Tuesday, July 5, 2022

I really love you, believe me…

 May be art

I really love you, believe me…

Sheltering-in-place #1

 By Attila Jozsef (1905 -1937) Hungarian Poet

translated from Hungarian by John Batki

                        I really love you,

believe me.  It is something I inherited

from my mother.

She was a good woman.  After all,

she was the one who brought me

into this world.


                    We may compare life

to a shoe, or a laundromat,

or whatever.

Nonetheless, we love it

for reasons of our own.


                     Saviours, there are

enough of them to save the world

three times a day and still nobody knows

how to light a match.  I’ll have to give up

on them.


                     It would be nice

to buy tickets for a trip to the

self.  It must be somewhere inside us.


                    Every morning I wash

my thoughts

in cold water.

That way they come out fresh as a daisy.


                     Diamonds can sprout

good warm songs,

if you plant them under your heart.


                    Some people will stay

pedestrians no matter what they ride,

horse, car or airplane.


                    Me, I just lie around

in the morning song of larks

and still make it over the abyss.


                    Let us carefully save our

true souls

like our best suit of clothes

to keep them spotless for the days of



Attila József was one of the greatest Hungarian poets of the 20th century

 József was attracted by Marxist ideology and became a member of the then-illegal Communist Party. When his first poems were published, he was tried for blasphemy. In his own poetry József presented intimate pictures of proletarian life. He immortalized his mother, a poor washerwoman, and made her a symbol of the working class. He created a style of melancholy realism, infused with irrationality, through which he was able to express the complex feelings of modern men and reveal his own faith in life’s essential beauty and harmony. At the age of 32 he committed suicide throwing himself under a train.

I fell in love with this poem while reading it yesterday in the book "Against Forgetting, Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness edited by Carolyn Forche. Attila Jozsef uses unusual and comically pedestrian analogies to compare life to 'to a shoe, or a laundromat'(coin-operated washing machines and dryers for public use). This is as if life is like something you buy in a store or a shoe you slip in and slip out or some clothes you wear and wash again. There are some lines that have a ring of truth like:

                     'Some people will stay

pedestrians no matter what they ride,

horse, car or airplane.'

 The poet here mocks about leaders and politicians(saviors) who promises but never delivers.

What is arresting in this poem is the tender and poignant last lines. While our life could really be a mess, our souls are something special to be worn on momentous occasions. This poem thus becomes a celebration of the soul within the self.




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