Saturday, October 9, 2010

"The Seventh" by Attila Jozsef

Attila József (1905-1937)  is one of the most important Hungarian poets of the 20th century. 

     The Seventh   by Attila József

     If you set foot on this earth,
     you must go through seven births.
     Once, in a house that's burning,
     once, among ice floes churning,
     once, amidst madmen raving,
     once, in a field of wheat swaying,
     once, in a cloister, bells ringing,
     once, in a pigsty a-squealing.
     Six babes crying, not enough, son.
     Let yourself be the seventh one.
     If foes confront you, that is when
     your enemies must see seven men.
     One, who's off on a holiday,
     one, who goes to work on Monday,
     one, who teaches unpaid on a whim,
     one, who has learned to sink or swim,
     one, who will seed a whole forest,
     one, whom wild forefathers protect.
     But all their tricks are not enough, son.
     Let yourself be the seventh one!

     If you want to find a lover,
     let seven men go look for her.
     One, whose words contain his heart,
     one, who can pay his part,
     one, pretending to be a dreamer,
     one, who will be a skirt-peeler,
     one, who knows the snaps and hooks,
     one, who can put down his foot--
     buzz like flies around her, son.
     And you yourself be the seventh one.

     Be a poet if you can afford it,
     but seven men make up one poet.
     One a marble-village builder,
     one, who was born a sleeper,
     one, an adept sky-charter,
     one, whom words befriend and favor,
     one, who is is own soul-maker,
     and one who dissects a rat's liver.
     Two are brave and four are wise, son--
     let yourself be the seventh one.

     And if all went as was written,
     you will be buried as seven men.
     One, nursed on a soft milky breast,
     one, who likes tough titties best,
     one, who flips empty plates in the bin,
     one, who helps the poor to win,
     one, who labors, falling apart,
     one, who stares at the Moon all night.
     The world will be your tombstone, son:
     if you yourself are the seventh one.

This translation of József's poem is by John Batki and is taken from Winter Night:  Selected Poems of Attila József (Oberlin College Press, 1997). A different translation (unattributed)  of "The Seventh" and several other of  József's poems also are available online.

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