Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Budapest Diary 30 August
At the Keleti Railway Station with Jeremy Cameron

From Magyar Narancs magazine

Jeremy Cameron is a writer of both crime fiction and travel books as well as about how to be president of a tennis club but I suspect he could write about anything. Clarissa and I first met him  over a year ago as we were leaving a meeting we had both attended to hurry over to Carrow Road to see Norwich City play. We walked the half hour together and made friends and later enjoyed a meal together after another match. Nevertheless we hadn't talked about each other at great length so when we discovered he was going to be passing through Budapest on his way to Tbilisi on a crazy pilgrimage to watch Russell Martin, a Norwich City footballer  (a friend of his), play for Scotland against Georgia, and that he had several hours to kill before arriving in the morning and leaving in the evening, we said we would meet him at Keleti pályaudvar (The Eastern Terminal) where his train arrived and would depart from, where also the refugees from Syria and other places had been holed up for a long time, sleeping on the floor, supported by kind-hearted Hungarians who distributed food to them.

The Keleti was exactly as you might have seen in the newsreels. Emerging from the metro you immediately see them, mostly young families with very young children about three to five years olds some of whom are sleeping in their arms or playing close to them. There are individuals too, mostly men but some women too, the women in headscarves. They have nothing to sleep on except whatever they have brought with them, they have paid great sums to get here, and have made long dangerous journeys to get so far. Several will not have arrived at all,  having been drowned in frail boats or dinghies, poisoned or suffocated in the holds of ships. Others might have been here but are now dead, seventy-one, including many children, having died in a refrigerator truck just inside the Austrian border.

Most of them are trying to get through to Germany because they have heard that Germany might accept them or, failing that, Sweden. They have high hopes of Sweden and Germany. They must have or they wouldn't have struggled so far at such cost and risk. Many of them are professional. They sit there quietly and passively both in the tunnel and outside in the shade, since it is close to 40C in the sun.

But they are not all quiet. Just as we arrive there is a gathering at the front of the station, a loud meeting addressed by a voice that is hard to hear because he has no microphone or loud hailer. It is just a man. The crowd are chanting Germany! Germany! It's not a great crowd but they are chanting because though they have tickets they are not being allowed into the station to catch their trains. The trouble is they have no visas. How and where they were supposed to get such visas on such a journey is not clear but here they are faced by a crowd of police barricading every entrance to the station.

They don't look at us as we pass and enter the station at a side door manned by more police. We discover Jeremy inside the station bistro, his packs beside him.

Jeremy is tall and greying. He is a lean handsome man who was a keen, highly competitive sportsman as well as a probation officer. He is retired now. He has had heart problems and has Parkinson's, so he moves slowly and speaks quietly. One of his travel books is about repeating Patrick Leigh Fermor's epic journey on foot through Europe. His own is a fine, funny, quietly spoken book but a heroic journey. He likes travelling and menacing his own way. He has in fact something of Leigh Fermor about him.

We find a left luggage locker then, having some six hours on our hands, decide to take him to a couple of the smarter cafés, the nearest being the Astoria, just a couple of stops down the Metro. Like us, Jeremy has a UK passport and is over sixty so he can travel for free.

The Astoria is all but empty. It feels somewhat desolate. A waiter takes our order for coffee, returns with it, then disappears. A woman behind the bar mopes around. There are perhaps ten other people in the elegant cafe part, no one, as far as we can see in the restaurant.

But we talk. Jeremy is an excellent and generous talker. He is as interested in us as we are in him so the conversation flows on without effort. I give him Hungarian history and fill in as much as I know about the refugees at the station. Then we walk on past my favourite courtyard, which is closed, and finish up by the university law faculty where there is a hummus bar. It is very hot but they have outside tables in the shade so we sit there. The hummus dishes are rather fantastical concoctions, the only common denominator in them being hummus. We talk some more. Then, on the walk back towards Astoria metro station, I note that my courtyard is open now, so we walk through. Each time I enter it it seems a little smaller, more fragile, more true. I have never grown bored or indifferent to it. We stop and look, walk through into Múzeum körüt (Museum ring road) and catch the Metro to Blaha Luiza tér. From there it's a very short walk to the New York.  He will be going back into the Keleti terminal as will we so we might as well go the full contrast.

