Translations from the Hungarian


Sándor Csoóri

Where Are My Betters Who Fell Behind?

(Incomplete sonnet)

Where are my betters who fell behind:
the swishing-brains, the saints,
the half-crazed inventors who send
messages with green-backed, bright bugs to the moon?

Perhaps they, like the silk princes,
ramble between seas and islands?
or they sleep with Greek ruins,
behind the Gods’ lazy eyelids?

Why don’t they drink their beer
by the kennel wall, where the dog
guards the geniuses’ skulls. Here, here,

where the hearts daily fall flat on their backs
and the children learn the death-alphabet
in the dust from fools and poets?

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and Mária Szende)


Sándor Csoóri

Everything I Had

Everything I had, I gave to others:
my time, my patience, the cloudless
afternoons of my wasps. The stripped
winter forest, which looked like a gigantic
hedgehog from a distance. And the money, the money,
the pathetic money, like somebody
dispensing gold with St. Laszlo’s hand.

Many laughed at me, too, like a daft
monk. They laughed but they followed
me in a large crew. They came
morning and night; they came
blackened from among the tossed-aside railroad ties,
from the colorful throng of city neon-butterflies,
they came from the timeless time of sunbathing books,
clotted scarves or faded handkerchiefs on their necks.

I wasn’t their savior. I was their fool.
A promising, independent thief who
loathes alcohol, blood, nursing nicotine,
but one day may have an honored place
on Golgotha,⁠ — and a sty, a dead-end street,
a species of smile growing extinct can be named
after him at the millennium’s end, if there’s someone
left who will think to do such things.

Only barbaric hopes and miracle-expecting hours
are ticking around me, like the undamaged clock
of the car that crashed into a tree. But where, now,
shall I look for a clearly visible God,
a true fool, laughable, to replace me,
one who would squanderingly hand out his voice, his hands,
his imagination, the big mountains sprawling within him again,
who might even be pleased now and then because his
looted November face resembles the looted November sky?

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and Mária Szende)


Sándor Csoóri

The Man Leaves His House

Vain brightness, where do you call me?
Vain brightness, I’m walking toward you on the road.
Yellow sun-mirrors, sparkling spring water,
I’m walking toward you on the road.

The peach tree explodes, it’s blooming;
the man leaves his house, walks nameless fields,
not asking anything, not answering anything,
a cloud drifting into his eyes,
or a strayed beetle.


The city’s left behind. Erratic chalk-drawings on its walls:
primitive fish swim on the waves of stone and cement;
matchstick-leg women drift,
plummeting planes
and the shocking signs of the different sexes.

This is how we merge with our lives here!
We watch ourselves from outside ourselves, and say:
we’ve lived
and we shall live for a long time yet on the Earth.


In this primitive brightness
even my piety is returned by the trees’ kindness.
City, your clamor: scratching of maybeetles trapped in a box,
good to listen to from a distance, when the clouds also noisily
float. Between the water-splashing and the fabricated din,
I stagger toward silence over a thin bridge.
My eyes are happy to wander in the tree tops,
my mind’s happy to imagine the universe.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and Anette Marta)


Sándor Csoóri

I Was Watching the Bushes

War news on the radio in the evening
and soldiers in the tree-lined alley that seals infinity⁠—
I didn’t close my eyes all night,
as though I’d kept vigil at the city morgue over a woman’s
car-crushed corpse.

The neighbor’s clock struck four when I got dressed
and aimlessly set off.
The streets were still lying numb with cold, stiff
like lamp posts flattened in the mud.
I was sickened by the strong stink of pitch.

I was watching the bushes, what was going on?
watching the windows,
the dirty water that gathered in the hollows,
and above the puddles, my head’s drifting shadow.

In the park opposite
it seemed as if someone had been digging
a pit for himself among the trees,
wrists stirred, clods thudded⁠—

Maybe each last judgment, each ravagement starts afresh?
and flies will walk
on hands, dead eyeballs,
as though on light bulbs that have burnt out.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and Anette Marta)


Sándor Csoóri

The Memory of an Era

Balloons raised the bouquets
instead of hands.
He who can still dream isn’t amazed by such a feat.
I was just standing, white as a sheet, on the corner of the square
surrounded by trumpet-fanfare,
just staring at my hands,
scrap-iron, ready to be tossed out.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts)


Sándor Csoóri

Late Winter Morning

We’re here and everything is still here
that can help us to live today, too:
the wind rushing along the quays,
they heavy sighs bursting from the trees,
and a gull circling low
over the Danube. It floats, it pauses,
keeps busily counting
the deathly ice floes that float toward Belgrade.
And your green eyes, which cast
this day ashore, are also here.
Green, green, green-the numb
augurs just keep gaping under the cold sky,
they would like to utter aloud
the leaves’ green, the lilac’s green,
and the lettuce’s green leafing in the softing rains,
so it wouldn’t be me who’d have to dream them again.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts)


Sándor Csoóri

You’d Be a Bad Resident of Heaven

I can see nothing else, only your body,
your empire-large hair in wind and on a sick bed;
I know nothing else, just the things you might like,
things you let come near you from the swift days.

