SÁNDOR PETŐFI (1823-1849)

MY BIRTHPLACE

Here was I born, these the scenes I treasure,
Vast Lowland plains, stretching at their leisure,
Born in this old town which seems to creep with
Lullabies my nurse sang me to sleep with,
Still I hear her singing, though she has gone,
"Cockchafer cockchafer, fly away home!"

Child whwn I left, a little thing so high,
I come back as a man with years put by,
Twenty of them have passed, and the grown boy
Has had his fill of sorrow and of joy...
Twenty long years...and how the time has flown!
"Cockchafer cockchafer, fly away home!"

Playmates of my youth, now how do you do?
If only I could meet but one of you!
Sit down beside me here, cheer me again,
Let me forget that I'm become a man,
Twenty five years the sum of all I own...
"Cockchafer cockchafer, fly away home!"

My restless thoughts too swiftly dart and flit,
Like birds that briefly in the treetops sit,
Or like the late industrious honeybees
Gather the nectar of sweet memories;
Haunt after haunt, familiar paths they roam...
"Cockchafer cockchafer, fly away home!"

Child I was once and am a child anew
With hobbyhorse and pipes to whistley through,
My fiery colt's a reed at the pond's brink,
Arriving at a trough, it wants a drink,
Sated, we rise: Now giddy up dear roan...
"Cockchafer cockchafer, fly away home!"

Bells of the angelus across the field:
Both horse and horseman tire, the riders yield,
Enough of this, back to my nurse I slip,
The lullaby is ready on her lip,
I hear it now: how sleepy I have grown...
"Cockchafer cockchafer, fly away home!"

1848
(George Szirtes) To the top of this site


FERENC KÖLCSEY (1790-1838)

HYMN

O, my God, the Magyar bless
With Thy plenty and good cheer!
With Thine aid his just cause press,
Where his foes to fight appear.
Fate, who for so long did'st frown,
Bring him happy times and ways;
Atoning sorrow hath weighed down
Sins of past and future days.

By Thy help our fathers gained
Kárpát's proud and sacred height;
Here by Thee a home obtained
Heirs of Bendegúz, the knight.
Where'er Danube's waters flow
And the streams of Tisza swell
Árpád's children, Thou dost know,
Flourished and did prosper well.

For us let the golden grain
Grow upon the fields of Kún,
And let Nectar's silver rain
Ripen grapes of Tokaj soon.
Thou our flags hast planted o'er
Forts where once wild Turks held sway;
Proud Vienna suffered sore
From King Mátyás' dark array.

But, alas! for our misdeed,
Anger rose within Thy breast,
And Thy lightnings Thou did'st speed
From Uhy thundering sky with zest.
Now the Mongol arrow flew
Over our devoted heads;
Or the Turkish yoke we knew,
Which a free-born nation dreads.

O, how often has the voice
Sounded of wild Osman's hordes,
When in songs they did rejoice
O'er our heroes' captured swords!
Yea, how often rose Thy sons,
My fair land, upon Uhy sod,
And Thou gavest to these sons,
Tombs within the breast they trod!

Though in caves pursued he lie,
Even then he fears attacks.
Coming forth the land to spy,
Even a home he finds he lacks.
Mountain, vale-go where he would,
Grief and sorrow all the same-
Underneath a sea of blood,
While above a sea of flame.

'Neath the fort, a ruin now,
Joy and pleasure erst were found,
Only groans and sighs, I trow,
In its limits now abound.
But no freedom's flowers return
From the spilt blood of the dead,
And the tears of slavery burn,
Which the eyes of orphans shed.

Pity, God, the Magyar, then,
Long by waves of danger tossed;
Help him by Thy strong hand when
He on grief's sea may be lost.
Fate, who for so long did'st frown,
Bring him happy times and ways;
Atoning sorrow hath weighed down
All the sins all his days.

