Attila József

Welcome for Thomas Mann

Like a tired child who’s been bathed and fed
and has now reached his peaceful bed
still begs “Don’t go. Tell a story”
(so the dark night won’t burst in a hurry),
and while his little heart anxiously beats
he knows not which of two treats
he wants more, the story or that you stay,
so we ask you to tell us a story today.
Tell us like you do, because you are just,
about how in spirit you are joined with us
and of how together with you we stand
who possess concerns worthy of man.
You know well how the poet feels:
tell what’s true, not just what’s real,
the rays of light that illuminate our mind,
since without each other we’re all blind.
As Hans Castorp looked through Madame Chauchat’s chest,
let’s look through each other and see the best.
Your gentle voice always rises above the clatter—
tell us of beauty and the problems that matter
and lift our hearts from mourning to desire.
As you’ve heard, poor Kosztolany’s life has expired,
and mankind, as did he with his cancerous fate,
struggles with more than one monstrous state;
with dread we wonder how we might be betrayed,
from where will new beastly ideas invade,
is there a poison brewing that soon we will face—
for readings like this, will there still be a place?
The point is, when you speak, we don’t fade,
the men remain as men are made,
the women, women, kind and free,
and all of us human, though that’s dwindling rapidly . . .
Have a seat. Kindly start to tell your tale.
We will listen, enthralled, all without fail,
and some of us will happily gaze at the sight
of a European amongst the white.




In my eyes grief dissolves;
I ran like a deer;
Tree-gnawing wolves
In my heart followed near.

I left my antlers
A long time ago;
Broken from my temples,
They swing on a bough.

Such I was myself:
A deer I used to be.
I shall be a wolf:
That is what troubles me.

A fine wolf I’m becoming.
Struck by magic, while
All my pack-wolves are foaming,
I stop, and try to smile.

I prick up my ears
As a roe gives her call;
Try to sleep; on my shoulders
Dark mulberry leaves fall.

Translated by Vernon Watkins


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