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Peter J. Oszmann

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Death of a Pupil. (Budapest 1956)” The birth, development and transfiguration of a poem.
By Peter J. Oszmann
Last edited: Tuesday, November 09, 2004
Posted: Saturday, October 23, 2004



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This article is intended as an explanatory note to the poem “Death of a Pupil. (Budapest 1956)” posted here simultaneously at AD.

     


 


 

“The Pupil” of Budapest – an anonymous casualty of the 1956 Uprising – was just one of the many young students, who fought and died on the streets of Budapest in October-November 1956.

An estimated 20,000 Hungarian and thousands of Russian lives were lost in the fighting in Budapest and other Hungarian towns that autumn.

It all started when on the 23rd of October 1956 the students of Budapest demonstrated on the streets for freedom from Soviet style tyranny.

My wife, Erika and I - final year dental students at the Medical Faculty of the University of Budapest - were amongst the marchers.

Thousands of ordinary citizens joined the march and many more thousands cheered on from windows, balconies and the pavements as the students marched on.

Later that evening the State Security Police (AVH or AVO) opened fire on unarmed demonstrators outside the Radio Building and a day of peaceful, good-natured demonstration turned into a desperate, bloody and ultimately futile and tragic insurrection.

 

It all ended when in November the Soviet Red Army mercilessly and brutally quashed the insurrection. A few days of euphoria ended in bloodshed and with the re-imposition of tyranny. In the ensuing few months thousands of people, from all walks of life, were rounded up, countless numbers were imprisoned and an unknown number ended up in the Siberian Gulags.

Many leading political and military figures were subsequently executed, together with an unknown number of “Freedom Fighters” and insurgents.

Over two hundred thousand Hungarians – my wife and I amongst them - eventually fled from their native land. Freedom from Soviet tyranny came only after the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.

 

Regardless of one’s political viewpoint, the reality of the Uprising is that it ended with bloodshed and tragic loss of lives on both sides.

 

Personally I find nothing glorious, uplifting or heroic in guts, brain and blood spilled onto the paving stones, regardless of whose blood it is, or the “rights” or “wrongs” of such events. Whilst I rejoiced in the momentary freedom of expression experienced during the student’s march, the ensuing fighting and bloodshed filled me with horror. I am the first one to admit, that there is not an ounce of heroism in my nature; quite the contrary. Additionally, from very early on in my life, I held the view that life was a gift and nobody had the right to take a life away or throw away one’s own. Unfortunately, however, tyrants, politicians, military leaders, terrorists and “ordinary” murderers the world over don’t hold this view.

Only eleven years prior to the events of 1956 I witnessed some of the fighting and the resulting devastation left after the battles fought on Hungarian soil, during the last year of World War Two. By age eleven I’d seen enough blood and gore and death to last me a lifetime. The vision of renewed destruction and bloodletting tore open relatively fresh scars, festering for a long time after the events.

 

The sad fact is that, despite the relative calm enjoyed in my adoptive country after 1956, the images of war and carnage continued flooding in from the rest of the world through the media. There was hardly a week gone by without some newsflash of fresh fighting and bloodshed from somewhere in the world.

It seemed that there was no way I could finally lay to rest all the nightmares I had personally experienced. Fresh images kept on reminding me about the bloodied corpses of young people I had seen lying on the paving stones of Budapest.

 

By the time the tenth anniversary of the 1956 Uprising came around, the Vietnam War was in full swing. There were race riots in the USA and in China the Cultural Revolution unleashed a fresh reign of terror on the Chinese people. The images flashed up on the television screen were a stark reminder of continual human madness and blood lust.

