Become a Message: Poems

Become a Message: Poems

by Lajos Walder

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Become a Message: Poems by Lajos Walder


Poetry. Translated from the Hungarian by Agnes Walder. Exuberant and witty, poignant and severe, trenchant yet lighthearted, Lajos Walder's poems cut to the quick and stay with you. Reading them is like reliving an era long gone and, at the same time, learning to see our own world with new eyes. For Lajos Walder's "message" speaks to us as directly today as it did to his contemporaries almost a century ago: "…that apart from thieves and murderers // there are also human beings." For the first time, Lajos Walder's complete extant poetry is made available in English, superbly translated by the poet's daughter Agnes Walder, who also provides a beautiful afterword, and with a passionate foreword by Scots fellow poet Don Paterson.

"Walder (1913-1945) might be a little-known mid-20th century Hungarian poet, but that has little to do with his talent ... Nothing is too big or too small to be noticed, and this transcendence of self allows Walder to make grand gestures without sounding archaic or pompous ... Walder endows smallness with heavy meaning, propelling the poems forward and giving them heft ..." —Publishers Weekly

"Why might we want to read these poems from a young poet of the 1930s in Europe? Firstly, we have a chance to hear the voice of a poet apparently too dangerously outspoken to be allowed to be heard in his lifetime ... But most importantly, Lajos Walder's poetry, modern and urgent, committed to its craft, written against its own times, composed on the run, touched by personal and larger histories, is an example of the white-hot way poetry can emerge from a life. This is an exciting book to read." —Kevin Brophy, Text

"Rarely have I been smitten by a poet, but in Lajos Walder (1913-1945) I have been swept off my feet. [His] poems, translated by his daughter, Agnes Walder, capture the art of a rare mind, who surveyed his times with an awareness as dark as Franz Kafka's and a humour as light as Milan Kundera's ... [A] gift of poems, which I am certain will have a very long life in English." —Rachael Kohn, Australian Jewish News & ABC Radio National, Austrlalia

"[Lajos Walder] has neither ancestor nor partner in Hungarian literature. He is a poet, without a doubt a lyricist through and through, yet one whose every line and every poetic breath is pure heresy, pure rebellion against accustomed forms of poetry." —Gábor Thurzó

"[Lajos Walder] was the most credible voice to express the times between the two world wars. Without this artist's entirely individualistic voice, the overall picture of that period is incomplete." —Géza Hegedüs

"Enough cannot be said regarding Lajos Walder's free verse of beauty, clarity, and precision. His poetry sings its message through his ideas, imagery, frankness, and humanity ... I find it unbelievable that I had never heard of this great, timeless poet. Lajos Walder's poetry elevates our minds, lifts our hearts, and awakens our humanity. He speaks to us as if he were our contemporary. Thank goodness we have these 100 poems that pour into our being ... life-giving, life-affirming ... becoming part of us. Here is a book to be cherished and read again and again ..." —Benjamin Franklin Book Award Citation

"Here, in this poet we see worlds ravel and unravel. Passionate, exuberant, comic, tragic. Playful and serious. The mind moves in many voices, is intelligent, and seeing. The pages leap with life, fire, desire. A truly talented poet at work. The reader cannot but be infected and transformed by the poet's world, revelations and depth." —Benjamin Franklin Book Award Citation

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781935830306
Publisher: Upper West Side Philosophers
Publication date: 09/08/2015
Edition description: Translatio
Pages: 218
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)

About the Author


Lajos Walder is considered to be one of the most significant modern Hungarian poets. Born in Budapest in 1913, he died in May, 1945, shortly after walking through the opened gates of the liberated concentration camp of Gunskirchen. Under the pseudonym "Vándor"—meaning "wanderer"—he published two volumes of poetry during his short life: Heads or Tails (1933) and Group Portrait (1938). His substantial poetic legacy of unpublished manuscripts was saved from the Nazis by his family, who emigrated to Australia in 1957, and is now appearing for the first time in its entirety in English translation.

