That other one, the scoundrel
Who knocks you over in a rush
Who can’t make way for your own rush
Who fails to spot you after long absence
Whom you have no wish to see after long absence
Who cannot give you a single hour of his life
Who wants hours of your life for himself
Who forgets your appointments
Who scolds you for forgetting
That other one is always you
Notes on this poem
The following poems are part of a collection that is still looking for a publisher, featuring some of Hungary’s most prominent contemporary female poets, and compiled by Eszter Krakkó and Diána Vonnák. Diverse yet bearing important affinities, the poems in the collection (almost fifty) offer insights into life in Hungary today from the perspectives of women in Central Europe in the fi rst two decades of the new millennium.
The poems of Mónika Mesterházi offer an intimacy that dwells in a double-wrapped core: narrative mixed into meditation, often followed by a moment of supreme clarity that sets a poem into a larger human context, almost like a sonnet’s closing couplet. The four poems presented here can be taken as consistent examples of this approach. Her narratives, and the messages they convey, are revelatory, not didactic. Indeed this is the difference between great poetry and cliché, and explains why her poems feel so firmly a part of the greater Euro-American tradition.
The kind of empathy that creates the foundation of morality, the ability to tell another’s story and locate oneself firmly within it, are here made poignant by the unbridgeable gap between one person and another, between living and dead, between tenderness and violence. Recall how Auden portrays the indifference of nature to the human element in his eulogy for Yeats:
Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays.
Now Mesterházi, during a graveyard commemoration of mass violence, where the mourners also must reproach themselves for earlier inaction:
Over the bright expansive sky
in choirs of ordered arcs
the wild geese now were coming home.
Here, in contrast to Auden, Mesterhazi exposes an even more brutal truth: nature is not merely indifferent, but seems to ignore human trauma as it resettles into its familiar ways, ultimately obscuring both the victims of violence and the feelings of those who choose to remember them. This is the poetry of feelings without sentimentality, of human experience amid inhuman forces.