On April 11th Hungarians come together of each year to celebrate Hungarian Poetry day, held on the birthday of the famous Hungarian poet Attila József. The celebration is brings people of all ages together to admire the inspiring achievements of the country’s greatest literary geniuses.
On this occasion we are happy to share with you one of the most famous poems of Attila József:
By the Danube
As I sat on the bottom step of the wharf,
A melon-rind flowed by with the current;
Wrapped in my fate I hardly heard the chatter
Of the surface, while the deep was silent.
As if my own heart had opened its gate:
The Danube was turbulent, wise and great.
Like a man's muscles when hard at his toil,
Hammering, digging, leaning on the spade,
So bulged and relaxed and contracted again
Each single movement, each and every wave.
It rocked me like my mother for a time
And washed and washed the city's filth and grime.
And the rain began to fall but then it stopped
Just as if it couldn't have mattered less,
And like one watching the long rain from a cave,
I gazed away into the nothingness.
Like grey, endless rain from the skies overcast,
So fell drably all that was bright: the past.
But the Danube flowed on. And the sprightly waves
In playful gaiety laughed at me again,
Like a child on his prolific mother's knee,
While other thoughts were racing through her brain.
They trembled in Time's flow and in its wake,
Like in a graveyard tottering tomb-stones shake.
I am he who for a hundred thousand year
Has gazed on what he now sees the first time.
One brief moment and, fulfilled, all time appears
In a hundred thousand forbears' eyes and mine.
I see what they could not for their daily toil,
Killing, kissing as duty dictated,
And they, who have descended into matter,
See what I do not, if truth be stated.
We know of each other like sorrow and joy,
Theirs is the present and mine is the past;
We write a poem, they're holding my pencil
And I feel them and recall them at last.
My mother was Cumanian, my father
Half-Szekler, half-Rumanian or whole.
From my mother's lips sweet was every morsel,
And from my father's lips the truth was gold.
When I stir, they are embracing each other;
It makes me sad. This is mortality.
This, too, I am made of. And I hear their words:
"Just wait till we are gone..." they speak to me.
So their words speak to me for now they am I,
Despite my weaknesses this makes me strong.
For I am more than most, back to the first cell
To every ancestor I still belong.
I am the Forbear who split and multiplied,
Shaped my father and mother into whole,
My father and mother then in turn divide
And so I have become one single soul.
I am the world, all that is past exists:
Men are fighting men with renewed anguish.
Dead conquerors ride to victory with me
And I feel the torment of the vanquished.
Árpád and Zalán, Werbőczy and Dózsa,
Turks, and Tartars, Slovaks, Rumanians
Fill my heart which owes this past a calm future
As our great debt, today's Hungarians.
I want to work. For it is battle enough
Having a past such as this to confess.
In the Danube's waves past, present and future
Are all-embracing in a soft caress.
The great battle which our ancestors once fought
Resolves into peace through the memories,
And to settle at last our communal affairs
Remains our task and none too small it is.
(Translated by John Székely)