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Conversation with a Dead Hungarian Poet

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To Arany János (John Gold)

Into one’s face wafts the cool evening’s breeze,

icy it’s not, yet its breath feels the freeze;

though the Sun’s shining, all nature feels cold,

half undressed already, ankles in gold.

Along the lane wanders old Patriot,

feet on the ground but his soul high aloft –

he only wanted to go on his walk –

himself surprised to fly high with the hawk.

Hawk-eyed now, having left sidewalk and ground,

from his perch in the sky he looks around.

Ornate trees reach the sky, delicate branch,

he can see clearly that all’s color-drenched,

as if to say to him: “Though the heat’s gone,

the season of plenty has just begun.”

Indeed, on a dwarf tree, untouched, ripe fruit,

no leaves to hide it – within reach to boot –

and yonder, purple grapes, row on row deep,

through rusted and wrinkled leaves poke and peep.

Still beyond, apple trees, laden with fruit,

red, ripe and ready – with no one to suit!

Anywhere else in the world, any land,

these would be picked clean by a needy hand –

except for here – for it’s America:

virtual bliss, rich cornucopia,

the land of much beauty, great land of hope,

why does the Patriot feel the poor bloke?

Has he become dried up, like leaves, all rust?

Did his soul freeze with past winters’ long frost?

Why is he thinking of his long-left land,

His shoulders, worry-free, why are they bent?

Why assume care for these ancient, far soils,

just when he should reap the fruits of his toils?

Why does he care that his homeland’s a laugh,

oppressed and bleeding, a truncated half,

barely a country, sans dominion,

just waiting, like he, for oblivion?

Why feel so stirred at the sight of a tree,

minding of homeland, transplanted as he?

With clear eyes, from up high, he understands:

thousand times cursed are those who left their lands!

Vainly he spent his time – indeed decades –

read every poet, played all the charades,

vainly he learned language, tried to set root,

even his love of this land, true, is moot:

he knows the truth, and it cuts to the bone:

not even in his house feels he at home!

Nothing fits better than second-hand clothes:

loose here, tight there – he is always exposed.

(Oh how I envy you, dear friend, John Gold,

where you were born was where you have grown old,

did change – but slowly, where change you has found,

feet planted firmly, and holding your ground.

Not jarred by change which came in increments,

you weathered all weather – fine, inclement.

Poor in the purse – looked up to or down on –

you were unruffled with your own gown on.)

Your secret – your stance – belonging to land:

a sense of turf  all creatures comprehend.

From this came virtue, the courage to fight,

peace and contentment, a good sleep at night.

Of such were the thoughts of our Patriot,

knowing full well that these thoughts are for naught,

he’d have no home there now, should he return:

the land may still be there – pasts don’t return.

Even when he went back, all seemed so strange –

memories’ treasures were no longer there.

Everything everywhere changes… In truth,

he hardly knows now his homeland of youth,

nor was he recognized – even by friends,

himself a stranger, wherever he went.

Sans colored glass, his dispassionate eye

looks coolly at country – coldly at sky.

He could relearn, adopt… Whilst a friend mocks?

No fun to put back on crusted old socks!

Clothes? He had grown out of every last bit,

in truth his whole country no longer fit.

He’d only fool himself if he went back:

we can grow up, but we cannot grow back.

Memories recalled by transplanted trees

themselves are transplants, they can only tease.

In the end everyone must walk alone;

only his body’s what he can call home.

Lone is each country, alone its each vale,

loneliness, everywhere, always prevail!

Thus finding his place, peace, our Patriot,

descending to Earth, chewed on a carrot,

soon forgot loneliness, all the lonely,

feeling at last his own sore feet sorely.

The Poet’s Response

You outgrew your country? What a nonsense!

No one can claim that; you do not make sense.

A country is greater than any son,

be he a prince, scholar, poet, anyone!

