It snowed in the night and the snow outlined
the beautiful, twisted form of the willow
by The Little Union Canal.
I Don't Know
I don't know what this land means to others, this little country
circled by fire, place of my birth,
world of my childhood, rocking in the distance.
I grew out of her like the fragile branch of a tree,
and I hope my body will sink down in her.
Here, I'm at home. When, one by one, bushes kneel at my feet,
I know their names and the names of their flowers.
I know people who walk down the roads, know where they're going,
and on a summer evening, I know the meaning of pain
that turns red and trickles down the walls of houses.
This land is only a map for the pilot who flies over.
He doesn't know where the poet, Vorosmarty lived.
For him factories and angry barracks hide on this map.
For me there are grasshoppers, oxen, church steeples, gentle farms.
Through binoculars, he sees factories and plowed fields,
I see the worker, afraid for his work.
I see forests, orchards filled with song, vineyards, graveyards,
and a little old woman who weeps and weeps quietly among
The industrial plant and the railway must be destroyed.
But it's only a watchman's box where a man stands outside
sending messages with a red flag. There are children around him,
in the factory yard a sheepdog plays, rolling on the ground.
And there's the park and the footprints of lovers from the past.
Sometimes kisses tasted like honey, sometimes like blackberries.
I didn't want to take a test one day, so on my way to school
I tripped on a stone at the edge of the sidewalk.
Here is the stone, but from up there it can't be seen.
There's no instrument to show it all.
We're sinners, just like people everywhere,
we know what we did wrong, when and how and where.
But innocent workers and poets live here too.
Knowledge grows inside nursing babies,
it shines in there. Hiding in dark cellars, they guard it,
waiting for the day when the finger of peace will mark our land.
And their new words will answer our muffled ones.
Night cloud, you who stay awake, spread your great wings over us.
January 17, 1944
Miklos Radnoti, version by Stephen Berg, pages 170-171
The Steel Cricket, Versions 1958-1997, Copper Canyon, 1977.
Another great Copper Canyon book! Berg has translated (he uses the word "versions" which is really better I think. The book contains versions of Eskimo songs, Aztec songs, lots of Radnoti and versions of the work of many other European and South American poets!
Here is a link to an essay about Radnoti, another version of this poem and one of the short "postcard" poems of those found in his pocketbook when his body was exhumed from a mass grave after World War II. It was interesting to me to find out that Radnoti was a "twinless twin" whose twin died at birth. Their mother died also, but he was not told until he was ten. Some people feel that twinless twins have qualities that were caused by this early loss, of which they have somatic memories. An example was Elvis Presley, whose missing twin was often spoken of by his family. Radnoti was well raised by other members of his family; his life is one of the countless cut-short tragedies of World War II.