19 July 2017

Maléter – poem




I saw you once, a lanky man,

step outside Parliament, look round bewildered,

and get in the car.

Little did you know

it was your ride to lengthy execution,

you gaunt insubordinate,

who joined the tattered

and the mortified

to lead them

in this downtrodden land

where only hangmen

earn serene retirement.

Even if you did

have a hunch

hailing from the pack –

you had no choice

but to take that ride,

with head held high

and feigned naiveté,

as any honourable dupe.

Unconcerned with

crystal-gazing history,

the learnèd mumbo jumbo,

you only saw the moment,

the leaping second of final

revelation, like


who, schooled by a cardinal,

joined to lead the rising footmen

without asking

what comes after:

exile or the mass grave,

shackles and flogging,

the noose or a volley,

a nocturnal burial

bone to bone –

and who knows how long

one will be left to lie

face down to the belly of the earth

after declaiming the words,

Recrudescunt diutina inclytae

Gentis Hungarae vulnera.2


Translated by Péter Balikó Lengyel



1 Pál Maléter (1917–1958), a Colonel and commander of a Budapest armoured division, sided with the freedom fighters in the Revolution. As the new Minister of Defence, he was treacherously arrested by the Soviets during negotiations, imprisoned, and executed along with Imre Nagy and others in 1958 on charges of treason and attempting to overthrow the People’s Republic.

2The wounds of the illustrious Hungarian nation open up again”. The opening line of Prince Ferenc Rákóczi II’s 1703 Manifesto, before he began his War of Independence against Austria.

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