Read an Excerpt

Become a Message

Poems


By Lajos Walder, Agnes Walder

Upper West Side Philosophers, Inc.

Copyright © 2015 The Children of the late Dr Lajos Walder
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-935830-30-6



CHAPTER 1

GATHER AROUND YOURSELF


Tour Guide as Foreword


Reader, you're now entering a museum
to observe a stranger (Group Portrait of Myself )
who has absolutely no idea about the meaning of his life (Mr. Somogyi).
He would like to scratch his head (The Head)
but not even that would help the future (Horoscope).
He realized that it was all in vain (Short Lyrical Oration),
even fairy tales prove a sad example (Animal Tale),
and the war is coming closer and closer (Information).
The seasons have passed over him (Obligatory Spring Poem),
and though he lives here (Budapest),
he is fleeing towards the stars (Legend in Prose).
He thinks of the plants as his siblings (Family Event),
and the animals, too, are of more interest to him (Mooky)
than HOMO SAPIENS (Lost Generation),
who is making ready to kill. (Peace)

Love rarely happens (Expedition),
though when he was an adolescent (Manhood)
he thought women were all different (Parliamentarianism),
but by now he only feels desire (Reverence)
and disappointment (Commemorative Plaque).

Lajos Vándor has lived twenty-four years to date (Typewriter),
yet has lived through humanity in its entirety (World History),
and even if he wasn't conceived in Original Sin (Blood Pact),
he, too, is just human (The Human)
and not a millionaire (Poem of the Unemployed).
He traveled the paths alone (Arm in Arm),
he was alone, and he will continue alone (First Person Singular)
because wherever he went (Traveling)
only the scenery changed (Study Tour):
he remained a picture frame (Art Gallery)
and a soul in uniform (Budapest Division).


I AM A WANDERER


— a modern monk
who wanders in a double-breasted suit.
All things I like just equally;
in the fields I dream about houses,
and in the city about evergreen pines.
I am a wanderer of millennia,
in Rome a Goth,
a German in Flanders,
I wore a toga and the Order of the Garter,
and wherever I was
I was always a stranger —
and at home, too — always just a stranger.
I am a wanderer — a frivolous modern poet,
an ode I write for as little as two pengos,
and let this quiet, simple offer of mine
not offend literary ears:
for ten pengos, a four-page short story
I will personally home-deliver.

I am a wanderer — a modern monk
who wanders in a double-breasted suit.
I was a trader in the temple of Jesus
and a publisher in Academia —
I was always the other and always a stranger,
always other than my own self:
in Rome a Goth,
a German in Flanders
on paper the writing,
in writing the letter,
in the fields I roofed houses,
onto the asphalt I sowed the seeds,
and even to myself I am a stranger:
because I was a German fighter in Flanders
and armistice in war —
I was always wholly other than myself,
the monk who wanders in a double-breasted suit.

In Rome I recited Greek poems,
kissed the hands of hetaerae —
I was always the other and always a stranger;
a petit-bourgeois in the nightclub
and in the soup kitchen a dandy.
I am a wanderer — a modern monk
who wanders in a double-breasted suit,
who would have liked to walk naked,
and knots his tie with care.
I was always the other and always a stranger,
always other than my own self:
in Rome a Goth, a German in Flanders
on paper the writing, in writing the letter —
in the fields I roofed houses,
onto the asphalt I sowed the seeds,
and even to myself I am a stranger.

I am a wanderer — a modern monk,
the lone wanderer of the eternal other.


RIDING ON CLOUDS


I am my moods' cuckolded Don Juan,
and half of Europe has fallen pregnant
from my daydreams.

Yesterday, the rising Sun
found me in flagrante with the Moon
and turned the horizon crimson
with embarrassment.

I didn't give it another thought,
and a couple of hundred steps on
approached a young cloudlet.

