The Owl

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artist: Karen Tarlton

a poem by Lõrinc Szabó translated by Joe Váradi

The Owl

My boy got the notion that there is
an Almighty out there who would
punish him when he’s bad and reward
him with chocolate when he does good.

He even named the shadowy Lord,
“the Owl!” he said, “That is his name!”
But it seems he resembles me too,
the owl has a pair of round-frame

glasses, giant ones, at least that’s how
it was described by the childling;
and whatever happened in the house
it was now all the owl’s doing.

The owl took me away each morning
and then brought home the breadwinner,
and the owl was the one consulted
if the child refused his dinner.

And Loetsy got busy doing things
to which he before paid no heed,
just to prove that his own special god’s
strengths were formidable indeed.

I wasn’t very fond of the owl
but kept my silence nonetheless.
But yesterday I sat the child down,
and I compelled him to confess.

“Honestly, Loetsy, is the owl real?”
“Of course!” “Do you know him?” “I do!”
“But unless I see him for myself,
I just won’t believe that it’s true!”

“You will see him!” he said, fired up,
stormed out and left me in the room;
and now for a solid ten minutes,
racked his little brain, I assume,

about how he might allay my doubts,
and after much fanfare procured
from the depths of some drawer a pair
of bifocals, broken and old,

and announcing that the owl will be
here, stepped out onto the terrace,
and yelled, “Well, do you see him? Do you?
Here by the window, watching us!”

“Looking straight at you! Through his glasses!
Here’s the owl!” — he grew quiet, and
now, for the first time, I really saw
the bespectacled bogeyman:

I saw my boy Loetsy, transfigured,
peeking in, with a solemn air
and haughtily, as one well aware
of his imposing task to bear:

I saw my boy Loetsy, radiant,
as a statue, eyes open wide …
And I ran to the next room, with
the news that the owl has arrived,

and Loetsy, by the time we returned,
had come inside, jumping, all smiles,
and the god residing in his soul
had put a twinkle in his eyes.

The original, by Hungarian poet Lõrinc Szabó (1900–1957) (Wiki Bio), is below. He often invoked his children, Klári and young Lõrinc (nicknamed Lóci) in his poems. This latter name I transcribed phonetically as Loetsy.

I kept the 9-8-9-8 syllable structure of each stanza in the translation. This is my longest translation to date, I worked on it for a period of three weeks.

A bagoly

Kisfiam kieszelte, hogy van
valahol egy mindenható,
aki megbünteti, ha rossz és
csokoládét hoz, hogyha jó.

A nagyurat el is nevezte:
– Bagoly! – mondta – ez a neve! –
De úgy látszik, rám is hasonlít,
mert nagy kerek szemüvege

van a bagolynak: legalább is
így mesélgeti a gyerek;
s akármi történik a házban,
az mind a bagoly műve lett.

A bagoly vitt el reggel engem
és estére ő vitt haza,
a baglyot hívtuk, ha nem ízlett
a gyereknek a vacsora,

s Lóci megtette ezt is, azt is,
amit azelőtt semmikép,
csak azért, hogy bebizonyítsa
külön istene erejét.

Nekem nem tetszett a bagoly, de
tűrtem némán egy darabig.
Tegnap azonban elővettem
s faggatni kezdtem a kicsit:

– Mondd, Lóci, bagoly igazán van? –
– Van hát! – Ismered? – Ismerem! –
– De én nem tudok hinni benne,
amíg nem látom, hogy milyen! –

– Látni fogod! – jött tűzbe erre
Lóci, s mérgesen otthagyott;
s most a fejét tíz hosszú percig,
gondolom, azon törte, hogy

hogyan tudna meggyőzni engem,
mert végül is előszedett
valami fiók fenekéről
egy régi rossz szemüveget,

s jelentve, hogy a bagoly itt lesz,
kiment az erkélyünkre, és
már kiáltott is: – Úgye, látod?
Itt van az ablaknál! benéz!

Épp rád néz! szemüvege is van!
Itt a bagoly!… – Elhallgatott,
s én láttam, hogy csakugyan ott van,
a szemüveges alakot:

láttam Lócit átszellemülten,
ahogy benézett, komolyan
és gőgösen, mint aki érzi,
hogy rettentő szerepe van:

láttam Lócit tágult szemekkel,
sugarasan, mint egy szobor…
S szaladtam a másik szobába
a hírrel, hogy itt a bagoly, –

és Lóci, mire visszatértünk,
már bent volt, ugrált, kacagott,
s szemében ragyogott az isten,
aki a lelkében lakott.

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Editor of No Crime in Rhymin' and Language Lab | the Woke Bloke ..."come for the sarcasm, stay for my soft side"

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