Should your perspectives be deep, high and wide,

should your brain, razor sharp, cut like a knife,

your homeland’s pastures, lakes, are wider still,

deeper thought than their love naught can instill.

At most, I’ll give you this: your wandering,

itself wonder, has a familiar ring:

our people has come from wandering stock,

but that’s all – none of your arguments stuck.

What our great people accomplished is known:

you can’t accomplish much when you’re alone.

Not in a thousand years, your descendants,

shall form a nation of Hungarians!

Living a life of ease? Rather selfish.

You are no friend of mine with your false wish!

What you said of yourself does not apply:

nations – unlike people – don’t quickly die.

Hungary, already millenarian,

will not die as long as it has a son!

Our numbers have dwindled time and again,

wars and disasters have caused death and pain

throughout history – this is not new –

yet we have always found strength to renew!

Turk, Tartar, German, Slav besieged our land,

conflict and strife, it seems, may never end,

nor will our country for thousand years more –

only you yourself will die all alone.

You, who in youth would have died for your land

how can you give it all up in the end?

This land – invaded, down-trampled, and burnt,

this land that suffered untold pain and hurt,

parts of it torn away – always regained,

this land that poets, saints, martyrs regaled –

this land is your land, the place you belong –

come home and shake my hand, don’t delay long!

I will be proud of you – as everyone –

and you’ll be proud to be Hungarian.

The Patriot’s reply

You call me selfish but that’s not the case:

not selfish dreams have I come here to chase.

I was a patriot – and I am still:

did not leave my homeland of my free will.

Know this: the rascals that forced me to run,

they were the selfish ones, every last one.

Traitors to country, this merciless band,

relying mostly on their Russian friend,

tortured and killed and imprisoned the brave:

Forever cursed be they, every last knave!

These bastard children of our native land,

communist heathen, still work hand in hand

warming each other’s backs, close to the fire,

enriched themselves. (How great is my ire!)

Even the odd that showed leniency

betrayed the most basic of decency,

traitors to country, their countryman,

enslaved the land where their own lives began.

And what did I do, chased out of my home?

Nothing that I don’t may proudly own:

faraway son of a poor little land,

struggled but prospered – won peace in the end.

Freedom, for which I fought there, here I found,

planted a seed in my new homeland’s ground,

met every challenge, answered every call,

looked people in the eye, I have stood tall.

Raising a child in this land of beauty,

to stand with family is my duty.

This land, built by migrants, not unlike I,

rich land of hope under a boundless sky,

will house my descendants who will be free –

grateful for what I’d done for them, for me.

They will have been born here – this land now theirs –

they could live in peace here, they and their heirs.

Do not condemn me therefore if I stay:

I can’t change what took place try as I may.

Nor can my life’s work abandon, deny:

long last Canadian I am – no lie.

To take my family to Hungary?

Do to them what those bastards did to me?

Force them to relearn all, life-long adjust?

You cannot ask me to be so unjust!

Did what I could here, there, do what I can –

Pride? I am proud to be Canadian.

Through time and space the great do reach out –

Let’s shake hands, two poets, three patriots!

The Poet, to himself

Oh my poor country, once my dear homeland!

Thousand years have gone by… No hope at hand?

It seems that your sons, in part, became rogues,

others have fled to hide or to chase hopes,

while those who stayed and to you may be true

are dwindling in numbers, others changed hue…

Not so your enemies! They multiplied!

Can’t we do something to stem the foul tide?

Strangers are breathing right down on our necks,

prosperous have become impoverished,

and those who prosper do more harm than good –

polluting air, water, and neighborhood.

Secretly plot to sell even the land –

lining their pockets is their only end;

present and future here no longer mesh:

selling, dear homeland, your treasures, your flesh!

Have you no sons to cry halt, raise alarm?

All these goods – all imports – cause only harm!

Are none among you who shall comprehend

these useless trinkets will bury our land?

Fearsome our ancestors – great fighting hordes –

why stand unarmed amidst peoples with swords?

