Eight Hungarian Poets: Zsófia Balla, Zoltán Böszörményi, Árpád Farkas, Gizella Hervay, Sándor Kányádi, Aladár Lászlóffy, Domokos Szilágyi, and Géza Szőcs




The earliest records show the southern part of Transylvania belonging to Dacia, a Roman colony at the very frontiers of the Empire. With the fall of Rome that area was overrun by successive waves of invaders, the Ostrogoths, the Huns, the Bulgarians, the Avars, etc., and finally in 896 AD by Hungarian tribes that occupied the whole Carpathian basin. Then for a thousand years Transylvania was the home of Hungarians along Romanians and the descendants of the other invaders.

However, Hungary as a whole has had a turbulent history of decline. First, a brief but devastating Mongolian invasion killed off much of the population. Then the area that is the present site of the country was laid waste by a 150 year Ottoman occupation. During that time the northern parts were under Austrian rule while Transylvania had to pay tribute to the Ottoman Empire to remain an independent Hungarian principality and the repository of Hungarian culture. After the Turks were ousted by combined Christian forces, the liberated area was repopulated by Slovaks, Germans, and others. Hungary was united once again, but only under the auspices of the Habsburg Empire.

Another disaster hit the country after World War I when the peace treaty of Trianon arbitrarily chopped it up, giving the northern regions to Slovakia, the southern parts to Yugoslavia, and Transylvania—to Romania. The Hungarian population, known locally as Szekler, suddenly found itself in a disadvantaged ethnic minority status in an enlarged Romanian state where now Hungarian culture and language were marginalized and discriminated. No wonder there is a pervasive spirit of dread in the Hungarian poetry written in a land that is no longer Transylvania but a region in Romania.  Ironically, the present Hungary is relatively new, with a mixed immigrant population that—almost miraculously—assimilated and took on Hungarian identity and the language. Perhaps this could not have happened without Transylvania.

The poets in this selection are arranged in alphabetical, not chronological order; their prime coincided with the Ceausescu period, a time of strict censorship that called for hidden messages best delivered in surrealist style. The poets of that besieged group in those tragic times accepted as their mission to speak out for their people. However belatedly, their anguished voices now speak to us more clearly than any TV documentary, not only about their suffering but also about their attachment to the land of their birth and their commitment to the survival of their Szekler community regardless of the political system or state government that claims to rule over them. Yet these voices are not blaring propaganda for some kind of nationalistic program; each one remains an individual and personal confession of faith—and doubt. The mission thrust upon them by persecution was accepted reluctantly and is presented as part of the human condition, just another aspect of life. The universality of their message is rounded out by a sprinkling of love poems, a subject second only to the love of freedom. These are themes that flourish in any language. Their verse is quite current, but reflects that special Central and Eastern European angst that has accumulated in the collective consciousness of the region over a turbulent history.

All these poets deserve to be introduced to Anglophone readers. The featured poems appear for the first time in an English-language journal.

Zsófia Balla, who has a lot to say about life in general, is represented here by two love poems whose exuberance and colorful imagery raise them far above the genre.

Zoltán Böszörményi is more current and more cosmopolitan in his inspiration from classical forms of earlier poets and Latin texts; he also has a knack for dramatizing philosophical ideas and applying them to contemporary social concerns.

Árpád Farkas came from a poor peasant family, but his talents were recognized early and rewarded by an enviable trip abroad that very few were allowed to enjoy during the Communist period. Yet Farkas is just as suspicious of Western superiority as the dictatorship he lived under at home.

Although Gizella Hervay was born and died in Budapest she very much belongs in this Szekler company; she spent her formative years and much of her short life in Kolozsvár, the Hungarian cultural capital of Transylvania. Her defiantly short sentences make her poems sound like they were produced under duress.

Sándor Kányádi was born in the heart of Transylvania, in a small village, and attended an elementary school that was five hundred years old—a totally unknown concept in the present country of Hungary that had its new beginnings in the 18th century. His poetry has its roots in folksongs, but he expertly combines this tradition with a contemporary style.

Aladár Lászlóffy injected sly irony into his poetry to deliver the truth disguised as absurdity using vivid and unexpected imagery. He and Kvanyádi both worked for a long time for a children’s magazine; neither of them ever joined the communist party. His poem  ”The Voice” delineates the important role of poetry in Central and Eastern Europe.

Domokos Szilágyi was perhaps the most outspoken and forward-looking poet in this group; he had great influence on his peers. He was briefly married to Hervay. What can the poet do? His answer is to avoid what is not mentioned: protest (impossible in a dictatorship) or paeans to the dictator (as it was expected of poets), and that was a subtle kind of protest.

Géza Szőcs used surrealist irony as a form of protest, but he also engaged in underground activities for civil rights for ethnic and religious minorities as well as women’s rights.