We are served in the most polite manner with the most expensively packaged tea and coffee under chandeliers, ceiling paintings, gilded decorations, between twisting barley-sugar columns. And we talk some more. Jeremy thinks I should write a biography of my mother. Immediately. He says what I have told him would easily make a 200 page book. He is intrigued by her and insistent I get writing. And soon. Maybe this is the trigger I need. Maybe I should do it. Within six months, he insists.

We return to the Keleti. Nothing has changed in the human maul. One man says to me in Hungarian as he passes: Ez magyarország (This is Hungary). The waiter at the buffet comments that it is just as a thousand years ago, Hungary is the bastion against the invading East. He is wrong on that. A thousand years ago it was the Hungarians clamouring at the gates and settling the territory. But what is five hundred years more or less in historical terms?

An eternity to those waiting here.

*I will write more about the situation later with some of my photo material. The situation at the station is erratic and volatile. I'll return after our next two days in Kecskemét.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Budapest Diary 29 August:
The Lukács Baths

Early picture of Lukács baths (can't find picture of the 1980s)

I am writing this on the 31st, the day the heat is expected to peak at about 37c. It has been increasing day by day so far. It is intolerably hot in the sun. To give an idea of the heat the shower here is set at 40c which is too high for Clarissa, so she turns it down.

The 29th was our last day with Stephanie and we had talked of taking the cog-wheeled railway to the top of the hill, changing to the Pioneer Railway (staffed by children), then taking the chairlift back down, but by the time we were ready to do any of this it was rather late and the temperature was moving well into the thirties, so Clarissa and Stephanie went to the Lukács baths instead which is a bus and tram ride away.

Budapest is a spa city full of thermal baths: it has a baths culture. The Romans enjoyed the waters, naming the location Aquincum, and later the Turks built a number of baths of  various sizes, some of which are still open. Each has its characteristic qualities and clientele.  They have various pools, some indoor, some outdoor. The big popular ones are the Gellért and the Széchenyi in Városliget (City Park). The Széchenyi has 18 pools, 15 of them thermal so you can see the water steaming through the autumn trees from some way away. I nearly drowned there at the age of five or six, rushing into the deep end after a boy had stolen our beach ball. The Gellért has a wave machine and an elegant terrace, the whole essentially a grand spa hotel.

The Lukács is less well known to visitors but has a fascinating history, associated with the writers, artists, and other professions who would go there on various days at various times of day. It is not just a baths but a sanatorium. We went there in 1985 or 86, with my late cousin, Pista, who was the same age as my father and a loyal communist. Bathing caps were obligatory in the main pool and still are in the three outside ones. There are three indoor thermal pools where they are not required. I remember the old women of the eighties, fully made up, swimming up and down the big outside pool, talking quietly to each other as they went. Such private conversations were possible in a world where there were few other places for it.  Of course it was a bit shabby then, but there were plaques on the wall offering thanks to God (Lukács is St Luke by any other name) for cures effected in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

I don't go to pools: I am not really a swimmer, but Clarissa is and so is Steph.  I take the following account directly from Clarissa.

C and S queued for cabin tickets and were given small bracelets that should have activated the cabin lock but failed to do so, so they called an attendant who allocated another cabin to them. There were relatively few customers there. They headed to the oblong thermal bath first. One white-haired old man with a completely immobile face sat on a submerged ledge.  Another man came over and told them in English that bathing caps were not necessary in this pool. Guess where I am from, he asked. Clarissa guessed the Middle East. He was in fact an Alexandrian chemical engineer who hated London but had spent four happy years in Budapest, but for the corruption and the right wing politics.

They went on to another thermal, a domed Turkish pool, water at 40c, where everyone was very quiet,  massaging each other, embracing. The heat and heaviness of the water left C and S a little woozy and they moved on to a noisier 'Greek' thermal with younger people including a child who was not supposed to be admitted to the water.

