János Háy’s short prose piece ‘Petőfi híd’ (Petőfi bridge) is one of seven short stories named after Budapest bridges, published together in Házasságon innen és túl (Budapest, Palatinus, 2007). BA student Malcolm Lesley translated ‘Petőfi híd’ as part of a finalists’ language project on translation and translation criticism. Reading the original with Malcolm’s translation, we discussed questions of equivalence, the problematic notions of fidelity and transparency, and difficulties specific to the text. To begin with:
Csak a felszín locsogott, minden fület eltömített a hangja.
Malcolm translated Háy’s first sentence last, not least because of the nod to the opening stanzas of Attila József’s 1936 poem ‘A Dunánál’:
A rakodópart alsó kövén ültem,
néztem, hogy úszik el a dinnyehéj.
Alig hallottam, sorsomba merülten,
hogy fecseg a felszin, hallgat a mély.
All further allusions to ‘surface din’ in the translated Háy text then had to refer back to the opening sentence.
An old lady, overdressed on a warm spring day because neither her neighbour Mariska nor her children would be able to look after her if she fell ill, makes her way to the Danube. She engages in a mild bout of competitive morbidity with a woman ten years her junior and, having thought about how the noise might cover her pain, decides to make her way over to Buda. Going at her own pace, neither fast nor slow, she notices the handiwork of ‘delinquents’ (as they are called on TV), economics students she believes to be bankers, and sociology students she believes to be beggars, while traffic whizzes past. She is unable to see details on the other side of the river until she reaches the top of the Buda steps. Worried about the wind on bridges, she wonders how many people who passed her by, which reminds her of the time she lied to her husband about his terminal cancer. The old lady reaches the steps, takes in the scene, and slowly turns around, ‘like a lorry in a tight space’, to face the Pest side again:
Majd elmesélem, gondolta magában, majd elmesélem a Mariskának, hogy láttam ma Budát.
I’ll tell her, she thought to herself, I’ll tell Mariska: today I saw Buda.
Malcolm felt that humour needed to be prominent in the English translation, otherwise the mortality, if not morbidity, of the original might threaten to overwhelm.