06. 02. 2018. 13:01

Three poems from András Visky

translated by Erika Mihálycsa

Therefore I hated life, because I considered/ grievous all those things that show me/ your absence. – We are pleased to bring you three poems from András Visky, translated by Erika Mihálycsa.

(Poems, translated from the Hungarian by Erika Mihálycsa)


the night you betrayed my fath
er he took the opium plaster and, giv
ing thanks, placed it on his upper ar
m, and said nothing memorable

about his body that broke into
a thousand pieces with your ta
cit approval obviously, un
der the blows of unchecked can

cer, and which he would gladly have
disposed of, but had no idea what
he had the power to do in his posi
tion, not to mention yours, and

when his parchment skin duly ab
sorbed the drug and bloodstr
eams carried to his brain the false
message about conquering un

conquerable pain, and he star
ted hovering above the bed
and wildly flapped with his ec
static arms like a blind bird

on the loose, on that bottom
less night my father started
the commentary of the daily
verse on the flesh's unsayab

le happiness which Satan's Ang
el had thrust into his heart like a
thorn on your orders, and which y
ou were just about to take back becau

se the lease expired, and because
you do not find, nor even look for
greater joy than recovering
your inventoried objects


Don't Want To

the Saturday night when, during supper,
B read Zs's poems from the white book
(Story Keepers), when without any
notice or preparation he sat
to the table's other end where the
book lay on the bleached tablecloth,
opened it and, slightly raising his
voice like a delicate crystal glass,
started reading the first poem, bent
over the china pool of an empty plate
waiting for god knows who

then when he got to the poems' end and
said, they don't want to be poems, can
you hear? listening all the while to his
own voice's fading echo

at the other end of the table I suddenly
remembered the saintly Mrs Cikai's mouth
open askew, that dark flash before
they nailed the lacquered coffin
lid down on her

that powder-coated black depth gaping
at me, toward which the inert tongue's
broad alley and the teeth's rotting
lamps lead

what a mouth ajar on the sightless head,
perhaps they forgot to tie up her jaw in
time and it was left hanging, or they didn't dare
correct this last great wonderment of
the body, who knows, so they put Mrs Cikai's
gaping mouth into the earth like some last
scream that no-one on earth or beyond
can hear anymore

and I recalled the hastily, and always
(even now) unintelligibly murmured
evening psalms, and the corresponding verses
from the Gospels about the angels out of
work on the third day, when B sat
to the other end of the table
and started reading Zs's
poems aloud


Then I looked on all my handiwork

Ad notam Ecclesiastes 2

I said in mine heart: I will try what
mirth and pleasure is like. I locked
myself up and spent all my time getting
to know my body. But soon the walls fell
upon me, and the bed crumbled into bottomless depth.

Of laughter I had to say, it is
folly, and of pleasure, that it is even
less than the dream when you watched
from the balcony what I did to
myself without you, and how one by one
my fingers got lost on the network of veins.

Then I said to myself, I will
delude myself no longer, I'll open the door
and let you come in to me, and I will not
keep from myself anything you don't keep from yourself,
so the dream is dissipated like a cloud above
the ravine, and I will lay down before you
everything I own, and which I have wrought so
the door would open and you come back to me.

But when I looked on all the works that my
hands had wrought, and on all my labour, it was
emptiness and precipice and scorching south wind —
over which the setting sun glides with an empty

Then I went about to see what
forgetting is worth and how far I can
turn from you before breaking away from
myself like one who lost his reason and crossed over
to the other side of all things, unable to
distinguish night from darkness, and day
from light.

I found that wisdom excelleth
folly, as far as light excelleth darkness, but neither
excels the emptying out of the distraught
mind, which takes in neither wisdom nor
folly, and glorifies the extinction radiating
from words.

The wise man walketh with eyes open, and
the fool stumbles in darkness, but I
envy neither.

Then said I in my heart, if my fate should be
as it happeneth to the fool, then what avails that I
am wise? Then said I in my heart, if my fate should be
as it happeneth to the wise man, then what avails
that I am a fool.

For nothing which once passed shall be
forgotten in the days to come,
and the wise man and the fool dieth both, cancer
strangles them, or a beetle
tramples their wide open eyes.
For he will indeed take your face in his
soul, and can never escape
the sight of your eyes, in vain he turned
away from you when you looked upon
him with your whole being, and to him
opened your body like the sea.

Therefore I hated life, because I considered
grievous all those things that show me
your absence.

I came to despair of every word
written, for they spoke of your absence in
the voice of the empty-sounding brass and screeching
cymbal and caused pleasure to many, because
they never felt the scent of your neck when you
step out of the shower cabin, and have no inkling
what it feels like when you take me in, like the
sapphire waves glowing until the coming
of dawn.

For all this is vanity
and nothing but terror.

For who shall he turn to, who perishes
without your sight? And who shall I turn
to who, filled with your touch, have
arrived without you in the bleak and waste
heaven of eternal remembrance?


András Visky (b. 1957) is a playwright, novelist and poet, the associate artistic director and chief dramaturg of the State Hungarian Theatre Cluj, Romania, where he has collaborated with theatre directors Andrei Serban, Silviu Purcarete, Matthias Langhoff, Robert Woodruff, Gabor Tompa and others. His plays have been performed at the Theatre de l'Odeon, Paris, at New York's LaMaMaTheatre, Theatre Y Chicago among others. He has been visiting professor at the University of California, San Diego, at the Yale School of Drama, at Northern Illinois University and other universities. An anthology of his plays came out from Intellect (Chicago University), edited by Jozefina Komporaly. He is the author of more than ten volumes of drama, poetry (among them, a volume of sonnets written at four hands with theatre director Gabor Tompa, 'Depressio Transsylvaniae'), and a novel written in Romanian, together with Romanian writers Daniel Vighi and Alexandru Vlad ('Fals tratat de convietuire' - 'A False Treatise on Co-Existence', 2002).
He lives and works in Cluj, Romania.
His profile can be seen here: http://www.huntheater.ro/cv.php?soid=1


Erika Mihálycsa is a lecturer in twentieth- and twenty-first century British and Irish writing at Babes-Bolyai University Cluj, Romania, and is a Joyce and Beckett scholar. Her translations from English into Hungarian include fiction and poetry by Beckett, Flann O'Brien, Patrick McCabe, Julian Barnes, Jeanette Winterson, George Orwell, Anne Carson, Medbh McGuckian, william carlos williams, and others. Her translations of contemporary Hungarian short fiction and poetry have come out in World Literature Today, Words Without Borders, Two Lines, Trafika Europe, Music and Literature, The Collagist, Numero Cinq, and elsewhere. She has published short prose in both Hungarian and English. Together with Rainer J. Hanshe she edits the literary and arts journal HYPERION - For the Future of Aesthetics, issued by Contra Mundum Press.

Previously on HLO: It's like caviar – Owen Good's interview with Erika Mihálycsa.