To swim properly they needed to go the outside pool - all older people there, some sleeping on loungers - which felt a good deal colder. Clarissa got talking to a woman whose daughter was an art historian in England studying medieval castles and fortresses. It is raining in England, she said. Climate change must be tackled, she added.

Steph returned so they went back to the 40c pool to warm up again.

You can't try smiling at people here, says Clarissa. There is no response. They are absorbed in their own thoughts and don't want to know. They are less curious than they used to be. The baths themselves have smartened up following a great renovation. The swimming pool is all smart blue and white tiles. The cabins are more modern and more private. All the women used to change in one changing room and had no sense of embarrassment at being naked.

I met C and S at the Mammut shopping mall where I bought hay-fever pills (I was suffering quite badly) and more paper hankies and we had a bite to eat. No Hungarian eateries left there now - it's all global brands, like KFC.

In the evening L and G drove us out to Náncsi Néni's restaurant where we first went with another dear friend, the editor and writer, Miklós Vajda in the 80s. It's a little out of town on the Buda side and was Steph's goodbye meal. We ate outside in the garden, loud with crickets and the fizz of birthday cake fireworks. We didn't have a late night as the airport shuttle was calling for Steph at 4am.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Budapest: Old city / new city
The literary cafés - 28 August

Hans van der Meer, Budapest 1986

The meanings of places change with the years. When we first came to Budapest in 1984, in my case after twenty-eight years absence (bar a brief broken-off en famille stay in 1968), it took my breath away. I fell in love with it. It was, as I have often said, a hallucinatory experience, as though a vast number of images and feelings had woken in me. The city was relatively poor, the buildings scarred with bullet and shell marks, the various statues and decorative figures that ornamented the mainly late nineteenth century buildings were generally blown away, their heads or limbs missing so they were left  clinging to the walls by some miracle, almost wraith-like. Large areas of pre-war stucco had long dropped into the street and been swept away revealing patches of bare brick. Where there was repair work it was supported by a forest of wooden scaffolding that gave the buildings an Anselm Kiefer look. History was written right across the place, a history of war, revolution and shared hardship. I came as a poet and was officially welcomed and immediately entrusted with translation. I had not been a translator before but have been since then. I took on the work because, at some level, I felt I was translating this: the city and its world.

That was five years before the great change that shook, and is still shaking, the world of ever-since.  The city is different now. I wouldn't wish the old dilapidation back - Budapest is a place where people actually live, not a film set - but I miss something of the old city's haunted warmth and openness. The open courtyards that meant so much to me then are mostly closed to visitors now. You can no longer wander into their private worlds with their faint domestic noises and specific squares of sky. There are one or two exceptions but that is the rule. One very important exception to me is the delicate, small, through-courtyard in Magyar utca with its wooden cobbles. No one has yet thought to update or renovate it. It has not been smoothed out. I pay pilgrimage there every time.

I wanted to show Stephanie something of Pest though I wasn't sure what it would mean to a thirty-two year old young woman who grew up riding horses. We got the 5 bus from outside the cylindrical hotel and got off at the Párizsi udvar (the Pariser Arcade) which was closed, so we crossed back to Ferenciek tere (Franciscan Square) past the old university library, to Kecskeméti út (út, utca = street) and the university church, then made our way to the Eiffel-designed Nagycsarnok (the Great Market Hall) and wandered round a while, returning past Kálin tér (Calvin Square) and past the National Museum. At Andrássy út we hopped on a bus to Blaha Luiza tér and walked over to the New York Cafe.

The New York caters chiefly to tourists now, but it has a magnificent over-the-top fin-de-siecle interior. It has three levels, the bottom of which is known as the Mélyvíz (Deep Water, as in a swimming pool). Before the war, and long before, writers used to work in the cafe, knocking out copy to give to editors who might well have been sitting where we sat now on the top tier, and where, in 1989 I myself sat with the editors of a new cultural magazine called 2001 which is now as gone as their title, though a large press photograph that I still possess shows us all sitting together, including me, as though I belonged there, though I was only dropping in. Having a formal - if not working - editorial meeting there was a homage to the old New York. Those older writers earned their coffee and possibly a meal too by producing articles and serialised stories. Though often enough going hungry, the writers were much respected. It was a very literary city. The old portraits of the writers who used to frequent the place were still there in the eighties but are gone now.

Nevertheless, here we were, so ordered a light bite and some water while the cafe pianist tinkled bar-room tunes three tables down. He came and asked if we had a request. I couldn't think of one. Later he returned with his CD. We might have bought one to support him, not for the music, though I suspect he was a far better pianist than his mechanical spelled-out playing suggested.

Then back down Kertész utca, my childhood street and to the Müvész cafe where Stephanie was to meet friends who happened to be on a visit, at 4pm.  Our calling there was to mark the place so she should be able to find it. Then home via metro, where we rested and I wrote the last blogpost. We returned to the Müvész to pick her up and say hello to her friends (an editor at Faber and a parish priest, grandson of the poet György Faludi no less). With a couple of metro changes we arrived at the Gellért Hotel and made our way to the Pagony (Pagan) bistro to meet poet and friend Ágnes Lehoczky who writes in both Hungarian and English and lives in both places, teaching at Sheffield University. Ági was my student at both MA and PhD level in Norwich and has written a number of books of poetry as well as a study of the great Hungarian poet, Ágnes Nemes Nagy, whom I had translated for publication by Bloodaxe back in 2004. Ági smokes like the proverbial chimney (my personal observation is that far more women than men smoke here). We ordered beer and vodka and a bite to eat and chatted away for a good couple of hours while the evening grew colder. Afterwards Clarissa, Steph and I walked over Szabadság híd (Liberty Bridge)  and along the Pest side of the embankment, down Váci utca to Deák tér metro station, thence under the river , catching a bus at the other end to get home.

I don't know how much all this means to people not from here, without my history. Clarissa gave over twenty years of her artistic career to Budapest, locating the haunting fury of the place as though guided there by artistic radar. Buildings loom, spectral cars zip past. people run down streets, courtyards close in, whole facades seem practically to fly in her work.

That too was my city.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Budapest: first full day
Thursday 27 August, Csontváry etc

Athens in Moonlight, 1901

With 30C in the shade the sensible thing is to go out in the morning then either rest in the afternoon or visit somewhere indoors, ideally with some air-conditioning. Well, we reversed that.

It was not a comfortable night with a full moon. It never is, especially on the first night away, so I had a little under four hours sleep, waking at early dawn. The idea was to  show our briefly visiting friend Stephanie round the city, not disdaining the most popular tourist sites, such as the Vár (or Fort / Palace) District.

As you may imagine the fort is up a steep hill. It is on the Buda side and overlooks Pest, almost opposite the grand parliament building. Normally a bus takes you up the steep gradient but there is a thorough redesign and rebuilding going on in what used to be called Moszka tér (Moscow Square), now renamed Széll Kálmán tér. Hungary loves a political renaming so streets jump in and out of bed with whichever celebrity, historical figure or cause is deemed of attention by the government of the day.

This square is vast and serves as a major junction for Metro, tram and bus lines but it is one great building site for now and the Vár bus seems to have relocated elsewhere. No matter, we climb the hill on foot, look around a bit, stare out over the Halászbástya (Fishermen's Bastion) walls at the Danube glowing like mercury. Then we see there is a big Csontváry retrospective at one of the Palace buildings so we go in.

Csontváry is an extraordinary figure. At the age of 27 he has a vision. It's a calling. He labours on for thirteen more years A pharmacist till the age of forty he decides in 1893 to go to drawing classes and learns to draw portraits, a little stiffly, but in the approved academic manner. But that's just a start. He doesn't stick with classes but sets to painting in his own way. He paints butterflies and birds and other animals. He paints portraits and views. He goes on the road, first to Europe then beyond to Jerusalem. His paintings grow increasingly mystical and grandiose. Some of his later works are vast, wall-sized prophetic scenes. He dies in poverty in 1919 having made some reputation abroad but neglected in Hungary.

What is he like? He is various. At some points he reminds me of Le Douanier Rousseau touched with early Chagall, at other times (in his colours and skies) of Nolde. His figures can be as gestural as L S Lowry's, his objects float against dark backgrounds somewhat like Alfred Wallis's, but there is always a romantic grandeur at the back of the pictorial idea. Best of all are his middle to later period paintings of places, generally of buildings with figures in front of them and an extensive landscape or townscape behind. This is where the visionary aspect of his art comes most subtly to the fore. His trees sparkle with small raised dots of light. His figures move out of a scumbled patch of rich colour. The perspective is wrong but that becomes simply another aspect of vision. Something is happening not just in the symbolic or iconographic sense but linearly, formally, at pictorial depth. There is a genuine enchantment there especially in his Italian and Greek periods.

At certain points in the exhibition there is a film where an actor speaks as Csontváry. Unfortunately what Csontváry says is generally a blend of cliché and megalomania, and indeed the last room in the exhibition is labelled Megalomania. It is very well worth Googling his images, though his treatment of paint will not strike you on a screen. It is that squidgy stuff on canvas.


In the afternoon we decide to go to the Zoo. This is an act of madness under the circumstances though the zoo is itself a real art nouveau monument. The animals stare past us, concentrate on eating or contemplating the blank air. They are otherness in the flesh, the living clichés of themselves as we have made them. But they retain their pride - chiefly through indifference. Among the gazelles and giraffes a genuinely wild creature scampers across the floor into a pile of straw. It is a field mouse, The mouse, or its kin, reappear in several enclosures. They are in overdrive, stopping every so often to get their bearings and breath then stepping on the gas like tiny boy racers.

The adult elephant looks forlorn, the young one splashes in the water. It is pretty hot out here. We amble on and find ourselves at the edge of the children's zoo. Our hands are stamped with purple camels and we are allowed to continue. There are donkeys and ponies and a beautifully preserved empire-period roundabout with ornate carriages and a serious crowd of fairground horses. Perhaps this is what it's about really.

On return home we have half an hour's rest before heading over to L and G's in the next road, for dinner with Yudit Kiss, whose The Summer My Father Died I translated a few years back. Small and full of a kindly but furious energy we talk of this and that and finally about the plight of the migrants. Yudit's twenty-one year old son, Áron, is with us and we get involved in varying analyses of the situation. Over the last ten years I have developed an allergic reaction to the word 'discourse' but then I am not twenty-one. The discourse of the discourse is a media conspiracy about the media.

That is not fair. He is passionate in his views and very intelligent. I am an ageing gentleman who has worked with cultural theorists and finished up liking some of them very much. I have entered the discourse of ageing. In fact it is midnight again and I am quite tired.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Budapest: arrival and first morning,
26/27 August

Full moon from the balcony

A furious devout drench in England yesterday, indeed several bouts of it: one of those days when the sky simply empties its bathwater over us. Arriving at Stansted it was still buffeting down and parts of the car park were already flooded. We ran for the packed airport bus, got soaked through, but once in the building we slowly dried off.

Long waits at terminals are now part of the world's holding pattern. Drink coffee, nibble a sandwich, do the crossword. Wait. Wait for our friend Stephanie who is coming with us for the first three days. She arrives and we talk, then it's time to make our way to the gate. A very long queue for the Ryan Air flight but we have booked seats. The plane leaves a little late and it's dark in Budapest when we arrive at about 9:30 local time.

The taxi ride in with a fairly quiet driver. We pass the new Ferencváros stadium, Lechner's Art Nouveau Crafts Museum, then over Szabadság hid (Liberty Bridge) to the Buda side to our dear friends , L and G, who are waiting for us. We eat a quick light supper then L takes us over to the place where Clarissa and I are to stay, at the upstairs flat of M and J. J is a theatrical agent and the upstairs flat is a working office with a convertible settee. It's high modern and luxurious, all very laid on, wifi and everything.  You press buttons to bring the blind down or up. There is a little vacuum cleaner that runs about all by itself. It's beautiful. Steph, who had walked over with us to see it, goes back with L to the yellow house where we usually stay. Though tired I feel wide awake. There is a full moon so sleeping is hard and waking is easy. Bed at 01:30. I wake at dawn, rise eventually, shower, shave and put on a different shirt. The sun is out now and it is expected to reach about 30C today.

After breakfast the plan is a walk with Steph whose first visit this is. At some stage I want to see and meet the refugees camped outside the main railway terminals. Might come back this afternoon though to catch up on sleep.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Answers to questions about the Holocaust, violence and the arts

These questions were part of scholarly research and were sent to me by email. I have the questioner's permission to reproduce this part of the questionnaire she sent me.

How have you or your family been directly affected by the events of WW2?

All my mother's family except my mother were murdered. She herself was incarcerated in two concentration camps (Ravensbruck and Penig)*. I think her suicide in 1975 was indirectly linked to that time. My father's father was killed in Auschwitz. His mother and sister found shelter in a protected house in Budapest though that was raided in late 1944 which was the occasion my mother was taken away (some of this is covered in the long poem 'Metro' 1988). My father served in Hungarian labour battalions serving just behind the front line in the Soviet Union. He was one of only three survivors of his own battalion. 

How do you think current attitudes towards the Holocaust, and the way that historical material is presented, can help us to avoid it happening again?

As survivors die our relationship to the events is bound to change and already has changed over the years. The best book on that is Eva Hoffman's 'After Such Knowledge' which is essentially about the second generation - my generation - and their perception of their parents' fate. The whole question is now tangled up with the situation in the Middle East and Israel in particular. Those who dislike Israel play down or question the Holocaust. There are, as you will know, books on this such as The Holocaust Industry which suggest that the idea has been exploited by some Jews for reasons of their own, and particularly by the USA and Israel. I myself disagree with that hypothesis as a general truth though there are probably instances where it has happened if only because there is always a range of human behaviour and there is no reason why Jews should be more saintly than anyone else. As to the question of historical presentation, all history is a mixture of presentation and misrepresentation, of proposition, adjustment, and re-adjustment on a groundwork of selected facts or available facts as recorded. Despite everything it could happen again. There are those who deny it happened the first time but would quite like it to happen now. That won't go away. 
What are the possible ethical implications of referencing the Holocaust when attempting to communicate concerns about prejudice today?

It is too easy to do that, just as it is too easy to leap to cries of Hitler! and Nazi! We all dislike prejudice, including the prejudiced. Prejudice, we think, is what the other person feels. Societies lay down legal norms and establish definitions and descriptions. We operate by those generally and modify those laws and norms as we go along. Instances of prejudice can be legally defined, described and argued over. Where people claim parallels with the Holocaust these should, I feel, be put forward and examined as neutrally as possible. Every moral claim can be 'weaponised' to put it in a particular contemporary way but no moral claim should be dismissed before being examined.

How do you feel that the context in which a message is delivered affects to response of the viewer - have we become de-sensitized to images of brutality?

The shock of brutality depends on the context. Violence of one sort or other is an aspect of human survival. As with prejudice, societies develop definitions, descriptions, and laws that are under constant revision. We are desensitised to some brutality not to others. Most of the time our senses adjust and readjust to forms of communication. A fist fight in an old Western worked within a convention that would be ineffective now. Are the viewers of the latest equivalent violence more brutalised than the viewers of Tom Mix and John Wayne? I doubt it. Messages, media, presentations, are just one part of a mass of other factors, general and individual. Images of brutality can be very powerful in one context and almost insignificant in another.

What are your thoughts about the role of the artist in society who deals with dark narratives?

It is not the darkness of the narrative but the capacity of the artist that is important. A great artist can paint nothing but cups and saucers yet the complex and ambivalent interaction of light and dark and, indeed, of cosmic distance, may well be present in such an image. Similarly, an artist dealing with 'dark narratives' may be trivialising the whole and turning it into melodrama or propaganda. Goya's greatest work deals with terrible human actions, especially in the etchings, but the early paintings convey the potential of such darkness in apparently quite playful scenes. Our attitude to artists dealing with dark narratives may also be influenced by how we perceive the artist's relation to the darkness. Goya is never smug about his own distance from the dark event. That makes a considerable difference.

*I discovered the film of the relief of Penig a few years ago. It was less complete than my link at that stage and without commentary. I kept wondering whether I was actually seeing my mother in it but I could not be sure. The Penig Film sequence of poems from The Burning of the Books works on the notion that history is a film director, Clio, who flits from festival to festival and that the Penig film is a discarded cut (among many others) from her blockbuster epic

Thursday, 20 August 2015

BCLT / Writers Centre Summer School:
Translating Poetry 7: Postscript Lesley Lawn

Lesley Lawn was the only one to attempt the short poem by Zsuzsa Rakovszky I handed out at the beginning as a potential extra task. The text I gave them was in Hungarian with a word for word glossary and a few notes on what they might ask if they had a chance. It was a poem I myself translated for my book of selected poems by Zsuzsa Rakovszky, New Life (OUP 1994).

Much might have been asked but there was no time and yet it is amazing on what slender evidence we begin to construct the possible poem in the unfamiliar words. Here is the Hungarian text:

Avart égettek…
Avart égettek. Dőlt a must saga,
buzgott a kátrány.
Bogáncson ellenfény holdudvara,
tépett szivárvány.

Az utca erdő – mélyebb ősz fele
lejtett az este.
A szélső ház – a hánytorgó zene
majd szétvetette.

Még egyszer ezt, csak ezt, és mást sosem
többé: leszállnék
az őszi alvilágba, jobb kezem
kezedben, árnyék –

Lesley's version ran like this.

Dead Leaves Burning

Dead leaves burning. Smell of must rising
crackling in the brazier. 
Halo lighting a thistle burr –
a jagged rainbow
The road a forest – night dipped
toward darker autumn
The furthest house 
bursting with music 
Yet, just this, once more, and 
never again would I to go down
into the autumnal underworld 
my right hand in your hand, shadow -
This is what I did back in 1994:

They Were Burning Dead Leaves
They were burning dead leaves. Must oozed with scent
tar bubbled and blew.
The moonlight glow behind the thistle bent
like a torn rainbow. 
The street was a forest, night slid into the heart
of deepest autumn.
A guilty music blew the house apart
with its fife and drum. 
To have this again, just this, just the once more:
I would sink below
autumnal earth and place my right hand in your
hand like a shadow.

Each new version could add more, subtract more, seek its own priorities, take its own risks. But we would all be on the trail of something we ourselves felt as the words worked through us and returned in our own receiving language.

Lesley also brought a poem about translation. We read it at the last session as a kind of grace before the meal of the workshop. I like it very much so will end this series on it. Some modifications on earlier posts might follow. I know Chiara wanted to say something about her own work. But this is by Lesley.

Thoughts on Translating Poetry

Playing Bach can be faithful to the note
it can be looser Loussier or variations of the Variations
early Glenn Gould frantic youthful
or not – say the purists
Is a poem lost
if you can hear the translator hum
or is the music still the same?
So many airs on a G string none wrong nor right
Miles Davis’ riff on Porgy’s song
another version though
not Willard White’s deep tones.
So many poets have sung Achilles’ rage
as implacable ruinous or baneful wrath
transposing Homer through the ages
And Baudelaire whose Spleen results in many forms
Moore’s roi d’un pays pluvieux an ancient king a too-old king
ruling a rainy hell or a flooded empire
Each voice unique springs from the same source
sings the same song in jazz or blues
Mood Indigo has many shades from Ellington to Monk
No mood no blues the same
Playing Bach faithful or way off beat
Playful remix of a familiar tune
New harmonies new voices
in a different time

It's in that looser Loussier.