Translation Tuesday: “Petri in Tunisia” by George Gömöri

this sweetened life will turn as bitter as / saliva mixed with blood in your mouth before you spit.

To ring in the new year, past contributor George Gömöri revisits the final year in the life of Hungarian poet György Petri (1943-2000). In the 1980s, Petri had been one of Communist Hungary’s most outspoken dissidents. He spent his last holiday abroad in Tunisia in early 2000 and died of throat cancer later that year. May this poem be a reminder to us all to make the most of our living moments.


I have lived into the Third Millennium

but I doubt if I’ll make it to sixty…That’s what

must have been on the mind of György Petri

when ‘in wintertime’, but wearing just a jacket,

he strolled around under the blossoming palm-trees,

munching bananas, ripe, with tiny spots.

Even the beer is cooler here, though I hardly…

—he touched his throat—What’s more, I’m not so cold.

What will come later? HowthehellshouldIknow?

Were he to have lived another year, until let’s say October,

he’d have been able to tell. But I don’t really care…

‘I have no message for posterity.’

There’s one thing certain: at present it is good

to be a tourist in Tunisia. Here, too, in ten to fifteen years,

there may well be strange happenings, and then

this sweetened life will turn as bitter as

saliva mixed with blood in your mouth before you spit.

Translated from the Hungarian by Clive Wilmer and the author

George Gömöri is a Hungarian poet and translator. He has been living in England since 1956 when he had to leave his homeland because of his role in the anti-Soviet Revolution. For over thirty years he taught Polish and Hungarian literature at Cambridge University where he is now Emeritus Fellow of Darwin College. He has published over 60 books, including his latest collection of his translated poems into English, Polishing October, 2013, as well as The Alien in the Chapel. Rupert Brooke’s Unknown Rival, Ferenc Békássy, Poems and Letters (ed. with Mari Gömöri).  His literary prizes and awards include the Salvatore Quasimodo Prize, 1993, the Ada Negri Prize, 1995, and in 2014  the Janus Pannonius Translation Prize. He has been translating Hungarian poetry with Clive Wilmer for nearly fifty years and Steep Path (Corvina, 2018), a selection of poems translated from the Hungarian, is the result of their long and fruitful cooperation.

Clive Wilmer grew up in South London, was educated at King’s College, Cambridge and lives in Cambridge today where he is Emeritus Fellow of Sidney Sussex College. He has written extensively on the work of John Ruskin and William Morris. He has published eight books of his own poetry including New and Collected Poems (Carcanet, 2012) and Urban Pastorals (Worple, 2014). With George Gömöri he has translated many Hungarian poets into English, including books by Miklós Radnóti, György Petri and János Pilinszky. He was awarded the Endre Ady Memorial medal for Translation in 1998, the Pro Cultura Hungarica medal in 2005 and recently the Janus Pannonius Prize for Translation. The recent poetry collection Steep path, published by Corvina, comprises poems by ten modern Hungarian poets and is a result of Wilmer’s long cooperation with George Gömöri.


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