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This report is taken from PN Review 97, Volume 20 Number 5, May - June 1994.

On Not Translating Balassa Elizabeth Temple

The Hungarians are always on the edge of exhilaration: they lean towards it as a ship will always find wind for its sails. A sense of occasion, a challenge, some crisis to be overcome only by a superhuman effort, all these are not only welcomed, but sought out. They create an atmosphere in which the Hungarians are most truly themselves: alert, responsive, high-spirited, quick-witted and resourceful. To such a situation the English response, applying the national virtue of common sense, and thereby avoiding if possible the confrontation in the first place, would be one of dogged obligation. The first difficulty therefore, in translating early Hungarian poetry today is one of attitude.

The songs and poems of the sixteenth-century poet, Balint (Valentine) Balassa are filled with the vigour of eager conviction and buoyant optimism. His themes are universal: love, war and religion. But who now responds to fife and drum? Can we really believe in a time when valour and chivalry were still bright words?, when the music of song and the Recruiting Dance could spirit young men away from the villages? How then explain his praise of the soldier's life, especially after the shadows cast by Owen and Sassoon on the field of war, bringing a wryness, a dryness, a cynic's acceptance - even a knowing irony we can no longer do without? Yet the mud, the waste, the brutality were allways there. I am tempted to think of Stendha If learlesf branch thrown into the abandoned ...


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