Paul Sohar


Zsófia Balla


On a steep slope a breath shower.
The scattered red
mercury-balloons of touch.

The baby beat of non-existence
that finds its way into the ocean.
Crimson rattle.

The meltdown of a rasp.
Powder snow unloosed.

On the crest, on the blade.
At a downhill pace.

Call it a fragile pause. Call it
a teeny, unselfconscious death.


A kaptatón, a zápor
lélegzet. Az érintés szertevágtató
piros higanygömbjei.

A nem-lét apró ütése,
mely az óceánban
eltalál. Vörös robaj.

Szétolvadt ráspoly.
Ezernyi porhó.

Élen, hegygerincen.
A lejtős iramban.

Az a törékeny szünet.
Az az önfeledt halálka.

When You Came Home

At last, when you arrived at home
the gleam and glint were all in place
but I could not stand the waiting
and rushed ahead to hug your face.

At last, when you arrived at home
the drip was barely hanging in
the faucet, and the soap was dying
in its dish to touch your skin.

At last, when you arrived at home and
your footsteps began to tease the door,
just to be with you the sooner
I jumped down from the second floor.

Amikor hazajöttél

Amikor hazajöttél,
még helyükön voltak a fények.
Nem tehetek róla, hogy megrohamoztak,
de a várásban majd kiégtek.

Amikor hazajöttél,
a csapnak felcsillant a cseppje,
s a szappan csak azt várta,
hogy magát bőrödre kenje.

Amikor hazajöttél,
s felhallatszott a lépted lentről,
csak hogy hamarabb veled legyek,
leugrottam az emeletről.


Zoltán Böszörményi

Holiday Fever

if the heart, if the heart,
if only the heart stopped that rattle
………….Szilágyi, Domokos: The Book of the Old

the heart is rattling
celebration is no trivial matter
you need an occasion
………….(an occasion that may or
………….may not put you in the mood)
if something is about to commence or come to an end
it also holds in itself the holiday
in which the doubt
and invention
the opportunity
to invite the gods
like in the Greek tragedies
let them glisten like gold nuggets like
salt rocks brought up from the mine
when they meet with sunshine
and playful time smiles at them

the body too adapts to the holiday
chests swell up
spines become ramrod straight
although clumsily nature too pitches in
even helps with the memorial service
it rolls out the fog curtains of alabaster dawns
in front of the occupants of the stage
on the blinking screen hung in space
it plays back the cavalcade of memory tatters
………….(replaying what cannot be replayed)

we must let the tension dissipate
it’s good general well-being
the play-acting
mortals see a show like this only once in a lifetime
if they live to see that one
………….(nobody forces them to
………….take the bus to the bullfight in Acapulco
………….at four in the afternoon in tired heat
………….even one show is too many
………….disgusting slaughterhouse
………….bloodbath drowned in cruelty
………….the joyless drops of fear lashing the windowpane
………….on the other hand
………….this too is a kind of holiday)

Judas is desire
indecision in shards is a warm comforter
covers you with unlikely blue
the way the sky and sea used to wiggle
for eyes hungry for spectacle
reeling heights and depths on the retina of imagination
a holiday logo
coming from nothing to sing of its woe into the void

Ünnepi Láz

„csak a szív, csak a szív,
 csak a szív ne zakatolna”
 ………….Szilágyi Domokos: Öregek könyve

zakatol a szív
ünnepelni nehéz
az ünnepléshez alkalom kell
………….(alkalom mint minden máshoz
………….amihez az embernek több vagy kevesebb a kedve)
ha valami kezdődik vagy vége van
magában rejti az ünnepet is
mely kétely
alkalom arra
az istenek is ott legyenek
ahogyan a görög tragédiákban
csillogjanak mint tört arany
bányából felhozott sórög
ha napfénnyel találkozik
s ránevet a pajkos idő

alkalmazkodik az ünnephez a test is
kifeszül a mell
a hátgerinc kiegyenesedik
a természet belekontárkodik a lázas készülődésbe
segít megülni a tort is ha kell
alabástrom hajnalok ködfüggönyét gördíti fel
a színpadra érkezők színe előtt
az éterben függő villanó képernyőn
emlékfoszlányok forgatagát játssza vissza
………….(a visszajátszható visszajátszhatatlant)

a feszültség is oldódjon benne
jót tesz ez a közérzetnek
a színlelésnek
halandó ily előadást csak egyszer él meg
ha megéli azt az egyet
………….(nem kényszeríti senki
………….kibuszozni az acapulcói bikaviadalra
………….délután négykor a fáradt melegben
………….abból még egy is sok
………….gusztustalan mészárszék
………….kegyetlenségbe fojtott vérzivatar
………….az ablakot verik a félelem örömtelen cseppjei
………….bár ha úgy vesszük
………….ez is valamiféle ünnep)

júdás a vágy
a vívódás törmeléke meleg paplan
betakar valószínűtlen kékkel
ahogyan az ég s a tenger szokott
meztelenül illegni a látványra éhes szem előtt
tántorgó magasság és mélység a képzelet retináján
ünnepi jel
mely a semmiből a semmibe merül


Francesco Petrarca

I’m not at home in the hills of Arqua,
Here, like everywhere I’m a foreigner.
My father sent me to study law but it’s
Reading Cicero and Virgil I prefer.