(William N. Loew) To the top of this site


GYULA JUHÁSZ(1883-1937)

THE PRECISE GOLD

The precise gold of her hair, I don't remember,
I only know that meadows may be gold,
When cornfields ripen just before September
There's something of her colouring in the fold.

The precise blue of her eyes I can't recall,
But when the autumn skies break up and clear,
And all the languid leaves curl up and fall
I dream such blue and soon her eyes appear.

The silk of her voice is lost, I can't quite place it,
But come the spring when grass begins to sigh
I hear Anna, her warm voice and can trace it
Back to another spring and distant sky.

1912
(George Szirtes) To the top of this site


GYULA JUHÁSZ(1883-1937)

ANNA ETERNAL

Years came and went; my memories of you
Were slowly fading, your face was growing faint
Within my heart, the sweet arch of your shoulders
Was vaguer than it had been, even your voice
Had slid away, nor did I follow it
Into the deepening shadows of the wood.
Today I can pronounce your name without
A qualm, don't tremble at your glance, and know
That you were simply one among the many,
That youth is folly, but O my heart beware,
Don't think for a moment that it was in vain,
That she has utterly gone, do not think that!
Because you live in all my crooked ties,
In every careless word, in each mistaken
Greeting and in every letter written
Then torn into a thousand tiny pieces,
In every deed of my mishapen being
You live, Oh Anna, and reign there for ever.

1926

(George Szirtes) To the top of this site


ATTILA JÓZSEF(1905-1937)

BY THE DANUBE

I sat there on the quayside by the landing,
a melon rind was drifting on the flow.
I delved into my fate, just understanding:
the surface chatters, while it's calm below.
As if my heart had been its very source,
troubled, wise was the Danube, mighty force.

Like muscles
when you work and lift the axe,
or harvest, hammer, excavate a grave,
so did the water tighten, surge, relax
with every current, every breezy wave.
Like Mother, dandled, told a tale, caressed,
laundered the dirt of all of Budapest.

A drizzle started, moistering the morning
but didn't care much, so it stopped again.
And yet, like someone who under an awning
watches the rain- I gazed into the plain:
As twilight, that my infinitely last,
so grey was all that used to shine, the past.

The Danube flowed. And like a tiny child
plays on his fertile, dreamy mother's knee,
so cradled and embraced and gently smiled
each playful wave, waving hullo to me.
They shuddered on the flood of the past events
like tombstones, tumbling graveyard monuments.

For hundred thousand years I have been gazing
and suddenly I see what's there to see.
A flash, and time is fully-grown, embracing
what generations scan and show to me.

I see what they've not seen, for they defended,
embraced, dug, murdered, their living to ply,
and they see now, in cold matter descended,
what I can't see when I'm to testify.

We all relate, like blessed to the damn'd,
Mine is the past and theirs is the today
We write poems- my pencil in their hand,
I sense them and remember what to say.

Mother was Kún, Father was Székely, partly,
and half, or maybe, pure Romanian.
From Mother's lips the food was sweet and hearty,
from Father's lips the truth was radiant.
They embrace again when I am stirring.
This fills my heart with deep melancholy-
we are all mortal. It's me, re-occuring.
"Just wait, we'll soon be gone!..." They talk to me.

They call, I know we are now one: this one-ness
has made me strong, for I remember well
that I am every parent in the boundless
succession to the primal lonely cell.
I am the First, who splits, proliferating
till I become my father and mother,
then father splits and mother, procreating
the multiplying me and none other!

I am the world - the ancient, endless story:
clan fighting clan for creed or crazy greed.
I march among the conquerors in glory,
I suffer with the conquered in defeat.
Árpád and Zalán, Werbőczi and Dózsa -
Slavs, Mongols, Turks and other variants
in me, we shall redeem the long foreclosure
with gentle future - new Hungarians!

