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This poem is taken from PN Review 178, Volume 34 Number 2, November - December 2007.

Five Poems from Verses Könyv (Book of Verses) (translated by John M. Ridland and Peter V. Czipott) Sándor Márai

Sándor Márai (1900-89) left Hungary in 1948, a voluntary exile. He spent his last decade in San Diego, California, remote from pre-Second World War Budapest where he had been a popular author of fiction, stage works, essays, journalism - and poems. Only recently has he gained recognition as a major twentieth-century European writer. In English three novels are in print thus far, plus Memoir of Hungary 1944-1948, a first-hand account of the colapse of European bourgeois civilisation.

Márai mixed with the polyglot community of expatriate writers in Paris in the 1920s (also his twenties), among them Ezra Pound ('always smiling, and there was something maniacal and idiotic in that red-bearded smile'). Prose was his principal medium, but he continued writing poems at times of personal or historical anguish. He wrote his best-known poem, 'Mennyböl az angyal' ('Angel from Heaven'), on Christmas Eve 1956, after the October uprising had been crushed by Russian tanks. His
Collected Poems runs to nearly 400 pages.

The samples below are drawn from the seventy-two numbered, eight-line poems in
Verses Könyv (Book of Verses), written between New Year's Day and Christmas Eve of 1944, a terrible year for Hungary. In March the Nazis occupied the country, and at Christmas the Soviets laid siege to Budapest, demolishing much of the city, including Márai's apartment and library on Mikó Street.


I lived through winter like a soldier sentry,
I grew a beard, my fingernails turned black.
Think of me, that beyond the snowy country
The warmth of my two eyes is shining back.
I deep in thought, you trellising a rose,
The raw wind tore my hair with thoughtless blows.
I turned gray; at my border post I stood:
I guarded you and my wild solitude.


To wrestle something out of all the nothing,

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