The landscape fills my heart with glow,
Devils and angels keep haunting me.
I survived Florence and Avignon,
To sonnet though I can’t claim paternity.

As someone well-versed in prosody,
I hold Latin syllables under my tongue,
Laura’s eyes are my constant company,

Where the people are neither old nor young.
Ulyses fate follows my fate wherever I go,
In the unclouded sky of Padva I’m the glow.

Francesco Petrarca

Az arquai dombok nem a hazám,
Itt és mindenütt idegen vagyok.
Jogot tanulni küldött jó apám,
Cicerót, Vergiliust olvasok.

Míg itt e táj szívemben ragyog,
Kísértettek ördögök, angyalok,
Átvészeltem Firenzét, Avignont,
Szonettnek apja mégsem én vagyok.

Mint ki mindezt már eleve érti
A nyelvem alatt latin szótagok,
Laura tekintete kísért végig,

Hol nincsenek vének sem fiatalok.
Ulisszeszi sors sorsomat kíséri,
Pádva felhőtlen egén ragyogok.


Árpád  Farkas

…………….Salzburg, 1969

I’m hanging out here under Europe’s bright-lit windows
with the moonlight’s heavenly lime dripping from my face,
clawed red by the wind, enwrapped by a shower:
the waters of the Danube and Olt pour
and wash the tatters of my mantle.

Driven by hunger, your sole son has strayed far from the herd
and staggers in your winds, oh liberty!
Through the veils of rain
he feels the century’s blind face,
with mud-caked boots he keeps on kicking
Mozart’s cradle:–let him bawl!

I bump into everything!
All I want is just to walk on nicely, whistling in the rain,
(the china houses weep when I splatter mud on them),
and whispering sweet nothings to the foliage in secret
(while knocking the castle off the hill
with my clumsy elbow! The statue of the ETERNAL SONGSTER
turns to dust when I try a tune!).

My rain-soaked, homesick shadow is cast
only to the moon from here,
oh, Twentieth Century!

Though at home how peaceful and how open the herd is now,
steaming and fattening, pressed against the planks!
At the end of the first millennium of the great migrations
I cannot picture a better home
than there,
where even the brother bites your back,
not only the friend,
where the people chump on the flowers of barbarian pastures,
warm up by their stench,
and bare their knuckles for mere morsels of civilization!

I’m hanging out here under Europe’s open windows,
a sudden wild squall blows the moonlight off my face,
all the way back home.

…………….Salzburg, 1969

Ácsorgok Európa kivilágított ablakai alatt,
arcomról csurog a holdfény, a mennyei mész.
Véresre körmöl a szél, betakargat a zápor:
Duna vize, Olt vize hull,
mossa maradék gúnyám.

Éhes, egyetlen fiad elbitangolt a nyájtól,
dülöng fuvalmaidban, szabadság!
Az eső függönyein át
a század vak arcát matarássza,
ormótlan sáros lábbal Mozart bölcsőjét
rugdossa: – bőgjön!

Mindennek nekiütődöm!
Pedig csak menni szeretnék szépen, esőben
(s a felvert sártól sírnak a porcelán-házak),
becézni a lombot, hogy ne venné észre
(s könyökömmel leverem a dombról a várat,
a tornyot! Porlik, ha dúdolok,

Ázott, hazasóvárgó árnyam csak a Holdra
vetül rólad,
Huszadik Század!

Pedig most otthon mily befogadón, békésen gőzölög
a turma, hogy gyapjasodik, feszítve karám falát!
A népvándorlás első évezredének végére jutva
nem álmodok magamnak már máshol hazát,
………….csak ott,
hol testvér is marjamba mar,
………….nemcsak barát,
hol barbár legelőin szagos füvet harap a nép,
………….bűze melegít,
s csülökre kél a civilizáció morzsáiért!

Ácsorgok Európa tágra nyílt ablakai alatt,
hatalmas huzat kél, hazafújja rólam a holdfényt.

Old Folks

They’re sitting in the opalescent weather
under the eaves; it’s snowing, coming
down in enormous Central-Asian flakes.

Lambs are coming down or rabbits,
neighing milk-white stallions—:
with them winter plays fairy tales.

Some drawing emerges from behind
the rough curtain of snowfall—:
King Dul’s naked daughters dance.

The old folks get up with arms stretched,
and hesitantly, like the blind,  they merge
with the shower of the shining light.