 

I suppose if you carry images in your soul of death and devastation, as a legacy of war and revolution, those images will haunt you and will keep resurfacing, sometimes in your dreams and sometimes in your waking hours. In the nineteen sixties – just at a time when we finally settled into the gentle hum of a relatively stable and peaceful society and became fully fledged Citizens of our adoptive country – those images started to play havoc on my mind from time to time. I had inexplicable and frequent mood swings as my subconscious mind carried on a fight with my ghosts, trying – unsuccessfully – to lay them to rest. Those were also the times of my “linguistic watershed”, when I switched fully from Hungarian language to English in all my daily activities and even began dreaming “in English”. However, whilst my linguistic ability in English was just enough for routine communication, both private and professional, it remained woefully inadequate for attempting anything resembling literary English.

From early childhood on, writing had always been one of my escape valves from emotional turmoil.

Writing poetry featured high amongst those safety valves. Only, by now, I was beginning to lose the skills in Hungarian and not yet acquired enough in English.

 

The tenth anniversary of the October Uprising of 1956 was approaching fast, “my ghosts” were having their own little riot in the “dark corridors of my mind” and so, as an attempted escape from the turmoil, I wrote a poem in Hungarian in memory of all those fallen in the Uprising. The resulting poem was not about glory or heroism – both of which I understand and acknowledge - but about the human cost of fighting. The poem was written in rhyming free verse, with scant regard to form or meter. It was a highly emotional piece, not intended for public consumption. The piece went into my “bottom drawer” and remained buried for a long time. As the bloody images from around the world kept coming into our living room, the festering scars of 1956 and WW2 remained open. Not being satisfied with the poem and still troubled by all the memories, I turned to another – non linguistic – safety valve of mine, representational art.

 

In the sixties I attended evening classes in our local Art College, where I studied Graphic Arts.

Drawing and painting had always been a hobby of mine and I spent about ten years in the Art College studying mainly Etching and Lithography, but also indulged in painting and sculpture. In 1967 I completed an oil painting on canvas, depicting a scene from the revolution of 1956. The location of the scene was based on contemporary black and white photographs of a major intersection in Pest, very near the clinic where I attended lectures and clinical practical sessions. This was also the scene of a major battle, fought between the Russian and the Hungarian army and supporting insurgents, defending a Hungarian Army barrack, standing at the corner of the intersection. The figure of the mother in the painting carrying her dead son is fictional, but was based on a number of incidents I witnessed. My wife and son posed for the composition, but the faces of mother and son were entirely made up from imagination.

The painting – the same way as the poem written a year earlier, although the two were not directly related, in as much as one was not intended to illustrate the other – fulfilled a psychological need, to give expression to the horrors witnessed. Unlike the poem, however, which remained hidden in my files for a long time, the painting hangs in my study as a constant reminder. It was subsequently featured in an article “of special interest”, written by a professional journalist in 1991, about our dental practice, our background and published in a dental journal. The illustration I used for this article and above the poem posted here at AD is a copy of the photograph from that article.

 

I suppose that there are certain forces, traits within my psyche that will just not let go. When I started to write my memoirs in 1988, frankly I had no idea, which way it would go. It took over ten years to complete just part of those memoirs and the events of 1956 were barely mentioned in the published story.  The Uprising was left out, to be included in a projected second volume. Meanwhile, as an escape from “serious writing”, I returned to experimenting, writing poetry in English, translating or adopting some of my earlier poems from Hungarian.

 

It was not until 2002 when I first attempted to translate the poem about the “Pupil of Budapest” into English. The first attempt was a word-by-word translation; with no regard whatsoever to poetic form or rhyme. I then reworked the poem into rhyming free verse, but abandoned the format of the original Hungarian verse. The poem underwent its first transfiguration. Whilst the individual stanzas had a more unified structure than the original Hungarian verse, the meter still varied greatly, not only from stanza to stanza, but also - in places - even from line to line. I first posted it at AD under the title “The Little Urchin Pupil of Pest”. I was not satisfied with the result of the transfiguration and soon withdrew it from AD.

A minor revision followed in 2003 and I reposted it under the title: “The little Urchin Pupil of Budapest”. Still not being satisfied I withdrew it once again.

