Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sándor Weöres (1913 – 1989)

Sándor Weöres (1913 – 1989) was a Hungarian poet and author. Although he was born on 22 June 1913 in Szombathely, he was raised in the nearby village of Csönge, he was considered a very bright and keen individual wanting to read and learn from anything that he came in contact with, including books from diverse nations and cultures - this at a time when the established learning was focused inwards and Eurocentric. As a poet influences such as Taoism, Indian philosophy, in fact both Eastern and European mysticism, would resurface in his writings and become major factors in his work, he would even go on to translate the Tao Te Ching (his version still the most widely read in Hungary). At the age of nineteen, his poetry was being published in the influential journal Nyugat ("West") through the acceptance of its editor, the poet Mihály Babits.  He attended the University of Pécs, originally to study law, before switching to geography and history and ultimately receiving a doctorate in philosophy and aesthetics. His doctoral dissertation The Birth of the Poem was published in 1939.

In 1937 he made his first journey outside of Hungary, going first to Manila for a Eucharistic Congress before visiting Vietnam and India. During World War II he was drafted for compulsory labour, but was not sent to the front. After the end of the war, he returned to Csönge, living for a short time as a farmer.

The Lunatic Cyclist (1930)

Sometimes one whose soul is pure
sees himself as if he might
be some cycling lunatic
as he pedals through the night

he the lunatic evokes
who can neither see nor hear
while the pebbles his wheels flick
are flung twanging through his spokes

wheels that cut into the earth
around him weave a dusty veil
the stars above a lazy herd
sleep in their narrow sky-tall

while the wind soaks up his sweat
and shakes out his bushy hair
the lunatic continues yet
to pedal through the moonlit air

sometimes one whose soul is pure
sees himself as if he might
be that lunatic cycling there
with mounting fury through the night

as clear to him as bread and wine
mirrored by the light of day
the moon that sprinkles round about
on every side its netted ray

cold the light and cold the wind
that blows the lunatic’s hair back
while dust humiliates his wheels
and unvirginal is his track

infinite is the cyclist’s track
and the soul that’s pure and bright
watches while the lunatic
pedals weeping through the night.

                       Trans: William Jay Smith

In 1948 Weöres left the country again residing in Italy until 1949. In 1951 he returned to Hungary, settling in Budapest where he would remain for the rest of his life. The imposition of Stalinism in Hungary after 1948 silenced Weöres and until 1964, with very little able to be published, one of the exceptions was “A hallgatás tornya” (The Tower of Silence), published during a brief period of relative freedom prior to the revolution of 1956.

On Death (1937) 

Don't mind if you die. It's just your body's shape,
intelligence, separate beings which are passing.
The rest, the final and the all-embracing
structure receives, and will absorb and keep.

All incidents we live through, forms we see,
particles, mountain-tops, are broken down,
they all are mortal, this condition shows,
but as to substance: timeless majesty.

The soul is that way too: condition dies
away from it—feeling, intelligence,
which help to fish the pieces from the drift

and make it sicken—but, what underlies,
all elements that wait in permanence,
reach the dear house they never really left.

                                             Trans: Allan Dixon

In 1964 he published “Tűzkút” (The Well of Fire) in Paris and his poetry became officially tolerated in Hungary. Weöres also translated writers into Hungarian, including the works of Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko, the Georgian poet Rustaveli, the Slovenian poets Oton Župančič and Josip Murn Aleksandrov. He also translated Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis and Henry VIII, T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, the nonsense poems by Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, and the complete poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé. In 1970 he received the Kossuth Prize, the nation’s highest award. English-language translations of his poetry include If All the World Were a Blackbird (1985) and Eternal Moment (1988).

Sandor Weöres, confounded the critics of his homeland throughout his career, from the very start he was interested in experimenting with form, he would try his hand at everything from automatic writing to creating nonsensical poems without regard to any semantic meaning, before translating them using diverse methods. He was searching for methods to express his thoughts in a way that could only be done via a language he saw as specific to poetry & could not be expressed in a standard literal form. This he pursued through a period of history when poets and writers where expected to follow the socialist ideal and write realist poems that praised the state, that provided propaganda to the regimes ideology. Although recognised by his peers he was seen by the state apparatus as a propagator of nihilist ideas, and thus his poetry was not published until the political climate changed. He continued regardless constantly expanding his ideas, taking everything from nursery rhymes to long mythical poetry. In 1972 he published Psyche, an anthology of poetry and prose by a female poet called Erzsébet Mária Psyché Lónyay, whose work had lain forgotten since the early 19th century, and who Weöres rediscovers: this was later turned into a film called Narcissus & Psyche by Gábor Bódy (1980). He also edited an influential collection of Hungarian poetry Három veréb hat szemmel in 1977 (Three sparrows with six eyes).