A Vének

Ülnek az eresz alatt az áttetsző
időben; hó hull, hatalmas
előázsiai pelyhekkel havazik.

Bárányok hullnak vagy nyulak,
s nyihogó habfehér paripák –:
vélük a tél még eltündérkedik.

A havazás érdes függönye mögül
fölsejlik hirtelen valami rajz –:
Dul király mezítlen lányai ringnak.

Fölindulnak a vének kinyújtott
karokkal, s tétován, mint a vakok
a zuhogó fénybe beleivódnak.


Gizella Hervay

The Heavenly Rally

Here we are in heaven in which we don’t believe
and which doesn’t exist as we all know quite well.
But we are here, there’s no doubt about that.

There’s a tired light bulb hanging
over us,
it’s turning to dusk.

The angels place their halos
on the night table till the morning.

In another heaven are
our mother’s calling cries.

Off we march into
a heavenly vision.

Upward, for here we can
only go upward.
A reverse elevator
is our plunging life.

On the signpost “Future.”
We are happy,
have been so or will be soon.

Here we are in heaven in which we don’t believe.

Mennyei Felvonulás

Itt vagyunk hát a mennyben, amiben nem hiszünk,
s ami nincs is egyébként, hiszen tudjuk.
De itt vagyunk és ehhez kétség nem fér.

Fáradt villanykörte lóg

Az angyalok éjjeliszekrényre
rakják a glóriát reggelig.

Egy másik égen
anyánk kiáltozása.

Vonulunk a mennyei

Fel, hisz itt csak
felfelé mehetünk.

Fordított lift
zuhanó életünk.

Jelzőtáblán a „Jövő”.
Boldogok vagyunk,
voltunk, vagy leszünk.

Itt vagyunk a mennyben, amiben nem hiszünk.


I grew up, didn’t I. That means we should re-do
the resume. There was too much vagrancy
connected with being an orphan, and too
few were the homes available per person.
This we must re-write. Yes, I’m at home here.
I create my own landscape. Out of words,
of course. Out of good, sturdy words.
They can be size eleven, too, but they must be
boots. Without boots you can’t march off
to war. But of course that’s
over now. And a overcoat
is also important in this area. It’s safe
and secure like childhood. Which I didn’t have.
It can be long, too. We can always tuck
it in. One can grow out of them by the end
of their useful lives. Of the poems,
of course. The rest we can cross out. Please
cross it out. Just leave the bare facts. Please take
this down: I was born like others. I accept the
responsibility. According to
Central-European calendar.
Let me have a copy, please.


Felnőttem, ugye. Vagyis írjuk csak át
a káderlapot. Túl sok csavargás volt
árvasággal egybekötve, és
kevés volt az egy főre eső otthon.
Ezt átírjuk. Igenis itthon vagyok.
Teremtek tájat magamnak. Szavakból
természetesen. Jó tartós szavakból.
Lehet negyvenkettes is, csak bakancs
legyen. Bakancs nélkül nem lehet
nekivágni a háborúnak. Ami elmúlt
persze. A télikabát is fontos
ebben a tájban. Biztonságos, mint
egy gyermekkor. Ami nem volt.
Hosszabb is lehet. Majd
felhajtjuk. Kinövi az ember, mire
a végére ér. A versnek természetesen.
A többit törölni. Tessék törölni.
A lényeg maradhat. Diktálom:
Születtem, mint más. A felelősséget
vállalom. Közép-európai
számítás szerint.
Kérem a másolatot.


Sándor Kányádi


the alarm is raised in the
bureau of shadows
when it is discovered
there is still one person
who is not afraid
of his own shadow

the administrators hold a quick
brainstorm and decide unanimously
to withdraw
the suspect’s shadow

and after a lapse of time
they issue to him
a double shadow

which at first brews
anxiety slowly growing
into terror

they even shadow
my own shadow
mutters the wretched soul
besieged by fear that
even his own shadow
may not be his own


nagy riadalom támad
az árnyékok hivatalában
ha tudomásukra jut
hogy van aki még mindig
nem ijed meg a
tulajdon árnyékától

összedugják a fejüket
és egyhangúlag
megvonják a gyanúsított
tulajdon árnyékát

majd idő teltével
kettőzött árnyékkal
látják el

kezdetét veszi a szorongás
mely lassacskán
rettegéssé fajul

még a tulajdon árnyékomat
is követik
motyogja a boldogtalan
hogy a sajátjának vélt
árnyéka sem az övé