All our enemies, as one, unite –

why do we suffer our internal strife?

Have we forgotten to cooperate?

Why do we suffer that others berate?

We have our working hands, talents a heap;

we should not idly watch while others reap.

We are still inventive – let us invent!

Engage in commerce, too, let’s not lament!

Let us learn from those who now forge ahead:

move as one body and think as one head!

Let us not rest in the acacia tree’s shade

till the day’s work’s done, tomorrow’s plans made.

Until then – “On your feet!” with others vie:

Hungary will flourish, shall never die!

Setting an example, you’ll lead the world,

thousand times cursed be he, who breaks this word!

And you, who scrape by or prosper elsewhere,

spread a good word of this noble land there!

Defender of the faith, West’s bastion

Hungary was for a millennium.

Tell them we want our due – not charity:

let us live our lives in peace, harmony!

The Patriot, to himself

Example to the world! This branded flock?

More like – to Western eyes – a laughing stock!

Inviting sarcasm if found under foot,

“Horse-less Hussar,” smirk they, and laugh aloud.

Scant-numbered, orphan folk, no kin in sight,

cannot gain acceptance try as it might.

Stands in the doorway, to folks within woo,

in response what he gets: “Shoo away, shoo!”

Oh my poor kinfolk, I do wish you luck!

From your long history you have learned naught.

Our Saint Stephen exchanged sword for The Faith:

our first king thus sealed our very sad fate.

Popes crowned and sainted him, and blessed his tent,

in exchange demanding we pay the tenth.

So it went thereafter for quite a while –

threatening with hell they have promised the sky.

And so Rome’s cardinals got dressed in gold,

while our poor folk at home toiled in the cold.

After the First World War, disarmed anon,

armed hordes robbed our country per Trianon.

Richly rewarded by spoils and our land,

these treat us ever since with heavy hand.

“Make the Huns pay!” was the cry of “the peace,”

tore up our thousand-year land piece by piece,

and against what they left, laid claims – many:

we paid more war debt than did Germany!

Finding us truncated, poor and bereft,

next chance they had, gave to Stalin the rest.

Thereafter deathly peace: silent cover…

In their loud, noisy press, no word, ever!

After all, sacrificed lambs should not bleat –

much better if they just quietly bleed…

And to question our fate? The sordid act?

That can’t be done! Not after the fact!

Somehow we survive still, hobble along,

stand in the doorway – have been all along –

we knock on the door, “Europe, let us in!”

and stand in their freeze though now “we’re within.”

Should we hope – secretly – that our limbs,

cut off, but intact still, we may re-hinge?

This would be possible only if we

multiplied more than our enemy.

Fact is, this is just the other way round:

even here we are the ones losing ground.

While for our small country we fought and died,

strange folk within our lands just multiplied.

Righteous Romanians hold our lands with glee:

“Lands should belong to the majority!”

All rules, of course, need some balance and checks:

Magyar majorities given to Checks!

To those who in Europe’s Union trust

all these lessons have been obviously lost.

Truth is, we have to serve our interest,

only then can we keep up with the rest.

We do not have to hate Slovaks nor Checks,

but we had better at least face the facts:

blaming the other is futile, banal –

the root cause lies with the individual.

To set example each one of us must

first improve ourselves to improve our lot.

Here there is work to be done – lots to do –

let’s set to this task without more ado!

What people have achieved, all that was done,

had to be done piece by piece, one by one.

Flesh and blood people, on their own two feet

must get from A to B – heat, snow or sleet.

Our aspirations: our will, our cause,

are what determines if we stand or fall.

Our nation’s fate may well be in great doubt,

yet we can still succeed: we have the clout.

Our own lethargy, our disinterest,

are the first things we must now lay to rest.

The unworthy rule us? If we let them!

“Our rights are not for sale!” we must tell them.

