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"... without parental supervision I skipped school and played in the streets. In the third-grade reader, however, I found some interesting stories about King Attila and so I threw myself into reading. These stories about the King of the Huns interested me not only because my name is Attila but also because my foster-parents at Öcsöd used to call me Steve. After consulting the neighbours, they came to the conclusion, in front of me, that there was no such name as Attila. This astounded me; I felt my very existence was being called in question. I believe the discovery of the tales about Attila had a decisive influence on all my ambitions from then on; in the last analysis it was perhaps this that led me to literature. This was the experience that turned me into a person who thinks, one who listens to the opinions of others, but examines them critically in his own mind; someone who resigns himself to being called Steve until it is proved that his name is Attila, as he himself had thought all along."
(from: Curriculum Vitae, translated by George Gömöri)


Mortal dweller, may your mother
bear you seven times together!
Once within a house that's burning,
once in floods, the icefloes churning,
once in bedlam, yelling, yearning,
once in a wheatfield's soft turning,
once in cloisters bell-intoning,
once stied with pigs in grunts and groaning.
What though these six cry out to heaven?
You shall be the last of seven!

(from The Last of Seven, trans. by Zsuzsanna Ozsváth and Frederick Turner)


Without Hope
Slowly, broodingly

All you arrive at in the end
is a sad, washed-out, sandy plain,
you gaze about, take it in, bend
a wise head, nod; hope is in vain.

Myself, I try to look about
nonchalantly, without pretence.
Axe-arcs shake their silver out
rippling where the aspens dance.

My heart sits on the twig of nothing,
its little body shivering, dumb.
One calm unbroken gathering,
staring, staring, the stars come.

(Translated by Edwin Morgan)


"Well, in the End I Have Found
My Home..."

Well, in the end I have found my home,
the land where flawless chiselled letters
guard my name above the grave
where I'm buried, if I have buriers.

It will take me like a collecting-box,
this earth. For no one (sadly) wants
wartime leftovers of base metal,
wretched devalued iron coins.

Or an iron ring engraved
with noble words: new world, rights, land.
Our laws are still the fruit of war;
gold rings shine finer on the hand.

For many years I was alone.
Then all about me was a crowd.
It's up to you, they said, although
I'd have loved to follow them round.

It was like that, empty, the way I lived:
no one has to tell me it was.
I was compelled to play the fool
and now I die without a cause.

In that whole whirlwind of my life
I have tried to stand my ground.
More sinned against than sinning, I
leave that thought and laugh aloud.

Spring is beautiful, summer too,
autumn better, winter the best
when you leave your hopes for family
and hearth to other men at last.

(Translated by Edwin Morgan)


"For József reality is like a river, like the Danube with its cargo of melon-rinds and paper-parings like moons, and apples like planets. Its ideal forms are not static and eternal geometries outside it, but more like the pillars of fire and smoke in the book of Exodus that go on before us within the real world, leading us into the future, transforming themselves according to the conditions of the time. ... For József the poet was an avatar of the ancient shaman-bard: a healer, a psychopomp, an explorer of new knowledge, the community's instrument of consciousness for apprehending its own dark realms of the spirit."
(Frederick Turner - The Hungarian Quarterly, vol. 38)



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