Under Gemini: An Opera

Under Gemini
An Opera

Libretto by

Frederick Turner

Dramatis Personae

Major Parts
MIKLÓS:  a Hungarian Jewish poet
LAJOS:  his uncle
ISTVÁN:  a Hungarian Jewish violinist
GYULA:  a Hungarian literary magazine editor
FANNI:  MIKLÓS’ sweetheart and wife
FATHER SÁNDOR:  a Hungarian Jewish intellectual and teacher, convert to Catholicism, now a priest
JUDIT:  a beautiful actress and photographer, briefly involved with MIKLÓS

Minor Parts and Chorus

Scene i

A Jewish funeral.  The RABBI is speaking the words of the burial service as the body of JAKOB, the father of MIKLÓS, is lowered into the grave.  Also present are MIKLÓS himself, LAJOS his uncle, AGICA his sister, and ILKA his stepmother.  MIKLÓS, the surviving son, drops flowers in the grave and then the first shovelful of soil.  The other mourners are chanting a requiem, barely audible.  The requiem begins with the Hebrew words of the Jewish burial ritual, and then bursts out in these words:

The autumn mists drift chill above the grave,
it’s early, but already evening’s come.
In these dark skies the heavy torch-smoke weaves
a silver-silver wreath of foggy leaves–

and overhead the scared bird grieves and grieves!
The soul’s as terrified, as sadly drifting,
as is the cold cloud with its weightless wing
blown by the white-hot stars unwavering.

The body in its pit rests silently,
it lives the still fate of a clod of soil,
it melts, the thirsty root sucks at its vein,
and with a green flame it returns again,

as law demands!  horrible, horrible,
that what was one world now spins into two!
or is it wiser so?  The corpse knows all.
Protect, O Lord, the pathways of the soul.

As the ceremony comes to an end, LAJOS takes MIKLÓS aside and speaks to him.

Miklós.  Are you ready for your journey?

Journey, uncle Lajos?  But wasn’t  I
To go home with mother and my sister?

Mother?  Then you’ve not been told?  Oh, Miklós.
Ilka’s not your mother.

This is madness.
Do you mean she hates me, uncle Lajos?
Living when my father here has died?

[He goes over to ILKA, followed by LAJOS]

Mother, tell me this is some sick fancy.
Am I part of some old bastardry?

Miklós, I’m a coward.  Couldn’t tell you.

She’s the best of women, and she loves you
Just as much as any mother could.
You must always love her .  But I tell you:
She’s your stepmother.

It isn’t true!

Sorry from my heart, but it’s the truth.
Your real birth mother died when you were born–

You are lying!–

Why would I do that?–
She died in labor.  Ilona was her name.
Listen now.  I must go out to work.
There is no money.  Lajos is so kind.
You’ll go to him, he’ll help with your career.
I can’t support you both, you and your sister–
Sorry, half-sister–I want to keep you both.
Don’t you see, I didn’t want to tell you?
Tell uncle Lajos that you’ll go with him.

Wait.  There’s more.  How did my mother die?

Miklós, don’t you blame yourself.  There were
Complications–twins–one of them died.
If it had a cause, it was your brother;
God be thanked that one of you survived.

If we were twins, could God tell who was who?
Perhaps the wrong twin lived to kill his mother,
And Miklós died; perhaps I killed him too,
Hating my name and coveting another.

Child, this world is made of deaths and losses.
I have lost a friend, a loving husband,
Agica, a father and a brother,
You are not the target of it all.
Listen, do not turn away in anger–
Do not tear yourself–I know you will–
It was not your fault you had no mother;
No one can stay when death decides to call.

[One by one the mourners have been leaving, each after having given their shovelful of soil to the grave, and passing on the shovel.  ILKA covers her veiled face with her hands, then lifts the funeral veil and looks up to meet MIKLÓS’ gaze.  After a few moments’ silence, she nods her head, covers her face with her veil, turns, and follows the others.]

So my name must be Cain, and he was Abel;
I have the eldest curse upon me, then.
It’s justice that I’m banished from the table,
To live forever shunned by gods and men.

Monster I was in my nativity,
twin-bearing mother–and your murderer!
Whether my brother breathed, or he
came lifeless forth, I cannot say,
but in the blood and groans of torment there
they lifted me toward the day,
the little brute who gained the victory,
leaving a debt that others had to pay:
two lives, the price of me.

Poor boy, you’ve lost a father and two mothers,
A sister and a brother, in one day.

MIKLÓS [cynically]:
Can’t you see I’m a survivor?
You needn’t pity me, I’m strong.
Get off the cart, or be the driver.
Don’t worry, I will go along.

Scene ii

[A cafe in Budapest.  WAITER, CUSTOMERS.  GYULA the editor and ISTVÁN the violinist are having coffee.  ISTVÁN’S violin case is beside him.]

You Jews are always wailing about something.
István, my friend, why get so paranoid?
Look, Hungary has surely learned its lesson:
We’re Europeans now, there’s naught to fear.

Gyula, my friend, you are an idealist.
You won’t see what is staring in your face.
Look at this fellow now in Germany,
Listen to Hitler talking about race.

But listen to what Attila has to say,
The angry poet, who insulted me–
As all young communists insist on doing–
And then submitted to the magazine:  [gets out a manuscript and reads from it]

I am the world, what is and what is fading,
all nations that contend on hill and plain,
I die with every conqueror, invading,
and suffer with the conquered in their pain.
My heart swells with them, the past’s helpless debtor:
Árpád, Werböczi, Dózsa, and Zalán,
Rumanian, Turk, Slovakian, and Tatar,
gentle future of each Hungarian!

I can’t despair of our civilization
When I can hear such poetry as this.

[Enter LAJOS]

Sorry I’m late.  There’s trouble in the streets.  [ISTVÁN signals the WAITER, who brings coffee]

This is the man I wanted you to meet.
Lajos, may I present the editor
Of New Day, Gyula, my distinguished friend.
[to GYULA]
Lajos is, as I said, a capitalist,
One of those hated beings who keep us going
And pay the bills of poets and editors.

So you’re the uncle of this young man Miklós,
The budding poet we’ve been publishing.

[As they speak, a crowd of ARROW CROSS MEMBERS in makeshift uniforms begins to gather outside the café.  The first few verses of their song can be heard in the background.]

Yes, that’s the reason István had me meet you.
It’s all about the future of the boy.
I tried to find a place for him in textiles,
But he’s no talent in the clothing business.
All that he ever wants to do is write.
We’re trying to get him in the University.

I’ve talked about him with the Dean already.
The University of Budapest
Has filled its quota of permitted Jews.
But we can find a place for him in Szeged.
Szeged University is more relaxed.
He won’t get rich from poetry, but he’s
The type that wilts in any other life.

[The crowd bursts in and begins to harass the clientele.  Their song, a perverted use of the great anthem of Sándor Petöfi, rises to a climax, as they stamp their boots in time with the rhythm]

Magyars rise, the nation bids you,
Now or never, when she needs you!
Liberty or base subjection,
Choose: that is the only question!–
To the God of Hungary
Let us swear,
Let us swear, we shall be captives

Captive was our bleeding nation,
Cursed that ancient generation
Who in freedom lived and perished
Slave soil should not hold uncherished:
To the God of Hungary
Let us swear,
Let us swear, we shall be captives

Vagabond and faithless scoffer,
Who his death would fear to offer,
Who his ragged life holds finer
Than his homeland’s wounded honor:
To the God of Hungary
Let us swear,
Let us swear, we shall be captives

Brighter far is sword than fetter,
Fits a hero’s arm far better;
Chains are all the grace we carry!
Come to us, old sword of glory!
To the God of Hungary
Let us swear,
Let us swear, we shall be captives

Hungary, that name of beauty,
Ancient word for fame and duty,
We shall cleanse of her dishonor
Smeared by centuries upon her:
To the God of Hungary
Let us swear,
Let us swear, we shall be captives

[GYULA, LAJOS, AND ISTVÁN start to leave.  Before they exit, GYULA turns and reproaches the ARROW CROSS MEMBERS for defiling the words of Petofi.]

