Ágnes Nemes Nagy

Ágnes Nemes Nagy (1922-1991)

Ágnes Nemes Nagy graduated from the University of Budapest in 1944, obtaining a degree as a high school teacher of Hungarian, Latin, and the History of Art. After the war and before the Communist take-over, she was a member of the New Moon [Új Hold] intellectual writers' group together with Weöres, Pilinszky [qq.v.] and several others. She was not allowed to publish her own poetry between 1949 and 1957, but this enforced silence only deepened and condensed her art. Until 1957 she was employed as a teacher. She is generally considered to be Hungary's most important woman poet of the 20th century, whose output was modest in quantity but always of true depth and brilliance. Her poetry unites lyrical sensitivity with historical consciousness-morality, erudition, and intelligence with blazing passion. Her verbal magic transmuted everyday experiences and things into universal and enduring beauty. Nemes Nagy was one of the great intellectual and moral passive opponents of 'socialist realism' and the Marxist philosophy of art.

She is one of the most translated Hungarian poets; Bruce Berlind, Hugh Maxton, George Szirtes, and others have presented her poetry in English She uses classical metre and rhyme as often and as effortlessly as she writes free verse. Translators have chosen to render her poetry formally or in free flowing English.

Serpent in the Garden

Serpent in the garden
Woman beware

If you have some milk in you
Squirt on him a drop or two
That will set his mind at rest
Lest when night is quietest
He should graze around your breast -
Scaly armour splits the air
You lie still but he is there
He would twist and turn and squeeze
For the warmth between your knees
For your neck your tent of hair

Fire-fanged and icy-eyed
He would snake you for a ride
Oh beware because he might
Come and find you every night

Oh beware oh beware
In the serpent-silver night


The sun went down. No. It's still visible.
It's gone down as a matter of fact only ,
the sky still cradles this indistinguishable other sun
in its hollowed hand
as if it held the see-through upper cone of
an hour-glass run empty of what was
the said matter of fact.

And down there is the clatter of the lamps
rocking, swaying on the wire ropes,
it's nature's way to make the cables sound,
controlled by nothing other than the wind.

Now these are different words,
these substitutions
that slip behind themselves,
these pleas for waving back and back again,
these must not be delayed.


I cannot find words. They are weak and few
to speak of my consuming thirst for you.
Were I a plant, a scented carnivore,
I'd lure you into me, in every pore.
I would possess your smooth skin, softly tanned,
your vulnerable, self-protecting hand,
which even in the plunging last embrace
betrays your loneness in your private space.
I would possess your arm that cradles mine,
the plumage of your raven hair would shine
and wing me on a never-ending glide
above the radiant, rolling countryside.
Your flesh would melt inside my hungry mouth
like luscious fruit from forests in the South,
I'd shiver at the magic of your scents,
redolent of primeval succulents.
I'd hold your breezy spirit very tight
(it floats above you, like a lantern-light)
with growing greed I'd grasp for more and more
if I could be a plant, a carnivore.
- But now? What's left? I'll carry on. Always.
You love me and I love you. Hopeless case.


  © All rights belong to the authors or their heirs. 2004.