Normandy, Hey!

Two poems translated from the Hungarian


jeno heltai

Jenő Heltai (1871-1957):

         ARS POETICA:

Do not wait till you’re invited.
Poet, claim your place
on the rostrum. Warn the neighbours
of the threat they face.

Share your heart with their cold world.
Share each fear, each scar.
Shed your armour, shed your clothes:
show all that you are.

Do not wait until you’re silenced
never to sing again.
Never, ever, hold your tongue.
Bellow out your pain.

Watch the racist rabble-rousers.
Mark the lies they spawn –
The night is long and dark and deadly,
but expect the dawn.

Slanders hurt... but your song is true.
It will outlive any lie.
Drink up your poison if you must,
but sing until you die. 


istvan vas

István Vas (1910-1991):

The soldier is tanned and blond, his car and tunic green.
His silken hound is brown and bright and cheerful.
Bound from Paris to Moscow, stranded here,
he regards our streets with mild but blatant loathing.

The traffic light turns red. The vehicle must stop.
The driver sighs, looks blank. His thoughts race far away.
A gent approaches, pandering to the German,
his balding bloated head aglow with zeal.

He speaks too loud: Sie fahren nach Astoria?...
He asks with feeling. But he is ignored.
He is bent to the window, his brow haloed in sweat,
proud to serve our grand and glorious ally.

The light has turned again to amber and to green.
The gent attending to the German fails to notice.
He waves his arms about, eliciting
impatient, disapproving reservation.

From the parting car, the hound still holds
our friendly guide in keen, Teutonic gaze.
The sun breaks through. Its yellow rays ignite
the identifying Yellow Stars Jews must display.

For a moment, the murder, the pain, the fear that smear
this, our 20th century after Jesus... and
even its savage heartbeat are suspended.
A newsboy cries out: Normandy, Hey! They’ve landed.

Translated from the Hungarian by
Thomas Land

If you have any comments on these poems, Thomas Land  would be pleased to hear from you.


These poems will be included in Survivors, an anthology of Holocaust poetry in Thomas Land’s translation that will be published by Smokestack Books in June. And more Holocaust poetry in his translation will appear in the landmark Bloodaxe anthology The 100 Years War to be released in April.