Monday, August 8, 2011

Finding Petofi

Remember the poet revolutionary, who stood in all his skinny statueness opposite our hostel? (He really was that thin I learned.)

True story: we had just all come in from our various assignments, outrunning a major storm, and were hanging in the hostel lobby, watching extreme weather break out. I seized the opportunity to ask the front desk worker, Androsch, a friendly, helpful Hungarian, about Petofi Sandor. With great industry and enthusiasm he jumped on his computer, as a group of our young people came in, one of whom had a hawk on his wrist.

I guess hawks in training in hostel lobbies are culturally appropriate. Androsch never batted an eye, deeply engaged as he was in his internet search. Soon the printer was clicking. Trying to attend to the very helpful Androsch, I also tried to slip my camera out of my backpack while trying not to act completely astonished that there was a hawk now flying around the lobby.

Androsch quickly furnished me with information on Petofi, never casting so much as a glance in the direction of the hawk, who was now battering the ceiling tiles to hang from their grid. One of the young guys recited the poem by heart.

I missed a shot of the hawk—but I’m sure one will surface from the team—but here’s the poem. Hang in; it’s a little ‘old world’ but that last line is a kicker, revealing Petofi as a true romantic:

End of September

Below in the valley the flowers are resplendent,
Outside by the window the poplars still glow,
But see where the winter, already ascendant,
Has covered the far distant hilltops with snow.

My heart is still bathed in the fierce sun of passion,
All spring is in bloom there, by spring breezes tossed,
But look how my hari turns hoary and ashen,
Its raven black touched by the premature frost.

The petals are falling and life is declining.
Come sit in my lap, my beloved, my own!
You, with your head, in my bosom respining,
Tomorrow perhaps will you mourn me alone?

Tell me the truth: should I die, will your sorrow
Extend to the day when new lovers prepare
Your heart for forsaking, insisting you borrow
Their name, and abandon the one we now share?

If once you should cast off the black veil of mourning,
Let it stream like a flag from the cross where I lie,
And I wikll arise from the place of sojourning
To claim it and take it where life is put by,

Employing it there to dry traces of weeping
For a lover who could so lightly forget,
And bind up the wounds in the heart in your keeping
Which loved you before and will worship you yet.

Petofi Sandor
(Translation by Szirtes, George)

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