23 October 2011

In memory of the 1956 Uprising

A Sentence about Tyranny by Gyula Illyés

Where tyranny exists
that tyranny exists
not only in the barrel of the gun
not only in the cells of a prison

not just in the interrogation block
or the small hours of the clock
the guard's bark and his fists
the tyranny exists

not just in the billowing black fetor
of the closing speech of the prosecutor,
in the "justified use of force"
the prisoners' dull morse

not merely in the cool postscript
of the expected verdict
there's tyranny
not just in the crisp military

order to "Stand!" and the numb
instruction "Fire!", the roll of the drum,
in the last twitch
of the corpse in the ditch

not just in the door half open
and the fearful omen,
the whispered tremor
of the secret rumour

the hand that grips,
the finger before the lips,
tyranny is in place
in the iron mask of the face

in the clench of the jaw
the wordless O
of pain and its echo
and the tears

of silence-breeding fears,
in the surprise
of starting eyes

tyranny supplies
the standing ovation, the loud
hurrahs and chanting of the crowd
at the conference, the songs

of tyranny, the breasts
that tyranny infests,
the loud unflagging
noise of rhythmic clapping,

at the opera, in trumpet cry,
in the uproarious lie
of grandiose statues, of colours,
in galleries,

in the frame and the wash,
in the very brush,
not just in the neat snarl
of the midnight car

as it waits
outside the gates

tyranny permeates
all manners and all states,
its omnipresent eyes more steady
than those of old Nobodaddy,

there's tyranny
in the nursery
in father's advice, in his guile,
in your mother's smile

in the child's answer
to the perfect stranger;

not just in wires with barbs and hooks
not just in rows of books,
but, worse than a barbed wire fence
the slogans devoid of sense

whose tyranny supplies
the long goodbyes;
the words of parting,
the will-you-be-home-soon-darling?

in the street manners, the meetings
and half-hearted greetings,
the handshakes and the alarm
of the weak hand in your palm,

he's there when your loved one's face
turns suddenly to ice
he accompanies you
to tryst or rendezvous

not just in the grilling
but in the cooing and the billing,
in your words of love he'll appear
like a dead fly in your beer

because even in dreams you're not free
of his eternal company,
in the nuptial bed, in your lust
he covers you like dust

because nothing may be caressed
but that which he first blessed,
it is him you cuddle up to
and raise your loving cup to

in your plate, in your glass he flows
in your mouth and through your nose
in frost, fog, out or in
he creeps under your skin

like an open vent through which
you breathe the foul air of the ditch
and it lingers like drains
or a gas leak at the mains

it's tyranny that dogs
your inner monologues,
nothing is your own
once your dreams are known

all is changed or lost,
each star a border post
light-strafed and mined; the stars
are spies at window bars,

the vast tent's every lamp
lights a labour camp,
come fever, come the bell
it's tyranny sounds the knell,

confessor is confession,
he preaches, reads the lesson
he's Church, House and Theatre
the Inquisition;

you blink your eyes, you stare
you see him everywhere;
like sickness or memory
he keeps you company;

trains rattling down the rail
the clatter of the jail;
in the mountains, by the coast
you are his breathing host;

lightning: the sudden noise
of thunder, it's his voice
in the bright electric dart,
the skipping of the heart
in moments of calm,
chains of tedium,
in rain that falls an age,
the star-high prison-cage

in snow that rises and waits
like a cell, and isolates;
your own dog's faithful eyes
wear his look for disguise,

his is the truth, the way
so each succeeding day
is his, each move you make
you do it for his sake;

like water, you both follow
the course set and the hollow
ring is closed; that phiz
you see in the mirror is his

escape is doomed to failure,
you're both prisoner and gaoler;
he has soaked, corroded in,
he's deep beneath your skin

in your kidney, in your fag,
he's in your every rag,
you think: his agile patter
rules both mind and matter

you look, but what you see
is his, illusory,
one match is all it takes
and fire consumes the brake

you having failed to snuff
the head as it broke off;
his watchfulness extends
to factories, fields and friends

and you no longer know or feel
what it is to live, eat meat or bread
to desire or love or spread
your arms wide in appeal;

it is the chain slaves wear
that they themselves prepare;
you eat but it's tyranny
grows fat, his are your progeny

in tyranny's domain
you are the link in the chain,
you stink of him through and through,
the tyranny IS you;

like moles in sunlight we crawl
in pitch darkness, sprawl
and fidget in the closet
as if it were a desert,

because where tyranny obtains
everything is vain,
the song itself though fine
is false in every line,

for he stands over you
at your grave, and tells you who
you were, your every molecule
his to dispose and rule.

From Hungarian Quarterly

Translated by George Szirtes

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