The Homecoming of Marin Sorescu
……………………………………………………….Cluj, 1995

the wagon drawn by a pair of oxen came to a halt
a nt-so-old gentleman got off
it’s not you Marin
welcome home my dear son
the neighbor woman clapped her hands
or it could have been a niece
could have been even his mother who
as a young widow had sent his little son
to the big-city school in the same wagon drawn by oxen
how much fun they had back then how much they laughed
there’s no better medicine for misery
there’s no better magic potion than laughter
do you remember my boy my dear sir
the woman corrected her mode of address
giving another occasion for laughter
my god my god how time flies
it’s as if you’d left here only yesterday
you haven’t changed at all except your skin tone
its color seems let’s say colorless
but the fresh air at home will remedy that
yes there’s some stuff to eat in the wagon
under the books or on top of them I don’t  recall
something for everyone
there’s fish there’s herring and salmon you’ve never tasted
in your life before and leeks too
and I brought some eggplants that’s out of season
in this region at home
the journey’s come to an end
my lord my god how many books and in how many languages
how many books my god he says
my journey’s come to an end and no one wondered
no one asked what kind of a journey
has come to an end but passed it on like a revelation
by mouth the news traveled among the gathering crowd
people from the street so if he says so it must have come to an end
he was never in the habit of talking just for the sake of talking
he allowed himself a smile as much as his paleness allowed
he allowed himself a smile about the things he had seen behind his closed eyelids
and things prompted by what reached his ears from home
he said he would like to go out
and when he staggered back to the hospital room
it had been rearranged and enlarged
there was a king-sized bed between the two windows all made up
quotes from world literature were embroidered on his humped pillow
and elegant quilt and the rug for his feet on the floor
at the feet of the king-sized bed a diko
he was glad to recall the words of his home village
at the feet of the king-sized bed near the door
a crib covered with a handmade coverlet was
kneeling to the rush rug on the dirt floor
under the huge quilt I could sleep leisurely
till judgment day and nothing would bother me but and
at this point he ran his hand over the handmade coverlet
but here resurrection would come more easily and more often
this is the best time to sell the oxen he said already turning
toward the wall the rumor has it that it may be alright now but
the time is coming again when those in the yoke will have no value

Marin Sorescu, Romanian poet 1936-1995, enjoyed pop star status, also served as a minister in the post-Communist government

Marin Sorescu hazatérése
……………………………………………………….Cluj, 1995

megállt a két kicsi ökör vontatta szekér
leszállt róla egy még nem is olyan öreg úr
csak nem te vagy marin
isten hozott drága fiam
csapta össze kezét a szomszédasszony
vagy talán valaki unokahúg unokanővér
az édesanyja is lehetett volna
még fiatal özvegyként amikor a fiát
két kicsi ökörrel befuvarozta a városi iskolába
mennyit nevettek akkoriban
nincs jobb orvosság a nyomorúságra
nincs jobb gyógyír a nevetésnél
emlékszel emlékszik-e nagyságod
javította ki magát az asszony
ezen most már nevetni kellett
istenem istenem hogy eltelt az idő
mintha csak tegnap mentél volna el
semmit se változtál csak a színed
a színed egy kicsit mintha színtelen volna
de az itthoni levegő majd rendbe szed
van ott a szekér derekában a könyvek
alatt vagy fölött már nem is tudom
van ott egyetmás jut belőle mindenkinek
hal is van hering meg lazac olyat még
úgysem ettetek eddig póréhagymát is
hoztam meg padlizsánt azoknak most
nincs itthon szezonja egyébként
vége az utazásnak
uramisten mennyi könyv és mindenféle nyelven
mennyi könyv uramisten azt mondja
vége az utazásnak senki sem csodálkozott
nem kérdezték hogy miféle utazásnak
van vége mint valami kinyilatkoztatást adták
tovább szájról szájra az egyre többen összegyűlő
utcabeliek ha azt mondja akkor biztosan vége
nem szokott csak úgy a beszéd kedvéért beszélni
elmosolyodott amennyire a halványsága engedte
elmosolyodott a lehunyt pillák alatt látottaktól
s a füléhez érő otthoni hangoktól
szólt hogy ki szeretne menni
mire visszatámolygott mintha a szobát is
mintha átrendezték megnövelték volna
nagy széles vetett ágy terpeszkedett a két ablak között
világirodalmi idézetek voltak púpos párnáira
elegáns paplanára lábalávalójára hímezve
a nagyágy végében a bütüjében
örült hogy eszébe jutott az otthoni szó
a nagyágy végében közel az ajtóhoz
oltván takaróval letakarva egy amolyan
gyermekkori dikó térdelt a tapaszos
ház földjére terített gyékényen
a paplanosban nyugodtan alhatnék akár
ítéletnapig is aligha zavarnának de itt
simította végig az ismerős takarót de innen
könnyebb és gyakoribb lehet a föltámadás
az ökröket most kell eladni szólt vissza fal felé
fordulóban állítólag most még hagyján de félő
hogy megint nem lesz ára az igavonóknak


Aladár Lászlóffy

The Cat Set On Fire

We must loosen up, at least at dawn,
when the answers to the ultimate questions
start dripping from
the leaves, and so does dew!
Let dew spread over the table, the
bed! That’s when the body enters,
and the naked embrace of alcohol,
because anyone alive for any period
of time must like it
that we’re androgynous
outside the idea of it and bare
like shell fish split open. At times
like these that cat starts
running around on roof tops,
set on fire by the spirit,
protesting rest and the loss of
consciousness after
swallowing light so long.

