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For years I wanted to translate Pound
not from a feeling of kinship
I was interested rather in the enigma of personality
Brute Force and Intellect
the situation i.e. of the intelligentsia in our century
where the classical vaccine was ineffectual against the viruses of damnati
and of course America the covert medium of this sorcery
would have come in handy as ballast to the balloon of poetry
its scandalous perspectives eye-aching enough to conjure up infinity
the mirror where discretion can't smudge
reality's gloomy ghost story to a murky blur
as THE POET IN THE CAGE parable and exam question can
in the pliable memory of countries accustomed to defeat
even if we make allowances for the vengeance of bankers
We've got to decide who gets our sympathy
the caged beast who teaches art history to the Negro GI
or the GI who speaks a doan you tell no one language
but builds a table for the shivering old gentleman
Clearly all this is the basis for a new poetics
the unity of time and place in the age-old emergency
the occasional dialectics of
what-how-and-when and chiefly of what-never-and-by-no-means
because it makes no difference that somebody isn't evil
if the stink of a carcass smells like violets to him
Later I grew increasingly disappointed with the text
nowhere the clue a hint some explanation
unless it's the comatose snobbism of the nouveaux riches
Florence flowered from the poem the chronicles and Messer So-and-So
and Chinese sages by the score
Tradition like ancient monuments leaves me cold
the environs of the city where as a kid I was often clobbered
had been visited by celts huns romans
and every one of the left behind something
most often a burned-down village
Having grown up there where I did at the age of forty
one pares thickly the apple called poetry
and behind the embellishments the cadences the syntax
one's curious to see the concealed core
and what's to be done if the moral of a bloody story is only
The Gods Are Merciful and Let Us Love Our Fellowman
But of course one's inclined to say to this
only what about the disagreeable details
O Liberty who often are yourself a jailer and also
do disgusting things and aren't always beauty's faithful lover
yet even in a Negro's skin and speaking your defective grammar
you're the only possible hero of every true poem
in the cage of the world where imagination shivers in the coat of the flesh
its exploding core always the commonplace
I've survived a siege what else could I believe in Under the years'
barbed wire entanglements a can of beans and a jackknife are poetry's very self

(Translated by Bruce Berlind)


Night Call

This will be just like that crazy telephone call
before midnight in the tropics, in the hotel in Delhi;
I wake from a black sea that rocks the purring lifeboat
of the air-conditioning, I'm silver as a flying fish,
I speak neither English nor Hungarian,
only my splitting gills help me to bear the shower
of words, that begging, aggressive, otherworldly voice:
come here at once, I want to sleep with you!
This will be the same, except I won't put down the receiver
or turn to the wall, but shall put on my shirt and trousers;
I know who it is, that oriental look cannot disguise her;
I've waited for you, the door opens, its hinges are centuries,
and her black hair glows with a blue flame and covers everything;
a thin line of smoke escapes through the keyhole, that was me...

(Translated by George Szirtes)


A Visit to Room 104

I saw how death pursued its calling in peacetime;
carving fine detail, a vigilant minor craftsman:
one lump on the thighbone, one on the brain, one by the eyes -
he worked in fine temper and whistled a tune down the oxygen tube...
All our lives we prepare for the great Titus Dugovic scene
where we perform a spectacular double-twist dive off the castle ramparts
and make an impression on our descendants -
a downbeat ending comes as a surprise...
We're not prepared for the fact that our bodies pack up -
that we find no space in bed for our hands or our legs,
that we spend the whole night on a bed of sharp nails, tossing and turning...
mud then or spirit? The choice of the romantic,
of the archer with one eye shut, of the eschatologist -
from death's point of view all things are mud, even the spirit.

(Translated by George Szirtes)

"Orbán never really sounds like any other poet: he is always precisely himself, mannerisms, mines and all. The idiom he speaks is
characteristic of Budapest. The ironies are close in tone
to the notorious black jokes
of the fifties. If Orbán brings a current British poet to mind at all it is Peter Porter. There is a likeness in the apparent garrulousness, in the range of reference, even in the ironic yet questing attitude to experience." (George Szirtes)



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