Freight Trains

Freight trains are pulling in.
A slow clanking
lightly handcuffs
the silent landscape.

Like an escaped prisoner
the moon flies free.

Broken stones rest
on their shadows,
for themselves.
They are in place
as never before.

From what huge darkness
was this heavy
night chipped?
It falls on us
as a piece of iron falls
on a speck of dust.

born of the sun,
when the bed is embraced
by shadow,
could you keep watch
through that whole night as well?

— Atilla József
(Trans. by John Batki)

Born in 1905, Hungarian poet Atilla József grew up in poverty and distress. Despite many social and economic disadvantages, he managed to earn the equivalent of a high school certificate. Around that same time, he was charged with blasphemy for writing Tiszta szívvel (With a Pure Heart). (He was subsequently acquitted.) Atilla joined the underground Hungarian Communist Party in 1930, but was subsequently run out by a Stalinist faction. In 1931 his book Döntsd a tőkét (Fell the Capital!) was suppressed by Hungarian authorities and his essay Irodalom és szocializmus (Literature and Socialism) was considered to prove his political degeneracy. He struggled to continue his writing career until 1937, when he was hit by a train. Historians are divided as to whether his death was an accident or if he committed suicide.

[Research note: George Gomori and James Atlas, Eds. Atilla József Selected Poems and Texts (Cheadle, Cheshire: Carcanet Press, 1973).]