A felgyújtott macska

Lazítni kell, hajnalban legalább,
mikor a végső kérdésekre keresett
válaszok lecsöppennek már a
levelekről is, és harmat!
Harmat borítsa az asztalt, az
ágyat! Olyankor jön a test,
az alkohol meztelen ölelése,
mert aki csak él, egyszer és
egyhuzamban, az szeretheti,
hogy kétneműek vagyunk a
gondolaton kívül, és csurdék,
mint a csigás állatok. A
háztetőkön ilyenkor kezd el
rohanni az a felgyújtott macska,
ki által tiltakozik minden
pihenés ellen, eszméletvesztés
ellen a fényeket olyan
sokáig nyelő szellem.

The Voice

A voice streaks through the ghost-sharp,
starrynights of stagnant-gold whisperings:
Show me the poets you all read,
and I’ll tell you folks who you are.

Show me the poets you respect,
and I’ll tell you where you’re coming from.
Our grandfathers’ gaunt figures I see
in unbearable times when
our parks withered and we only had our books
to tide us over the winter.

Show me the poets you rally around,
and I’ll tell you what will become of you.

A hang

Kísértet-éles csillagos éjszakákon átfut
egy hang a suttogások álló aranyán.
Mutassátok meg a költőket, akiket
olvastok, s megmondom, kik vagytok.

Mutassátok meg a költőket, akiket
tiszteltek, s megmondom, kik voltatok.
Nagyapáink szikár alakját látom el-
viselhetetlennek tünő korokban, mikor
hervadt már ligetünk, s csak könyveink
maradtak a télre.

Mutassátok meg a költőket, akiket
megvédtek, s megmondom, kik lesztek.


Domokos Szilágyi

What Can The Poet Do?

What indeed can our poet do?
He can fill the sky
by scribbling stars all over it
while the astronomers are asleep.
He can fill the garden by scribbling roses in it
while May is asleep.
He can fill the beach by scribbling sunshine on it
while the sun is asleep.
Oh, he can find a hundred and one
ways to get around the procrastinators!
He can scribble hope to fill
time in rapid flight
while the people are asleep.

A Költő Mit Tehet?

A költő mit is tehet?
Teleírhatja csillagokkal
a mennyboltot,
míg alusznak a csillagászok.
Teleírhatja rózsákkal a kertet,
míg alszik a május.
Teleírhatja napfénnyel a strandot,
míg alszik a napfény.
Ó, százegyszer is kifoghat
a késedelmeskedőn!
Teleírhatja reménységgel
a szállongó időt,
míg alusznak az emberek.


Géza Szőcs

Indian Words On The Radio
            To poet William Least Heat Moon

The Indians of the prairie will not let us down.
Others yes, but not them, they will not let us down.

Had they known what was to take place at Segesvár
— but they knew not what was to take place at Segesvár —
surely they would have shown up too,
some would have known they were coming too:
General Papa Bem, the Indians are coming, they would have said,
one morning to Papa Bem this is what they would have said:

across the Bering Strait
across the Bering Strait
an Indian cavalry is on its way,
cutting across Siberia
cutting its way to us
it’s coming to our aid —

the valiant officers would have talked like this,
tossing their gold-braided hats up in the air.

My Indian brother, we haven’t even got a reservation.
Ghetto, bantustan, a reservation
sometimes would be fine with us, but we have none.
The tribe gets together in the cafe,
we stand around a lot in the cafe.
Miss, don’t spare that Indian pie.
That’s what we say but to ourselves we think
but to ourselves we actually think:

some day a few Indians
across the Bering Strait
across any kind of strait
will cut their way through to us
to come to our aid
to come to our aid.

The Indians do not let anybody down.
The Indians will not let us down.

At the Nov. 15th, 1985 session of the Cultural Forum in Budapest William Least Heat Moon, a Native American writer and a member of the US delegation, gave a detailed report on Géza Szőcs’s house arrest in Romania.  Author’s note: Also, allusions to the unsuccessful Hungarian War of Independence fought against the Hapsburg rule in 1848-1849.

Indián szavak a rádióban

Az indiánok nem hagynak cserben minket.
Mások igen, de ők nem hagynak cserben minket.

Ha tudták volna, mi is lesz Segesvárnál
– de hát nem tudták, mi lesz Segesvárnál –
Biztosan eljöttek volna ők is,
Egyesek tudták volna, hogy jönnek ők is:
Bem apó, jönnek az indiánok, mondták volna,
Egy reggel Bem apónak ezt mondták volna:

A Bering szoroson át
A Bering szoroson át
Indián lovascsapat érkezi,
Áttör egész Szibérián
Átvágja idáig magát
Segítségünkre jő –

Az őrnagy urak így beszáltek volna,
Csákójukat a magasba dobálták volna.