She was still a virgin,
and I hurriedly made her an offer —
lest someone else should beat me to it.

Then her face suddenly grew overcast,
fat teardrops fell from her eyes,
and when, half an hour after a domestic storm,
the sky cleared and
I hung my drenched heart
on top of the Eiffel Tower to dry,
I got to thinking
that once every streetwalker was a cloudlet.

This thought completely reassured me,
and I decided
not to run after Ladies in the sky anymore
because there are more than enough good-looking women on earth.


WE, THE TWENTY-FIVE LETTERS OF THE ALPHABET


We, abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvxyz,
the twenty-five letters of the alphabet,
sadly draw our conclusions
about the current turn of events in Europe
and are willing, if need be,
to proclaim a general letter strike
even onto the forty thousand letters
of the Chinese alphabet —
if the European nations
do not alter
the top-secret foreign policy directives
handed to their ambassadors.
We, who equally serve the British Empire
and the Hungarian Monarchy,
the Third French Republic and the Russian Soviet,
accuse the chief editor of the world's conscience
of successively committing
the gravest printing errors.
We, who in Germanic or Latin shape were present
in every declaration of war and every peace treaty of the West,
accuse the historiographers,
who, by falsifying the history of humanity,
want to write bloody national chronicles.
We, who have been a Courths-Mahler romance
and the Zarathustra,
a Shakespeare comedy and a tragedy by Racine,
protest against the new declarations of war,
whose plans can already be detected
in every nation's war ministry.
We, the twenty-five letters of the alphabet,
who, thanks to the good work
of lead miners and type casters,
are in the music books
of Swedish kindergarten children
and in Italian anatomy books,
who are in the Bible
and in the identity papers of war amputees,
protest against every enciphered telegram
and every political swindle,
which we know about but which others are not aware of
because:
we do not want to appear again
as names on the casualty lists
that the widows and orphans
will read through tear-filled eyes.
We, the twenty-five letters of the alphabet,
from 'A' through 'O' to 'Z',
demand world peace and demand equality before the law
and, having relinquished our autonomy,
are willing to shrink to a mere four letters
so that, in place of the pornograph and detective novels,
we may burn into human eyes one word:
'Love'.


FAMILY CHARACTERISTICS

You, my father, who gave the initial speed
to a perpetual motion
which one fine day
will turn into scrap metal within me,
and who from the atoms of your body
brought about
my first molecule
in spite of the fact that
you had not the slightest intention to do so —
I must confess —
this deed of yours is extremely dear to me!
It is no filial gratitude
which bows before you
under the influence of an archaic writing —
rather, the mind praises
the mindlessness
that brought about
your pleasure
and my life.
Because it takes courage
to seek our pleasure
if it's forbidden —
but if it's a permitted
pillage of the fruit,
then it stiffens one's spine,
since one submits to desire
with a thinking mind.
I bow before you,
you mustachioed
dead old man,
who heedlessly
fertilized
the worry in my mother,
and I believe
that through great new joys
I, too, will become
father and man!


INTERVIEW

Entirely free verse.

Strictly speaking, nobody is going to believe this —

in the afternoon, when Lajos Walder arrived home,
he was informed by his mother —
forty-seven years old
    and her legs aching —
    that someone was waiting for him
in the dining room.

The aforementioned, without a word, took off his coat —
    they had bought it
    four years ago
    in Rákoczi street,
    the shopkeeper
    first said 156 pengo
    but afterwards
    let them have it for a hundred —
and went into the bathroom.

He washed his hands over the bathtub —
    the landlord
    had a new one installed
    in the spring
    because they had lived
    in the house
    for the past nineteen years
    and were decent tenants —
dried his hands and entered the dining room.

"Good afternoon," he said in a polite voice,
"I am Lajos Walder."
A momentary silence followed —
    "Il pleut, il pleut bergère,"
    sang his brother
    in the hallway —
then the stranger spoke:

"DELIGHTED," HE said briefly, "GOD."

