Friday, November 23, 2007

Double shot

The aforementioned (previous post) TLS piece in one ear, tazza of Brasil Jacaranda espresso precariously balanced on my pince-nez, paging through Adam Makkai, ed., IN QUEST OF THE ‘MIRACLE STAG’: THE POETRY OF HUNGARY, Volume 1 (Chicago: Atlantis-Centaur, 1996), I was jolted from my pfeffernuss by the following two translations of a poem by Abraham Barcsay (1742-1806):

Blood-stained fruit of labor, sweated out of Black slaves,
Which the greedy English ship abroad for fat sales,
They fill up their coffers with delightful profit
from sugar cane — England gets rich from it.
Coffee bean, which of yore, grew around far Mocca,
You’re now in the West, too, slave-labor’s crude mocker,
The sage feels disgusted, seeing how a thin cup
Makes him an accomplice, sipping British guilt up.

Trans. Thomas Kabdebo [& A.M.]

Crop of sweat and blood, of African slave labour,
Sold around the world by the grasping English trader,
Sugar cane produced a sweeter taste to offer,
And to line with gold a wealthy English coffer.
And you, tiny bean, in Mocca cultivated,
By the slaves who pick you, so bitterly hated −
Thinking men are shamed to sip you in their parlour
And to share the guilt that the greedy English harbour.

Trans. Peter Zollman

The editor, Adam Makkai, writes: “The first significant poet of the Hungarian Enlightenment, Barcsay was a descendant of a noble Transylvanian family, of which Akos Barcsay, Prince of Transylvania (1610-1661) was the most prominent member [...] He was sharply critical of the colonizing efforts of the powerful European nations [...] He was the first Hungarian writer to have described folk customs without distortion or sentimental exaggeration. Toward the end of his life he withdrew to his small estate in Transylvania. While his thought was bold and progressive, he stuck to traditional verse forms such as the alexandrine in most of his poetry” (123-124).

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