A glass sliver hurls you above the hill’s mud;
you walk in a diminished sky, you let your glance ramble;
in bird- and cloud-traffic you are clumsier than in the Great
you’d be a bad resident of heaven, and I’ve known this for a
long time.

Wild grass suits your ankles, wild mallow, Màtra weed,
stone-flow, water-flow, lecherous basil,
bell-toll that rolls along the ground, not the one that buries
in the wind.
You can lure a ladybird, a toothed oak leaf into your bed.

Nobody suits me more, there’s no body more feminine, no smile
more feminine,
you’ve remained a nomad, like the wind and the wild plum on its
bridal night;
when you tread barefooted on grass tomorrow, I’ll be velvety
and what shall I care whether the world grows splintery or

Another war is brewing, the future ruins are already stirring.
The sky wears dark glasses, too, like the coup d’état generals,
but even if we must sleep with bullets, you’ll be there with me,
my hand will stay awake on your throbbing neck’s pulse.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and László Vertes)


Sándor Csoóri

I Will Bear Your Slow Purification

I alone know your sorrowful sin
and I can forgive it, I, who have also
slept with death.
It’s July: the fiery drum sounds behind our garden
and everyone wants to see you: the way you writhe in the dust.

Even from the wild rose bushes, gloating
eyes watch. Sashegy’s slope is full of them.
They’re looking at your mysterious right hand:
is the frog-scum glove of the marsh on it?
is the indelible mark?

I’m crippled. A green blackthorn ticks
timelessly by my head. But go ahead, let them see you,
show them the deep lake of your shame,
the crazed angel drowned in it, the one who’d taken you hostage,
the one who would have taken you with himself to eternal flames.

In the morning, a high mountain-peak shines: God’s lime-
white face. I don’t want to look at anything else
until you stand on your feet,
just this plateau of light. Should the stone dazzle me
for seven weeks,
should it dazzle for seventy-seven: I will bear your slow

in time, lovingly, or lovelessly, I, who have suffered
greatly from others’ sins repeatedly, and more greatly
from my own. On my hand
the green blood of grass, of leaves, dries,
and the forest listens to the dull beats of my heart behind
your back.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts)


Sándor Csoóri

Hide the Miracle

Everything’s so plain and planned.
Hide the miracle, so I might love it!
Like wedge-headed locusts, explanations
restlessly devour the world.

Nothing makes my heart leap anymore,
so I look at the sky-rending miracles
as at a woman dressed in a sack, an elephant playing with a ball,
impatient, flustered, just for an instant

and I’m always looking for a madman in myself,
a saintfrancis
talking to machines and continents:
a fanatic with an incurable mouth, who suffers
if he has no dangerous secret, no dream that can’t be prevented,
for thus he has no hope, either-sunshine’s just pouring down on him,
as on enthralled grass, as on fearful stone faces.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and László Vertes)


Sándor Csoóri

Winter Night

At night, the city grows empty.
The snow falls without witness, alone.
Everyone stares at the unknown
murderer’s footprint
in the tv screen’s white ash.
Music plays. Brakes squeak. A street lamp draws aside,
stares like a wolf’s eye
into a bushy, stiff face.

Nobody asks themselves anymore
whether they’re still alive; like the squeaking of brakes,
only the deaths of others haunt in the nightmarish
mirrors’ depths,
only the blood which can be sponged up with powdered sugar,
and the legs, leaving, seen only to the knee.

I see a snow-covered bullet fly,
taking its time, toward my forehead;
it flies in slow motion, like in the cartoons, so I still
have time!
The entire night’s before me,
every height of the lace-making sky,
the abandoned street snow, which wants to see
my footprints today, and tomorrow.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and László Vertes)


Sándor Csoóri

A Hoarfrost Wreath on the Grave

For Arpád Visky

The time of remembrance has come and we remember.
Properly, we place hoarfrost wreaths
on a grave: the modest gift of the snow-covered country.
For we must make the world and ourselves, too, believe
we are good at revering, at candle-lighting,
at the tempting trade of resurrecting.
Let us believe and also make the others believe, but ⁠—
meanwhile we’d better
be careful, lest the miracle should happen, for the one
whose memory we now court: waits for the resurrection
of the most dangerous sort.
By his common name Endre Ady.
By his more plausible name God’s Monster, Firestriker, the Lost
Lord Death’s good neighbor, hundred-paced, magnificent
Hungarian who, having pressed forth to the head of the dead,
like a bridegroom, pinned an earthquaky flower onto his hat.
On tip-toe, rememberers!
into soft cat-paw sandals, rememberers!
into cotton-wool boots, into swamp-slippers, rememberers! For he
might come back to us at the
creak of the most
heel-iron, and our undisturbed ceremonies, the triumphal
march of sand-drift words are finished. A coffin-rocket
breaks through the wallpapered walls of musical academies, and the
seats of honor are demolished,
and the boxes tumble down in the theaters like moldy
Our petty-minded love affairs are finished; the sighs
that have wafted Leda veils flee back into the lungs.
And dozsa-like eyes will gaze again at the snow-covered
lowlands, linden rows, the snow-covered women, the blood-
cart’s tracks
up there.