I reworked the poem more recently with the aim of eliminating structural deficiencies. With the exception of one stanza, where I deliberately broke the structure and lines in an attempt to illustrate sudden death and disintegration, I unified the structure in all the remaining stanzas, by attempting to apply the same meter all the way through, whilst retaining most of the imagery and, where possible, the same lines. Although I have never been satisfied with the original Hungarian version either, I have never attempted to rework it in Hungarian.

 

I am still not fully satisfied with the result – I expect I shall never be – but I now reluctantly accept my limitations, knowing well that I can probably never get it perfect, the way I would like it to be. But if there is a single piece that I hold true and closest to my heart, this must be it. Imperfect, or amateurish even, I offer it here as a definitive piece of work born out of a long inner struggle. It will not lay my ghosts to rest. Nothing ever will, except perhaps that defining moment when I will finally cross the threshold from this existence into the unknown…

 

Below – as an illustration of the process of development, struggle and transfiguration - I give the original Hungarian poem, together with the word-by-word translation and the first English version.

The final version is posted here on my poetry pages under the title: “Death of a Pupil. (Budapest 1956).”

 

Whilst the poem is primarily dedicated to the memory of all those fallen in Budapest in the Uprising, I posted it here again – this time permanently – as a timely and constant reminder of mankind’s madness and inhumanity.

 

More recent worldwide events highlight the fact that:

“…millions more are lining up for new fight,

For a vain illusion…

Empty open graves, in disorganised rows,

Eagerly await where river of blood roars…

What endless delusion!”

 

Yes, a delusion from those who believe that “freedom” can be gained from acts of terrorism, war, or insurrection, from the murder of innocent bystanders and delusion from those who believe that “terrorism” or “insurrection” can be defeated by ever more involved military combat, with all the ensuing collateral damage caused to the infrastructure, lifeblood, cultural, ethnic and political cohesion of the respective countries involved. How many more “Pupils” have to descend into early graves, before humanity can wake from the nightmare of its own madness?

 

The poem now stands dedicated also to the memory of all those fallen in fighting, or as bystanders, anywhere in the world, past, present and future.

                       

 

© P. J Oszmann (2004)

 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

 

The Original Hungarian poem:

 

A  Pesti  Diák.

                                Dulce et decorum est pro Patria mori....?!

 

A vérbenázott földröl felemelték

és ácsolatlan faládába tették

az összetört, véres, soványka testét

a pesti diáknak.

 

Ügyettelen szavakkal lefestették

a bátorságát, méltó hösi tettét,

s érzö sajnálatukat kifejezték

az Édesanyjának....

 

....Állt a barikádon, a Baross utca sarkán...

Rött lángoknak visszfénye sugárzott az arcán,

s valami átdicsöült mámor, melyet

a révület tüze arcára festett.

 

Hátát a szétlött falnak vetve állt,

s két kézzel szórta, szórta a halált;

a halált, a borzalmasat, melyet úgy vélte rég

megkövetelt a történelmi szükségszerüség...

 

...Hazugságra tanitották, kényszerittették,

akiknek a hazugságból soh’sem volt elég;

ellopták álmát, ifijuságát,

és helyében üres, kongó szavak,

amik agyvelejében juttanak...

....s zabolázták serdülö világát...

 

...Mikor elhangzott a “Talpra Magyar”

a szabadság démoni szele

szivét megcsapta, s miként a vihar

száguldott fel az égre vele;

 

s mikor az elsö fegyver lövése dördült

mintha szivét találta volna a löveg;

felszabadult keble fájdalmasan hördült

s a neki nyujtott puskát vadul ragadta meg...

 

...Hátát a szétlött falnak vetve állt,

s két kézzel szórta, szórta a halált...

mignem egy eltévedt puska sorozat

kis lyukakat ütött a szive alatt...

 

s arcára az átdicsöült

mámor helyett

valami fucsa, ijedt,

meglepett

borzalom ült...

