by Thomas Ország-Land (April 2012)
Adapted from the Renaissance French of Francois Villon (b. 1431) & the Hungarian of György Faludy (1910-2006)
Villon the vagabond was one of Europe’s first modern poets. Faludy, a Jewish-Hungarian master, spent some of his best writing years in exile or political imprisonment. This poem about the massive Westward flow of abused stateless migrants that characterises the 21st century is dedicated to The Exiled Writers Ink organization of London.
A contemporary woodcut image of Francois Villon
I've proudly wrapped my dazzling sky around me
yet I have found one faithful friend: the fog.
In banquet halls I've heard my hunger howling.
By fires, I have endured the test of frost.
I am a prince of human kind: I've reached out
and to my thirsty lips, the mud has swelled –
My paths are marked by dead wildflowers: even
the festive seasons wither from our breath.
I stare surprised in disbelief when genial
sunshine holds my frame in still caress.
And thus across three continents I've travelled
and been despised and welcomed everywhere.
I've wrestled with the storms on shrivelled wastelands.
My dress: a leaf that graced a bygone tree.
And nothing's clearer for me than night's fragrance
and nothing darker than high noontide's bleach.
My rising sobs have burst in wary taverns
but in the graveyards I have laughed my fill,
and all I own are things I've long discarded
and thus I've come to value everything.
Upon my stubborn curls, the spell of autumn
collects its silver while, a child forever,
I cross this freezing landscape never pausing,
and live despised and welcomed everywhere.
Triumphant stars erect their vast cathedral
above me, and dew calms my feet below
as I pursue my fleeing god in grief
and sense my world through every pore in joy.
I've rested on the peaks of many mountains.
I’ve sweltered with the captive quarry-slaves.
And at my cost, I’ve learned to shun the towers
of state and curse our rulers’ power games.
My share of life has been the worst and best,
and thus I've come to find an equal ease
in squalor and beneath the whitest pillars,
a guest despised and welcomed everywhere.
I have no state, no home – nor choice but freedom.
Between my legs, the playful wind alone
blows a merry duet with my arse.
I wish that I could quell the foolish fears of
the local folks, that they would look at me
beyond my status, and would prize my gift,
this hoard of words I’ve brought to share with them.
The time may come when all my words will rhyme
and I will dip my pen in molten gold
...before I find a restful spot beneath
some wizened thicket, and remain forever
a voice despised and welcomed everywhere.
THOMAS ORSZÁG-LAND is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent who writes from London and his native Budapest. His next book will be THE SURVIVORS: Holocaust Poetry for Our Time, to be published by Smokestack/England in 2014.
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