Issue Section: Articles. Ted Hughes, János Pilinszky, Holocaust poetry, influence, Eastern European poetry “Ted Hughes and the Literal: A Study of the Relationship between Ted Hughes's Translations of János Pilinszky. János Pilinszky János Pilinszky's grave in Budapest Poem by Pilinszky on a wall in Leiden Translation and Literature, Volume 23, Issue 3. ISSN Bergin, Tara (). "Ted Hughes and the literal:a study of the relationship more. Sheryl Sutton and János Pilinszky absolutely agreed that the trouble . everybody talked about his or her relationship to the main character.
And like a cattle-yard prepared for the herded beasts outside — its gates flung open violently — death, for them, gapes wide. The poem interweaves the awful physical war setting with more absolute suggestions of the after-life that is to be the inevitable fate of the soldiers. This merging can be seen particularly in the powerful comparison of the cosmos with a cattle-yard for herding beasts.
He continues in the next poem with an unbearable memory of a starving French prisoner again still clear as yesterday: Fearful to be a self alone: And that was it. As for the rest — for the rest, without a sound, simply forgetting to cry out, the body hit the ground. There is so much thought in these lines. Pilinszky is clearly aware of how depth of meaning is most effectively conveyed in the simplest of words. This is a very small collection, perhaps a little pricey given it only has fourteen poems.
He recognizably belongs to that generation of East European poets which includes Herbert, Holub and Popa, but his differences draw any discussion of him into quite another context. Hungarians tend to set him a little outside their ordinary writers, and his poetry a little outside ordinary poetry. Critical judgement cannot rest in the aesthetic excellence of his work: The bulk of his work is quite slight.
János Pilinszky | Revolvy
His forms are traditional — varying only between tightness and looseness. The quality of his actual style is notable: Through translation we can only try to imagine that though working as closely with the originals as I have worked, one soon picks up a very distinct idea of it.
He was born in Budapest, in Certain known factors, which have had a vital influence on the mature form of his work, are worth mentioning. Perhaps one of the most decisive has been what might seem the most trivial. His syntax, for all its classical finish, is quite idiosyncratic.fable - janos pilinszky
This can be felt clearly in a word-for-word crib — though it is less easy to translate further. Something elliptical in the connections, freakishly home-made, abrupt. It would not be going too far to say there is a primitive element in the way it grasps its subject. Yet this peculiarity is deeply part of its most sophisticated effects, and its truth.
His own words give the best idea of it: Should someone ask, what after all is my poetic language, in truth I should have to answer: This is not much. No doubt the world has added this and that, completely at random, accidentally, from very different workshops. And because the nice thing about our mother-tongue is exactly this fact, that we receive it, we do not want to add anything to it. We would feel it detrimental to do so.
It would be as if we tried to improve our origin. But in art even such a poor language — and I must say this with the pride of the poor — can be redeemed. In art the deaf can hear, the blind can see, the cripple can walk, each deficiency may become a creative force of high quality. Another pervading factor, which almost every word he writes forces us to take into account, has been his Catholic upbringing and education. The poems demonstrate, however, that his inner relationship to Catholicism is neither simple nor happy.
He has been called a Christian poet, even a Catholic poet, and the increasing density of Catholic terminology and imagery in his work provides argument for this. But he rejects those labels absolutely. There is no doubt that he is above all a religious poet. A rather dreadful sun of religious awareness, a midnight sun, hangs over all his responses. But his loyalty to a different order of revelation — which at first seems a directly opposite and contradictory order — comes first. In he was called up for Military Service — just in time to be scooped up by the retreating German Army.
His last year of the war was spent moving from prison camp to prison camp in Austria and Germany. Whatever he met in those camps evidently opened the seventh seal for Pilinszky. It was a revelation of the new man: The shock of this initiation seems to have objectified and confirmed something he had known from childhood: His first collection of poems appeared in It was a literary event in Hungary.
Silence soon descended, however, and ten years had to pass before his poems began to emerge again. His second book containing eighteen poems reprinted from his first, and thirty-four new poems came out in It was acclaimed, at once, as the major achievement of a major writer. Those comparatively few poems have gradually established his international reputation. It was recognized, from the start, that he spoke from the disaster-centre of the modern world.
What was also clear, though, was that his words escaped, only with great effort, from an intensifying, fixed core of silence. That bleak, lonely condemned one, at the heart of his poems, spoke less and less. The next thirteen years added only sixteen new poems.