Shame on you, who with the letter
Of a poet and a better
Make your hate into your nation,
Spirit into degradation:
To the God of Hungary
Let us swear,
Let us swear, we shall be captives


Scene iii

[A few years later.  Szeged University.  Winter.  FANNI in a big coat is sitting on the steps of the lecture hall with a pile of books and periodicals.]

FANNI [throwing down a periodical:]:
This stuff is sentimental trash.
A masked tract for the money class.
Capitalists have paid for him
To set them up a looking-glass.
The peasants starve, but all he knows
Is Magyar pride and ancient blood,
And holy race and sacred land–
And all the myths of power and mud.


Fanni, the meeting’s in an hour.
We need your vote on peasants’ rights.
Police arrested four of us;
They’ll hold them for three days and nights.

Someone’s been talking to the spies.
I’ll come, but I won’t compromise.

[Exit  FIRST STUDENT; FANNI picks up another periodical.]

They’re cracking down on all the cells.
Trying to get the radicals.
The Franco-lovers using fear,
Trying to bring Franco here.


Father Sandor says he’ll speak.
Did you prepare the food report?
We’ve only got another week
To get the case before the court.

It’s done.  Don’t panic.  I’ll be there.
Just keep the cops out of my hair.

[Exit SECOND STUDENT; FANNI picks up another periodical]

Who’s this?  A poet from Budapest?
Didn’t he edit The Sweet Word?
He’s certainly quite self-possessed.
So he’s the one of whom I’ve heard.
This poor young man.  Such poetry!
He thinks he’s got the mark of Cain.
Someone should love him, so that he
Can find the world a home again.

[reads aloud]
Abel, brother, yesterday the primal crime awoke me:
I had murdered your snow-white dreams and damned I was urging myself
endlessly on down the night-darkening avenues of vainendeavor,
between rows of icy and dolorous trees toward the morning.

My sun-fragrant lands were weeping mistily after me,
my body in exile threw gasping onto my face the spotlight, the wounds,
the midnight woundings, the red roses of repentance; I implored
you, begged to purge the curse in the grand clasp of reunion.

He’s all alone.  His mother died.
Some poets commit suicide.

[reads aloud]
Oh I–
bare-legged child–
stood with my arms lifted high
under the sky;
white was the field,
crowded with ladybirds, stars in the rye!

And then whatever god I beheld
bended away his eye!

They say he is a student here.
If I could meet him, I would know
Ways to unclasp that grief and fear.
A poem on John the Baptist?   So. . .

[reads aloud]
Baptist, the man was acquainted with grief,
coming announced by an angel, his
dwelling a desert.

[As she recites, MIKLÓS enters unseen.  He is in a threadbare coat, with tattered second-hand books, the classic poor student..  He is entranced by the vision of the girl, and speaks to himself.]

Look at her hands!  they’re a flower
slain by the snow.  In her hair,
loosening, nestles a dove.
Look, it is Mary the fair!
she was already your lover:
this is the face of your love!

FANNI [continues reading]:
And woman he
knew not, but often till evening he
stood in the waters; his clothing was
woven of camel hair, girdle of leather,
locusts and wilderness honey his food.

MIKLÓS [Now he recognizes the words she is speaking as his own.]:
But these words that she speaks are mine.
A miracle.
[Speaks to her]
Miss Proserpine,
Will you allow the gloomy shade
Whose words you read, to thus invade
Your privacy, and let him pay
With coffee in the school café?

My name is not Proserpina, young man.
But you can buy me coffee if you can.
My name will be a gift to you from me
(Poets, they say, get everything for free);
It’s Fanni; I already know what’s yours;
Fame and a coffee–snares for sophomores.
Come to the meeting afterwards. We’ll see
If you are equal to your poetry.

[He offers his arm, and she takes it, in an old-fashioned gesture.  Exeunt]

Scene iv

[A lecture hall in Szeged.  STUDENTS, including MIKLÓS and FANNI, sitting or standing.  FATHER SÁNDOR, a Jewish-born Catholic religious leader who was later to abandon the Jews to their fate, is lecturing.  The sound of a chamber orchestra can be heard faintly through the open windows.]

Who, then, is the Hungarian poet?  Is he the malcontent, the naysayer, the mere negation of the status quo?  No, his spirit is more generous than that.  Is he the cosmopolite, the civilized man whose head, says Nietzsche, is full of knowledge-stones that roll about and knock into each other, the young man whose beard is prematurely grey?  No; the owl of Minerva takes flight only at dusk, and if we were only to see things clearly, we are at the dawn of our nation.  Is the Magyar poet the bourgeois, the capitalist?  No, but not for the reasons you expect.  Indeed, the rich man cannot enter the gates of heaven; but this is not because he is bad, but because he is sad–he is too heavily laden to get through.

Who is the Hungarian poet, then?  He is the hero who dies for freedom under the hooves of the Russian cavalry, as Sándor Petöfi did.  He is the prophet who speaks for the peasants, for the oppressed ones in their hovels on the Puzsta, for the mystical soul of the Magyar people.  He is Ady, Arany.  He is the bulwark of Europe against the barbarism and corruption and violence of the Orient.  He stood no doubt at the gates of Mohacs when the Turks were turned back; he played his lyre at the feet of King Matthias in the old court of Buda.  He is the one who is at home in this small green country.  And he is a Christian: not surely the narrow literal Christian of oppression, but the loving and generous Christian who understands the beauty of the Holy Family, the doves that murmured in the little house in Nazareth, the vines that clustered round the arbors of the virgin Mary, the frankincense that the Magdalen poured out upon our chaste savior’s feet.  That is the Hungarian poet.

Thank you.

[Applause.  A STUDENT rises to thank the scholar-priest for his address]

Thank you, Father Sándor, for a speech that has moved us all.  In these troubled times it is a miracle that we have a leader who so surely combines the religious with the poetic.  Thank you.

[More applause.  As it dies down, the STUDENTS begin to leave.]

Fanni, I have to speak to him.

You’ll find he is more words than deeds.
[Exit FANNI.  MIKLÓS stays behind and approaches SÁNDOR]

What you have said about the Magyar poet
Touches me like an angel, Father; you
Know how I’ve struggled to atone for how
My life was paid for with the dearest deaths.

I know, my son.  All the more sacrifice
In Christian love and service to the people
Is asked of those who have the greatest gifts.

This is a road I am prepared to take:
The road of Orpheus, to the underworld,
To bring back mother Hungary from the shades.
But in your speech you spoke of something else:
The taint of what is cosmopolitan,
Of what is not Hungarian in our song.
You gave us books from Paris for our food,
That showed how art and worship might be one,
How God is loveliest in the work of beauty,
And how the workers and the peasants hold
This secret firstly from the lips of Christ.
But these were French words, from the great world-city.
Is not the French word foreign to our tongue?
Orpheus was a Greek, Jesus a Jew.
Did you not speak once of your Jewish birth?
No one’s more true Hungarian than you.
And I–How can I be the Magyar poet,
Whose blood speaks in another tongue than his?

Do not confuse race, blood, and culture, son.
Abraham was a Mesopotamian,
But baptized in the fires of Elohim.
Likewise, the Jews were but a preparation
For that new baptism in the blood of Christ.
Christ came to free us from the bond of race
And turn our old blood into streams of grace.

But look at how the world groans in its torment!
Where is the freedom that we both desire?

We stand now at a new millennium
Of which the Church is but a preparation.
We will be new-baptised in Socialism
Where there will be no Christians and no Jews
But only lovers of the Christ in Man.
This age, then, is a time of signs and portents–
John the revealer spoke of it, a time
When there would be great wars and lamentation
Before the coming of the Son of Man.

What is the role of Hungary in this?

This little country is the crossroads of
The world, where Europe, Africa, and Asia
Meet in the agonizing cross of time.
This is the Nazareth, the new Judea,
Where the last baptism will soon begin.

These are the words that I have yearned to hear.
Father, I’ve told you all about my Fanni;
You’ve spoken of how love heals every sin.
Is this sufficient baptism for blessing?
Will you consent to bless our union then?

A blessing, yes, and one day there’ll be more.
[Exit.  After clasping the priest’s hand and bowing briefly over it, MIKLÓS remains, and in a moment or two takes out his notebook and begins to write. Two young ARROW CROSS MEMBERS come into the lecture hall, empty now but for MIKLÓS.  They see him there and jeer at him.]

