Two Attila József poems for Mother’s Day

We’re remembering and celebrating mothers today in North America and instead of perusing contemporary Hungarian politics this Sunday, I flipped through my copy of Winter Night, an anthology of Attila József poems translated into English by John Bátki. Attila József (1905-1937), perhaps Hungary’s most “canonical” twentieth century poet, almost always paints the bleakness of everyday life for Hungary’s early twentieth century working poor with his pen. Yet amidst the despondency there is humanity in the lives of the uncelebrated and the forgotten. I’m typing up two poems to share from this collection, namely “Mother” (1931) and “Spring Mud” (1925). Happy Mother’s Day! (C.A.)

Illustration: Péter Boros

Illustration: Péter Boros


She held the mug with both hands
one Sunday, and with a quiet smile
she sat a little while
in the growing dusk.

In a small saucepan she brought home her
dinner from the rich folks where she worked.
Going to bed, I kept thinking
that some folks eat a whole potful.

My mother was a small woman,
she died early, like most washerwomen:
their legs tremble from lugging the hamper,
their heads ache from ironing.

For mountains, they have those piles of laundry.
Their cloudscapes are made of steam.
And for a change in climate,
there’s the attic stairs to climb.

I see her pausing with the iron.
Her frail body, grown thinner and thinner.
was at last broken by Capital.
Think about this, my fellow have-nots.

She was so stooped from all that laundry
I did not realize she was still a young woman.
In her dreams she wore a clean apron,
and the mailman would say hello to her.


Spring Mud

It’s raining, it’s pouring
on street, park and field.
Canals gurgle, the ditch overflows,
the plaster of old buildings moulders.
Rainwater drips down horses’ legs,
rainwater, blessed, pure.
There is water and mud on rooftops,
water and mud.
The earth is all mud now, soft and warm,
and so are horses, houses, sky:
everything soft, muddy, warm.

Children are standing by windows,
they watch and listen as it pours and pours,
and their hearts, too, are
warm and soft mud.

Now the peacefulness of seeds lives
in houses, horses and people,
the peacefulness of seeds that goes deep down
where all things are akin, made
of mud, everlasting, soft and warm.

How good it feels to plunge blindly
after all my thrown-away kisses.

Source: John Bátki, Winter Night and Selected Poems of Attila József (Budapest: Corvina, 1997)

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