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This article is taken from PN Review 3, Volume 4 Number 3, April - June 1978.

A Net of Stars Clive Wilmer

JáNOS PILINSZKY'S Selected Poems should claim our attention on at least two counts. First, that he is the man Hungarians tend to regard as their greatest contemporary poet; and second, that one of the English translators is Ted Hughes, a poet with a similar reputation in this country.

Mr Hughes has written an introduction which, though remarkably eloquent, falls into many of the snares which nowadays attend upon almost everything he writes. It is absurdly portentous; we are not told, for example, that, in the long gap between his first and second books, Pilinszky simply stopped publishing, but that 'Silence soon descended . . .': this to sustain the translator's otherwise indisputable thesis that the idea of silence is of the very essence of Pilinszky's work. Then there are moments of self-parody: Simone Weil, Van Gogh and Dostoevsky, all major influences, 'zigzag like naked lightning through the magnetic atmosphere' of his poetry. Worst of all, perhaps, is Mr Hughes's apparent inability to depict the poets he admires in terms which do more than reflect his own preoccupations; at times the introduction seems little more than a commentary on Crow.

Yet the difference is enormous, both in terms of experience and belief. This last flaw betrays Mr Hughes into a failure to make necessary distinctions. Most of what he actually says of Pilinszky, translated into plain English, seems to me perfectly true. But it is often misleading. He has the grace to put that Alvarezian phrase ...


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