...I want to work. It's hard for human nature
to make a true confession of the past.
The Danube, which is past, present and future
entwines its waves in tender friendly claps.
Out of the blood our fathers shed in battles
flows peace, through our remembrance and regard,
creating order in our common matters,
this is our task, we know it will be hard.

1936
(Peter Zollman) To the top of this site


ATTILA JÓZSEF(1905-1937)

BELATED LAMENT

Mother, my fever is ninety-eight point six,
and you are not here to take care of me.
Instead,
like an easy woman, when called,
you stretched out by death's side.
I try to piece you together from soft
autumn landscapes and women dear to me,
but I can see there won't be time.
This fire is burning me away.

It was the end of the war
when I went to the country that last time.
In the city, all the stores were empty-
no food, not even bread.
I lay flat on my belly on top of a boxcar
to bring you flour and potatoes in a sack.
I, your stubborn son, brought a chicken for you.
But you weren't there.

You took yourself and your sweet breasts
from me and gave them to maggots.
The words you used to scold, to comfort
were nothing but cheating, lying words.
You cooled my bowl of soup, you stirred it,
'Eat, my baby, grow tall for me.'
Now your empty mouth bites into damp and grease
-o you have deceived me.

I should have devoured you! You gave your own
dinner, but did I ask for it? And why did you
break your back doing all that laundry?
So that the coffin might straighten it out?
I would be glad to have you beat me once more.
I'd be happy, because I could hit you back.
You are worthless! You just want to be dead!
You spoil everything! You are a ghost!

You are a greater cheat than any woman
that ever deceived me. You wailed,
you gave birth out of love,
-and then you stole away.
O you gipsy, you wheedled, you gave
only to steal it back in the last hour.
Your child wants to swear and curse-
mother, can't you hear? Stop me!

Slowly the mind calms down,
the myths run out.
The child who clings to his mother's love
sees how foolish he has been.
Every mother's son is let down in the end,
either deceived, or else trying to cheat.
You can try to fight, and you'll be killed.
Or else make your peace-and die.

1935
(John Bátki) To the top of this site


MIKLÓS RADNÓTI(1909-1944)

I KNOW NOT WHAT

I know not what to strangers this dear landscape might mean,
to me it is my birthplace, this tiny spot of green;
ringed now with fire, it was, once, my childhood rocking me;
I grew there as a fragile branch from the parent tree;
O may my body sink back to the life-giving soil.
This land is home to me: for if a bush should kneel
before my feet I know its name just as its flower,
I know who walks the road, whither and at what hour,
I know what it might mean if reddening pai should fall
dripping some summer dusk down the lintel or the wall.
For him who flies above it, a map is all he sees,
this living scape of beeing but symbols and degrees;
the reader of the maplines has neither known nor felt
the place where the great Mihály Vörösmarty dwelt;
what's hidden in the map? yes, barracks, mills, and arms,
but for me crickets, oxen, steeples, quiet farms;
with field-glasses he marks the crops and industries,
but I, the trmbling laborer, the forest trees,
the twittering orchards, vineprops with their tended grapes,
and the old granny in the graveyard where she weeps;
and what is targeted as rail or factory
is just a lineman by his signal-box to me,
and children watch him wave his red flag for the guard,
and sheepdogs roll and tumble in the foundry-yard;
and in the park the trace of loves who once loved me,
the honey taste of kisses sweet as bilberry,
and on the way to school you'd not step on a crack,
lest you'd forget your lesson, or break your mother's back;
the pilot cannot see that paving-stone, that grass:
to see all this, there is no instrument or glass.
For we are guilty too, as others are,
we know how we had sinned, in what, and when and where;
but working people live here, poets in innocence,
breast-feeding infants with their dawned intelligence,
and one day it will brighten, hid now in safety's dark,
till peace shall write upon our land its shining mark
and answer our chocked words in sentences of light.

With great wings cover us, O guardian cloud of night.

1944
(Zsuzsanna Ozsváth and Frederick Turner)
To the top of this site

 

Hungarian poems in English
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