Do we see
A filthy Jew?
Half for me
And half for you.
He’s the one
That took the place
Of the Hun
And his grace.
Do we see
A filthy Jew?
Half for me
And half for you.

[MIKLÓS stands and stares at them unafraid.  He walks toward them, and they part, momentarily taken aback.  As he leaves and closes the door behind him, they look at each other and then plunge after him.]

Filthy Jew!

Scene v

[A dreamy winter countryside scene.  FANNI and MIKLÓS in heavy coats, carrying signs reading “LECTURE AND POETRY READING”  “SOCIALISM FOR THE FUTURE,”  “THE SPIRITUAL COMMUNE”, etc.]

How did they like the poetry?
[They put down the signs.]

Not much, I must confess.
They liked the socialism better,
The symbolism less.
Peasants want electricity
And powdered milk, before
Expressionism, French esprit,
The modern troubadour.

Can’t you be serious, my love?
How can such blue, blue eyes
Look only on her lover’s folly,
And always analyse?

What would you have me say?
In words of love and praise
You have enough for both of us:
But trust this “blue, blue” gaze,
And trust this body, that can say
More than these lips can name.

You are the sky, the earth, the night, the day;
All else is but a game.

[As they circle the stage the blue-white winter light changes to gold-green, and the buds come out in the trees.  The young couple begin to shed their garments, one by one, until they are wearing light summer clothes.  There follows a choreographed fantasy sequence, in which they sing to each other their psalms of devotion.]

Look! on our frostbitten trees’ silvering
headpieces sits now the wind; among
floating-belled clock-towers begins
the long clanging of meek orisons!

The mild calf dripping with saliva
follows our wagon still; now no more,
though, wanders round our lips the angel-
winged antiphon of a white amen!

We’ve washed us in the wind! that sits
among the steeples on the trees, and in
those trees now silvering, with pagan eyes
and motley kisses we have brought the spring!

Look at our bodies!  how together swells
with bud the sweetening flesh!  how scorched and burned
with sunflung kisses and with joyful throats
like this, like this, we shriek demonically!

Through ravaged and lovetorn lips our words,
even, our spinning, our surcharged words,
englobe themselves into kisses, they
hide and go seek in our marvelling
eyes, behind elegant ormolu
eyelashes fade away soundlessly;
for they’re born to an exquisite gift,
psalmed visions, a sophistical kiss,
on whose thick trunk the yellow thrushes
in chattery fluttering couple.

Sometimes your warm little hands are
cold at the fingerpeaks, musical spires,
tips of my slender existence–as
rich in vaporous colors as
opulent kisses bestowed in silence–
lacily trimmed with your breathtaking sighs,
ardently taken, my big, white,
moist teeth chattering away in my head.

Pale demi-moons, only our fingernails glimmer;
eyes’ cumberous curtains are lowered, and we
play at our loving with hands that are blind;
for only thus will the violet birds
appear in the fog of the lamplight; if our
eyes, speechless, opened, they’d be walled by a mist:
now, demi-moons, only our fingernails glimmer.

You are trunk and root,
plenteous leaves and fruit,
and the cooling breeze,
the warm sun, ripening,

root that binds and heals,
blood that runs and trills,
slim and branchy bole,
O you wind-befriending,

leafdress of my limbs,
run into my arms,
blossom of my breast,
heart’s coverlet and cling,

you’re the waking sun
in the shining dawn,
fruit of all my leaves,
with me awakening,

as with me in deep
heart-enfolding sleep,
sweet peace of evening,
silent pulse repeating,

wordloveliness’s spring,
winged and feathered breath,
with spirit’s fluttering,

light within the shade,
brighter than a blade,
dark jewel in the light,
O smoky cloudying; . . .

. . . evelight as it glows
on your eyelids’ close,
rock me in your arms,
your body opening,

O blessing in life’s war,
smile hidden at the core,
who shall among my bones,
anciently whitening
on the cold earth’s stones,
hide you forevermore.


Scene vi

[A chapel, with a crucifix, a baptismal font. Enter FANNI.]

He said to meet them here.
How primitive, this place!
Yet Miklos is sincere,
He thirsts for heavenly grace;
It’s not done out of fear,
Fear has in him no place;
He finds that death so dear [looking at the crucifix]–
The knighthood of that face.

My card says I’m a Jew,
A member of a race;
For me there is no Jew,
Only the human race;
No Christian or Hindu,
No ghostly bugaboo,
But only me and you
And matter, time, and space;
Miklós, I’m here for you.


My son, there’s still time if you would turn back.
No reservation should becloud your soul.
When I took Christian vows and bent my neck–
The stiff neck of the folk of Abraham–
I knew that I must die to the old man,
And rise, as shriven Paul says, to the new.

I’m ready.  Jesus, Rabbi, lead me now,
That I may lead the rough words of the tribe
Into the holy sacrifice of love.
My first birth was dear paid for with two deaths;
Let your death on the cross redeem all three.

O poet, live as clean as those
hilldwellers in their windblown snows,
O live as free of sin
as baby Jesus in
an ikon where the candle glows,

as hard as the great wolf who goes
wounded and bleeding through the snows.

[SÁNDOR bows to MIKLÓS, goes over to thde font, and prepares his vestments and book for the ceremony.]

I’ve come as you demanded.  Miklós, listen:
Good Father Sándor’s right.  There is still time.
Don’t do this out of fear.  My family
Is powerful, and can protect you from
The parasites that seek to take your life.
And do you think that baptism will change
Their hatred for the race of Jesus Christ?

Fanni, I know you say these things from love,
And don’t believe them. If it were not for you,
I wouldn’t care a penny for my life.
I take this step to join the savior’s death,
And join the human race, that my cruel birth
Has made me stranger to.  So help me here.
Be my good angel, and pray this for me:
let not the brownly-burning smoke of fear
soil or besoot my word’s white purity!

You are a poet, and reality
Is just a dream.  But I will say the prayer.
We’re both believers in humanity.
Go: Father Sándor’s waiting over there.

[MIKLÓS goes to the baptismal font.  Music perhaps reminiscent of the funeral in scene i, over which can be heard the words:]

Ego te baptizo in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritu Sancto.


Scene i

[A street in Budapest, some years later.  ISTVÁN and JUDIT enter from one side, MIKLÓS from the other.  MIKLÓS is plainly preoccupied with a poem, and does not notice his friend and his beautiful companion.]

Miklós!  What, don’t you recognize your friends?
You must know Judit, the photographer.
She quite admires you.  Don’t you care at all?

István loves to embarrass me.  But yes,
Even newfangled artists like myself–
I guess you’d say I am a kind of chemist–
Admire the work you’ve given to the world.

Apologies.  It’s always this way with me
When a new poem’s bursting to be born.

It’s your fault, you insist on the old ways.
It’s not enough for you to rhyme and scan.
You must be always combing of the classics
To find the most impossible of meters,
And digging up old Magyar songs and dirges
When the times call for something new and urgent.

I love the long lines of old Greece and Rome
And those mad pentatonic tunes they sang
In ancient Hungary at market-fairs.
István, my friend, I know you love them too.
You hate what’s easy, timely, and in vogue,
And you despise that academic noise
That has no melody to enchant the ear;
And I’ll not write the cheap free verse that chops
The slovenly first words that strike the thought
Into a parody of lines.

The poets
Of that fashion may be right, despite us.
Look at the chaos of the modern world.
Inflation, unemployment, riots, wars.
Fascism raves in Spain and Germany.
Maybe we need a broken song to match
The shattered image of the century.
You’re puzzling with anapests and dactyls
While Rome is burning and the poets die.

MIKLÓS (turns to ISTVÁN ):
The poets die?  Who is it now, my friend?

Didn’t you hear?  They shot García Lorca
In Gránada.

Loved poet of Hispania,
true lovers sang your poetry,–
and so what else could they,  the others, do,
you were a poet,–than murder you.
The people fight their war alone: heia,
Federico García!

Isn’t it time we turned to politics?
There is a time for poems, a time for power.

In New York in his tawdry lodging
T tied a noose about his breath:
what end to homeless wandering
for him that wandereth?

