Angel from the heaven
Now Go in Haste
To charred and freezing Budapest.
There, where amid the Russian tanks
No bells are tolling out in thanks,
Where Christmas doesn’t sparkle now,
No golden walnuts deck the bough,
Nothing but cold and shivering hunger.
Teach them to comprehend their anger.
Speak it aloud out of the night:
Angel, report a miraculous sight.
Flap your wings fast and furiously
As the wind: they’re waiting desperately.
Don’t tell of the world outside,
Where candles shine at Christmastide,
Warm houses with their laden tables,
The priest’s uplifting parables;
The tissues rustles round the gifts,
Wise words and clever plans uplift,
Where sparklers glitter on the trees:
Angel, speak miracle to these.
Tell them this wonder of the world,
The Christmas tree of poor folk snarled
In Silent Nights began to burn;
Now many cross themselves and turn,
Around the world, to stare and stare;
Some comprehend, some unaware
Shake heads: for many it’s too much.
They pray, repulsed at what they watch:
Not candy canes hung from this tree
But the nations’ Christ, sad Hungary.
Many of them pass by instead:
The troops who left it stabbed for death;
The Pharisee who got his price;
The one who denied had denied it thrice;
Who washed his hands off in its bowl,
For thirty coins sold out its soul,
And as he shamed it, cursed and flayed,
He ate its body, drank its blood.
Now many nations stand and stare,
But speak to it? – not one will dare.
It speaks no more. does not accuse,
But watches, like Christ from the Cross.
This Christmas tree is very strange,
Brought by the devil or an Angel?—
Those who are dicing for his clothes
They know not what they do, and those
Who sniff and howl, they may suppose
The secret’s underneath their nose:
This Christmas tree is stranger now:
Hungarians hang from every bough.
The world speaks of miraculous sights,
Priests prattle of heroic fights,
The timid statesman patronizes,
The Holy Father canonizes.
And every order, each estate of
Mankind asks, What’s this in aid of?
Why didn’t they, as asked to, die out?
Sit waiting for the end in quiet?
Why were the heavens rent asunder?
Because “ENOUGH!” one people thundered.
And many could not understand
What tidal wave flooded this land.
What did the ranks of nations shy at?
One people cried out. Then fell quiet.
But many ask: What caused these groans?
Who wrote these laws from meat and bones?
More and more ask: What did they do?
They stammer, they don’t have a clue,
—Those who had always known it freely—
“Is Freedom such a big thing really?”
Angel, let it be understood:
New life will always spring from blood.
They’ve mingled as the centuries pass –
The Child, the Shepherd and the ass –
In dreams beside the manger bed.
If Life turns all that’s living dead,
They still protect the miraculous birth,
Stand watch above it with their breath.
Because the Star shines, dawn breaks open:
Go tell them this –
Angel from Heaven.
New York, December 1956
/The Withering World: Sándor Márai. Translated from the Hungarian by John M. Ridland and Peter V. Czipott/