Szeme megmeredt...

Ajka kihült...

 

Elötte szétlött tank romja sötétlett;

rajta egy eltorzult és szénné égett

fiatal orosz katona holtteste.

Megtört szeme az Ö szemét kereste...

 

Ahogy ottan ült falnak vetett háttal,

megmeredt szemmel és félignyitott szájjal

- kebléböl pirosan csorduló patak -

az élet értelmét most tudhatta csak...

 

Talán, ha akkor még megtehette volna,

felkel a földröl és magát leporolva

a fiatal orosz katonához siet,

s talán félénken, megillet és ijedt

hangon súgja fülébe:

 

“Keljél fel barátom. A gyülöletnek vége.

Rázzunk kezet szépen és váljunk el békébe’

hisz’ szülö, hitves, testvér Teérted is reszket,

s nékem sem akarnak még ácsolni keresztet.”

 

De vége... oh jaj vége...

A kegyetlen történelem pontot tett szivére

súlyos ólomból... hideget...

A hiú ábránd, a szabadság reménye

vakon visz elöre, hiteget...

Tizenöt éves még éretlen lénye

megsemmisült egy eszme védelmébe....

s oh jaj... az eszme is odalett...

 

... Szürke, füstködös parttalan partokon

mocsaras fövényén zúgó vérpataknak

faragott keresztek durva hantokon,

mélyén holt diákok testei rohadnak.

 

Pesti, Moszkvai, Londoni diákok,

Párizsiak, Husziták, Németek,

Latinok, Görögök, ó és új Zsidók,

Ázsiaiak, Amerikaiak, Négerek...

 

mind egy-egy eszméért szállt korai sirba

s a diákok tábora gyözi, ontja még;

milliom nyitott sir rendezetlen sorba

várja az eszmékböl vajh’ mikor lesz elég?

 

Ti kis és nagy diákjai e vérbenázott földnek,

vágyálmoktól, eszméktöl félrevitt milliók,

mikor fogtok végre élni a ma kéjgyönyörének,

s hinni hogy csak ma és itt lehettek boldogok?

 

Vajon mikor jut fel az öntudathoz,

hogy éltet földi lények csak egy percre kapnak

és anyák s apák élö, s érzö gyermekeket,

és nem halott hösöket akarnak...

 

...Jeltelen tömegsirban kis diák temetve...

Önkéntelen kulcsolom imára kezem;

az elvérzett Pesti Diákra emlékezve

a jövö halottjaiért is könnyezem.

 

© P. J. Oszmann, London 23 October 1966.

 

 

The word-by-word translation:

 

 

From the blood-soaked ground they

Lifted the thin, battered, bloodied body

Of the little pupil of Pest

And placed it into a rough, wooden box.

 

With awkward words they conveyed

His heroism, his valiant deeds, and also

 Their heartfelt sympathy to his mother.

 

…. He stood on the barricades on the corner of Baross Street

The reflection of red flames radiated on his face

And some transfigured (glorified) rapture (ecstasy)

That the flares of entrancement (ecstasy)

Painted on his face.

 

He stood with his back against a collapsing wall

And with both hands he sowed, sowed seeds of death,

Death, the fearsome, that he believed was

Demanded by historical necessity.

 

They taught him lies; they forced lies upon him,

Those who never had enough of lies.

They stole his dreams, his youth and in its place

They filled his brain with echoes of empty words.

… and bridled his adolescent world…

 

When the "On your Feet Magyar" sounded

The demonic wind of freedom

Gripped his heart

And soared with his spirit up, up to the sky.

 

When the first fire of the arms’ thundered,

It was as if his heart was hit by the bullet,

His liberated chest painfully heaved

And he wildly grabbed the gun handed to him.

 

He stood with his back against a collapsing wall

And with both hands he sowed, sowed seeds of death,

Until a stray round of bullets

Pierced little holes under his heart.