In Prague JM found suicide to flee
the homeland of his homelessness;
and PR never writes to me:
dead roots perhaps cover his nakedness.

He was a poet-errant, went to Spain
where mists of pain have dimmed his eyes; in life
that poet, loving freedom, would be fain
to use his voice, but for the shining knife.

Can he give voice before the infinite,
an exile, chained amid the strife,
at the road’s end, a man, finite,
can he give voice to life?–

when blood runs from the lamb’s white teeth,
when raw flesh feeds the snow-white turtle-dove,
when snakes hiss on the road beneath,
and the mad wind howls above.

I fight the Hitlers with hexameters.
That’s all I can do.

Miklós, listen now.
You’re living an illusion of the poet.
The reason that they hate you isn’t that
You fight for freedom, that you will not kill,
That you’re the Magyar poet, the humanist,
The patriot, the classic European.

István is right.  Why keep up the pretence?
They hate you as a Jew.  And if they win,
You won’t die underneath the cavalry,
A hero like Petöfi, but in jail,
Or in a back street or a midnight ditch.

MIKLÓS [dreamily]:
I’ve known it many years, you needn’t tell me.
There is a place, where some great river flows
Through marshes under bird-encircled skies
Into some greater water, like the Acheron.
I know that’s where I’ll lie.

I stumble in the dark
down to the marshy bay,

down to the marshy bay,
and no one comes with me,
no more they come to me,
the passion and the dance;

no more they follow me,
my velvet-muzzled deer;
I wade the dolorous fens,
steam seethes upon the mere;

steam seethes upon the mere,
I sink, I founder there;
above, bedraggled, sway
two condors in the air.

Then don’t accept your fate.  Escape, or fight.

Let me explain.  Whatever comes, will come.
It is for me to play out what I must.
Perhaps it’s an illusion, as you say.
Some time ago I stayed awake all night.
It was my birthday, I was twenty-nine.

Sleeplessly I lay there in the turning
and the sway of vertigo,
on my eyelids weary lights were falling,
then a sudden rain, and in its flow
the night welled up, its chilly welter
washed a star onto my window,
drove the torpid moths indoors for shelter;
one moth drifted down, so evanescent,
one deathless star looked in at me;
how many years have I been present?
Twenty-nine?  a snow-white entropy
lifts me up, caresses me,
a frail flake in the wind’s soft pressure,
rocked in its dreadful leisure languidly.

So I rose.  A vague and spectral dawning
walked the hunchbacked hill’s illusion;
standing at my window in the morning,
had I twenty years left?  ten?  or maybe none?
Does it matter what the number?
–not as if you had collected
cold possessions in this little chamber,
fine possessions–nothing evil ever
took its root in your desire;
still they hunt you, whether knife or cancer,
does it matter?  Say perhaps the fire
needs your poems in the end,
say you never touched the lyre,
the unborn poems would whistle in the wind.

See, the moth is dying, but the starry
light lingers through time and tide;
a mighty river pours unceasingly,
its marshy delta sighs, the ripples glide,
the waters dream, and from the flow
of brilliant swaying reeds floats up
toward the sun a roseate flamingo.

You’re incorrigible.  God protect
Such poets, when they won’t protect themselves.
[to JUDIT]
But Judit, we have kept you from your work.
Aren’t they waiting at the studio?
[to MIKLÓS, who is plainly disturbed by JUDIT]
You look quite pale.  Let’s get a cup of coffee.

[Exeunt MIKLÓS and ISTVÁN.  JUDIT starts off quickly, then stops, staring after the others.]

Now there’s the real poet:
Oblivious to the real.
Only he can know it,
The world he would reveal.
What man, though, in ten thousand,
Would bare himself this way,
Ignore all whys and hows and
Ifs, to say what he would say?
I take a grey reflection
Of truth in all its greys,
But he in his white fiction
Gives color to the days.
If such a man might have me,
I would have such a man;
And if he did not love me,
I’d make him, if I can.


Scene ii

[MIKLÓS alone in the apartment he shares with Fanni.  He is writing poetry.]
The door clucks once and there she is.  The thing
has all the flowerpots a-pattering,
and in her hair a sleepy blondish streak
like a scared sparrow falls to chirruping;

the old electric cord gives out a shriek
and gets its torpid body-muscle going–
I can’t keep track of it, the whole room’s flowing.

She’s just got back, and she’s been gone all day.
There in her hand a poppy-petal’s glowing,
which she will use to chase my death away.

Let’s see if it’s the way it’s in the poem.
She should be back from teaching any minute.
The tram stops at the corner, she gets out,
A dove flies down beside her, and she smiles;
She takes the stairs, and fumbles for the key. . .

[Enter Fanni.]

And here she is.

You’ve been writing poetry again.

And you’ve been working to support my habit.

You’re in a funny mood.  You’re happy, but
There’s something dark about your happiness.

I’m happy about you.  When you are here,
The knife upon the table settles down.
Death Angel in the closet is too scared
To try to peel my skin off when I’m sleeping.
Lorca is dead.

Oh Miklós; and I know
How much you hoped that one day you would meet.

Our poems float up in the winds, and tangle.
They draw up armies from the earth, unending.
Enough of this, my love.  Come sit by me.
[She comes and sits in his arms.]

In your arms I’m rocking, rocking,

In my arms you’re rocking, rocking,

In your arms I am a boychild,

In your arms I am a girlchild,

In your arms you hold me tightly
when I’m scared;

When my arms can hold you tightly,
I’m not scared.

When you’re holding me, not even
death’s huge hushaby
can frighten me.
In your arms through death as dreaming
I will fall so

FANNI [Stands up]:
But Miklós, I can’t save you from your death.
You know that.  We must be more practical.
My father’s making preparations–banks
And passports.  Even beasts and birds take shelter
Or fly to other lands when winter comes.

I am a Magyar poet.  What other country in the world
Can understand this sad old Asian tongue?
I know not what to strangers this dear landscape might mean,
to me it is my birthplace, this tiny spot of green;
ringed now with fire, it was, once, my childhood rocking me;
I grew there as a fragile branch from the parent tree;
O may my body sink back to that life-giving soil.
This land is home to me: for if a bush should kneel
before my feet I know its name just as its flower,
I know who walks the road, whither and at what hour,
I know what it might mean if reddening pain should fall
dripping some summer dusk down the lintel or the wall.
For him who flies above it, a map is all he sees,
this living scape of being but symbols and degrees;
the reader of the maplines has neither known nor felt
the place where the great Mihály Vörösmarty dwelt;
what’s hidden in the map? yes, barracks, mills, and arms,
but for me crickets, oxen, steeples, quiet farms;
with field-glasses he marks the crops and industries,
but I, the trembling laborer, the forest trees,
the twittering orchards, vineprops with their tended grapes,
and the old granny in the graveyard where she weeps;
and what is targeted as rail or factory
is just a lineman by his signal-box to me,
and children watch him wave his red flag for the guard,
and sheepdogs roll and tumble in the foundry-yard;
and in the park the trace of loves who once loved me,
the honey taste of kisses sweet as bilberry,
and on the way to school you’d not step on a crack,
lest you’d forget your lesson, or break your mother’s back;
the pilot cannot see that paving-stone, that grass:
to see all this, there is no instrument or glass.

For we are guilty too, as others are,
we know how we have sinned, in what, and when and where;
but working people live here, poets in innocence,
breast-feeding infants with their dawned intelligence,
and one day it will brighten (hid now in safety’s dark)
till peace shall write upon our land its shining mark
and answer our choked words in sentences of light.

With great wings cover us, O guardian cloud of night.


Scene iii

[A street in Budapest, a few months later.  Wartime: propaganda posters, air raid shelter signs, recent bomb debris.  MIKLÓS and ISTVÁN meet, apparently by arrangement.  MIKLÓS and ISTVÁN are wearing the yellow Star of David.]

István, I don’t know how you got away,
But you’re a true friend.  Is the coffee shop
Still standing?

ISTVÁN [indicating the rubble]:
Yes, don’t worry, this is nothing.
Our Budapest so far remains unscathed.
It’s Guernica in other capitals.
This was just a bomb that went astray.
[Sees an official envelope in MIKLÓS’ s pocket]
What’s that?  I hope, not what I think it is?

