Translation Tuesday: “Mr. Crane Takes a Wife” by Elek Benedek

A Hungarian fairy tale in verse, translated by Mark Baczoni

     There was and there was not, over sevenfold seven lands beyond the Sea of Far Away, there was once a great bed of reeds, and on the edges of these reeds were two little houses, one on either side. In one lived a Crane, alone, and in the other a Wild Duck, alone; alone and frightfully forlorn.

One day the Crane thought and thought,

and thinking to himself of what he ought

to do, he croaked aloud:

“Oh! How sad my life! How sorrowful with strife,

for I have no one: father, mother, or a wife.

It isn’t worth a tinker’s cuss,

just to go on living thus.

Life’s so dull and never merry, that’s it!

It’s time for me to go and marry.”


The Crane did not delay,

but preened himself to fine array,

and gathered all his pluck

to go and see the Wild Duck.

He landed in a trice and knocked three times

– or maybe twice – upon her door.


“Are you home, dear Duck?”

“I am indeed, O Mr. Crane!”

“Well then, will you come and be my wife?”

“I never heard such rot in all my life!

Mr. Crane, I’ve seen you fly,

you’re not that strong;

your wing’s too short and your leg’s too long.

What crossed your mind when here you came?

If I married you, I’d die of shame!

There’s a window, there’s the door,

pray don’t pester any more!”

So the Crane dragged his lanky legs away,

a suff’ring soul in deep dismay with tears of sorrow on display;

for never had he been meted

such short shrift, or sorely treated.

How was one to go on living

with ducks out there so proudly giving

one a thorough going over?

But as the lanky Crane away was slinking,

the Duck herself had got to thinking,

along these lines:


‘Dear oh dear, I was a fool

to treat the poor old Crane so cruel.

A life alone is none at all,

but rather just a steady crawl

to desperation;

and in my present situation,

I see no ill like isolation’.


So she thought and pondered,

‘til over to the Crane’s she wandered;

there she bowed her beak,

and meek and humbled,

soft and low she mumbled:


“Mr. Crane, Mr. Crane, here I am, my feathers in their finest regimen;

say you’ll have me, say ‘amen’,

then I’ll stay and never leave again.”


Replied the Crane: “Is that so?

Then I think that you should know

that these hopes I will now disparage,

crying ‘get thee back into thy carriage’!

For I am in no mood for marriage.”


Well, dear Lord and saviour,

how was that for grace and favour?!

Out tottered Duck, feathers ruffled,

pride much muffled;

and you mustn’t gander

if you see her hang her

head, and shake with anger.

Going home, she fumed and grumbled:

‘the Crane thinks now he’s come up trumps

while I just stood there, took my lumps.

Quack! Quack! Quack! Daddy long-legs got me back!”


But hardly had the disappointed duck departed,

the Crane was sitting broken-hearted,

and as he scratched his ear

(not that one there, but this one ‘ere!)

he thought: ‘how rash

I was to pay her back in kind for being brash!

There was a chance for all I’d hoped for;

instead I’m stuck with lonely torpor.’


So hip and hop he upped and ran,

at the fastest speed a Crane-bird can,

and headed straight,

faster than a spinning plate,

for the Duck’s delightful garden gate.

He knocked on it all loud and mighty,

entered in all fleet and flighty, saying:


“Duckling, dear, I lost my head I fear,

before. I’ve thought it over, and therefore say:

oh angel mine,

unless by now you’ve changed your mind,

come, and let’s be wed!”


“Fie and cluck!” said to him the darling Duck,

“How you think to take it all as read

I’d be your lady now,

is far beyond me anyhow.

Oh, dear oh dear how I do abhor

such a sorehead and a bore!

There’s a window, there’s the door,

pray don’t pester any more!”


What could the Crane do then,

but head back on the road again,

discouraged and defeated –

and with every step, the Crane repeated:

‘Craw! Craw! Craw! Woe is me,

life is suffering and agony!”


Need I tell you – you’ve the nous! –

hardly had he reached his house,

when the Duckling turned

the whole thing over in her mind again.

So she reconsidered and then hardly dithered;

did her toilet there and then

and so once more,

showed herself at Crane’s locked door.


“Here I am in finest livery!”

she said and knocked.

But the Crane replied: “fie to all your finest livery,

you won’t find me blear and dithery –

marriage is a misery!

Drear and boredom I would rather take

than nuptials and wedding cake!”


Need I tell you, need I must,

it all went on exactly thus,

and never was there any luck

– o’er weeks and years –

‘twixt Crane and Duck;

no matter now how late time grows,

how dull their days and thick with rows,

they still refuse their wedding vows.


Elek Benedek (“Elek Apó”/”Uncle Elek,” 1859-1929) was a Hungarian children’s author, journalist, editor, and politician. Born in Kisbacon, Transylvania, he collected folktales from the region, setting them down and popularizing them through his prolific writings. He is, to this day, regarded as the “godfather” of Hungarian folk stories and has been read to generations of Hungarian children.

Mark Baczoni was born in Budapest and raised in London. He has degrees from the University of Cambridge and the Central European University in Budapest, and has been translating from Hungarian full-time since 2012. His work has recently appeared in The White Review, Exchanges, and Ma’aboret. His first book-length translation, of Alexander Lenard’s Stories of Rome, was published by Corvina in 2013 and his second, Jenö Rejtö’s Fourteen Carat Car will appear later this year.