Collective spirit, the people it guides,

these are who’re capable of sacrifice:

these, who – for faith, fairness or wherewithal –

what they would do for one, will do for all.

If we, as a people, wish to survive,

working together, if we wish to thrive,

enlightened, one and all, must closely heed

the democratic path shown by the Greek.

When the Greek people were all well informed,

discussed, debated, but stayed in the fold,

reaching decisions that they thought was fair,

at once served their country as each one there.

No need for loud slogans: a single voice

articulates well, makes clear any choice.

In such an atmosphere each right prevails,

power is shared, the result seldom fails.

Right rests nowadays with the individual,

tolerance moderates any sharp duel,

and to guard all against all other flaw

equality’s a must before the law.

Indeed it’s the only credible way

in which democracy can hold its sway.

Our only hope: active community,

else ill deeds are done with impunity.

Without it our freedoms are lost as well:

wealth is not shared, and our problems just swell.

A word of caution regarding debates:

they can sow enmity, unhinge the rakes,

that’s why we need a communal spirit:

patriotism with good humor and wit.

Working together thus we could well be

leading the world, indeed. Indeed, shall we!?


Interest, power; power, interest:

these are the rulers of East and the West.

Sure enough, we do have strife by the score:

bad adviser is interest to force.

Seeing what goes on world wide, the bloodshed,

isn’t it time that we collectively asked:

If there’s no shortage of ideals great,

why aren’t these realized? Why do these fail?

We have known for some time what it does take

to make sure that the peace is real, not fake:

we have to look beyond one person’s needs,

for only then are we truly good peers.

He who pursues only his interest,

with sin compounds his narrow-mindedness,

aids every rascal, each knave that he sees,

as long as that rascal’s a rascal that pays.

“Money has no smell,” “My dream’s to get rich.”

Values and conscience these folks at once ditch.

This has gone on, we know, longer than should –

we also know that from this comes no good!

Money is means. When it becomes the aim,

greed – not man – is served time and time again.

Countries of the West (“good friends,” they pretend),

grab from each other whatever they can.

Mad as mad dogs they will fight for a bone:

new source of wealth or an old one to own.

Loudly proclaim to be democracies,

in fact, one and all, are oligarchies.

The rich and powerful in each one rule;

bought politicians for more power drool.

Out the door goes public interest –

propaganda machines take care the rest.

So much for the West. (We dare not look south!)

Let’s cast a glance to the East for the truth:

communism’s own comrades – all eight percent –

rule with an iron fist without pretense:

hold every power, police every soul,

as their “justice,” their gulags smell foul.

Like feudal lords they have their land-locked serfs,

internal passports, and cement-block turfs.

Feeding their countryman concerted lies,

town, country – every street – eyed by their spies.

Intelligentsia and middle class killed,

fields and the factories slave-labor filled,

having developed their oligarchy,

what did they claim? To be democracy!

Alas, we’ve always known, not ideals

are the real problem but their denials:

Where the ideals have become corrupt.

exploitation, like plague, will erupt;

under the cloak of religious pretense,

pastors fill pockets, laws serve selfish ends.

Power and people ought not to duel —

thus we return to the individual.

Wherever you be, there’s something to do.

No help outside? Inside help is in you.

Public and private interests thus meet:   

Public spirited, we stand on our feet.


These lines were written in faraway lands,

travails of thought have been guiding my hands,

while in the land of wealth, wandering  lone,

spied an acacia, reminder of home.

Offer these lines to my kindred and folk:

countrymen all, and the soul of John Gold,

who, in his own time, like I have in mine,

mourned for his homeland’s lost freedom and time.

Yet he could give so much of his great self,

telling the truth while be true to himself.

Hope that the words that I put in his mouth,

are likewise the truth. What I fibbed about:

tied him to his land, whilst he, too, traveled,

yet it was his place in which he reveled.

My aim has been simply: tell what I can,

aid understanding, check meanness in man,

in the tradition of poets long past –

giving direction and showing the path.

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