MIKLÓS [Takes it out: and gives it to him]:
You’ve seen these things before.  My ticket to
The underworld, the notice I’ve been drafted.

A funny word, that, “drafted.”  Sounds heroic.
Of course they mean a Jew slave labor gang.

MIKLÓS [in his fey, cynical mode]:
So are we going to celebrate as usual?
“Miklós the poet, Human Minesweeper.”
They walk you through the minefields, so I hear,
To clear the way for Christian Magyar warriors.
There’ll be a party, yes?  And will that girl,
That actress, is she, or photographer,
Will she be there?  She makes the poets dance
And doesn’t seem to mind the madness here.

Judit, you mean?

The urban shepherdess.

But Fanni?

She’s my duty and my fate.
What meaning is there in this savage world?
Why should I play the noble sufferer?
[points to his Yellow Star]
They’ve turned me to a lower form of life,
A monkey in the human family tree.

The gibbering palm tree
is where I’d rather be,
earth body shivering,
heaven soul cowering.

I’d sit up in the tree,
ringed with monkeys scholarly;
sharp voices glittering
would rain on me.

I’d learn their melody,
we’d sing in harmony;
I’d wonder merrily
how nose and bum could be
so blue, so equally.

A giant sun is burning
above our loaded tree;
and shame I would be learning
for all humanity.

The monkeys would know me:
their brains are whole and free.
Were I to share their dwelling,
a good death’s healing
mercy might be given me.

I’m not sure that I like the realist
As much as the heroic man of dreams.
It seems you’re set on monkeying about.
So come on then.  At least it won’t be boring.

Scene iv

An open-air tavern garden under linden trees.  Evening.  Long trestle tables, decorated with leaves and flowers.  Wine, candles, bread, sausage, laughter, flirtation.  Young male and female WRITERS and ARTISTS are giving a send-off for MIKLÓS.  Banners, with inscriptions such as: BON VOYAGE MIKLÓS, SEND A POSTCARD FROM THE EASTERN FRONT, HONEST WORK FOR A CHANGE, COME BACK WITH BOTH FEET, etc.  JUDIT, FANNI, GYULA, and ISTVÁN are present. PARTYGOERS are humming the melody of what will later break forth in words as the cat song.  MIKLÓS leaves FANNI’s side and goes over to sit with JUDIT.  Some of the PARTYGOERS notice, and call out, mockingly, “Oooh!”  FANNI hangs her head.]

It feels like my last supper.

They all mean very well.

But must I be the victim?

Someone must go to hell.
So send the Jewish fellow,
The one who won’t rebel.

But I must do my duty.

Why play it by their rules?

I am a Magyar poet.

So poets are all fools?
Escape while you’re still able:
Believers are just tools.
This world is made for loving,
For pleasure and for life,
Take what you need, that’s offered,
By mistress if not wife.
Be Jewish, if they force you,
Be clever like us Jews;
Who’d blame us for dishonor
That was not ours to choose?

Ah, Judit of the lilacs,
You are my pastoral muse!
[Sings to himself]
Pastoral muse, O help me!  now shrieking the horns of the morning
blow together!  with rich and vaporous timbre they sing of her
form, how her body blazes, a slender smilet will flash in her
eyes, from her lips there passes a dancing sophistical sigh, how she
moves, how she takes her embrace, how she stares at the moon in the sky.

Pastoral muse, O help me!  to chant the old song of love, for for-
ever the talons of pain, the grief of the world they pursue me,
ever and always renewed!  and soon, O soon I shall die.  The
trees are twisted, the salt and sulphurous domes of the underworld
sink and collapse, in my dreams the masonry shrieks in the wall!

Pastoral muse, O help me!  this age must murder its poets… the
sky is falling, no gravemound will mark the place of our dust, no
arched and beautiful Attic krater shall keep it, but perhaps
one or two poems shall remain?… and of love, O love, may I write? her
body glimmers toward me, help, help, O pastoral muse!

You’re thinking about Paris.
I know that small sad smile.
Tell me again of Paris,
An exiled Francophile.

Where the Boul’ Mich’ meets the Rue
Cujas the corner slopes perceptibly.
Lovely wild youth, I have not left you,
your voice, like echoes in a gallery,
a shaft, beats through the caverns of the heart.
At Rue Monsieur le Prince the baker plied his art.

In the park, leftwards, one of the tall
trees has shimmered yellow to the sky
as if it felt the chill of Fall.
Liberty, long-thighed nymph, O lovely shy
one clad in your dusk-goldening chemise,
are you still hiding in the veiled, the shrouded trees?

The drums of summer marched and beat,
sweated, and raised the dust upon the road.
Cool vapors followed; soft and sweet
from both sides now a subtle fragrance flowed.
Noon was full summer; cool in the evening
with rainy brow the autumn came a-visiting.

I took my pleasures where I found
them, like a child, or like an erudite
old sage who knows quite well the world is round.
How green I was!  my beard was snowy white.
I wandered where I would and no one frowned.
Then I descended to the torrid underground.

Where are you now, echoing metro stations:
DENFERT-ROCHEREAU–sounding like imprecations?
Maps flowered on the dirty walls.  How long,
how long!  I cry out.  Hush, I’m listening:
that smell of sweat and ozone starts its whispering.

And O the nights!  the nightly wandering
from the far outskirts to the Quartier!
And shall the strangely clouded dawn yet bring
to Paris once again those pales of grey
when I’d undress for bed so sleepily,
dazed and still drunk with writing poetry?

Had I but strength, O would I might go back
against the heavy current of my fate!
The vile cafe downstairs employed a black
cat that climbed the rooves to copulate.
And shall I hear again that yowl and croon?
That was the very moment that I learned how great
a din there was when Noah swam beneath the moon.

JUDIT and PARTYGOERS [whose hummed melody now breaks into words]:
The moon drools on the crossed window-slats;
like minor demons wait the tousled cats.

Over the roof the light’s a golden caul;
enter the tomcats, for their ritual.

Slouching they come, vibrating, ruthless, dark.
Seven hounds are here; far off a hundred bark.

The rasping shriek of engines low on oil:
above the hounds the cats’ fine caterwaul.

The dogs don’t figure it–what is this pain?
why does the light bloom by the wall and drain?

–for dogs have never really understood
how the hot moon is thus suffused with blood.

Not so the cats.  Sated with nuptial spawning,
they hunt the shadows joyfully till morning.

[The party breaks up in tears, laughter, and embraces.  MIKLÓS and FANNI do not leave together.]

FANNI [Alone.]::
He wrote that song for me.  Paris was ours,
The cats, the small hotel.  What have I done
That he should give the Paris that we shared
To someone new?

Scene v

[A draft recruiting center.  Lines of DRAFTEES wearing the Yellow Star are being processed by OFFICIALS at folding tables.  New arrivals are being separated brutally by GUARDS from their wives, friends and relatives, mostly female, who are then being kept back behind a barricade.  MIKLÓS comes in, accompanied by both JUDIT and FANNI, who keep their distance from each other. Relations are clearly strained, and there are no expressions of affection or grief–except that FANNI weeps silently when MIKLÓS is taken behind a screen  for a medical examination.  Behind the screen the men must strip and submit to inspection, after which they are hustled out.  As the action takes place in mime, the recorded voices of the chorus and soloist can be heard.  Reprise of the musical theme introduced at the funeral of Miklós’ father at the opening of the opera.]

A great but hidden anger clung in my heart before,
like seeds as brown as negroes within the apple-core;
I knew an angel watched me, a great sword in his hand,
to care, protect and follow me in danger’s shadow-land.

But he–who has awoken, a ghost in that brutal dawn,
when everything’s in ruins, and he must be up and gone,
his body almost naked, his few things left behind,
whose lovely lightstep heart must now learn to find
the cryptic musing humbleness of an older man–
rebels against things other than he did when he was free,
strives toward the future, the glow of liberty.

I never owned possessions and now I never shall.
Think for a moment: life’s so rich and prodigal;
I bear no anger in my heart, would not avenge the wrong;
always the world rebuilds; though they forbid my song,
in the new wall’s foundations my word will sing and be;
now it’s for me to live out what there’s left to me. . .