Lajos Walder knew what war meant,
his father had been at the front

for four years —
    as for one of his uncles,
    he was caught by
    a Romanian vanguard
    and cut into eighteen pieces,
    or perhaps it was
    nineteen —
in other ways, too, he had a few experiences,
so he did not lose
his composure.

For a moment, he still hesitated
then the reporter woke in him —
    he wrote fairy tales
    for children's magazines
    and contributed colorful reports
    to weekly periodicals —
he reached into his drawer, took out some paper
and rummaged for a pencil.

"YOU WANT AN INTERVIEW," said a smiling GOD. "AS A RULE HUMANS ASK BORING QUESTIONS. I HOPE YOU WILL NOT BEGIN A SINGLE ONE WITH 'WHY', AND, ANYWAY, THERE ARE A FEW QUESTIONS WHICH, FOR HIGHER REASONS, I WILL NOT BE ABLE TO ANSWER."


"Sir," said Walder quietly,
"I am no longer an inexperienced reporter
who would harass you with such questions as
why are we alive?
what is the goal?
from where?
to where?
etcetera ...
because such things, for the most part,
are of no real interest to the reader,
and even if they were,
bearing in mind censorship,
the editor would cross them out anyway —
besides, I have far more
interesting questions,
for instance:

to what do we owe this honor?"

"A FEW SECONDS AGO," HE said, "I HAD SOME MATTER TO ATTEND TO, AND I INADVERTENTLY LET GO OF THE CAVEMAN'S HAND; AND SINCE THE POOR CREATURE WAS HELPLESS BY HIMSELF, I WAS CONCERNED THAT HE MAY HAVE PERISHED."

"I do not understand ... that a few seconds ... ago ... humanity's existence ... amounts only to that much ... But, the age of Earth is accurately estimated at two billion years, even according to the sages and the Hindu philosophers it is that, roughly speaking."

"THIS IS ONLY A RELATIVE VIEWPOINT," replied GOD, "EARTH — COMPARED TO THE LIFE OF MAN, IS INDEED TWO BILLION YEARS OLD."

"I understand ... I fully understand," said Walder, "... and how do you like him, Sir, the human, and what he created?"

"PLEASE DO NOT WRITE THIS, BUT CONFIDENTIALLY I CAN TELL YOU THAT IT IS AFTER ALL PECULIAR WHAT THE NEWSPAPERS SCRIBBLE ABOUT THE HUMAN MIND'S CREATIVE POWERS, SINCE MAN HAS INVENTED NOTHING — HE MERELY DISCOVERED WHAT HAS ETERNALLY EXISTED. NEW THINGS — HE HAS NEVER CREATED, ALWAYS JUST A PIANIST OF PHRASES, HE COPIES THE NOTES FROM MY INFINITE SCALES, AND THAT'S HOW HE PLAYS."

"Sir," stuttered Walder with a heavy heart, "what you are saying is tantamount to blasphemy — against — humanity, according to this, everything is in vain, and even Newton solved only one line of the Giant Crossword Puzzle."

"YOU SPOKE CORRECTLY," came the gentle reply, "ALL THE TRIUMPHS OF THE HUMAN MIND CONSTITUTE BUT A FEW LINES OF ETERNITY'S INFINITE MONOLOGUE."

"Sir," said Lajos Walder, hopeful — the first mariner had long ago circumnavigated the Cape of Good Hope and proudly reflected on how powerful man is — "could you not leave me with a heavenly sign so that people would believe me when I tell them: you were here and commented thus?"

But by then there was no one else in the room, and for dinner he ate scrambled eggs, Lajos Walder, chief editor of humanity.

GOD, on the other hand, hurried directly to a Conference on Star Issues to listen to the complaint of Uranus, whose territorial integrity was being threatened

— by a stray comet.


ARM IN ARM

Nowadays
I walk arm in arm
with myself.

