Poems from the Hungarian Poetry Reading 9/19/2013


Twenty Years Later
By János Vajda (1827–1897) / Translation by Zsuzsanna Ozsváth and Frederick Turner

Like snow on Mont Blanc’s distant crest,
That neither sun nor wind may harm,
My unvexed heart now lies at rest,
Inflamed by no new passion’s charm.

Round me a myriad stars contend
Which casts the most flirtatious glow,
And on my head their bright rays bend,
Yet never do I melt or flow.

But sometimes on a silent night,
In lonely dreamings, half-awake,
Your swanlike image floats, so white,
On vanished youth’s enchanted lake.

And then my heart flares up again,
As after a long winter’s night
Mont Blanc’s eternal snowfields, when
The rising sun turns them to light . . .



“The Recapture of Buda Castle in 1686" by Gyula Benczúr (1844-1920)

“The Recapture of Buda Castle in 1686″ by Gyula Benczúr (1844-1920)


A Soldier’s Song
In Laudem Confiniorem
To the melody of “Only Sorrow”
By Bálint Balassi (1554–1594) / Translation by Zsuzsanna Ozsváth and Frederick Turner

Knights-at-arms, tell me where there is a place more fair
than the far fields of the Pale?
When soft is the springtime, sweet the birds’ singtime,
over the hill and the dale;
All in heaven’s favor receive the sweet savor,
dewdrop and meadow and vale.

And the knight’s heart is stirred by the fire of the word
that the haughty foe draws near,
Pricked to more merit by the spur of his spirit,
goes to his trial with good cheer;
Wounded yet ready, though his brow be all bloody,
seizes and slays without fear.

Scarlet the guidons, bright heraldry gladdens
on surcoat and standard below,
In the vanguard he races, the field’s vast spaces
courses, like wild winds that blow;
Gaily caparisoned, bright helms all garrisoned,
plumed in their beauty they go.

On Saracen stallions they prance in battalions,
hearing the blast of the horn,
While those who stood guard when the night watch was hard,
dismounted, rest in the dawn:
In skirmish and night-fray unending well might they
with watching be wearied and worn.

For the fame, for good name, and for honor’s acclaim,
they leave the world’s joys behind,
Flower of humanity, pattern of chivalry,
to all, the pure form of high mind;
And as falcons they soar over fields of grim war,
unleashed to strike in the wind.

When they see the bold foe, in joy they Hollo!,
cracked lances fly end over end,
And if things fall out ill in the field of the kill,
rally without a command,
And mired in much blood oftentimes they make good,
drive their pursuit from the land.

The great plains, the forest, the groves at their fairest,
are their castle, so they deem;
The ambush at woodways, the struggle, the hard days
are their groves of academe;
Their hunger in battle, the thirst, the hot rattle,
pleasures to them well beseem.

Their joy in their labor’s the blade of their sabers,
the skull-splitting edge they try;
And bloody and wounded, and many confounded
in battle, silent they lie;
And the beast’s maw full often, and the bird’s, is the coffin
of those who in courage must die.

Young knights of the marches, no shame ever smirches
the glory that ever is yours,
Whose fame and good name the world will acclaim
to its farthest and noblest shores;
As the fruit to the tree, may Providence be
a blessing to you in the wars!



The Bards of Wales
By János Arany (1817-1882)/ Translation by Zsuzsanna Ozsváth and Frederick Turner

King Edward sits his palfrey grey,
Looks on his conquests’ pales:
Let’s see, says he, what worth to me
Is this domain of Wales?

What rivers flow, what harvests grow,
What meads for grazing good?
Is it well fed and waterèd
With rebel patriot blood?

Churls of this land, given by the hand
Of God into my care,
The folk, how do they love the yoke
They make their cattle bear?

No diamond fairer, gracious King,
Stands in your crown than Wales:
Land, river, grazing, all are there,
Mountains and fertile vales.

The folk indeed enjoy the yoke
God set upon them, Sire!
Their huts are dumb, as is the tomb
Upon the graveyard’s mire.

And Edward walks his horse so pale
Amid his conquests bare:
All that remains are dumb domains
And silence everywhere.