Then in and two new collections, projecting a new line of development from what had seemed impossible to alter, contained ninety-seven fresh pieces. Yet these pieces, if anything, only deepened the fixity and silence. All are short, fragmentary, and some hardly more than a sentence or couplet. The first of these collections was titled Splinters — splinters, that is, from the cross. The title of the second can be translated Denouement. The change, however, was there. The urgency and immediacy of his work, in this latest book, suggests a whole new phase in his writing.
The possibilities of development suddenly seem wide open, and we can be sure that with a poet who has hung on to such a course with such tenacity, they will not be neglected.
As it is used by those Indian saints who refuse to speak at all until the ultimate truth speaks through them, or as Socrates used it before his judges, or as Christ used it before his accusers, silence can be a resonant form of speech. Pilinszky, who is rarely ironic and never messianic, makes us aware of another silence. It is impossible not to feel that the spirit of his poetry aspires to the most naked and helpless of all confrontations: His silence is the silence of that moment on the cross, after the cry.
In all that he writes, we hear a question: The European poets who have been formed by this circumstance are well known. They have only continued to write, when at all, with a seasoned despair, a minimal, much-examined hope, a special irony.
But because he is as he is, above all a passionately religious being, Pilinszky has shifted the problem into other dimensions — which are more traditional but also, perhaps, broader and older, more intimately relevant, more piercing. This is not to suggest that his poetry is in its inmost spirit necessarily Christian.
The poems are nothing if not part of an appeal to God, but it is a God who seems not to exist, Or who exists, if at all, only as he exists for the stones. Not Godlessness, but the imminence of a God altogether different from what dogmatic Christianity has ever imagined. A God of absences and negative attributes, quite comfortless. A God in whose creation the camps and modern physics are equally at home. In this short poem, human and animal are fused by another metaphor, the terra cotta "vessel" produced by the transforming heat of the heart.
What is an American reader at the end of the twentieth century, who probably has no memories of World War II, to make of a pessimistic and harsh poetry like this?
The reader might react to Pilinszky's poetry as the villagers in the warmth of their home in "KZ Oratorio" who react with fright to the wolf that has seen them through a window and crept inside their house. Pilinszky's poems, however, reflect a world that is very real, and the reader should realize that his equation of people with animals is not reductive or over-simplified.
As one reads more of Pilinszky's poems, it becomes increasingly clear that he uses animal imagery to describe characteristics that are above all human, that describe both himself and the society in which he lives.
George writes that Pilinszky shows the "total surrender of our higher nature to the lower," but this is, I believe, partly inaccurate because the "higher" nature and the "lower" are fused—it is impossible to separate them. It is no longer possible, after the Second World War, to speak of a hierarchy based on the conventional evolutionary tree.
This fusion admits both uncertainty and mystery. It admits, also, the divine; God is present as a major force in Pilinszky's poems and in his view of the world. Pilinszky did not become a nihilist like many poets who fought in the war, such as the Polish poet Tadeusz Rozewicz; divinity and God are important in Pilinszky's universe, although it is not the God to which most readers are accustomed.
Pilinszky introduces a cruel, totally unpredictable and often frustrated God, who shares in the same process of eating, or feeding, as humans and animals. God is the one who has the greatest "hunger" of all. Pilinszky does not accept the label "Catholic" for his work, but clearly the Catholic Christian heritage informs much of his poetry.
Pilinszky's version of Christianity is personalized and original: In one of Pilinszky's most famous poems, "Fish in the Net," humans are fish caught in a net who gasp in the air; perhaps they will soon lie on the table of a mighty fisherman—God—who will eat them. In silence behind glass the butcher's assistants wash up but even so, somehow, what took place just cannot come to an end.
The poem points to the Christian context and to the sacrificed "lamb" evoked in several other poems. Many of the poems dramatize versions of the triad butcher-assistant-animal, or hangman-henchman-victim. The relations of the butcher to the animal, of the gallows to the victim—of the "henchman" to the prisoner—are tight, deadly, and completely insoluble.
They are also mysterious and ambiguous. Who, in the contemporary world, are the slaughterers and their collaborators, who are their victims? The animal and human forms are fluid and ubiquitous in these radical reinterpretations of Christian myths. The poem "Cattle Brand" resembles "Passion," but here it is Pilinszky himself, or the poem's first-person narrator, who is the central focus: There is no cattle brand that I don't deserve. I had better cross death's whitewashed threshold.