People
look curiously
at this mysterious couple

and do not know

whether
the woman is kept
or
the man is a gigolo?

I exchange glances
with those women
who have

masculine eyes

my partner
looks at those men

who can gaze femininely.

And this is how we stroll
among the bankrupt shops
and the purchasing opportunities
of the boulevard —

and what we dream about
is
that once
every human

was two humans:

a woman
and a man.


REVERENCE

I mourn every woman
who lives and is not mine

because for me they are dead.

I tie a long black veil
onto my desires
and immediately notify
my sense organs
about the calamity.

As a punishment:

I will not dream about them anymore,
and since I caught them in the act
with someone else

I immediately commence
divorce proceedings

against — my imagination.


SHORT LYRICAL ORATION

I am the last ambassador
and the last depot
of ideology-free
European literature.

My castles in the air
are no longer airtight,
and starlets
blur before me
the real stars.

In vain I toll
my feelings' manufactured
death bell —

that Europe is a sinking ship
and I do not want to drown
in salt water —
that the sons of Gandhi in India
are steaming the salt
to national colours

and before long
the sea will be saltless.

I am therefore not angry
with anyone
because if I were angry
it wouldn't matter,

since today everybody
is his own publicity chief,
printing error
and female cousin —

love itself falls under luxury tax,

and among the many places of worship,
little by little,

they lose God.


TELEPHONE

Any second now I can make contact
through the electric circuitry
of European Nations.
All I have to do is ask the telephonist,
and I can even call South America
from here — my room.
I can find out the exact time
and which exhibitions are on

because today they installed a telephone
in our home.

The appliance is untouched,
I haven't yet called anyone and no one has called me,
and I'm still pondering
who should be first on my list.

I could call aunt Gizelle,
it's her birthday tomorrow,
and there's no way I'll be able to congratulate her in person;
or, I could call up my tailor
to find out when he'll be sending my overcoat,
promised for yesterday.

I could, but I won't.
The appliance is still silent.
There is no current going through it,
and I feel that the first call
should be to someone more significant than these ...

because, look — you might not understand it —
for me this black machine right now
represents civilization.
I've got it. I'll call up Mussolini, or Eden,
and explain to them:

Look, Gentlemen, you are both family men,
unlike Hitler.
So, let's talk intimately for once
as fathers, husbands and sons do —
especially because it's about
fathers, husbands and sons.

I'm well aware there is a ton of goodwill
in you both, it's just that the rules
of international diplomacy are somewhat rigid,

so make yourselves comfortable.

Mr. Eden, why don't you take off your hard collar,
and you, Signor Mussolini, loosen that gun belt
around your belly just a notch.
(Apologies, perhaps that word isn't appropriate,
because for someone so high above the rest of us
you might not even have a belly).


Gentlemen, let us at last have a good chat,
though you don't even know who I am!

I'll tell you:

I am the representative
of approximately 150,000,000 young European men
who, in the absence of physical impairment,
are fit for military service.

Now do you understand me?!
Because, please, believe me,
it amounts only to this:
that we talk to each other as human beings,
Mr. Eden, Signor Mussolini —
then it will most certainly not come to pass
that one of us shoots first — at the other's child,
since that would make him a common murderer!

See, we've already made progress
because a well-meaning person
can always make himself understood by the other.
Animosity — irreconcilable, bloody animosity —
only occurs between two soldiers
pointing bayonets at each other,

but only until they are wounded —
then they're human beings once more.

That's what I would say
to Mussolini or Eden
if I, the petit-bourgeois,
could also have a say in the fate
they are planning for me.
But, unfortunately, it cannot be.

The telephone is still untouched,
and since I want to act in the spirit of our times:

I should make the first call to the lunatic asylum.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Become a Message by Lajos Walder, Agnes Walder. Copyright © 2015 The Children of the late Dr Lajos Walder. Excerpted by permission of Upper West Side Philosophers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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