Kalman Kalocsay: Summer Night (From Esperanto)

A few people have asked to see a specimen of an Esperanto love-lyric. So here it is. The Hungarian Kálmán Kalocsay was probably the first poet of real brilliance to write in Esperanto, and many would claim that there has been no one greater. In my opinion, he stands alongside William Auld as one of the two great geniuses of Esperanto poetry. 

Summer Night
By Kálmán Kalocsay
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original in Esperanto

The summer night begins in whispers
Humming a secret canzonetta.
Night beds and lulls us breast to breast
Upon the isle of Margaretta1.

Out here where once a cloister stood
Haven to pale and silent nuns,
Where now a love-secluding wood
Grows pagan over ruined stones,

The night incenses us with mint,
Mallow, narcissus and the wind,
Anoints us with a sacrament
Of love: a kiss we cannot end.

What jubilee the reveling crickets
Chirrup in one frenetic drone!
Deep in the grass the glow-worms flicker
Discreetly for themselves alone.

Like a gigantic tinsel veil
Round us lies the celestial arc,
And slowly the Isle of Margaretta

Sets sail with us: a bridal barque.


1: "The Isle of Margaretta", also known as Margaret Island- ("Margit-sziget" in Hungarian, "Margareteninsel" in German) A long island in the Danube, well-known for its natural beauty. It was dominated by nunneries and cloisters in the Middle Ages through to the 16th century when, during the Ottoman wars, the monks and nuns fled and the buildings were destroyed. Their ruins still be found everywhere on the island.

The Original:

Kalman Kalocsay

La nokto de somero flustre
Ekzumas per kantet' sekreta,
La nokto lulas brust-ĉe-bruste
Nin sur insul' de Margareta.

Ĉi kie staris iam klostro
De palaj mutaj monakinoj,
Kaj kie nun amkaŝa bosko
Pagane kreskas sur ruinoj,

La nokt' incensas nin per mento,
Rezedo, malvo kaj narciso,
Kaj unktas nin per sakramento
De amo: nefinebla kiso.

Kiel jubile ĉiuj griloj
Per sia ĉirpo frenezumas!
Inter la herboj la lampiroj
Diskrete, sole por si, lumas.

Kiel grandega strasa tulo
Nin kovras la ĉiela arko,
Kaj lante kun ni la insulo
Eknaĝas kiel nupta barko.


  1. That was beautiful, truly beautiful. I cannot read poetry out loud without it's dimensions flattening to a monotonal snore. I feel the passion as I write, or read, but the voicing is unsure...too timid and quiet, replacing screaming fingers. Thank you for the reading, and the translation.

  2. I first read this poem 40 years ago. Did William Auld translated this into English as well? I was able to assimilate this over-the-top Romanticism, but I don't think anyone could get away with writing this sort of thing in English, not since the 19th century anyway. There was another poem by Kalocsay that fits this bill--"Fruktoj" perhaps? Sounds great in Esperanto, but nobody would write like this in English. This is, I think, also a weakness of Esperanto poetry & esp. of Kalocsay. Too much of this. The following generation I think had more to offer thematically. However, there is another of the greats you didn't mention, and the earliest: Eŭgeno Miĥalski. Maybe had he lived longer, not been purged, and not been forced to write Stalinist drivel in his last years, he might have developed thematically. "Prologo" after all was only a prologue, an anticipation of something new that never arrived.

  3. Yes, Auld did translate this one. I managed to dig it up in "Esperanto: A New Approach." I'm not sure what it says about me or him that we both came up independently with the Margaretta/Arietta rhyme (also drone/alone, wood/stood, arc/barque- though the latter is kind of unavoidable.) And yeah, it is a throwback to the pre-Whitman styles of poetry. But, frankly, -and I mean no disrespect- I am often suspicious of claims that "this sort of thing just sounds better in the original." I mean, sure, wordplay and lexical subtleties are a translational nightmare- but I'm not sure thematic issues like this are really as parochial as people sometimes make them sound. That Esperantists are more accepting of this sort of thing generally I do not doubt, but I think that's more a cultural issue than a linguistic one. Lermontov's poetry in translation from Russian suffers similarly.


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