Thursday, February 18, 2010

Friday Night Poetry: A Communist Revolts

One of the amazing stories of the last 60 years are the writers and artists behind the Iron Curtain who fought for a middle way between communism and right wing ideologies. I don't know much of Laszlo Benjamin's history (1915-??) except that in 1955 he was a communist party member who revolted against the system. After the Russians put down the Hungarians in 1956, it's unlikely Benjamin would have gotten far without recanting or burrowing deep into the system somewhere. But there were many writers and artists all over Eastern Europe who saw the walls come down in 1989, some 33 years later. Was Benjamin one of them? I don't know.

The poem below was translated by Edwin Morgan. I only offer the first four stanzas. The rest can be found in Modern Hungarian Poetry, edited by Miklos Vajda. Many libraries still carry copies.



Poem By an Unknown Poet from the Mid-Twentieth Century


They ranged themselves in facing lines
—switches would soon be thrust in their hands—
and we were braced to run the gauntlet
down through that pure and heartless band.

It is to induce salvation in us
that ethics swishes from both sides;
and if not by fear and humiliation,
we're bent by chronic belly-gripes.

Endless vigilance, the very virtues
thumped into my long-hunted spine
cheated me of my power to act,
that many-splendored only-mine.

Between four-dimensional hell and
two-dimensional heaven, intention
is no more than a scurrying shadow,
reality a fading apparition.

******


—Laszlo Benjamin

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