I think of great Hungarian poets whose works can stand the trials of translation,
and have a reason to be read outside of Hungary, among the first is Attila Jozsef.
readers of Sylvia
Plath will connect with the deeply personal style intoned with tragedy, all
ominous, intimate and distant simultaneously. Fans of Walt
Whitman and Maya
Angelou will hear resonating the tension of the inner life exposed into metered
words, although they both saw more hope in life.
curriculum vitae is included as an introduction this English translation of his
most important poems. It serves not only as a short biography, but also as a look
into why Jozsef became the poet we know. As a CV, its purpose was to apply for
a job at a bank, but, in light of his suicide 10 months later, it allows the reader
to peer into the make up of an artist, who, in the matter of brilliance in opposition
to a disturbing mental condition, might be compared to Vincent
Van Gogh. It is suspected he suffered from schizophrenia,
for which treatment was not well-developed.
the CV, there is an annotated timeline, from Jozsef's April 11, 1905 birth to
his violent suicide under a train December 3, 1937.
translations exist of Attila Jozsef, but this one holds its own. Oft-translated
is "With a Pure Heart" which caused him much trouble, getting him kicked
out of university in 1925. It begins:
am fatherless, motherless,
godless and countryless,
have no cradle, no
and no lover to kiss me proud."
follows with three more stanzas that is both defiant and despondent. He gives
up while shouting his goodness, but not as a savior like Christ, but as a wasted
other poems, he looks but never sees the light at the end of the tunnel. As a
young communist where communism
was illegal, he met strong oppression. Ironically, it is the Communists who would
later take control of Hungary a few years after Jozsef's death and twist and oppress
Hungarians into economic and spiritual failure. In 1937, he wrote "Long Ago,"
which is filled with existentialism
dissatisfied with the emptiness it offered. He wanted a god, but believed in none.
ago I realized
I'm amphibious like a frog
that lies low at the bottom
of raging skies. This poem
is a bubble of my anxious soul
have no evil masters and
no worms await my command.
Like fish and gods
in oceans and heavens alike.
ocean is the murky world
of gentle, warm embracing arms.
My heaven is
the clear light
of humanity conceived by the mind."
translator, John Batki, shows a close similarity between many of Jack
Kerouac and Allen
Ginsberg's work with Jozsef's work some 20 years earlier. While the Beats
were more of experimenters of a Buddhist
philosophy, and not practitioners in a strict sense, the relationship poetically
presents the transcendent nature of Jozsef.
Jozsef's work was rebellious, but with more introspective depth. The struggle
of his Hungarian countrymen after WWI
and his own desire to stand and speak aloud informs his poems, much in the way
Sandburg or Chile's Pablo
Neruda, both contemporaries of Jozsef.
seeks and declares his identity, themes that still ring today. If he sang in a
grunge band, he might have been Kurt
Cobain. Instead, he was Attila Jozsef, a great Hungarian poet, and these are
his greatest poems.
fully recommend "Winter Night: Selected Poems" by Attila Jozsef as translated
by John Batki.