Renaissance (1980)
It was the era of masks
And the bird saluting the well.

Eyes opening to the knowledge
Cobbled the dark alleys

Solid ruins stepped from the past
And mixed with present dilapidation.

Wombshaped, pluckable instruments
contended with huge baggy keyboards.

Born in pain
was promptly dying.

Anyone who thought to speak
was already overheard.

The city was full of expectation;
the country with countless flowers,
and unsuspected silky tunes
flew, like a mist of cuckoos, far off.

                  Trans: Hugh Maxton

I found out about Sandor Weöres, through my local charity bookshop, where I came across a copy of Eternal Moment (Selected poems), this anthology of poetry covers Sandor’s poetry from 1928 – 1980, giving the reader an overview of this Hungarian writers oeuvre, it was edited by  Miklós Vajda, who also wrote the introduction, it has an after word by Edwin Morgan and some drawings by Sandor Weöres. This collection was published in 1988 by Anvil press Poetry

This is a wonderful & interesting collection of poetry that shows this writer finding his own voice, but not just that it also demonstrates that, despite the whole apparatus of governmental opinion against him, he was proved right in the end becoming a much respected, loved and emulated poet, whose work has been set to music, made into film & is a fixture in Hungarian life whether through the nursery rhymes heard as a child or through verse, film & music whilst growing up.

 Moon and Farmstead (1954)
full    moon   slip   swim
wind  fog     foam  chord  hum
the    house   empty

thorn  fence
eye   blaze

moon   swim   flame
grass   chord   twang
cloud   fling

the  house   empty
door   window
fly   up

chimney  run
fog   swirl
full   moon   circle

the   house   empty

    Trans: Edwin Morgan

Monkeyland (1955)

Oh for far-off monkeyland,
ripe monkeybread on baobabs,
and the wind strums out monkeytunes
from monkeywindow monkeybars.

Monkeyheroes rise and fight
in monkeyfield and monkeysquare,
and monkeysanatoriums
have monkeypatients crying there.

Monkeygirl monkeytaught
masters monkeyalphabet,
evil monkey pounds his thrawn
feet in monkeyprison yet.

Monkeymill is nearly made,
miles of monkeymayonnaise,
winningly unwinnable
winning monkeymind wins praise.

Monkeyking on monkeypole
harangues the crowd in monkeytongue,
monkeyheaven comes to some,
monkeyhell for those undone.

Macaque, gorilla, chimpanzee,
baboon, orangutan, each beast
reads his monkeynewssheet at
the end of each twilight repast.

With monkeysupper memories
the monkeyouthouse rumbles, hums,
monkeyswaddies start to march,
right turn, left turn, shoulder arms -

monkeymilitary fright
reflected in each monkeyface,
with monkeygun in monkeyfist
the monkeys' world the world we face. 
Trans: Edwin Morgan


Brian Joseph said...

Thans for posting this. It is great verse.

There are a lot of things that I like about it. I am particularly interesting in the unusual forms and structures. Such experimentation seems to open up new avenues for creativity to flourish. Both Monkeyland and Moon and Farmstead bear this out.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Brian

There is some wonderful poetry from fairly normal?? poetry to out there playing with all sorts of form & ideas, some of the experimentation I'm not sore of, but I'm happy it's there as I like the idea of poetry that shakes me out of my perceived comfort zone & makes me reevaluate my idea of what poetry should be. If by happenstance you stumble across a copy (in my case cheap) as I did snap it up & give it a go, at the very least you'll find it interesting.

@parridhlantern said...

Ps, Just had a strange thought, that " Monkeyland" kind of makes me think of some John Cooper Clarke's poetry. Don't know if he knew of Sandor Weores, but there's some similarity between the two.