. . . and I will not look back now, for neither memory
nor magic will protect me from these omens in the sky.
Turn from me when you see me, friend, throw up your hands.
Where once an angel with a sword stood guard,
now, perhaps, no one stands.


Scene vi

[The study of FATHER SÁNDOR.  He is seated at his desk, reading a breviary, when there is a knock at the door.]


[Enter FANNI, obviously distraught.]

Why, Fanni, it is good to see you here.
You look upset, my daughter.  [jocosely]  All is well,
I trust, between the famous poet and you?
If he’s mistreated you I’ll have him horsewhipped.

It’s serious.  They’ve taken him away.

And who is “they,” my child?

The army draft.

I understand your feelings, but you know
That every man must serve his country when
The call comes to defend the motherland.
Millions of girls must bid their men goodbye.

But you don’t understand.  He is a Jew.
They treat us differently.  Jews do not fight
But die in mines or of exposure on
The open road, infections are not treated,
They’re carried without water in closed boxcars,
They march them over minefields at the Front.

Where did you hear all this?  It sounds alarmist;
It’s propaganda by the enemy.

We talked with some who came back, and who saw.

And if they were on leave, they were not dead.
War is not easy. Men can understand
And not get too upset by warriors’ tales.

They aren’t warriors, Father, they are slaves.

I can’t get into politics, my daughter.
I’m sure there are abuses here and there
In any human institution, when
The harsh necessities of war command.

I’m begging for your help.

What can I do?

You’re influential.  He’s a well-known poet.
Exceptions could be made.  I hate myself
For going to these measures, but the loss
To letters, to the art of Hungary,
Must surely weigh with those who guide the State.
He is a patriot; his voice is needed
To help our fight for national survival.

If I could intervene, which I can not,
My efforts, misinterpreted, would cast
A diplomatic scandal on the Church.
All our good efforts to bring peace would suffer.
You don’t know what you ask.  I was a Jew.
I should be seen as merely partisan.
If I should try to help, not one but two
Important voices were discredited.

FANNI [on her knees]:
I beg you.  You’re a man.  Isn’t there something
That I can give you that would change your mind?

You love him very much, my child, to so
Humiliate yourself as you do here.
The true man of the cloth cannot be bribed.

FANNI [gets up to leave]:
You have been bribed by fear.  These times are not
A preparation for the test of souls:
They are the test itself. No, don’t stand up.

[Exit..  Fade to black.]

Scene i

[A railroad station in Serbia.  PRISONERS supervised by GUARDS, including 1ST GUARD, are laying railroad tracks, among them MIKLÓS, whose face is bandaged with a makeshift poultice and who is obviously in pain.  On the platform a detachment of SOLDIERS with their LIEUTENANT are waiting for a troop train.  The troops are singing while they wait, unconsciously matching their rhythm to the clang of the tracklayers’ hammers.]

Magyars rise, the nation bids you,
Now or never, when she needs you!
Liberty or base subjection,
Choose: that is the only question!–
To the God of Hungary
Let us swear,
Let us swear, we shall be captives

That’s the spirit, lads; let’s show
The Russians to the door.
Soon the train for Kossovo
Will take us to the war.

Brighter far is sword than fetter,
Fits a hero’s arm far better;
Chains are all the grace we carry!
Come to us, old sword of glory!
To the God of Hungary
Let us swear,
Let us swear, we shall be captives

[Enter 2ND GUARD, with two new SLAVE LABORERS.  One of them is ISTVÁN.  He still carries his violin.]

István, my friend!  They took you, too!
[He breaks the restraint of 1ST GUARD, who tries to stop him, and embraces his friend]

How sad a meeting, but how dear
The man I meet.  Can it be you?
[indicates the bandage]
But you are ill  Why are you here?

Nothing heroic, though the pain
Is equal to a hero’s wound.
I’ve got an abcessed tooth again,
Can’t eat unless the food is spooned.

This man’s not well.  He needs sick bay.

1ST GUARD [laughing]:
Sick bay, he says.  Now that’s a joke.
A private room and a bouquet
For gentry of the hook-nosed folk.
Why did we need two fresh ones here?
We wore the last two out, that’s why.
There is a cure though, never fear.
The anaesthetic’s easy: die.

I’ll put you on report. Neglect.
He is an ailing serviceman.

[1ST GUARD clubs ISTVÁN down with his gun butt.  The violin is smashed in its case.  MIKLÓS, enraged, attacks 1ST GUARD; both 1ST and 2ND GUARD fall upon MIKLÓS, knock him down, and begin clubbing and kicking him.]

LIEUTENANT [who has been watching these events with increasing interest]:
Where is our Magyar self-respect?
This brawling is barbarian.
[Fires his pistol in the air and intervenes]
Leave him alone!  Attention, you!
Call yourselves soldiers?  A disgrace.
You have sunk lower than a Jew
To strike a sick man in the face.
Get up, you two.  [To MIKLÓS]  I know your name.
Miklós Hunyadi, isn’t it?
I heard you read once.  Lord, how fame
Hangs on this scarecrow from the pit!

Yes it is I, sir.  I’m the twin
Who died and went to hell, and sing
Out of the flames you find me in.

LIEUTENANT [inspecting MIKLÓS’ jaw}:
A dentist should pull out that thing.
We’ll get you to the hospital
At Nagyvarad.  Though we’re at war
That shouldn’t make us cynical.
A Magyar poet needs a jaw.
Quick, sergeant, get him out of line
And book him in.  I’ll countersign.


Scene ii

[The garden of the military hospital at Nagyvarad.  Perhaps in front of the curtain, with an apple tree in blossom, pink-blue light.  MIKLOS, evidently healing up, is reading in a garden chair by a table.  Enter FANNI.]

You’ve come.  Oh Fanni, then, have you forgiven me?

What is there to forgive?  You were afraid.
An animal will seek for sanctuary
Wherever there’s a corner or a shade.
You were so brave, and wouldn’t tell me then
How dreadful was the hell that they have made.
I know it now.  What mysteries are men.

Of course all that is over.  You are right.
I simply ran for cover from the light.

How is your tooth?  And are you still in pain?

The doctors here have patched me up again.
Of course that means they’ll send me back tomorrow.
Come sit down here and let me look at you.
The apple-blossoms have no word for sorrow.
I had forgotten eyes could be so blue.

Petals on your mouth are falling
from apple boughs through the bright air,
one by one the last flakes twirling
fall upon your eyes and hair;

all day upon your mouth I’m gazing
while branches sink above your eyes;
on that soft glow the light is grazing
which, when it’s kissed, awakes and dies

and vanishes; you close your eyes;
shadow plays upon your lashes,
transient petal where it lies,
and baseless darkness falls like ashes,

falls, but do not be afraid:
the night’s a silver serenade,
the tree of heaven is unfurled;
the moon stares on a crippled world.

[Fade to black]

Scene iii

[Curtain rises, to reveal the slave labor camp of Lager Heidenau.  MIKLÓS is writing a letter to FANNI while around him the PRISONERS, including ISTVÁN, are asleep in their bunks.  He speaks his letter in an unscored normal voice while the sleeping prisoners hum a scored accompaniment.  Distant explosions and flashes of artillery fire.]

Dusk; and the barracks, the oak stockade with its hem
of cruel wire, they are floating–see! they melt in the night.
The faltering gaze unlocks our frame of captivity
and only the brain can measure the twist of the wire.
But see too, my love, only thus may the fantasy free itself:
dream the redeemer dissolves the wreck of the body,
and off they go homeward, the whole campful of prisoners.

Snoring they fly, the poor captives, ragged and bald,
from the blind crest of Serbia to the hidden heartland of home!
The hidden heartland.–O home, O can it still be?
with the bombing? and is  it as then when they marched us away?
and shall those who moan on my left and my right return?
Say, is there a country where someone still knows the hexameter?

As thus in darkness I feel my way over the poem,
shorn of its crown of accents, even so do I live,
blind, like an inchworm, spanning my hand on the paper;
flashlight, book, the lager guards took away everything,
and the mail doesn’t come, and fog descends on the barracks.

