08. 15. 2018. 19:16

Three poems from Zsófia Balla

translated by Anna Bentley

Nothing in a camp is forgiveable./ Neither can I suffer for my own omissions – We are pleased to bring you three poems from Zsófia Balla, translated by Anna Bentley.


(translated by Anna Bentley)




They rang the bell, just stepped into the house,

the flowers did, and into the vase.


They looked around, liked the flat,

it kept them busy,

and nothing else mattered.


But they were used to

flowering as they


and here, lo,

their stalks are cut daily.

Their dreams are clipped.

Put in cold water every morning,

they are forced to flower anew

and do it eagerly.


They got tired of it.

Didn’t need wonders.

Grew to hate

the bright rooms.

From spite, they gave no scent.

Conspiring to wither, they went.



A Hundred Years Ago Tomorrow


A hundred years ago tomorrow, in Alsóróna

a peasant woman gave birth

to you, black-haired girl,

who later laboured with me.

They murdered that woman, family and all.

You returned. And every day you cry.


Many have nibbled at my numbered days,

whittling you all from me. Today too

I thought of you: of how you forgave

Dad. And others. Me in the end.


Nothing in a camp is forgiveable.

Neither can I suffer for my own omissions -

what’s fraying there’s no point in me poking

back: what’s good is dead. Many sins still live.


You are beautiful, Mama, watchful, you smell good.

You are beautiful and far away.

As dust, as twigs and on a road of tiny bone fragments

you spread under me the parts of your mother.



If I Kept it Secret


My ancestry would soon become apparent.

If I stepped out of it, it would stick to me.

No-one would believe I’d left it behind.

The old colour shows through the skin.

Should I travel far away  - it would settle in my breast.

If I forgot it – someone would see it in my face,

would know it miles off: every person is my guard.

If I denied it – I’d be like one whose father

and mother, whose love-born spawn are dying.

I’d be like one even whose death is dying.


It’s like a death sentence, the way it follows me.

Like a brand, it cannot be washed off.

I think about it, like it or not.

There’s no high consciousness, no lamp inside that flickers

Even God can’t –

nor should others tell me who I am.

This is the lot that falls to me today:

free is what I’d like be, entirely.

My life, it’s that straw star in the sky,

all day, all night it shines on high.


(Translated by Anna Bentley)


Zsófia Balla was born in Kolozsvár (Cluj), Romania, where she lived for forty-four years, into a Hungarian minority assimilated Jewish family, a hundred members of which were murdered in the Holocaust. She never knew her grandparents. She was the Hungarian music and literature editor for Kolozsvár Radio for thirteen years, until the radio station was closed down by the authorities in 1985, after which she worked for literary journals. In 1968, she published her first volume of poems, A dolgok emlékezete (The Memory of Things), in which Virágok (Flowers) appears. Under Ceaușescu’s repressive regime her freedom to publish was restricted and her apartment was bugged by the security services. In 1993, after the fall of Ceaușescu, Balla moved to Budapest, where she has lived ever since. For many years she was a member of the editorial board at the literary magazine Jelenkor (Present Times), and was a founding member of the Hungarian Szépírók Társasága (The Society of Writers, Critics and Literary Translators). Her poetry has won prizes in both Romania (among others, the Kolozsvár Society of Authors’ Poetry Prize and the Romanian Writers’ Union Poetry Prize) and Hungary (among others, the Attila József prize and the Republic of Hungary’s Laurel Wreath prize.)  In addition to twenty volumes of poetry, Balla has published many essays (a collection of which will be published at the end of this year), and has written opera librettos as well as plays for the radio and for puppet theatre. Holnap száz éve (A Hundred Years Tomorrow) and Ha eltitkolnám (If I Kept it a Secret) appear in her latest collection of poems, Más ünnepek (Other Holidays) published by Kalligram, 2016. She is a member of SZIMA (Széchenyi Academy of  Letters and Arts) and (DIA) (the Digital Literary Academy).