Translating Endre Ady



Translating Endre Ady


Endre Ady  (Ady Endre, 1877-1919) was a great Hungarian poet.

        I believe that the magnitude of a poet directly relates to the poets unpredictability, i.e., when it is impossible to foresee the next line after reading a couple of lines or the subject of the next poem after looking at couple of them. The style of the author, however, should be easily recognizable. If it is not, the poem could be an imitation, and if nothing at all can be predicted, it is simply an abstract painting using words as color spots.

        Endre Adys poetry was mathematically analyzed. It turned out to be highly unpredictable, although Ady used a set of  fixed key words scattered all around his poems.

        Ady created his own poetical world and a new strikingly fresh language.  He introduced scores of innovations in the architectonics and rhythm of the verse. He found an intermediate stage between classic verse and vers libre. Besides, in my (Soviet) time, many of his poems seemed written  about not Hungary but Russia.

        I got interested in Ady when I had learned that he was the favorite poet of Bela Bartok (1881-1945), my favorite composer. Bartok, too, created his own unpredictable but instantly recognizable world. Together with Dmitry Shostakovich (1906-1975), he left us a panoramic musical picture of the twentieth century. Bartok wrote it as a prophet and Shostakovich did it as a post factum chronicler. To my ear, the last symphonies and quartets of Shostakovich clearly echoed Bartok: the prophesies came true.

        Ady was translated in the USSR under ideological sterility (his brand of patriotism would definitely reserve him a place in a Soviet prison) and only from a word-for-word Russian text. Having acquired some limited knowledge of Hungarian, I looked into the original. I immediately understood why Ady had not been given the place he deserved in the world literature: he was untranslatable. The reasons for that were some unique properties of the Hungarian language as well as the ability of Ady to pump such emotional energy into short words, lines, and either truncated or stretched out stanzas as if a line had to shoot a beam like a laser.

        Ady used the key words not as much for the content as for the timbre and atmosphere.There is an apparently insurmountable obstacle for translating his short words into much longer Russian ones: bus (bush: sad), -, kis (kish: little), --, nagy (nad': great), --, uj (uy: new), -, ven (ven: old), - , and , especially, czok (chok: kiss), --. That was a real headache, especially taking to account the habit of the Russian words to grow long tails of suffixes and endings. It looks like English could be a more suitable language for translating Ady.

        Ady is usually characterized as  symbolist, which is only partially true because of his passionate intensity rarely if ever found in the typical symbolist melancholy. The political overtones of many of his poems are not typically symbolic either.

        Translation of poetry is a curious area of human activity. Kalevala, the epos of  Finland, provided the foot for Henry Longfellows Hiawatha , and the Russian writer Ivan Bunin translated  Hiawatha, as many believe,  as better than the original.  To my younger ears, the Russian translations of Charles Baudelaire sounded better than the original. 

        Poetic translations were something like the Internet of the time.

         Several of my Ady translations were published in a joint Russian-Hungarian edition. I saw the book for the first time in the Chita labor camp, where a bookshop used to came once a year. I bought it and left  as gift to my burglar-poet friend.

        I cannot say that I have managed to translate Ady. My limited knowledge of Hungarian could bring errors. My translations are not natural enough and even not mad enough to render the spirit of Ady. Still, somebody can be more successful. People climb Everest because they know it exists.

        Once I found an Endre Ady  web site maintained by a young Hungarian girl, Katalin Kelemen.  Answering my quesion, she told me that at least some young people in Hungary knew, read, and loved Ady. To me it seems amazing  because we know how the school drill can destroy any love of literature.


My translations of Ady:   or

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