“Learn by heart this poem of mine,” Gyorgy Faludy

openDemocracy Opendemocracy
3 September 2006


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"Learn by Heart This Poem of Mine: Sixty Poems and One Speech"

by Gyorgy (George) Faludy, edited by John Robert Colombo

Hounslow Press | 1983 | ISBN 0888820607

Learn by Heart This Poem of Mine

Learn by heart this poem of mine;

books only last a little time

and this one will be borrowed, scarred,

burned by Hungarian border guards,

lost by the library, broken-backed,

its paper dried up, crisped and cracked,

worm-eaten, crumbling into dust,

or slowly brown and self-combust

when climbing Fahrenheit has got

to 451, for that's how hot

your town will be when it burns down.

Learn by heart this poem of mine.


Learn by heart this poem of mine.

Soon books will vanish and you'll find

there won't be any poets or verse

or gas for car or bus - or hearse -

no beer to cheer you till you're crocked,

the liquor stores torn down or locked,

cash only fit to throw away,

as you come closer to that day

when TV steadily transmits

death-rays instead of movie hits

and not a soul to lend a hand

and everything is at an end

but what you hold within your mind,

so find a space there for these lines

and learn by heart this poem of mine.


Learn by heart this poem of mine;

recite it when the putrid tides

that stink of lye break from their beds,

when industry's rank vomit spreads

and covers every patch of ground,

when they've killed every lake and pond,

Destruction humped upon its crutch,

black rotting leaves on every branch;

when gargling plague chokes Springtime's throat

and twilight's breeze is poison, put

your rubber gasmask on and line

by line declaim this poem of mine.


Learn by heart this poem of mine

so, dead, I still will share the time

when you cannot endure a house

deprived of water, light, or gas,

and, stumbling out to find a cave,

roots, berries, nuts to stay alive,

get you a cudgel, find a well,

a bit of land, and, if it's held,

kill the owner, eat the corpse.

I'll trudge beside your faltering steps

between the ruins' broken stones,

whispering "You are dead; you're done!

Where would you go? That soul you own

froze solid when you left your town."

Learn by heart this poem of mine.


Maybe above you, on the earth,

there's nothing left and you, beneath,

deep in your bunker, ask how soon

before the poisoned air leaks down

through layers of lead and concrete. Can

there have been any point to Man

if this is how the thing must end?

What words of comfort can I send?

Shall I admit you've filled my mind

for countless years, through the blind

oppressive dark, the bitter light,

and, though long dead and gone, my hurt

and ancient eyes observe you still?

What else is there for me to tell

to you, who, facing time's design,

will find no use for life or time?

You must forget this poem of mine. 


About the author: Gyorgy (George) Faludy was a Hungarian poet, novelist and activist. Born on on 22 September, 1910 in Budapest, he became popular in the 1930s with his translations of Francois Villon's ballads. In 1938 he moved to Paris, but left after the Nazi occupation and ended up in the US. He returned to Hungary in 1946 and joined the editorial board of Népszava (Voice of the People), the daily newspaper of the Social Democrats. In 1950 he was arrested for "dissident activities" and spent three years in the notorious Recsk labour camp . Following the abortive Hungarian revolution in 1956, he escaped to London, where he wrote his best-known work My Happy Days In Hell. He moved to Toronto in 1967, where he worked as a university professor, and continued writing novels and poetry. After twenty years he moved back to Hungary, where his works were now permitted by the new regime. In 1994 he received the most prestigious award in Hungary, the Kossuth Prize. He died on 1 September, 2006.


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