 

And on his face instead

Of the transfigured ecstasy

Some funny, frightened (scared)

Surprised horror (dread)

Settled.

His eyes become fixed

His lips cold.

 

In front of him towered a burned out tank's shell,

on it the stiff cinders of the body

of a young Russian soldier.

His glazed eyes were searching for his.

 

And as he sat there, his back against the wall

With glazed over eyes and half opened mouth

 - little red streams bubbling from his chest -

the wisdom of life could only just become apparent to him.

 

Maybe, if he could have done so

He would have stood up and dusting himself off

He would have hurried to the young soldier

And perhaps in a frightened hushed voice

Whispered in his ear:

 

Get up my friend, the hate ended here

Lets shake hands and part in peace

Doubtless parents, spouse, siblings

Tremble for you too, and they aren't intending to erect a cross for me either.

 

But it's the end.. oh it's the end..

The merciless history wrote a period onto his heart

Made of heavy lead and oh, so cold…

Vain illusions, hope of liberty (freedom)

Blindly leads forth .. feeds with promises.

His fifteen year old yet immature being

Annihilated (destroyed) in the defence of an ideal (notion)

And oh, alas the ideal was lost too.

 

On grey smog covered banks

On Marshy (swampy, boggy) quicksand of rapid

Rivers of blood

Carved crosses on rough (raw) graves,

In their depth (womb) corpses of dead pupils rot.

 

Pestern, Muscovite, Londoner pupils,

Parisian, Husites, Germans, Latin's,

Greeks, ancient and modern Jews,

Asians, Americans, Negroes.

 

All descended into early graves for an illusion

And the throngs of pupils has more to spare.

Millions of empty graves in disorganised rows

Waiting to see when will it all end.

 

You little and big pupils of this blood sodden earth,

 Mislead by pipe dreams and ideals,

When will you all live - at last - for the pleasure of today

And believe that only here and now can you be happy?

 

When will it reach your conscience that life is given

For a fleeting moment only

And fathers and mothers want living and feeling children

And not dead heroes.

 

In unmarked, common grave a little pupil is buried,

Involuntarily my hands clasp to pray.

Remembering the little dead pupil of Pest,

I weep for the future's dead pupils too.

 

(2002)

 

 

 

The first English version:

 

 

The Little Urchin Pupil of Pest

 

                                                                "Dolce et decorum est pro patria mori…?!"

 

 

From blood-soaked stones they lifted the thin

Battered, bloodied corps of the little urchin

Pupil of Pest.

Into rough untrimmed box made of wood

Placed his body best way they could

Laying to rest.

 

With awkward words - how else could they -

With stumbling tongues they tried to convey

His heroic act

To his mother.  Standing stiff and subdued,

Her soul with anguish deeply imbued,

She couldn't react.

 

……He stood on the barricades, steadfast, erect

Reflections of red flames that raptures elect

Painted on his face.

His back firmly against a crumbling wall

Angels of death on the street he'd call

With rage n' deadly grace.

 

Falsehoods and lies his staple diet's been,

Distorted truth that's all he'd ever seen,

All he'd ever know.

Now was the time to dispel the lie

What does it matter who'd live who die,

Death he would sow.

 

When the "On Your Feet Magyar" called him to act,

 Grabbing a gun he would wildly react…

He would stand and fight.

Demonic wind of freedom gripped his heart,

His soul lifted and like a golden dart

To the sky it took flight.

 

He stood on the barricades, steadfast, erect

Reflections of red flames that raptures elect

Painted on his face.

His back firmly against a crumbling wall

Angels of death on the street he'd call…

….And they flew in his face….

 

Little holes pierced through the wall of his chest

Abruptly ended the "heroic" quest

And instead

Of gloriously mad

Ecstasy

Surprise and dread

Settled

On his face…

His lips cold…

Eyes glazed…

Fixed…

Oh so cold….