Indián testvérem, nekünk már rezervátumunk sincsen
Gettó, Bantusztán, rezervátum jól fogna sokszor, egyik sincs
Összeverődik törzs a cukrászdában,
Sokáig ácsorgunk a cukrászdában.
Kisasszony, ne sajnálja azt az indiánert
Így szólunk s magunkban azt gondoljuk
De magunkban igazán azt gondoljuk:

Egy napon néhány indián
A Bering szoroson át
Akármilyen szoroson át
Segítségünkre jön majd
Segítségünkre jön majd,
Átvágja hozzánk magát.

Az indiánok nem hagynak cserben senkit.
Az indiánok nem hagynak cserben minket.


When You Become The U.S. President

when you become the u.s. president
and with golden water pistols in your pocket
you play cops-and-robbers by yourself
in the corridors of the white house
or else you walk outside to stand on the democratic demarcation line
or walk out to stand on the dividing line or the continental divide
you drink a cocktail of nitric acid so you can tell base metals from gold,
when you separate evil from good
and the useless from the useful:
one imperceptible move and you can’t tell
if you’ve stepped over the hill
to the other side of your life
or you are still here
the continental divide and a cocktail of acids,
you’re past the halftime

you’ll play hide and seek
and bury the black box containing your last words
in the basement of the white house,
you’ll be digging in the basement of the white house
with a computer crucifix on your forehead, wearing galoshes
and the hot line twisted around your neck,
when you become the u.s. or the russian president.

Majd amikor amerikai elnök leszel

majd amikor amerikai elnök leszel
és zsebedben arany vízipisztolyokkal
hunyót meg fogócskát játszol majd egymagadban
a fehér ház folyosóin és rabló-kandúrt,
vagy kisétálsz és megállsz a demokráciás vonalon
vagy kisétálsz és megállsz a felezővonalon vagy vízválasztón
és választóvizet iszol mely két rész salétromsav és egy rész sósav,
mikor majd elválasztod a rosszat a jótól
és a fölöslegest a hiábavalótól:
hirtelen megteszel még egy észrevétlen lépést
és meg sem érzed hogy már túl
vagy az életút másik felén
vagy az innenső felén
vízválasztó és választóvíz,
túl vagy a felezőidőn

hunyót meg folyócskát fogsz majd játszani
és elásod majd a fehér ház pincéjében a fekete dobozt
mely teli lesz utolsó szavaiddal,
ott fogsz ásni a fehér ház pincéjében,
homlokodon fonálkereszttel, hócipőben,
nyakad körül a forró dróttal,
mikor majd amerikai, vagy szovjet elnök leszel


Zsófia Balla was born in 1949 into an ethnic Hungarian Jewish family, a minority within a minority in Kolozsvár. Her public upbringing, anti-Hungarian and atheist, was prevalent at that time. Her father, a writer, introduced her to Hungarian literature, her mother taught her Jewish traditions. Her higher education was devoted to music (violin); on graduation she got a job with the music department of a Hungarian-language radio station. At the same time she started publishing her poems. When communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu closed down the radio station, she got a job as an editor. In the meantime her poetry gained popularity, as well as the attention of the authorities, and she was blacklisted for five years. During that time she received an award from the Romanian Writers Guild. After the regime change she moved to Hungary to work for a literary journal. She has published twelve volumes of poetry and received most major poetry prizes in Hungary.

Zoltán Böszörményi, born in 1953, was educated in the Transylvanian-Hungarian area of Rumania. As a young poet he was harassed by the communist authorities of that time. He had no choice but escape, eventually finding a new home in Canada where he graduated from York University and got a job with an advertising agency. After the fall of communism he went back to Romania to resume his literary career. He has published two novels in Paul Sohar’s English translation: Far from Nothing (Exile Editions, Canada, 2006) and The Club at Eddie’s Bar (Phaeton Press, Ireland, 2013). His novel The Refugee was recently published in Berlin in German translation. He is working with Sohar on his first English poetry volume The Conscience of Trees, for Ragged Sky Press.

Árpád Farkas  was born in 1944 in a Hungarian village where his ancestors had farmed until the land was taken away by the communist regime. While attending Babes-Bolyai University (1961-1966) he started publishing in periodicals, and in 1967 his work was included in the anthology Vitorla (‘Sail’). His first poetry volume, Másnapos ének (‘Hangover Song‘), came out in 1968. Numerous others followed, including several books of translations, most notably one in 1985 featuring works by Ana Blandiana, a Romanian poet who was blacklisted by the communist regime. In his poetry, he often speaks out for the survival of his ethnic Hungarian minority in Romania. Farkas helped compile Maradok—I Remain. A selection of his poems, including the two featured here, will soon be published under the title Tunnels in the Snow.