ice-Parises shine like diamonds,
and in Lake Balaton’s catacombs, fish-candles light up
one after the other. With your breath held, rememberers!
A wreath onto the grave, rememberers! Thick snow-bombs before the
rememberers! We will
surely survive this beautiful,
this shivering,
this stifling day, too.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts, László Vertes, and Tibor Tengerdi)


Sándor Csoóri

A Friend’s Pleading Words to Another

Before you should lose me
and cover me forever with loamy earth,
seek a pleasant, blessed day,
a pleasant day that lasts from morning to dusk:
draw me from the bedchambers of anger into your Pentecostal fields,
draw me from the scenes of deceitful games and the usual bloodsheds
into the thistles,
let my troubles gurgle in the sky’s dikes,
and let me eat wild sorrel, not meat, that day,
and cherries and air,
and let the birds drum on black bark again;
my eardrum wants to rejoice,
my eye wants to shine through sealed pheasant eggs,
for even though I love your houses that lean against the sky,
your lamps that move in the dark, drifting away
like motorboats,
my life will end there, where the locust leaves
lie on the ground,
the ant forecasts earthquakes
and, dipped in the forest at the village’s fringe, I may belong to the
wild again,
I may be the eyeball amplifying the drippings of the sap.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and Claudia Zimmerman)


Sándor Csoóri

Because There Was a Time

Because there was a time when there were no days at all,
not morning, not noon, not afternoon,
just as the sparrows were swishing as they flew from the stacks,
just the plum of my face that I watched fall into the well.
Winter? Autumn? Summer? just the mud moved footlessly,
just the color-shifting currant hedge in the garden,
just the butterflies tossing like old women’s shawls;
I just ran away and returned,
I was just there, where I was a wound,
I was just my body, my hand, my foot,
just a faithful dog’s eye behind the pallbearers’ backs,
sweet and sour rains slept in my mouth,
I was just salt, blood, just honey, just nakedness.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and Claudia Zimmerman)


Sándor Csoóri

Day by Day

Day by day the thorns are sharper,
day by day July flashes more threateningly,
as if a monster
had teeth made of gold.

He who has only sighed thus far, standing on his threshold,
now grinds a jaw even in his timid dream,
throws plates to the ground
and kicks cats lying in the sun,
because he wants to hear crying and harsh moans to comfort himself,
making the echoes of old miseries even louder.

The century is lessening, frightfully thinning,
there’s a brown blotch on its bony mephisto face.
Day by day the smile, locust blossom, and the dead one
who fulfilled his mission are becoming stranger and stranger
to it,
and everything reaches its own glory in it
only as a fragment.

Oh, coy dictatorships, what a story this is!
We wear down, lose vitality, molder away like silk,
and he who would have betrayed Christ long ago,
now, without batting an eyelid, day by day betrays himself,
great beasts play with his heart,
like clawed pussycats with a ball of yarn.

Lying on his back, the poet keeps trying to sing
out on the hilltop, but he’s lost
his tongue.
The taste of spoiled elegies rises again in his mouth,
as though he’d been fed
the livers of infected birds at dusk.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and Miklós Horváth)


Miklós Radnóti

Woods in October

Dripping tumult on the bush,
yesterday’s gold forest litter
has moldered beneath the trees to brown mud,
covers snail and worm and bud,
a beetle’s crushed shell;

it makes no sense to look about
for all is flooded with fright,
a scared squirrel shrieks at you,
drops its tiny scrap of food,
jumps and runs up a tree-trunk;

learn from the squirrel, protect yourself,
for winter’s order will not save you,
nor will the aid of archangels,
a pearl-light quivers in the sky
and, one by one, your companions die.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and László Komlósi)


Attila József


Corals about your neck,
Frogs’ heads upon the lake,
And dung⁠—
On the snow the lambs’ track of dung.

In the court of the moon a rose,
Belt of gold about your waist,
And around my neck⁠—
Around my neck a noose.

Below your skirt, your thighs swaying,
Hammers of bells pendulating,
And, into the river,
Two poplars bending.

Below your skirt, your thighs swaying,
Hammers of bells ringing hollow,
And, into the river,
The dead leaves falling.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and Andy Rouse)