Montgomery’s that castle’s name
Where the King lodged that night;
Montgomery, the castle’s lord
Feasts him with all delight.

Fish, flesh, and fowl, and all things well
Fit for the flesh’s gust,
A hundred servants, what a rout
To task the eyes’ small lust;

And all that this fair isle might grow
To feed the belly’s glee
And all the wines of foreign vines
Conveyed across the sea.

Gentles, gentles! is there not one
That clinks his glass to me?
Gentles, gentles! . . . you dogs of Wales!
May Edward’s health not be?

Fish, flesh, and fowl, all under sky
Pleasing and sweet I see;
But yet methinks the devil slinks
In these lords’ courtesy.

Gentles, gentles! you wretched dogs!
Who’ll sing King Edward’s tales?
Where is the guest who’ll toast my geste—
Bring forth the bard of Wales!

Each in his neighbor’s face now looks,
The many knights of Wales;
There upon every Welsh guest’s face
A fearlike anger pales.

Words torn within, voice caught within,
Breath breaks and is drawn hard;
But now, above, a lone white dove,
Rises an old grey bard.

Here is, O king, one who will sing
Your deeds, says the old man;
The clash of battle, the death-rattle
Cry from the harp-string’s pain.

“With clash of battle, with death-rattle,
Sun sets in its pool of blood,
The carrion-beast smells out the feast
Where you, King, spread the food!

“Our heaped-up dead, a cross of red,
The thousands that you slew:
The simplest churl that works the soil
Weeps at the scathe you do!”

The stake! Away! and no delay—
Edward commands the guard—
Ha! Here, a softer song we’ll hear;
Up steps now a young bard.

“Ah! softly plays the evening breeze
That blows on Milford haven;
The maiden’s keen, the widow’s pain
Sigh in that wind of heaven.

Virgin, do not give birth to slaves!
Mother, do not give suck! . . .”
The King waves him away. He joins
The other at the stake.

A third, unbid and unafraid,
Yet comes before the King;
His harp speaks then as men speak men,
This Spell begins to sing:

“The good men all in battle fell—
Hear, Edward, what this tells:
Seek one who’d blaze your name with praise:
Lives not such bard of Wales.

His memory wrings the harp-strings still—
Hear, Edward, what this tells:
Curse on your head is every song
Sung by a bard of Wales.”

This let us see! The king commands
A deed at which hell pales:
Burn at the stake all those who take
The proud name, bard of Wales!

His servants ride out far and wide,
Gallop with his decree:
Thus was proclaimed that day the famed
Feast of Montgomery—

And Edward, King, rides a pale horse,
Gallops through hills and dales,
About him burns the earth’s externes,
The fair domain of Wales.

Five hundred, truly, singing went
Into the grave of flame:
But no Welsh bard would sing this word:
Long live King Edward’s name!

Holla! what clamor? . . . what night song
In London’s streets then rang?
If any voice disturb my rest,
The Lord Mayor shall hang!

Silence stands dumb; no whisper heard,
Not even a fly’s wing;
“He risks his head whose word be said
That irks the sleepless King!

Holla! bring music, pipe, and drum,
Let trumpets blast their scales!
The curses sear within my ear
Of that damned feast of Wales . . .”

But rising over scream of pipe,
The blare of bugle, drum,
Five hundred strong sing out their song
Of blood and martyrdom.*


*While history is doubtful about the matter, legend strongly suggests that Edward, the English King, had five hundred Welsh poets executed after his conquest of the province of Wales, that they might not render their sons desirous to shake off the English yoke by singing the lays of their heroic past.—J.A.



Frederick Turner is an internationally known poet, lecturer, and scholar, and Founders Professor of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Zsuzsanna Ozsváth holds the Leah and Paul Lewis Chair of Holocaust Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas, where she is also director of the Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies.

Their book of translated Hungarian poetry is called Light within the Shade: Eight Hundred Years of Hungarian Poetry.

Featured Image: “The Recapture of Buda Castle in 1686″ by Gyula Benczúr (1844-1920)

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