Finished…

…So dead…

 

In front of him towered a burned out tank's shell

Conjuring visions of dark deeds of black hell

A dark shadow of gloom…

On it stiff carcass of young Russian soldier

Lying as if stuck by triumphant Death's solder…

A stark echo of doom…

 

As he sat there - his stiff back against the wall -

Little red rivulets on the pavement fall

Eyes so sadly glazed.

Could the wisdom of life become apparent to him,

Whilst the setting sun through the veiled and dim

Sky painfully blazed?

 

Maybe if he could just one last act perform

Defying conventions, defying the norm

He'd stand up and say

To the Russian lad in a trembling wistful moan:

"Get up my friend, your death I bemoan

This isn't the way!

 

Your parents, family and multitude of friend

Would not wish your life ingloriously to end…

And nor my parents would

Want me to be buried in an unmarked grave.

Life to me my mother not for this she gave,

Nor she ever could"…

 

But alas!… Sad fate… this is the bitter end…

No hope of respite, no hope of helping hand…

Period at the end of a line…

Writ in cold bullet... History's cruel joke

Ended his short life, lifted off his yoke...

To cover the bones with lime…

 

The vain illusions, hopes of liberty, blindly beacon

Clouding judgment, hiding the truth, hiding the con…

All just vain promise.

His fifteen years old, yet immature life, his being

Bled away for an illusion, in hope of new beginning...

What was the premise?…

 

…. On dull, grey, smog covered banks, on marshy quicksand

Of rapid rivers of blood, carved crosses on rough hewn graves and

In their deep dark womb

Little urchin pupils' carcasses rot… and the air reek with the stench.

Make me understand Lord! My thirsty soul please drench

With wisdom not gloom.

 

In early graves they all descended believing their right,

And millions more are lining up ready for a fight…

For a vanishing illusion.

Millions of empty graves in disorganised rows,

Wait for eager urchins where rivers of blood roars.

Oh what endless delusion!

 

In an unmarked mass grave a little urchin rest…

Involuntarily I clasp hands, the Lord's grace to keep.

Remembering that student of strife torn Pest

For future generations I quietly weep…

 

 

© Peter Oszmann   (2002)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 

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Reviewed by Bobbie Hess (Reader) 10/25/2004
Peter--may God bless you and watch over your through your surgery and recovery. The poem: Those who die for what they believe is not in vain to them. This message touches the world today--too many lives are lost for good and for bad reasoning. War, regardless of the battle, seems to be inevitable, and that does not mean we like the outcome. It is good to remember--hopefully we will eventually learn from the past. b
Reviewed by Pier Tyler 10/23/2004
Great article and fantastic oil painting. In 1956, I was six years old learning and experiencing about Civil Rights. I can only imagine how the students felt in Budapest. They took a stand for freedom and gave their lives. You would think we'd have learned by now. But we haven't, as of yet, because the fight for freedom still go on today.

Be blessed, stay healthy
Pier Marie
Reviewed by Michelle Kidwell Power In The Pen 10/23/2004
((((Peter)))
Yes I have to agree with Karla,what I read was fascinating, but half was cut off by the picture...
God Bless
Michelle~
Reviewed by Karla Dorman, The StormSpinner 10/23/2004
(((peter)))

this would have been a fascinating article, if i could have read it in its entirety. the picture is too big and cut off a good section of the first half of the write. the poem, though, and its translation, are beautifully penned. thank you for sharing, and i wish you luck on your situation.

(((gentle hugs))), much love, and continued prayer, karla. :)

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Peter J. Oszmann



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  10. Anatomy Of A Poem
  11. Targets Be Warned
  12. Inner Stillness
  13. Avowals to Unity
  14. Peace Is A Three Letter Word
  15. Last End of 2007
  16. We are the Motor Men
  17. amomancies volume 1 issue 1 annotation
  18. Ian's List of Foundation Books for Contemp
  19. Syrian Poet Adonis: Snapshot of a Distingu
  20. Wiflred Owen. World War I Poet

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