crimson Cart at Sea
(Voros szeker a tengeren)
Sickly pale, this drunken sea
has been drinking silver lava flow.
The earth is shaking. We’re waiting
for something in feverish glow.
The palm-studded shore appears
to reel, wild cactus poles entwine,
jasmines are in tears.
And then suddenly in a wondrous
flood a purple shadow brings
a floating cart where the tide heaves
into the sky with crimson wings
and drives the waves to crest.
Its crimson wings are flapping hard.
Then stops. It’s waiting at rest.
From where? What’s its load? Heading here?
Coming: a new force to lead the way?
How crimson is speed of its wings!
Is it a New Dawn’s flame in sway
or blood, more blood, ready to start?
We’re waiting. And in the purple mist
it stands still, the huge crimson cart.
My Two Women
(Azén két assonyom)
I’ll die and nothing, nothing else.
There’ll be only two women
to hear about it from the knells.
One of them my mother will be
and the other someone else,
those two will surely cry for me.
A lovely picture in some ways:
two women visiting one grave
with wilted curses and bouquets.
The Cousin of Death
(A Halál rokona)
I am the Cousin of Death,
waning loves can claim my heart,
I love to kiss those preparing
I love pale, sickly roses,
women wilting from desire,
slanted sunrays, sad autumn days
about to expire.
I love the ghostly beckoning
of sorrowful, long hours,
the playful mimicry of sacred Death,
the great Death flowers.
I love those departing,
those who weep on awakening,
on meadows at dawn when cold
frost showers sing.
I love languid resignation,
tearless crying and its peace,
the refuge of thinkers, poets
and the ill in release.
I love the disappointed,
the crippled with maladies,
those bereft of hope and beliefs:
I love the world as it is.
I am the cousin of Death,
I love the love that’s losing heart,
I love to kiss the beloved friend
about to depart.
** ** * *
Mihály Csokonai Vitéz
A mirage made in the sky
Toying with mortals down here,
The hope we worship on the sly
Will tease us just to disappear.
A god the unhappy man
Creates for himself,
A guardian angel he can
Forever beg for help.
Why lure me with smooth lips?
Why keep smiling my way?
Why keep forcing bogus drips
Of spirit in this tired clay?
Get going! You’re a curse!
You promised me a crown;
I fell for the saccharine words,
But you let me down.
You planted daffodils
In all my garden nooks;
You watered all my trees
With gently babbling brooks;
You bathed me in springtide
With a thousand flowers
And with joy you spiced
My waking blinks and hours.
My morning thoughts as they rose
All headed like a busy bee
For my beloved rose
With whom they longed to be.
From my happiness barred
Was only one last bit:
I prayed for Lilla’s heart
And Heaven granted it.
But then my rosy greenery
Began to wither away;
My spring and every tree
Dried up one gloomy day;
My springtime merriment
Turned to winter blues;
My world came to an end
In another’s foul use.
Only if my loved one
Had been left to me
I wouldn’t wail so wan
About this calamity.
In her arms I could forget
All my present woes;
From me success has fled,
Who cares to whom it goes!
Leave me, hope, alone and still!
I know the reality
Of my misfortune will
Tomorrow surely bury me.
In my despair I feel
My former spirit wane,
It’s Heaven my soul seeks
And my body the grave.
Bloomless are the meadows,
The field an empty site,
In the grove silence grows,
The sun sinks into night.
Charming mellow trillas!
Mirages in the sky!
Hope! High spirits! Lillas!
To you all, I say goodbye!
Csalfa, vak Remény!
Kit teremt magának
S mint védangyalának,
Síma száddal mit kecsegtetsz?
Mért nevetsz felém?
Kétes kedvet mért csepegtetsz
Még most is belém?
Csak maradj magadnak!
Hittem szép szavadnak:
Rám ezer virággal
Szórtad a tavaszt
S égi boldogsággal
Gondolatim minden reggel,
Mint a fürge méh,
Repkedtek a friss meleggel
Egy híjját esmértem
Lilla szívét kértem;
S megadá az ég.
Jaj, de friss rózsáim
Forrásim, zőld fáim
Téli búra vált;
Régi jó világom
Óh! csak Lillát hagytad volna
Csak magát nekem:
Most panaszra nem hajolna
Karja közt a búkat
S a gyöngykoszorúkat
Hagyj el, óh Reménység!
Hagyj el engemet;
Mert ez a keménység
Érzem: e kétségbe
Volt erőm elhágy,
Fáradt lelkem égbe,
Testem főldbe vágy.
Nékem már a rét hímetlen,
A mező kisűlt,
A zengő liget kietlen,
A nap éjre dűlt.
Bájoló lágy trillák!
Kedv! Remények! Lillák!
** ** **
Sándor Kányádi was born and educated in Hungarian community of Transylvania, Romania, to become the best-known Hungarian poet, has been translated into most European languages, and Sohar is doing his best to introduce him to the English-speaking world. In addition to “Dancing Embers”, a volume of his selected Kányádi translations, (Twisted Spoon Press, 2002), now much larger, nearly comprehensive selection is available: “In Contemporary Tense” (Iniquity Press, USA, 2013).
Lőrinc Szabó (1900-1957) worked for newspapers and periodicals but was best known for his exquisite translations of European poetry. In his own poems he was eclectic in form but very up-to-date in his language; like most Hungarian poets, he was equally at ease in formal poetry and free verse. He was able to sustain a breathless momentum in both. Never a dull moment. After WW II he lost his job and derived a meager income from translation work. Thus “There’s No Money”.
Endre Ady (1877-1919) was born in Hungary of the old Hapsburg Monarchy and died during its collapse in the wake of WW I. Disrupting his higher education in law he became a journalist and a poet. His third volume of poem (“New Poems”, 1906) revolutionized Hungarian poetry, both in style and content; he advocated progress and castigated jingoistic nationalism. He was critical of WW I from the beginning; the last poetry volume in his life was “Leading the Dead” (1918). While his symbolist style was unique to his own works, it did open the way to experimentation in Hungarian poetry.
Mihály Csokonai Vitéz (1773-1803) was a child prodigy like Szabo, he obtained a professorship at the age of 22, but he soon lost it due to what was deemed immoral conduct. He spent the rest of his short life as a tutor in aristocratic households. His collected works were first published forty years after his premature death, but still in the Age of Romanticism.
Paul Sohar made his way to the US as a teenage refugee from Hungary. After receiving a B.A. he took a lab job in a research lab while writing in every genre, publishing seven volumes of translations, including “Silver Pirouettes” (Faludy translations, TheWriteDeal 2012) and “In Contemporary Tense” (Iniquity Press, 2013). His own poetry: “Homing Poems” (Iniquity, 2006) and “The Wayward Orchard”, a Wordrunner Prize winner (2011). Other awards: first prize in the 2012 Lincoln Poets Society Contest, second prize in RI Writers Circle 2014 Contest. Prose work: “True Tales of a Fictitious Spy” (Synergebooks, 2006). He lectures at MLA and RMMLA conferences and at Centenary College, NJ. Magazine credits: Agni, Gargoyle, Kenyon Review, Rattle, Poetry Salzburg Review, Seneca Review, etc.