Amid rumors and pests live the Frenchman, the Pole, loud Italian,
the Serbian outcast, the musing Jew in the mountains:
one life in all of these tattered and feverish bodies,
waiting for news, for a lovely womanly word,
for freedom–for an end how dark soever–for a miracle.

On boards among vermin I lie, a beast in a cage;
while the flies’ armies rest, the fleas renew the assault.
It’s night.  Confinement’s another day shorter, my love;
life, also, is less by a day.  The camp is asleep.
The moonlight rekindles the landscape, retightens the wire;
you can watch through the window the shadows of guards with guns,
pacing, cast on the wall in the many voices of night.

The camp is asleep.  See their dreams rustle, my love;
he who startled up snores, turns in his narrow confinement,
falls asleep again, face in a shine.  Alone, awake,
I sit with the taste of a cigarette-end in my mouth
instead of your kiss, and the melting dream doesn’t come, for
I neither can die nor live any more without you.

[His head gradually comes to rest against the wall near which he is sitting; slowly the light of dawn comes up, as the orchestra repeats the prisoners’ theme. Suddenly a bell starts clanging to announce another day’s work, and the PRISONERS rouse themselves.  ISTVÁN comes over to MIKLÓS.]

Have you decided?  They’ll announce today.
They’ll march the younger ones to Budapest,
–The under-thirty-fives–or so they say;
The older ones, the sick, and all the rest
Will stay on till the situation’s clear.
I’ve talked it over with the partisans.
The Russian tanks are getting very near.
Your fate may now be in your own two hands.
If you lie now about your age, my friend,
So as to take the forced march overland,
And that is what you told me you intend,
You’ll miss the chance of rescue we have planned.
The Serbian partisans can set us free
And we can join the Russian victory.

How can I join my nation’s enemy?
And what becomes of Fanni, if they know
Her husband is a treacherous runaway?
They’re bombing Budapest, she needs me; so
I’m marching with the first group, come what may.

What loyalty can you still feel for those
Who sent you here in chains and in dishonor?

Their honor’s theirs.  Of mine I am the owner.
Honor’s not given one, but what one owes.
A poet of Hungary, my words are debts.
If I can go to Fanni, I’ll have no regrets.

You’re mad.  But if you go, then I’ll go too.
A fiddler can be crazy as a poet.

No, you can’t do this.  I will not allow it.

Just watch me.  There is nothing you can do.

[Enter CAMP COMMANDANT with a bullhorn, SERGEANT, GUARDS.  The PRISONERS fall into line.  Out of their hearing, the soldiers exchange a few words.  No music.]

Whatever you do, don’t let them know they’re really going to Poland.

I doubt if any of them will make it that far, sir.  They’re a miserable lot.  The trash they’ve been sending us the last few months.  And they’re getting surly.

But if they think they’re going to Budapest, they’ll be good.  And maybe if some of the tough ones make it to Auschwitz, you’ll get promoted.  [turns on bullhorn, raises it to his lips]   Attention.  All those qualified for leave in Budapest, step forward.  [About half the PRISONERS step forward, including MIKLÓS and ISTVÁN.]   Sergeant Kadar here will be in charge of the transit.  You will obey him and the guards as you would me.  That is all.

[The SERGEANT lines up those destined for the evacuation and marches them out.  Curtain.]

Scene iv

[JUDIT’s apartment.  The windows are covered with sheets; it is both a hideout and a darkroom.  Negatives hung up to dry.  JUDIT is developing photographs in a dim red light.]

JUDIT [holding up a print]
This was the one I took of him
By Balaton, on the last day.
They always start to miss their wives,
And the next thing, they’ve sneaked away.
But still he left me with the poem,
The one no wife could ever hear;
The poet always can go home,
But always leaves his spirit here.
You were my precious secret;
I hid you in my leaves
as trees their ripening fruit;
like flowers the cool ice weaves
on winter’s mirror-pane
you blossomed, to transmute
the chambers of my brain;
I know now what it means
when your hand leaps to your hair,
the way your ankle leans
I guard within my heart;
that arch of ribs so fair
I marvel at, as cool
as one who late lay where
breathes such a miracle.
Yet often in my dreams
I have a hundred arms
and like a god of air
I hold you in those arms.

[There is a soft knock on the door.  JUDIT, startled and afraid, drops the photograph, looks around for a hiding-place, then decides to bluff.]

Who is it?  I’m developing.
Official work.  You’ll spoil the prints.

FANNI [offstage]:
For God’s sake, let me in. It’s me.
The Nazis nearly caught me by the river.

Fanni?  You must be mad.  Come in.

[opens up, letting a shaft of light fall on the negatives.]

They’re ruined.  Never mind.  You’re all a-shiver.
You’re soaking wet.  I thought you were in Buda.

[She covers FANNI with a robe.]

The bridges are all guarded, so I swam.
The Danube is so cold this time of year.
The others are all gone, you were the last.
There’s no news there. Do you get letters here?

From Miklós, do you mean?  You could have died.

Of course from Miklós.  Is he still alive?

How would I know?  He has gone back to you.

That’s over now.  We must help him survive.

We’ve heard no news.  There’s nothing we can do.

I know he’s trying to get back.  He’s dying.

What do you mean?  Miklos can never die.

You know it’s ending.  There is no denying.
You were the realist.  Now is it I?
All three of us are caught out in our lying. . .

[JUDIT bursts into tears]

Oh yes, poor girl, this is the time to cry.

[The two women cling together.  Curtain.]

Scene v

[On the march.  MIKLÓS  in a tattered overcoat, with a staff, GUARDS with guns, and chorus of other PRISONERS.  The same musical theme, perhaps, as the “I know not what to strangers” passage in II.ii. and the “memory nor magic ”  passage in II.v.]

Crazy.  He stumbles, flops, gets up,          and trudges on again.
He moves his ankles and his knees          like one wandering pain,
then sallies forth, as if a wing           lifted him where he went,
and when the ditch invites him in,            he dare not give consent,
and if you were to ask why not?           perhaps his answer is
a woman waits, a death more wise,           more beautiful than this.
Poor fool, the true believer:           for weeks, above the rooves,
but for the scorching whirlwind,           nothing lives or moves:
the housewall’s lying on its back,          the prunetree’s smashed and bare;
even at home, when dark comes on,          the night is furred with fear.

[MIKLÓS stumbles to a halt, and sits down.  Other prisoners pass him, until ISTVÁN appears and waits with him while he rests.]

Ah, if I could believe it!           that not only do I bear
what’s worth the keeping in my heart,           but home is really there;
if it might be!–as once it was,           on a veranda old and cool,
where the sweet bee of peace would buzz,     prune marmalade would chill,
late summer’s stillness sunbathe          in gardens half-asleep,
fruit sway among the branches,          stark naked in the deep,
Fanni waiting at the fence           blonde by its rusty red,
and shadows would write slowly out          all the slow morning said–
but still it might yet happen!           The moon’s so round today!
Friend, don’t walk on.  Give me a shout           and I’ll be on my way.

[A GUARD enters, and seems about to club MIKLÓS to his feet with a gun-butt.  ISTVÁN helps MIKLÓS to stand up, and they march on.  Blackout.  Music continues, but its theme changes to an apocalyptic and biblical note.  Lights come up again, but with a different mood–dreamlike and supernatural.  MIKLÓS now marching by himself, in a cone of isolation.  In his exhausted delirium he is visited now by a vision of the PROPHET NAHUM, who joins him and keeps pace with him.]

Hail to you, you who keep pace on this wild and mountainous passage,
blessed old man, are you lifted by wings?  or do enemies hunt you?
Lifted by wings, it is zeal that kindles your eyes into lightnings;
hail then, O patriarch, now I can see you are one of the ancient
mighty-wrathed prophets: but tell me, master, which one of them are you?

Which of them?  Nahum I am, who was born in the city of Elkos,
I it was thundered against that lewd city, Assyrian Nineveh,
thundered the word of the Lord; a sack full of wrath have I been to them!

What you have written endures; I know of your ancient fury.

So it endureth.  Yet wickedness flourisheth more than before, and
what is the purpose of Elohim no man hitherto knoweth.
Thus spake the Lord: the mightiest rivers shall dry up and dwindle,
Carmel itself be cast down, the flower of Basan and Lebanon
all shall be withered and languish, the mountains shall tremble, fire shall
swallow them all.  And all was fulfilled.

