Wednesday, 30 June 2010

A poem by Bálint Balassi 1554-1594

If I were Baron Balassi I'd have been dead twenty-one years ago. There he is, dressed, befittingly, to the nines. He was mostly a soldier but is Hungary's greatest Renaissance poet. He wrote in Turkish as well as Hungarian (Hungary was under Turkish occupation) on the run - love poems, erotic poems, religious poems, songs, adaptations... An exact contemporary of Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586), who died even younger.

Adj már csendességet
Grant me tranquillity

Grant me tranquillity,
calm impassivity,
heavenly Lord!
Guard my poor sanity,
my heart in captivity
put to the sword!

Through long years of penitence
my spirit craved sustenance,
desiring salvation;
shield me and watch with me,
let not your enmity
cause my damnation.

Not without labour
you saved me, my saviour,
through death of your son.
For his sake assist me
that you might complete
what you had begun.

Your mercies so mighty,
not my sins unsightly
should precedence have.
Your grace is eternal
though my sins infernal
cry out for the grave.

Can you in beatitude
suffer vicissitude
or loss of possession?
Can you awaken
the ranks of forsaken
by thy intercession?

Why should I doubt,
when despair is cast out
in trust of your word;
freely you'll grant me
the grace not denied me,
the faithful's reward.

Lord, do not resist me,
unclench your great fist,
be tender and kind,
forgive my beginnings
and heal the torn wings
of pitiful mind.

Flying, I'd bless you,
adoring address you,
my trespass defying,
thus practiced in flight,
my soul being healed might
I rise in my dying.


I translated this poem some time after 1989 along with a great many other poems - including two more by him - for The Lost Rider, a bilingual anthology of Hungarian verse through the centuries. I kept to the rhyme and the verse form and found it a lively and moving thing to do. I doubt whether the translation would work any other way, because though it is a prayer and lament, it has a great deal of sheer brio. In that respect I rather enjoyed rhyming across lines in Lord do not resist me / unclench your great fist, / be... A Renaissance soldier should have a certain swagger even at the end of his wits.


Gwil W said...

Only 3 used paperback copies at Amazon - priced from $36.01.

After reading the review I have the feeling it might one day become something of a collectable. It's a hefty volume, 475 pp.

George S said...

I hadn't noticed the review, Gwilym.Thank you for pointing it out. It's rather nice (and that's another of my translations he is quoting) and perfectly fair. The curse of books published in Hungary is not that no-one buys them. They are bought by plenty of tourists and expats returning to Hungary in one or two bookshops in Budapest so they go into second, third and fourth editions. But the people that buy them are not the kind that write reviews or articles - and of course even if they did write such no paper abroad would print them because the books are unavailable there. They are mostly hidden books in effect.

I'll say a little about how The Lost Rider came about in a post later today.

Gwil W said...

According to the computer index there's supposed to be a copy of "The Lost Rider" in my local library. I've just sent them an e-mail to hold it. As soon as they reply in the affirmative (i.e. that they can actually find it) I can go and pick it up.

Gwil W said...

The new US laureate Merwin gets $35,000 for his 12 month stint.

How about that George? A lot of Guinness or what?

Gwil W said...

I'm still waiting like a schoolboy holding his cap for somebody to emerge from the library cellars with a cobwebbed copy of THE LOST RIDER. Maybe it's more a case of THE LOST BOOK? I wonder what happened to it. The library computer says they have it. So where is it?

Anonymous said...

Tisztelt György!

Nagyszerű a vers általam vélt hangzása (is), nem hittem volna, hogy Balassit a dallamával együtt lehet angolra fordítani...

Gratulálok örömmel!

Molnár Pál

angela1221 said...

Hi! You can found Bálint Balassi every poems in this site: (if you are interested in it...)