All that we have deserved is good. Nail hammered into the world's palm, I'm deathly pale, blooddrenched. In another poem, "The Henchman's Room," Pilinszky varies the perspective, and the point of view is that of the executioner: You never see the sea from the window of the henchman's room. The sea belongs to God, and the window is closed. How different the fragrance of the gallows, and the lamb, when they come for him.
It is basic that the window of the "henchman" is closed: Several of Pilinszky's "henchman" poems are included in this collection. I kissed everybody's hand. I succeeded in shielding that real one, the one you can't, can't, simply cannot either bear or say out loud.
Crime is what we succeed in removing the very trace of. The switch from "you" to "we" is deft, and the henchman speaks in a thoroughly modern manner for the world at large, for many of "us. As he continued writing, Pilinszky became increasingly resourceful in his selection of speakers for his poems. By no means are the speakers always the same. Pilinszky varies them from poem to poem, and this is one of the great strengths of his later poems.
The selection of speaker is probably intended to achieve maximum conflict and drama; the situation almost always involves more than one person. Pilinszky calls the longest poem included in Metropolitan Icons an "oratorio"; George calls it a "dramatic recitative. Even when Pilinszky speaks about himself, the setting or "stage" of the poem and the speaker's particular state of mind are deliberately chosen. George rightly points out the uncompromisingly urban nature of these poems: George's account of the evolution of Pilinszky's style over the years is particularly good.
Pilinszky fell almost silent for several years during the middle period of his career, but from about until his death in l his productivity increased and he wrote powerful, usually short poems on the same high level as his earlier poems about the war. These translations permit us to look again at an unusual period in twentieth-century poetry, and to ask a few questions about it.
But because he is as he is, above all a passionately religious being, Pilinszky has shifted the problem into other dimensions — which are more traditional but also, perhaps, broader and older, more intimately relevant, more piercing. This is not to suggest that his poetry is in its inmost spirit necessarily Christian. The poems are nothing if not part of an appeal to God, but it is a God who seems not to exist, Or who exists, if at all, only as he exists for the stones. Not Godlessness, but the imminence of a God altogether different from what dogmatic Christianity has ever imagined.
A God of absences and negative attributes, quite comfortless. A God in whose creation the camps and modern physics are equally at home. But this God has the one almightiness that matters: We come to this Truth only on the simplest terms: The mysterious thing is that in Pilinszky the naked, helpless quality of this truth is fused with the utmost spiritual intensity. The desolation of his vision is equalled by its radiance. The revelation of this particularly bleak God is the flashpoint in all his poems.
In each poem, we find the same diamond centre: That is his fixity. The only possible directions of movement are away from the nailed wound, or out of the flesh, both of which he reflects. Yet out of this one moment, from which theology retreats in confusion this hole of silence, which Christianity has managed to cover only with a loud chord of faith, Pilinszky makes his statement.
In the final biological humiliation and solitude, the poems say, nothing at all can help. Yet we hear so many precious things clamouring in that helplessness. The most harrowing voice of all is sexual love. Almost as frightening is the voice which gropes for just somebody — anybody, in the radiant emptiness. Yet his horror at the physicality and wretchedness of the trap is without any taint of disgust.
And how is it, we might well ask, that this vision of what is, after all, a universe of death, an immovable, unalterable horror, where trembling creatures still go uselessly through their motions, how is it that it issues in poems so beautiful and satisfying? How do his few poor objects, his gigantic empty vistas, come to be so unforgettably alive and lit? Though the Christian culture has been stripped off so brutally, and the true condition of the animal exposed in its ugliness, and words have lost their meaning — yet out of that rise the poems, whose words are manifestly crammed with meaning.
Something has been said which belies neither the reality nor the silence. More than that, the reality has been redeemed. The very symbols of the horror are the very things he has redeemed.
They are not redeemed in any religious sense. They are redeemed, precariously, in some all-too-human sense, somewhere in the pulsing mammalian nervous-system, by a feat of humane consecration: Once we have said that, though, we realize it is also a by-product.
And it is true, his personality and his life are as exemplary, for Hungarians, as his poems: And this is how they come to be an existential challenge to all who are deeply drawn into them. They personify his most vital element, the electrified steely strength under his passivity and gentleness.
If the right hand of his poetic power is his hard grasp of a revealed truth of our final condition, then his left hand, so much more human and hurt, is his mystically intense feeling for the pathos of the sensual world. The intensity is not forceful or strenuous, in any way.
It is rather a stillness of affliction, a passivity of transfiguration. At this point, when all the powers of the soul are focused on what is final, and cannot be altered, even though it is horrible, the anguish is indistinguishable from joy.