Gizella Hervay (1934-1982), though born in Hungary, is known as a Transylvanian-Hungarian poet.  At an early age her large, poor family disbanded, and her hectic life took her to various locations. At last she found safe haven in a parochial boarding school in a Hungarian town in Transylvania and went on to finish her higher education with a doctorate in 1956. While holding a series of editorial jobs she had a brief marriage to the love of her life, Domokos Szilágyi, a fellow poet and classmate in college. The year 1976 was a turning point, with Szilágyi’s suicide and a publishing house in Budapest offering her a steady job, as she was starting to make a name for herself as a poet. In spite of crippling depression Hervay carried on with her job and poetry, until her suicide.

Sándor Kányádi was born in 1929 as the son of a peasant. After the fifth grade he enrolled in Protestant parochial boarding schools, and eventually graduated from a technical high school. He worked as an editor of Hungarian-language magazines until his retirement. He published his first poem in a newspaper in 1950 and from then on, his poems were published widely in Hungarian-language publications. Translations of Romanian poetry (done as much for literary reasons as to pave the way toward ethnic reconciliation) soon followed and earned him a prize from the Romanian Writers’ Association. Because contact with the West was restricted at that time, his international career flourished later, culminating in the coveted Herder Prize. Volumes of his poetry in translation have been published in Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Russian, Swedish, and recently in Sohar’s English translation: Dancing Embers (Twisted Spoon Press, Prague, 2002), In Contemporary Tense (Iniquity Press, 2015), Behind God’s Back (Ragged Sky Press, Princeton, 2016),  and The Curious Moon (Synergebooks, 2003).

Aladár Lászlóffy (1937–2009), was born in Transylvania. He graduated from Lutheran Preparatory School, then from Babeş–Bolyai University in Cluj (Kolozsvar) with a degree in Hungarian Language and Literature. After a few years of freelancing he started getting steady jobs as editor, and finally as a professor of world culture. He published his first poem at the age of nine and went on writing and publishing for the rest of his life. He has received all major literary prizes in Romania and Hungary.

Domokos Szilágyi (1938-1976), poet, writer and translator, is considered an important figure in modern Transylvanian literature. He graduated from the Hungarian university of Kolozsvár with a degree in Hungarian Language and Literature in 1960. From that time until1970, he worked as editor for periodicals in Kolozsvár and Bucharest while turning out a number of books, which included his own poetry and translations. His innovative use of language and breaking up the conventional forms of poetry put him in the forefront among his peers. He was married to Gizella Hervay for two years, but battled often-recurring episodes of depression. He committed suicide in 1976.

Géza Szőcs, poet, writer, journalist and politician, was born in 1953 in Marosvásárhely (Târgu Mureș), Romania, into an urban ethnic Hungarian family. He published his first volume of poetry while still attending the Hungarian-Russian Department at the Babeş-Bolyai University in Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca). After graduation in 1978 he worked for a newspaper until 1979, when he left to study at the University of Vienna on a Herder Scholarship for a year. Back in Romania, his journalistic and literary carrier was hampered by harassment from the Securitate, the political police, for his activities on behalf of his ethnic minority. In 1986 he was allowed to move to Switzerland. The regime change made it possible for him to return home. Since then he supplemented his writing career with various political and editorial positions in Hungary. His poems have been published in Chinese, French, Italian, Romanian, and recently in English: Liberty, Rats and Sandpaper (Iniquity Press, 2016). Poems featured here are from his early period, written in the surrealist world of a totalitarian society in the style he developed then and continues to use in the present day.


Paul Sohar, born in 1936 in Hungary, drifted as a student refugee to the U.S. where he got a BA in philosophy and a day job in chemistry. His literary output includes seventeen volumes of translations, such as a bilingual anthology of ten Transylvanian-Hungarian poets titled Maradok-I Remain (Pro-Print, Romania, 1997, edited by Gyöngyvér Harko), an e-chapbook Secret Ceremony: Poems by Five Hungarian Women (Language & Culture, 2004),  In Contemporary Tense, Sándor Kányádi’s poems (Iniquity Press, 2013), and Silver Pirouettes, Gyorgy Faludy’s poems (Ragged Sky Press, 2017). His own poetry includes Homing Poems (Iniquity Press, 2006) and The Wayward Orchard, a Wordrunner Press Prize winner (2011). Other awards: first prize in the 2012 Lincoln Poets Society contest and second prize in the Rhode Island Writers Circle prose contest (2014). His translation prizes include the Irodalmi Jelen Translation Prize (1914), the Toth Árpád Translation Prize, and the Janus Pannonius Lifetime Achievement Award (both in 2016, Budapest, Hungary). Magazine credits include Agni, Gargoyle, Kenyon Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, Rattle, and Seneca Review, among others.

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