And now the swift nations
slay one another, the human soul stands as naked as Nineveh.
Then to what purpose the exhortations, the hellish green clouds of
the locusts, what purpose?  when humans are baser than animals!
Here and elsewhere they smash on the walls the innocent infants,
steeples are torches,  homesteads flower as furnaces, householders
roast in their embers, in smoke the factories rise up and vanish.
Streets full of people on fire go galloping, sink with a rumble,
hugely embedded the bomb-burst shatters masses asunder;
shrunken as cowpats on fields in the summer, the dead are lying
piled in the plazas and squares of their cities; and as it was written
all that you prophesied now is fulfilled.  But say, what brought you
back to the earth from the primal dustcloud?

Wrath: that forever
orphaned the children of men must serve in the hosts of the blasphemous,
shaped but not natured like men–and that I might see the unclean
citadel’s fall and unto these latter days speak and bear witness.

This you have done.  And of old the Lord spoke in your writings:
woe to the tower of prey, where the bastion is builded of corpses.
Tell me, though, how is it possible after so many thousand
years that the flame of your fury blazes on unabated?

Ages ago the Lord touched my deformed mouth with a coal of
fire, as He did the wise Isaiah, with a fluttering ember
caused my heart to confess; the coal was alive, it glowed, an
angel held it with tongs, and “behold, here I am,” I uttered,
“Call on me too to proclaim thy eternal Word; command me.”
He whom the Lord hath sent, no age nor passing he knoweth,
neither knoweth he peace, for the coal his lips it burneth.
What is a thousand years to the Lord?  but a fleeting season!

Father, how young you are!  truly I envy you.  Who am I to
measure your years beyond mind with my handful of summers?
Just as the pebble is ground to a round by the rush of the river
so am I worn out already, in even so flitting a lifetime.

So thou believest.  But I have considered thy poems: thy venom
keepeth thee whole.  The wrath of prophets and poets is kindred,
food for the people, and drink!  Who will may live on it, even
unto that Kingdom promised to us by the young disciple, the
rabbi who came to fulfill the Law, to fulfill our prophecies.
Come and proclaim with me, that already the hour approacheth,
even now that Kingdom groaneth in birth-pains.  What is the
purpose, I asked of the Lord?  behold, it is the Kingdom.
Take to the road, let us gather the people, call thy wife to thee,
Take thee my staff, a companion unto the feet of the wanderer;
give unto me thy staff, even that one there that is knotted;
that should be mine, for I love best the staff that is knotted.

[They exchange staffs, and the PROPHET fades and disappears.  Blackout.  Again the music changes, this time to a pastoral theme, reminiscent of the early romance between MIKLÓS and FANNI.  A tawdry, sentimental backdrop of an arcadian landscape with sheep, a shepherdess, and a lake, but in the distance towers of smoke and flame.  MIKLÓS is sitting with other prisoners, including István, writing poetry into a cheap black Serbian address book.]

MIKLÓS [as he writes]:
At nine kilometers: the pall of burning
hayrick, homestead, farm.
At the field’s edge: the peasants, silent, smoking
pipes against the fear of harm.
Here: a lake ruffled only by the step
of a tiny shepherdess,
where a white cloud is what the ruffled sheep
drink in their lowliness.

Do you know where we are?

I think so.  We’re near Lake Balaton.  I recognize it from a vacation we took here once.  We’re not going to Budapest, it seems.

You don’t seem very worried about that.

I knew it some time ago.  We’re not going to any earthly city.

[Blackout. When light appears again, it is monochromatic black and white, preferably a strobe-like flickering.   Dead silence.  Action in mime.  The  PRISONERS are standing about, hardly moving because of exhaustion.  ISTVÁN falls beside MIKLÓS, who tries to help him stand;  ISTVÁN falls again, and a GUARD shoots him, with a soundless flash.  ISTVÁN tries to move and get up, and the GUARD shoots him again.  This time he does not move.  MIKLÓS falls down beside him.  Blackout.]

Scene vi

[After the war.  The site of the mass grave in which MIKLÓS and his companions were buried.  A clear morning light.  Near the confluence of the Danube and the Rabca, a place of marshes, reeds, and river meadows, with huge willows, distant poplars, the calls of high, circling birds.  A PEASANT with a spade, and a local CONSTABLE are sitting and smoking pipes on a pile of  freshly dug earth; nearby is a row of what are obviously corpses, covered up with sheets of burlap.  Enter GYULA .]

Good morning.  Are you Constable Bolond?

CONSTABLE [getting up]:
I am.  You must be Doctor Várady.

And these were all the bodies that were found?

We dug around.  We found what you can see.

Which is the one you thought that I might know?

This one, the third one down.  You want to look?
It’s eighteen months.  There’s not much left to show.

The one whose coat contained the little book?

CONSTABLE [drawing aside the burlap]:
This one right here.  He hardly smells at all.
There wasn’t much to rot.  It’s typical.

GYULA  [looks at the skull, turns away in disgust and grief, murmurs to himself]:
Horrible, horrible,
that what was one world now spins into two!
or is it wiser so?  The corpse knows all.
Protect, O Lord, the pathways of the soul.
[to the Constable]
You have the notebook there?  And can I see it?

CONSTABLE [gets out the Serbian address-book from a brown paper envelope]:
It’s here.  I’ll read what’s written in the front,
Just to confirm. It’s in five languages:
Hungarian, German, English, French and Russian.

“Please send this notebook, which contains the poems of the Hungarian poet Miklós Hunyadi, to Dr. Gyula Várady, editor of New Day, Budapest, Istenhegyi Street 42.  Thank you in anticipation.”

You’re the same Várady, the editor.

I am.  Please let me take it to his widow.
[CONSTABLE hands it over.  To himself:]
And can I open it, my dear old friend?
How strange that you foresaw this place, this scene,
These willow-trees, the birds, the reeds, the fen.
Let’s see, how does it go?

I stumble in the dark
down to the marshy bay,

down to the marshy bay,
and no one comes with me,
I wade the dolorous fens,
steam seethes upon the mere;

steam seethes upon the mere,
I sink, I founder there;
above, bedraggled, sway
two condors in the air.

Enough delays.  The notebook’s soaked with mud
And what must be the fluids of corruption.
There are ten poems here.  This was the last.

I fell beside him and his corpse turned over,
tight already as a snapping string.
Shot in the neck.  “And that’s how you’ll end too,”
I whispered to myself; “Lie still; no moving.
Now patience flowers in death.”  Then I could hear
“Der springt noch auf,” above, and very near.
Blood mixed with mud was drying on my ear.

So that was how it was.  The string
That snaps must be poor István the musician.
Notes from the underground?  Here’s one called “Root.”

Root, now, gushes with its power,
rain to drink and earth to grow,
and its dream is white as snow.

Earthed, it heaves above the earthly,
crafty in its clamberings,
arm clamped like a cable’s strings.

On its wrists pale worms are sleeping,
and its ankles worms caress;
world is but wormeatenness.

Root, though, for the world cares nothing,
thrives and labors there below,
labors for the leafthick bough;

marvels at the bough it nurses,
liquors succulent and sweet,
feeds celestially sweet.

Root is what I am, rootpoet
here at home among the worms,
finding here the poem’s terms.

I the root was once the flower,
under these dim tons my bower,
comes the shearing of the thread,
deathsaw wailing overhead.

I think it shows you cannot kill a poet.
He was a twin, they say, and one of him
Will always dwell up there among the gods.
He has become the stars of Gemini.
His words are in my brain, and girls and boys
Unborn shall learn them off by heart.
How does it go?  [as he recites the lines, a hidden chorus joins him in a  final moment of triumph.  The voices of JUDIT and FANNI can be heard in the chorus.]

Say perhaps the fire
needs your poems in the end,
say you never touched the lyre,
the unborn poems would whistle in the wind.

See, the moth is dying, but the starry
light lingers through time and tide;
a mighty river pours unceasingly,
its marshy delta sighs, the ripples glide,
the waters dream, and from the flow
of brilliant swaying reeds floats up
toward the sun a roseate flamingo.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *