György Faludy (1910-2006)


I HAVE been drawn to this place from the start.
And here I dwelt, beside a glass of brandy,
back in my self-important student days
when I could always buy another fine
but now and then could not afford a meal.
And I thought I was made of fireworks.
Picasso sat here with his Spanish woman,
his back against the back wall of the room;
we nodded and I tried to write a poem
though it refused to gel. A homely place,
this modest, red Parisian one-room café,
its tiny glass-cage winter garden set
upon the boulevard. Full of arrogance,
young people entered (they were hissing rockets
just like myself) and some slid up the steep
dark stairs, some sat alone, some joined my table
Starker, Mehring, Sinkó, Forgács, Havas,
Hevesi, Ney, Remenyik, Faragó

and thus we chatted or talked politics
or simply sat in silence; but whatever
we did, we watched the quick revolving door
disgorging new arrivals, reinforcements,
the vanguard of the future from beyond
the realm of meagre present
and young women!
Girl students from as far as Burma, Thailand

they'd come to choose new lovers but they seemed
to muse behind their long eyelashes over
the negative eight virtues of Gautama;
and energetic English girls in green,
displaying friendly freckles wrought in copper
and with proportions of a Roman goddess
but marred by clumsy movements
they often carried
enormous handbags used as barricades
against this world that they would never fathom
with either mind or body; and the girls
from Eastern Europe, lost in loud debate
with their escorts about the world's affairs

and under catchwords like materialism
they sought the spirit; and the girls of Paris!
slim, graceful and perhaps a trifle ugly,
they had learned all about life in the womb
and they were ready for life and against life,
these girls who had their taste and knew their fashion,
who wholly merged a tenderness and toughness
like well baked bread (and not like layered cake)

each of them seemed complete and separate,
a planet bound by her own course and purpose
and full of self-awareness, will and pride.
I marvelled at these girls, as did the others.
OUR ELDERS also gathered here of an evening
Julien Benda, Hatvani, Bréton
Werfel and once Roger Martin du Gard

and after they had talked enough together
they called us to their table for a chat.
We learned from them and held them in esteem,
made mock of them behind their backs
they threw us
their guarded looks while whispering about us,
we turned away while whispering about them
for we had different manners having joined
the earthly table after the nineteenth century.
They knew that we were wet-nosed idiots,
confused and rash and unreliable;
they knew the fragrance of our perspiration
and knew that we kicked up our heels too high
and that we smiled and panted at the same time
and that our smiles would freeze and break in time

they envied us our smiles as yet unfrozen,
and winced at our trampling underfoot the polished
blue marble slabs between the colonnades
without a backward glance, they thought we would
not notice if the structure should collapse
behind us and its fall might even please us.
They envied us for we would take possession,
excluding them, that we might shape the future
and lightly cast their names aside at will
and even purge our skulls of memories
connected with them as you suppress a headache
without a pill. Together or alone
we sat, and they too watched the door revolving
admitting life's parade in intermittent
and single file. And they begrudged us in silence.
They envied us the ocean's sandy beaches,
our hundred future barefoot runs along
the shores avoiding the knives of cockle shells
until we'd stop to watch the breakers rear up,
white mares caressed by salty winds and sunshine,
to fall upon their knees before our feet;
they envied us our quiet walks in winter
along the fields of freshly fallen snow
or in the depths of early evenings when
the light's uncertain in the squalid lanes
of determination; and they envied us
the very fruits of trees and fields and sky,
the orange of the sun, the moon-banana,
our one-room attic homes with creaking floors;
they envied us the oil-lamps of love
with burning wicks that never can turn backwards,
the flames that burn but cannot ever scorch,
the force that will escape from all enforcement;
they envied us the angel growing wings
upon our shoulder blades, the one who had
abandoned their lives if he had ever been there;
they envied us our solitary evenings
absorbed in books, the honey scented winds
of thirty gold acacia openings,
our perfect, uncorroded blade of youth.
HOW OFTEN did I sit here with two wives,
three mistresses and with my many friends!
A purple mist spreads over St. Germain:
no autumn fog
polluted summer air.
Une fine, Armand! Today I am alone.
I watch the door, the fresh parade of youths,
the new arrivals. Perhaps I should be envious.
Their furnaces of love are still ablaze,
the foaming chargers of the ocean breakers
are still to rear for them for many years

for me, the waves and beaches come to rest.
Technology rains merchandise each season
and moulds foam rubber pillows for their comfort
beneath their shapes; perhaps I should be envious:
but I remember the feel of attic rooms,
the flavour of water and unpolluted wine,
our very struggle for necessities
that no superfluity could substitute;
and while I still can saunter anywhere
they have run out of space to park their cars.
I pity them as I have pitied no-one,
not even fellow prisoners kicked to death,
a murdered sister, a small boy ill with cancer

they hesitate at the door with a fleeting smile
in the corner of their mouths; their rebellion will last
a year or two; they will admire with passion
the foreign totem poles and try to hold
the collapsing sky with badges, flags and slogans
or they will gallop into nothingness
on the steeds of drugs... while remaining unable
to help themselves, let alone the wretched world;
and they will tire and learn to live with revulsion;
their smiles will stiffen into permanent bulges
of muscle and each morning they will pause
before their garages (like primeval man
with club in hand before his cave) and wonder
which way to turn in search of petrol to quench
their thirst, in search of room to build new roads
between the heaps of ash and hills of rubbish
and where the factory chimneys' smoking forests
are still not dense enough
or where to run
and how to find a spot of land still free
with tranquil waters by the edge of lakes
not fouled by stinking carcasses of fish
or where to seek a place within the bowels
of their great cities choked by their own wastes,
a place of cleanliness and sanity
while all around the very earth is dying.
 UNE FINE, Armand! I am about to leave.

György Faludy

Translated from the Hungarian by Thomas Land

If you have any comments on this translation, Thomas Land would be pleased to hear them.