06. 07. 2006. 16:18

The Straight Labyrinth (Poems)

János Pilinszky (1921-1981)

"Pilinszky is different. Everybody is different, but some are even more so. (...) When he walked down the street, he walked like a persecuted legend. That is just what he was. A persecuted legend, pushed out of literature and completely unknown." (Ágnes Nemes Nagy)

On A Fine Day
(Egy szép napon)

It’s the misplaced tin spoon,
the bric-a-brac of misery
I always looked for,
hoping that on a fine day
I will be overcome by crying,
and the old house, the rustle of ivy
will welcome me back.

Always, as always
I wished to be back.

I Will Gaze At     
(Majd elnézem)

I will gaze at the trickling water,
the hesitant and gentle paths,
the shared calligraphy, the long-long lines
of the painful and the incidental –
on living faces and lifeless rocks –

I will gaze at them,
before deserving oblivion.

Van Gogh’s Prayer
(Van Gogh imája)

Defeat on the ground.
Conquest in the air.
Birds, the sun, birds again.
What's left of me by the evening?

By the evening, only the row of lamps,
the yellow mud wall shine,
across the garden, through the trees,
the row of windows like candle lights;

where I belonged and do not belong,
the house where I lived and do not live,
the roof that gave me shelter,
the shroud, my God, held above my head.

Nothing Is More
(Nincs több)

Nothing is more, nothing,
than the eyes of criminals,
that certain fixed stare
that is harsh like the sun,
and delineates darkly
and at the same time brightly
the sad, colorless dignity
of slaughterhouses and earthly kings.

These eyes,
these glances alone
are worthy of noting death
and the transfiguration of flowers.

Only they
can proclaim
all the pains of the world,
and keep God’s secret
eye to eye with the lynching mob.

Step By Step    
(Fokról fokra)

The way nothingness smoothes out
the furrows of suffering,
the way the land settles,
finds its way home
in the wake of the storm,
this is how, somehow, step by step,
the dialogue of God and man,
of birth and death shapes and forms.

This Will Be
(Ez lesz)

Fraying at the seams, stillness of folds,
serenity of that which is now cold,
simpler than ever silence, this will be.


Creation, no matter how wide,
is narrower than the sty.
From here to there. Tree, rock, house.
I come early, come late, put about.  

Yet sometimes somebody will enter,
and suddenly what is will reveal itself.
The sight of a face, a presence, is enough;
blood will trickle down the wallpaper.

Yes, enough a hand that stirs the coffee
or is withheld from another hand,
enough for us to forget this place,
the closed row of windows, yes,
and at night, upon return to our room
to accept the unacceptable.

The Straight Labyrinth
(Egyenes labirintus)

What will it be like, this return flight
that only similes can describe,
like sanctuary, altar,
homecoming, handshake, hug,
under the trees, garden feast,
where there is no first and last guest,
what will it be like in the end,
this free-fall on open wings,
this flight into the fiery
focus, the communal nest? - I don’t know,
and yet, if there is something I know,
I know this blazing corridor,
this labyrinth straight as an arrow,
the heavier and heavier,
exhilarating fact of our fall.


I invoke the impossible,
a house stands there and a bush,
a mute, mute beast and
a trouser leg in the dusk.

Self-Portrait, 1974
(Önarckép, 1974)

My shirt is white and pressed
like that of a mass murderer,
but my face, centuries-old, taciturn,
is that of a little boy.

Translated by Géza Simon

Ted Hughes on János Pilinszky

Pilinszky in English:
Selected Poems, Carcanet, Manchester, 1977 (tr. János Csokits, Ted Hughes)
The Desert of Love, Anvil Press, London, 1989 (tr. János Csokits, Ted Hughes)
66 Poems, Maecenas, Budapest, 1991 (tr. István Tótfalusi)
Metropolitan Icons, Princeton Univ. Press, 1995 (tr. George Emery)

Read poems by Pilinszky in various languages on Babelmatrix

Tags: János Pilinszky (1921-1981)