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ARANY, Janos


First Canto

'He took in one hand an enormous rail
and pointed at the road to Buda.'

The sun shrivels up the sparse alkali flats,
parched herds of grasshoppers are grazing about -
not a new blade in all the stubble, not a handbreadth
in green in all the broad meadows. A dozen laborers
or so are snoring under the stack - all their work
is going fine, but the big haywagons loiter there,
empty or only half loaded with hay.

A lanky sweep dandles its skinny neck into the well
and spies for water - imagine a giant gnat sucking
the blood of old earth. Thirsty oxen mill around
the through, making war on an army of flies. But
lazybone Laczkó hangs on the hands, and who's to scoop
the water up?

As far as the eye can see on bleak earth and sky,
one workman alone on his feet. A whopping side-
rail sways on his brawny shoulder ligthly, and still
not a trace of beard on his chin. He stares far,
far down the road as though to depart this village
and land for other fields. A live warning, you
would have thought him, planted at the crossroad on
a shallow hill.

Dear little brother, why stand in the blazing sun?
Look, others are snoring under the hay. The kuvasz,
too, is lolling there his tongue dangling out, not
for all the world would he go a-mousing. Or have you
never seen a whirlwind like this? It kicks up the
dust for a fight, licks the road at breakneck speed,
a smoke-stack belching on the run.

But no, he does not care how it sifts the road
from end to end - through a tower of dust erected
by the wind, proud weapons glitter, proud troops
ascend. A cloud of sighs rises from his heart like
those hazy troops. And bending forward, he stares
and stares as though heart and soul were fixed
in his eyes.

'Neat Hungarian cavaliers, shining knights! How beat
and bitter am I to see you. Where are you bound? How
far? Into battle? To gather flowers for a wreath of
glory? Are you riding against Tatars, Turks? To bid
them good night forever? Ah, if I too, I too were
only riding. Neat Hungarian cavaliers, shining knights!'

These were the thoughts that furrowed into Miklós
Toldi's soul. His head churned, and his heart was
wrung with sadness because he too was the son of a
knight. György, his false brother, was reared as
a companion of the royal heir. He lives it up in
the royal court while Miklós mows and rakes with
the hired hands.

Here they come, the mounted men of the Palatine
Laczfi, and at the head of his proud troops Endre
Laczfi himself. He sits with martial bearing on
his fallow horse, braids of gold on his robe. In
his train dashing young men ride in fancy saddles
on stamping stallions. Miklós stares and stares,
not knowing his eyes are sore for staring so hard.

'Hey peasant, where's the road to Buda?' Laczfi
asks disdainful and cold. The word cut to Toldi's
heart, which jumped so hard you could hear it.
'Hm, me a peasant!' he fumes. 'Well, who but me
is lord of this village and land? Maybe György
Toldi, my foxy brother, setting dishes at the
court for King Louis?'

'Me a peasant, me?' With that he brought down a
terrible curse on György Toldi's head. And then
he lightly twirls the pole, grabbing one end like
a little stick. With a single hand he raises it up
long and straight, pointing out the road that trails
toward Buda. Arm hardening into iron, and himself
he extends the rough-hewn timber straight as a rod.

When they behold Toldi with the long pole, the
Palatine and all his troops look on astounded. 'This
is a man in his own right, whoever he is,' speaks
Laczfi. 'Who will take him on, boys? Or who will
point like that the sorry faggot this boy is using
to show the road?' What a comedown, what a shame.
They mutter and bluster, but who dares to match
a peasant boy!

Who would ever enter the list with a thunderstorm,
the wild and windy gloom? And who would just with
the fiery wrath of God, the flashing and sizzling
shaft of God? Pick a fight with Toldi if you long
for God's dear kingdom. And what a fate awaits
whoever falls into his hands, wailing himself back
into his dead mother's arms.

They pass by long closed lines. The whole army
in talking about Toldi. Everyone has a good, kind
word for him; everyone turns him a smiling face.
One says - 'Friend, why don't you join up for the
battle? Young men like you have a high price there,
believe you me.' Another says in pity - 'Too bad
your father was a peasant and you, dear brother,
are too.'

The army passes, echoes die - one enveloped in
dust the other lofted on the wind. Toldi shambles
homeward, deep in melancholy. The range trembles
under his heavy footsteps into the far distance.
His walk is a sullen bull's, his eyes the brown
midnight. In his mad rage he blows like a wounded
boar, the rail almost crumpling in his iron hands.