Reading: Harbach 1944 by János Pilinszky

János Pilinszky (1921-1981) was an Hungarian poet who served in the Hungarian army in the Second World War. His work has been translated by Ted Hughes and János Csokits. Warning: I read a very dark and graphic poem:

Harbach 1944
I keep on seeing them: a shaft
rears and the moon is full –
there are men harnessed to the shaft.
It’s a huge cart they pull.

They are dragging a massive wagon,
which grows as the night does,
their bodies split between the claims
of hunger, trembling, dust.

They bear the road, the horizon,
the beet fields shivering,
but only feel the burdening land,
the weight of everything.

Their neighbors’ fallen flesh
seems stuck into their own,
as in each others’ tracks they sway,
to living layers grown.

Villages keep clear of them
and gates avoid their feet.
The distances approaching them
falter and retreat.

Staggering, they wade knee-deep
in the dark, muffled sound
of clattering clogs, as if unseen
leaves carpeted the ground.

Silence accepts their frames. Each face
is dipped in height, as if
straining for the scent of troughs
in the sky far off.

And like a cattle-yard prepared
for the herded beasts outside
its gates flung open violently
death, for them, gapes wide.

This translation from the Hungarian by Clive Wilmer and George Gömöri is clean enough for me. What can we say about a wagon full of dead bodies (their neighbor’s flesh) pulled by emaciated men through the darkness? I really don’t feel like a theoretical contextualization of this story. I want to hear it, feel it, let it be.

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